Why the Humanities Rocks: A Personal Narrative

1006176_10151520807002901_1211978318_n (1)Let’s face it. As humanities majors, teachers, lovers, etc., we’ve got it rough. The moment I announced that I was majoring in philosophy and religion, I was bombarded with questions about my life choices. There are politicians with questionable morals who have faced considerably less verbal onslaught than me.

Here’s a conversation that I have at least once a week:

What use is philosophy and religion in the real world? I’m sorry; did you say the “real world”?

Yeah, the real world—why don’t you major in something useful? Yeah, I suppose developing job transferable skills like critical thinking and writing skills—which at are at an all-time low in the United States—as well as my “people skills” isn’t that useful. I’ve also heard that scoring the highest among all disciplines in verbal reasoning and analytical writing on the GRE isn’t useful at all when it comes to applying for grad school. Oh and CEOs like Logitech’s Bracken Darrell or Steve Jobs never hired humanities majors either.

Okay, whatever. You’re still not going to make a lot of money. I’d have an average starting salary of $38,300 with a mid-career salary of $81,200? God that just sounds horrible especially when you consider that I would be making more than the average American citizen.

I'd work there.

I’d work there.

This is where the conversation gets really interesting. Inevitably the other party will point out that a mid-career salary of $81,000 isn’t exactly the glamorous lifestyle of a Fortune 500 CEO. I’m okay with that. In fact, I didn’t know all these cools facts when I declared my majors. I just picked something I liked.

Now admittedly my reasons for getting into philosophy and religion were not admirable. I took a religion class because I wanted to bring the hurt down on Christian fundamentalists. Philosophy wasn’t much better—I just wanted to be the smartest guy in the room. My first classes were just means to an end and I certainly didn’t see myself majoring in them.

I got my butt handed to me in those classes. I read more than I had ever read before; my head was practically swimming after a few classes. Mind you, it wasn’t just swimming with possibilities either—my head actually hurt from learning.

 

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Descartes said what now?

Needless to say I learned a couple of things. First and foremost, I knew absolutely nothing about almost everything of importance—philosophy being chief among them.  Second, all the cool movies, video games and books that I loved so much were really a popular retelling of a long cultural and philosophical narrative. For example, Fogell from Superbad is basically Nietzsche’s Übermensch—i.e., one of the few individuals able to overcome anguish, uncertainty, possible alienation and give life a unique meaning (warning: the first link has explicit language). The ending of Mass Effect 3 might just be a modern reworking of Parmenides’s philosophy and, as a society, we like zombies, vampires and the like for a bunch of really weird reasons. There’s also a good chance everyone but me might be a zombie.

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Now if all this hasn’t convinced you to give the humanities a chance—and that’s okay, I understand that not everyone geeks out like I do—here’s a few more reasons. When you pair up a humanities degree with a STEM degree, you are almost certainly guaranteed to make Scrooge McDuck levels of money at some point in your life. Still, as a philosopher-in-training, I’d like to point out that it’s not just about cool pop culture facts, being able to explain Kant’s categorical imperative whilst intoxicated or potentially making cartoon amounts of money—although that helps. It’s about preparing for civic and cultural responsibilities; it’s about understanding the depth of our impact on the world at large. It’s about imbuing ourselves with a sense of empathy and respect for others—most importantly other cultures. It’s about communication. It’s about being human—and possibly making absurd amounts of money. So give the humanities a chance! You might be surprised at what you learn and how much it helps you.

Give the money a chance too.

Give the money a chance too.

 

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