Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday Thirteen

I saw a list the other day of 20 "useless" degrees. Not too surprisingly, my undergraduate degree in English is on there, as is my soon-to-be-received masters degree. (That's a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies in the Humanities (Literature)).

Most of the degrees listed as "useless" are life-enhancing degrees. They make life better for individuals and for society. They're thinking degrees or one kind or another.

I found another article that talks about liberal arts and careers. Apparently if an eduction doesn't lead to a job, it is worthless.

I disagree with that. But there is no denying that the liberal arts are at a disadvantage in a society that values the ability to make money more than it does the ability to think about *why* one must make money.

Anyway, here are few a few off-the-wall thoughts about the liberal arts and life.

1. The presumption about liberal arts for some is "We don't need them anymore." Can this be true? We don't need to know history? We don't need to read Shakespeare or other great works of literature? We don't need to study and understand pieces of art? We don't need to understand our society, or learn philosophy? We don't need to study and really understand religion? I guess thinking is so last century.

2. Apparently what we do need more of are ... techie people. Social media managers. Medical Records specialists. More UPS and FedEx drivers. That's according to this article and a few similar ones I looked at. Nobody listed plumbers but I can't see that getting fixed from India, so I will add them to the list.

3. If we have no journalists (one of the "useless" degrees), what happens to truth? I suppose everyone will be quite happy with the press releases issued by the government - there will be no news of job losses, corruption, pollution, food recalls, etc. We'll live in a nice little bubble where we go "falala" and all is well. We don't need no stinkin' truth around here, anyway.

4. What happens to all of these people who deal with the liberal arts when there are no jobs for them? Do we just warehouse them away in trailer parks, because of their useless thinking skills? Will we have whole sections set aside for useless librarians? Will they squat on the trailer steps day after day, comparing notes and quoting passages from Catch-22?

5. If everyone depends upon a single skill to survive - if they can't think their way out of a paper box - what happens to innovation? To creativity? What happens to poetry, to good books (apparently we'll read anything, judging from the crap I see on the Internet), to artwork, to humanity? Will we even BE human anymore?

6. What does "useless" mean, anyway? The dictionary definition is no practical of beneficial use. Is an ability to think through a problem, to create a piece of art, to invent something, really useless? Is reading with comprehension a useless skill? In the context of the so-called study in my opening sentence, doesn't useless really mean "lack of profit?"

7. Is everything, then, to be determined by a monetary value? If I love the view, does it have to be a million dollar one? If I love a tree, is its value only in its lumber? What good is a cloud, then, if it doesn't produce rain? Is there no room for beauty anymore?

8. What would life be like if there were MORE liberal arts majors? What if MORE people could look at what is happening in the world and see the ridiculousness that is taking place? What if MORE people could understand the true nature of politics, the true economic status of the one percent, the true nature of religion? Is this learning and understanding what we're really afraid of? What if knowing stuff was NORMAL and EXPECTED? What if everybody did their own thinking for a change? How surreal would that be!

9. Is it possible that the liberal arts will one day make itself available to everyone - with information so free on the Internet - could EVERYONE in fact have their own self-made liberal arts degree? Could the world become a place where learning itself holds value?

10. Does it matter if no one learns Latin or ancient Arabic or Yiddish or whatever anymore? Do we care what the Bible REALLY says, or are we happy to have it spewed out of the mouths of our "betters" who rewrite and tell us what they want to hear, not what the Good Book actually has to say?

11. What if you're a person who doesn't want to learn how to create the latest and greatest widget, who loves books, who loves to learn, who loves languages and arts and all of those things? What is that person supposed to do with herself? Is her misery at the loss of the things she loves the price we pay for a society that grinds everyone down to the lowest common denominator, leaving only room for a few to stand on the hearts of the rest? Does not every single person matter?

12. Do we all WANT to become parts of an assembly line? Is that all we're good for? Are we not the voice of the universe, the poetry of the heart, the thoughts of the world? Aren't human beings more than that?

13. Would it be better to have a different degree? To have majored in computer science? Wouldn't I be a different person? Someone completely unlike me? Would the world even notice?

Mark my words, there will come a day when everyone wonders what the hell happened. When the educational system has collapsed, and we're all left standing with our thumbs up our collective you-know-whats. And we won't know what hit us, because we won't be able to think about it because we won't have the skills to use that part of our brain. Instead we'll stand there waiting on someone else to tell us what to think. We won't be able to read the US Constitution and see that some of the words have been changed.

We'll be like the animals in Animal Farm (only we won't even understand that allusion because we won't know the book) - a few of us will read the document and think something has been left out, but the majority will shrug and go back to their assembly line.

God help you if this is the world you want. This kind of unenlightened Dark Age scares me to death, but there are lots of people out there who think this is fine.

Don't count me as one of them.

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here. I've been playing for a while and this is my 238th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.

