Oh, the Humanities!


I love reading Victor Davis Hanson. He makes you really think about shi.

From The Death of the Humanities:

About 15 years ago, John Heath and I coauthored Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, a pessimistic warning about where current trends would take classics in particular and the humanities in general. It was easy enough then to identify the causes of the implosion. At the very time the protocols of the universities were proving unsustainable—more expensive administrators and non-teaching personnel, soaring tuition hikes, vast non-instructional expenditures in student services and social recreation, more release time for full professors, greater exploitation of part-time teachers, and more emphasis on practical education—the humanities had turned against themselves in the fashion of an autoimmune disease.

For example, esoteric university press publications, not undergraduate teaching and advocacy, came to define the successful humanities professor. Literature, history, art, music, and philosophy classes—even if these courses retained their traditional course titles—became shells of their former selves, now focusing on race, class, and gender indictments of the ancient and modern Western worlds.

These trendy classes did the nearly impossible task of turning the plays of Euripides, the poetry of Dante, and the history of the Civil War into monotonous subjects. The result was predictable: cash-strapped students increasingly avoided these classes. Moreover, if humanists did not display enthusiasm for Western literature, ideas, and history, or, as advocates, seek to help students appreciate the exceptional wisdom and beauty of Sophocles or Virgil, why, then, would the Chairman of the Chicano Studies Department, the Assistant Dean of Social Science, the Associate Provost for Diversity, or the Professor of Accounting who Chaired the General Education Committee worry about the declining enrollments in humanities?

Even more paradoxical, humanities professors began to adopt the very values of the caricatured corporate world to define the successful humanist. The campus exemplar became the grandee who won the most time off from teaching, garnered the most grants, taught the fewest undergraduates, and wrote the most university press books that in turn were largely critical of the subject matter that ensured his university position in the first place. Now, in the latest round of declining interest in the liberal arts, the problem is not just one of declining enrollments and interest, but also that there is no longer any institutional safety net to subsidize an eroding but still vital mode of education.


If the humanities could have adopted a worse strategy to combat these larger economic and cultural trends over the last decade, it would be hard to see how. In short, the humanities have been exhausted by a half-century of therapeutic “studies” courses: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Environmental Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gay Studies. Any contemporary topic that could not otherwise justify itself as literary, historical, philosophical, or cultural simply tacked on the suffix “studies” and thereby found its way into the curriculum.

These “studies” courses shared an emphasis on race, class, and gender oppression that in turn had three negative consequences. First, they turned the study of literature and history from tragedy to melodrama, from beauty and paradox into banal predictability, and thus lost an entire generation of students. Second, they created a climate of advocacy that permeated the entire university, as the great works and events of the past were distorted and enlisted in advancing contemporary political agendas. Finally, the university lost not just the students, but the public as well, which turned to other sources—filmmakers, civic organizations, non-academic authors, and popular culture—for humanistic study.


In the zero-sum game of the college curricula, what was crowded out over the last half-century was often the very sort of instruction that had once made employers take a risk in hiring a liberal arts major. Humanities students were more likely to craft good prose. They were trained to be inductive rather than deductive in their reasoning, possessed an appreciation of language and art, and knew the referents of the past well enough to put contemporary events into some sort of larger abstract context. In short, they were often considered ideal prospects as future captains of business, law, medicine, or engineering.

Teaching the humanities is what college used to be for. Of course back then, college wasn’t for everybody. It wasn’t even for everybody who went to college. It was for the male children of the aristocracy and financial elites. But since they were probably gonna be the future leaders, it was considered a good idea to train their brains.

That is what the humanities is really for – brain training. Higher education was for opening minds and exposing them to a much greater world. You weren’t supposed to graduate knowing everything, you were only supposed to be introduced to it.

You (if you were one of the privileged few) were supposed to spend the rest of your life after graduation learning and adding to the sum of human knowledge. You would write essays and engage in thoughtful debate with your intellectual peers. That’s how we got guys like Tom Jefferson and Jim Madison.

