The term liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities, unlike the professional, vocational, technical curricula emphasizing specialization. The contemporary liberal arts comprise studying literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.1
I have been consumed lately by how little focus there seems to be in our country on literature, history, and philosophy. It’s as if I’ve just now noticed the site of a mass-murder that I have been walking by all my life.
I have, up until now, been a technology person. It’s how I make my living, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to learn how something works. This is all well and good, I suppose, but I cannot help but feel that anyone who spends their time doing nothing but this is wasting their lives on tools while ignoring the purpose of those tools.
This isn’t to say that someone who understands the worthy uses of a given tool, and then proceeds to enthusiastically build said tool, would be wasting their life. No, rather it is someone who spends time talking about such tools without reference to their ultimate purpose that I am speaking of.
Science and technology are here to help humanity connect and mature. They are our means for improving our collective pursuits of philosophy, literature, art, history, and, ultimately, humanism. As such, science and technology are not an alternative to the liberal arts–in fact they are subservient to them. They are tools for improving them, not a separate goal.
The main thing that has me thinking about this topic is how few people I know who talk about anything worthwhile. Politics? Nah, too touchy. Religion? Whatever, don’t care. Books? Reading? Studying the classics? History?
Nope. All of it seems completely uninteresting to the vast majority of people I know. And this includes most people I know who are fairly accomplished in technology and business. They may have a MS or MBA from a great school, and maybe they’re doing really well at the company they’re at, but if you ask them anything about the topics that matter you get an expression of confusion.
My reaction to this recently has been one of disbelief and contempt. What the hell are people doing with their lives? And don’t come at me with the “I have kids” angle because that’s an empty, sad answer.
Most people have kids as a default action much in the same way that get a “good” job and buy a TV and a barbecue. It’s just what you do. They end up with some person, mostly due to random circumstance, and the rest of their life is then determined by the conventions of their geography. Born in this part of the country? Ah, well then you get this type of wedding, and this type of child-rearing. It’s a neat little package, and then you die. It makes me sad.
Nobody is asking any important questions, like “Why in the fuck am I accepting that this is the way I’m supposed to live my life?” That’s question #1 and nobody’s talking about it. And as a follow-up: “What are the alternatives?” Anyone who does ask these questions gets the Charlie the Unicorn treatment (see shun).
Doesn’t anyone find it strange that the way you were taught to live happens to be the same way you think it’s right to live–with few exceptions? Combine that with the fact that various parts of the world disagree so much on the topic and you’ve got a real problem. So you just got lucky, huh? Lucky enough to live in the right place where you can learn REAL values?
Of course this is a stupid question because it doesn’t occur to anyone to even ask the question. No time for that when dancing with the stars is on. They accept the package and take step after step on the path that’s been built for them. And when it comes time to die,
$LOCAL_GOD_OF_CHOICE takes them to their imaginary happy place.
Repugnant. It makes me want to shake people.
Anyway, this post has taken a poor turn. Let’s get back on topic.
If you’re not learning the lessons of classic literature, learning about history, and learning about the REAL questions in life–i.e. philosophical ones–then you aren’t living. What you are doing instead is no different than an ape collecting sticks and throwing poo at his enemies.
Don’t be a poo-throwing ape. Read books. Ask questions. ::
1 From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts