The Humanities are Useless

Something is amiss when we automatically evaluate the value of higher education (or, really, education in general) for the kind of economic impact it will have on one’s life. Think about it — how much of the discourse surrounding whether college education is valuable right now revolves around return on investment, likelihood of increased personal wealth over the long term, and steady job prospects? As soon as higher education becomes involved in the game of job training, we necessarily start to place the filter of “useful” or “pragmatic” on why one ought to pursue higher education. And thus, we start to shift resources for academic programs away from the humanities and towards more practical pursuits — business, engineering, the sciences.

Of course, that’s not to say those questions about individual economic impact are bad — only, really, that we perhaps need to make a distinction between higher education for the sole purpose of education, and job training as such. The problem is that capitalism demands that our life choices be affected first by whether this choice will produce wealth, either in our individual lives or the surrounding society. Production (wealth and labor) as the measure of individual value makes the pursuit of education in art, history, philosophy, theology, and so on useless — and, in fact, in a society where the growth of capital is the ultimate goal (our telos, if you will) the humanities are useless.

My guess is that, until we stop valuing higher education only for how much wealth one might produce or obtain, interest in the humanities will continue to decline. We will become a society of producers, laborers, and managers — not one in which we are concerned with meaning, virtue, and justice.

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