The system wasn’t perfect. Many who were given access to higher education weren’t worthy and learned little or nothing from it. Even worse, many others who were more than worthy of higher education were denied access to it because of social class, gender and/or race.

The system today is no better and is in many ways worse. In order to offer near-universal access to higher education we dumbed it down and diluted its worth. By glorifying the credential we have substituted possession of a piece of paper for actual accomplishment, causing the rise of a self-declared “creative class”, a pseudo-elite exemplified by Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias.

In a true meritocracy admission to college would be based on ability, not heredity. Those of lesser ability would still be valuable and indispensible citizens, but they would be directed into more mundane careers suitable for their talents.

Unfortunately, human affairs being what they are, there will never be a true meritocracy. Somebody’s thumb will always be on the scale. The best we can hope for is a system with enough freedom and opportunity to let the cream rise to the top.

The kind of freedom and opportunity that you find in a small-government capitalist democracy. The kind of nation where a marketplace of ideas can thrive.

About Dr. Myiq2xu

Unless President Donald J. Trump pulls a hat out of a rabbit real soon, on 1/21/21 I will wake up in a socialist banana republic.
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135 Responses to Oh, the Humanities!

  1. The Klown says:

    Those last three paragraphs would make a nice intro to a post titled “The Way to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.”

  2. Another wonderful post.
    We have dumbed down every minute of what now passes for education in this country. More of the bs of every special snowflake gets a trophy.
    We are paying a terrible price.

  3. elliesmom says:

    When I went to engineering school in the early 70’s, we were required to take survey courses in English, history, and economics. Then we were required to choose one and develop a minor in it. Interest wise, I would have chosen history, but the department was full of sexist pigs, and I got enough of that in my engineering courses so I chose English. When I was interviewed for my teaching credentials, they were astounded that an engineering major met the qualifications to teach English in high school. I was also required to complete a project that bridged science, engineering and the humanities. The idea was to produce engineers and scientists who realized just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There was a lot of griping about taking that many humanities courses from my fellow students, but it was good for us. Just like English majors should be required to take enough math to recognize it as a language that describes the natural world and not something you do on a calculator.

    • Lulu says:

      When I was a political science major in the early 70’s we were required to take economics, statistics and some general business courses. Political theory is fine and dandy but it doesn’t mean shit if you can’t do a budget or understand the economics of taxes. Now we have nitwits who studied political philosophy writing (in major publications) about economics like they know what they are doing and they don’t.

      • The Klown says:

        Chris Bowers (the guy who coined “creative class”) got his degree in Poetry, then started writing about politics. He’s on the payroll at Cheetoville.

        • Lulu says:

          They are scary. They are convinced they know everything because mummy and the nice people at Harvard told them so as they took their money. People learn things outside of college such as on the job, private study and reading, etc. But these people have not done that. Their backgrounds are in political campaigns, schmoozing, and propaganda. I equate them to evangelists who went to auto repair school who want to save my soul. Uh, no.

    • DeniseVB says:

      My husband graduated from an obscure little local college and managed to have as successful a career in the military as the Academy grads. He likes to gloat about that, but he thinks having to have to work his way through school gave him an edge on commmon sense.

  4. The Klown says:
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  7. The Klown says:
    • DandyTIger says:

      Wonder what the wider latino numbers look like.

      • 49erDweet says:

        Exactly. And is much of the number shown blended with other illegals from Central and South America? Mexico has been an overland pipeline for them for over five decades, so the numbers have got to be there, somewhere.

        • The Klown says:

          South Florida and NYC have lots of PR’s, and South Florida is loaded with Cubans.

        • 49erDweet says:

          Over the years processed mucho Guatemalans, Hondurans and a number of Colombians for ID’s, but today see little evidence of their continued existence in our midst. Did they return home, integrate or assimilate into the Mexican community? Inquiring minds, etc.?

