Killing humanites: A rage against the machine

Its painful to admit, but it seems that my own University of Göteborg (GU) is anti-humanities. Last year GU axed nine languages (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Dutch, Polish, Slovenian and Czech). This year they added Italian, Russian, Greek and Old Church Slavonic.

Surely this is no real big thing you may argue – many universities are killing the humanities and besides what’s the loss of dropping Old Church Slavonic? Well first off I would like to begin with an emotional argument by Heinrich Heine: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.” When we begin to cut, we will cut to the bone and bleed to death.

But more importantly the thoughts that the humanities are unnecessary, or even more stupidly, unprofitable is so obviously foolish that it pains me to see when it is used as an argument.

What are universities for? Most seem to think that they are there to get people jobs. A strange illusion but quite prevalent, the problem is that we have no idea what will be needed in the future so designing universities for this purpose is obviously silly.

But don’t take my ineloquent word for it. Listen to the humorous and thoughtful Ken Robinson (author of The Element: How finding your passion changes everything)

There is an additional problem by streamline, focusing on core competencies and cutting the fat – it’s that we create armies of reasonably identical people who have the same backgrounds and thoughts. And from this we expect them to be innovative and new-thinking. Seriously, could you believe that??

The philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum develops these arguments in her wonderful and thoughtful book: Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

But please don’t get the impression that all of Sweden is a wasteland of real thought and culture. There are several deep and interesting researchers and thinkers. Specifically, I would like to point to the shining example of Ola Wikander, a fantastic example of a young scholar he has eight books (his own and translations) ranging from Canaanite myths to popularizing theories and developments of language. His focus is the epitome of “useless” humanities research (seriously its even called  dead languages). But in reality his works affects more people than a whole pile of average MBAs… Yet, he is the odd one.

The problem is that the MBA’s – with their incredible lack of knowledge – believe that they can create more by eliminating that which is not attractive to everyone. Popularity is the order of the day. Unfortunately the MBA’s are the ones who are running the universities right now. Hopefully, this will change before we have pushed our mental gene pool to the point of extinction. In the meantime my university just became a tad more irrelevant, less competitive and more redundant. Thanks guys! How efficiently you create our demise.

In the meantime, while the mental gene pool at my university shrinks, all we can do is rage against the machine.

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