After my first degree i was cynical about my job prospects. I was a humanities student.
There is quite a lot of cynicism these days.
For a lot of people the very mention of these words are laughable. It’s common to deride and dismiss – to choose rather to go make more money, to workout at the gym, to break down rather than build up. It’s easy to put human endeavor down to economics or the will to power. It’s easy to dismiss the reflections on humanity. To dismiss the humanities themselves.
To me this response is rooted in envy. At its core, I think the humanities show us something to strive for – great art and thought and stories show us how flawed we are. This is the whole point. But to appreciate this requires humility, rational thought and genuine curiosity. To rebel against it shows insecurity and often willful ignorance. It ignores a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
The humanities let us point to something of value and specify the nature of an ideal. It lets us seek for deeper answers and elevate some behaviour, values, ethics, images over others.
I want to teach my children about the humanities. I am at heart a humanist and a student of the humanities. I believe this area of studies shows us how to better perceive what is good. The humanities teach us essential Truths, like being truthful in what you say, and striving for universal love are principles which work and are good.
Most people I meet are ostensibly pro-science. Pro-empirical methods.
However, most are also absolutely terrified of making a mistake. Terrified of having certain types of discussions which could “undermine their reality”.
Experimentation and science is above all about trying, failing and the freedom to assert something, even though you are biased. Correct for the bias and run the experiment.
It’s the only way towards an objective reality.
Sprawling newsfeeds, popularity contests, amassing of friends and contacts for the sake of it. LinkedIn is the new Facebook – It is still a more professional network in my opinion, but for how long?
Seth Godin’s latest blog post (link) is a great post about truth and confusion:
Over the last few decades, there’s been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.
In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it’s ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids’ (and parents’) lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.
Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn’t need to be right to be confusing.
Worth noting that this response doesn’t happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It’s the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.
Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn’t work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics..
To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn’t make them any less true.
If this growing cohort ‘wins’, what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman’s opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance?
I know what the science p.o.v. gets us if it prevails, if evolution is taught in schools, if vaccines become ever safer and widespread, if governments and corporations begin to ameliorate and prepare for worldwide weather change.
What’s a mystery is what the anti-science confusors get if they prevail. What happens when we don’t raise the next generation of scientists, when vaccines become politically and economically untenable, when we close our eyes and simply rebuild houses on the floodplain again? Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it, neither does lung cancer.
Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?
A common refrain on many of humanity’s problems is that there are simply too many people. Flora and Fauna will never be prioritized over humans, and with an ever growing pool of humans the pressure on the environment will lead to widespread catastrophe.
In many respects of course this is true and obvious. Forests are shrinking and animal species are going extinct. However, Humans don’t just extract from a fixed set of resources. We can also create new resources through invention. Check this awesome article for more info.
I think the future of wildlife is not so doomed but also not so wild. Unfortunately more like a zoo than a Serengeti, I think we are headed for a strong culture of managing land, technology and investment for flora and fauna to flourish.
Like it or not, We as a species are not going to stop taking over wild lands, but we are also not going to stop innovating.
I am learning how to swim again. I used to swim in teams at school until the age of 13, and then I just stopped. Last year I entered a triathlon and felt like I was nearly drowning on the swim leg so I resorted to breaststroke. Not exactly “captain speedy”. I decided to enlist some help.
My point is that I have to believe I can improve through practice and learning. It was so tempting after that triathlon to say I was just “not a swimmer” and that those who swim fast have the right genes for it. However, from that point of view, it’s a short step to copping out of anything and also to something altogether more sinister such as racism and eugenics.
Ability is inherent, but not so important. Skills are learned, and largely dependent on culture and attitude. I will be a better swimmer if I train.