    • 49erDweet says:

      This is an interesting dilemma for citizens and attorneys. Did Adegbile go “beyond the pale” of common decency in his advocacy for Abu-Jamal, or did he simply do a good job of presenting facts? I don’t know the answer to that question, but just because I don’t like his former client is not a good reason to object to a supposedly competent attorney. Need more than emotion on this one.

      • The Klown says:

        All those guys who were freed from prison (some from death row) by new DNA evidence had “fair” trials and were represented by attorneys.

        They were freed by people who never stopped trying.

      • DandyTIger says:

        I’m on the side of pretty unfettered defense efforts. And any chilling effect of talking about someone defending too aggressively is a red flag to me. I don’t think they guys defense efforts should be an issue here.

      • The Klown says:

        The worst client to have is one who is innocent, especially if they are charged with a serious crime.

        If a guilty client goes to prison you can shrug it off because they got what they deserved.

        But an innocent client has literally placed their life in your hands. If they get convicted, the guilt and feeling of failure is overwhelming. It can make you drink, take drugs, have a nervous breakdown, and quit practicing law.

        • DandyTIger says:

          That would be horrible. I can’t help but notice when someone is found clearly innocent sometime after conviction, some prosecutors continue to argue they were guilty. Could be that to acknowledge they screwed some innocent person is too much for them. Or maybe they’re just vile, evil bastards. 🙂

        • DandyTIger says:

          Saying “vile, evil bastards” was me severely self censoring myself. Yeah, I think that’s the more likely as well.

  8. helenk3 says:

    last night at the debate, when bomber billy started talking about the education system in this country today and how the kids do not know geography and history I wanted to scream. It is him and his buddies that have dumbed down education in this country. they do not want the kids to be able to do any critical thinking, it would hurt their cause

  9. driguana says:

    Great post. Looking back, one of the greatest things that I did in my young life was to get a BA in English Literature/Creative Writing from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (Harvard on the Hocking) from 1964-68. I learned how to write and read books that, in retrospect, I would probably never have read. I consider that a blessing and it helped me immeasurably in my career as a city planner.

    • The Klown says:

      Some of the stuff you read in college you don’t really understand until years later.

      You are thinking about some issue or problem and suddenly you remember something you read and go “Oh, so that’s what it meant!”

  10. votermom says:


    ISP prices up again so I am once again trying to figure out best way to save money. I wish I could talk the family into ditching cable (you should see their faces when I suggest it) and just go to streaming.

    Anyway, I think it may be worth it to separate the family phone number (we are attached to our landline number and hate to lose it). Last time I toyed with this idea it didnt realy save money but I think it may this time.

    I am looking at ooma or magic jack plus – anyone use/try either of these and either hate/love it?

    • The Klown says:

      I steal wifi from my neighbor.

      • votermom says:

        LOL. There’s this one wifi network in my neighborhood that just walks into my house and pops up on my computer. I’ll be like – nooo – that’s NOT the one I want to connect to. On the other hand my own wifi sometimes gets hormonal and randomly kicks me off the internet.

      • DandyTIger says:

        I’m amazing at how far WiFi systems reach these days. I’m way out in the sticks and just noticed the other day that four neighbors WiFi networks now show up on my computer’s network chooser. And one of them is unlocked.

    • 49erDweet says:

      Thinking the same thoughts.
      Btw, while in London our friend loaned us a spare modem router that runs the ISP on 4G and takes a SIM card. It was brilliant!! We had speeds over 24mps most of the time. They have more cell networks in the UK (an island the size of Oregon) than we have for the entire country. Cheaper prices, too. Something stinks!!

      Tried to find a 4G cell network here to use for internet 24/7 and they (koph, koph) somehow can’t accommodate me. As if.

    • DeniseVB says:

      We bundled with Verizon/Fios, cable/internet/landline, if you just get the basic cable it’s much cheaper than the 3 separately.

      • votermom says:

        That’s what we’ve been doing – ping-ponging between Fios & Comcast to get new customer deals. But prices on both keep going up anyway. I want to see if taking landline out of the deal works better.

        • DeniseVB says:

          Have you given them the ole “what can you do for me to keep me as a customer…?” spiel ? My husband good at that, of course he has his 400+ sports channels now too.

  11. DandyTIger says:

    This is a really interesting topic. I think college in the US has jumped the shark. It’s become a bit of a joke. It’s still very useful, and in many ways a much easier way to learn. Nothing like reasonably good lectures and a structured learning program to make learning easier. Learning on your own is definitely not easy. But the price and the way many subjects taught have been water down or just turned into political propaganda is sad. It’s the opposite of what a learning institution should be.

    There are plenty of famous successful people of the past and the present who never went or never finished college. You can certainly pursue many fields without it. Some fields that require certification or still require certain degrees are tougher. Engineering is one field where there are lots of good examples of people learning on their own and succeeding. And funnily enough, art and humanities are areas where you can do well without college.

    Kids should learn. They should read the classics. We all should read. But the US college systems have become sad empty shells of their former selves and should not be thought of as required.

    • The Klown says:

      I love that scene in the movie Back To School where Rodney Dangerfield pays Kurt Vonnegut to write his book report on Slaughter-House Five and the instructor gives him a bad grade, telling him, “You obviously don’t understand Vonnegut.”

      • DandyTIger says:

        Exactly. Or similar when Woody Allen in Annie Hall is talking to some “creative class” type arguing about some writer and then pulls the writer over who says the guy is wrong.

        • The Klown says:

          In the Stephen King book “It” the lead character is an author who gets his start as a writer when a college creative writing instructor gives him an “F” on a short story that he turns around and sells to a publisher.

    • 49erDweet says:

      The “U.S. College System” is used by too many parents as a very expensive boot camp to get kids out of their houses and their own lives back.

  12. The Klown says:
    • The Klown says:

      Remember when the Obamas personally lobbied for the Olympics to choose Chicago as a host city?

      The Olympics and the NFL don’t twist any arms to find hosts – cities compete for the honor.

    • 49erDweet says:

      Pareene is a whiner, true. But he does have a point. East Rutherford asked for it, but they are getting stroked without a semblance of romance in the picture right now.

  13. votermom says:

    The thing is, learning for the sake of learning is not something many are into — for most people, first you get interested in a particular thingie, and then you start learning about that. Think about the amateur archaeologists & inventors of 19th – 20th c.

    OTOH there’s nothing more boring then being presented with material that at that point seems to have no impact or relationship to yourself.

    The impetus of curiosity, joy of discovery – whether to decode a mystery, or solve a problem, or create something new – humans will stay up all night, forget to eat or drink, just to do these. Remarkably, so do gamers.

    I think modern educators should focus on integrating gaming tech into learning. I know there have been attempts.

  14. The Klown says:

    My son posted this at 11:30 last night:

    “Thomas just walked into our room and peed in the hamper.

    At least there were towels to absorb it.”

    • helenk3 says:

      what ever happened to the most important thing is to teach a kid to use the brain God gave them and not the color of their skin?

      what ever happened to wanting a kid to be the most they could be and not a mindless could have been?

  15. The Klown says:

    The clip of baby Miley is adorbs:

  16. helenk3 says:


    Wow that didn’t take long
    not even 24 hours after the apology to republicans

  17. helenk3 says:


    have I got this right, kids no longer allowed to bring lunches from home and have to buy school lunches?
    so when the money is unpaid they can take the food away from the kid and throw it in the trash. yeah that makes a lot of sense NOT

    • foxyladi14 says:

      That is so wrong. 😡

    • 49erDweet says:

      Some people still foolishly assume School Lunch programs are to feed hungry kids instead of reward progressive donors.

    • leslie says:

      there was a report on, maybe the Kelly File, that one little girl was so upset that she went home and made lunches for the kids whose lunches were tossed out. (and brought them back to the school. Whi in the fuck made those administrators in charge? And why do they hate children?

  18. The Klown says:

    Via AofSHQ:

    Not surprisingly, there is no statistically significant left-right political differences in the proportion of adopted or step-families that are in mixed race households. Indeed, among families with step-children or adopted children, 11 percent of conservatives were living in mixed race households compared to 10 percent of liberals living in mixed-race households.

    Similarly, 9.4 percent of Republicans living in step- or adopted families were in mixed-race households, compared to only 8.8 percent of Democrats in such families. (Again, this small advantage for Republicans is not large enough to be statistically significant).
    If one breaks things down further by both party and political orientation, only 7.7 percent of liberal Democrats and 3.6 percent of moderate Democrats lived in mixed-race adopted or step-households, compared to an insignificantly different 10.6 percent of conservative Republicans.

    • The Klown says:


      But making broad and essentially pejorative generalizations about giant swaths of non-Democrats is hardly the exclusive domain of the racist-chasers at MSNBC and Salon.com. Journalistic outlets at the highest levels have been making non-jokey versions of the same accusation throughout the Obama presidency, ever since the twin ascension in 2009 of the Tea Party and opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

      For an example, check out this passage in New Yorker Editor David Remnick’s extraordinarily long and often insightful recent profile of the president.

      In the electoral realm, ironically, the country may be more racially divided than it has been in a generation. Obama lost among white voters in 2012 by a margin greater than any victor in American history. The popular opposition to the Administration comes largely from older whites who feel threatened, underemployed, overlooked, and disdained in a globalized economy and in an increasingly diverse country. Obama’s drop in the polls in 2013 was especially grave among white voters.

      Where’s that confounded bridge? Italics mine [bolding mine– ace], to underscore what one of the nation’s most decorated journalists felt zero need to substantiate in a 16,000-word article. Do older white voters really feel more “threatened” and “disdained” by a “globalized economy” and “increasingly diverse country” than other age and ethnic/pigmentation cohorts? I’m sure there’s plenty of interesting poll data out there, but Remnick (a 55-year-old white guy, FWIW) doesn’t need to cite any: He knows it’s true, his readers know it’s true, and the only real question is how much you can respectably pin opposition to this twice-elected black president on racism.

  19. The Klown says:
  20. The Klown says:
  21. The Klown says:

    ZOMG! What unholy hell is this?

    My mom called. “I bought you a gym membership for your birthday!”

    My birthday is still 2 months away!

    “The sale ends today.”

    My mom hates me.

  22. helenk3 says:


    but my family fought for the north during the civil war
    it is no where in our history to want to be secessionists

    and during the 60s , I did not drop out

    • 49erDweet says:

      Let’s face it. The Neutered Football League has pretty much lost it’s way. It’s refs are making more “bad” calls these days than ever, and it’s trying to appeal to everybody without “offending” the perennial offended. Can’t be done! The league office needs to “man up”, but they would consider that to be homophobic or sexist. Idiots.

  23. helenk3 says:

    more James O’Keefe

  24. The Klown says:


    If I was ever gonna come out of retirement and get married again, Katherine Heigl is on the short list of women I would do that for.

  25. The Klown says:

    I gotta feeling I’m gonna be eating the buffalo wings I bought for Sunday for dinner tonight.

  26. The Klown says:

    Okay, this is really weird.

    I got mail this morning – just some spam flyer.

    When I was coming home from my grueling trip to the gym I saw the mailman parked across the cross-street, walking into my cul-de-sack, but when I reached my court he had disappeared.

    A few minutes ago a guy in a USPS uniform delivered 4 additional items of mail to my hovel.

    I’m getting paranoid.

    I think it’s the bourbon.

    • DandyTIger says:

      If he looks like that guy with the machine gun from Three Days of the Condor, run like hell.

    • 49erDweet says:

      They apparently have some kind of “I can’t deliver mail to THIS address because….” list so others deliver the mail to those. Our regular mail lady does some of those deliveries. Sigh. We always get the mail caught up when she returns from days off. Wimps apparently don’t like barking dogs that rush and jump at gates. Softies. Of course our “Ellie” is a fully grown Rhodesian Ridgeback, but he’s almost gentle once he stops barking.

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