**The idea for this Thursday Thirteen came from a Facebook discussion I saw on a friend's page. She has a blog here, though she doesn't update it much. But I did want to give credit for the idea and, I am sure, some of the thoughts contained in this little entry. One cannot read interesting discussion without absorbing something.**


  1. Thanks for this thought-provoking article. If only we could have seen things so clearly 40 years ago, but back then the charms of allowing people trained as businessmen to run things because businessmen knew how to run things economically and efficiently made politicians like Reagan and Thatcher attractive. Now we are paying the price of allowing all values to be collapsed into one: monetary worth. The same generation that voted in the monetarists, privatisers and free marketeers are facing the consequences as (for example) they are cared for by an army of employees who are poorly trained and paid less than the minimum wage to give no more than 15 minutes of attention each to the physical and emotional needs of vulnerable old people. Well, what else should the economically unproductive expect? Isn't already too much? Shouldn't we be thinking about euthanasia instead? A person who had studied moral philosophy could point out the flaws in such utilitarian thinking, but I daresay moral philosophy is one of the "useless" degrees on the list.

    1. I am afraid philosophy is indeed one of those "useless" degrees. Too bad more people do not study it!

  2. Wow. Thought provoking, indeed! Thank you. Sincerely! It's posts like this that give me the kick in the you-know-where that I need when I start getting too wrapped up in my own personal family drama. It makes me realize that there are much more important issues out there, and by comparison, my issues are pretty darn insignificant.

    GREAT post!

  3. I'm already wondering what the hell happened! If people could work in an intermediate school for one day, they would understand the value of history, literature, etc., and the way it is all being brushed aside for more "useful" topics.

  4. I got my first degree in Creative Writing. At the time there were only seven universities in the county that offered a Bachelors in the field. That really was a worthless degree. Not that my stay in college was worthless, but I learned a LOT more about writing from Romance Writers of America, and no one ever wanted to see my diploma. In desperation, I went on to get an Associates in accounting. That one, people cared about my GPA as well as diploma. That one lead directly to several jobs.

    As I said, my time in college was good for me, personally, in a few ways, but I'd have been much better served going for the accounting degree right off.

    1. I am sorry you feel this way. Did you not learn other things that made you a well-rounded person during your studies? I certainly hope so.

  5. I like your analogy of a tree not being useless if it is not logged. I have a hard time feeling hopeful about the way things are going with corporations/Wall street and the elite rich having so much power, especially after seeing the movie THRIVE. Here is the trailer You can watch the whole movie on their website It goes into depth and goes far out but give you a lot to think about.

    1. I watched the trailer, Colleen. I will have to check out that movie. Thank you for sharing it!

  6. I also have one of those "worthless" degrees. Two,actually, as I double majored in French and English (writing emph.). The fact is, not all students excel in the math, science, medical and technology fields. I certainly didn't. My strengths were in writing and languages.

    I think Richard Dreyfuss summed it up superbly in his speech at the 1996 Grammy Awards:

    "For some strange reason, when it comes to music and the arts, our world view has led us to believe they are easily expendable. Well, I believe that a nation that allows music to be expendable is in danger of becoming expendable itself.

    Perhaps we've all misunderstood the reason we learn music, and all the arts, in the first place. It is not only so a student can learn the clarinet, or another student can take an acting lesson. It is that for hundreds of years it has been known that teaching the arts, along with history and math and biology, helps to create The Well Rounded Mind that western civilization, and America, have been grounded on." (Read the rest of the speech HERE.

    1. Wow, great speech! Great information, too! Thanks Heather. That does sum it up quite nicely.

  7. It's hard to believe how many journalists did not major in journalism.

    Have a great Thursday!

    1. I didn't major in journalism; I majored in English. But I wrote for newspapers for years.

  8. Loren Bruffey JrApril 19, 2012 2:49 PM

    Sis, you amaze me. Just yesterday it was "I have nothing to say." to this today. Great thought provoking material.


  9. It's important to learn from the past, and we can't do that if we don't study it. I don't have a degree at all. :)

    1. Shelley, I don't think it is the degree that matters. It is the knowledge. It is the dismissal of knowledge that I find so dismaying.

  10. Wow, an excellent post. Please tell me that you're sending some of these thought-provoking opinions to the newspaper so other people can read them and maybe people will wake up! Educate people Anita! You need a bigger audience than here!

    You know what the problem is? People don't look at the long term picture. I need money so I log my wood but I don't think about all the other benefits of the tree--oxygen, shelter, beauty that inspires creative thinking and innovation which is what will help us to survive in the long run. It gets worse in hard economic times like this because when we're hungry, we need to get money now! I don't know what this world is going to be like in the future. I think a lot about novels like Animal Farm and 1984. We're going down that path.

    Speaking of 1984, every day in the newspaper there is a section about stocks. One day it says they've had the most growth in a month, the next day it says the stocks have plummeted, the next day it says things are looking up, the next day they're the worst they've been since 2002, then they're down, then up, then down, then up, and on and on. I'm starting to think, what is this 1984 where the news changes according to what someone wants us to do that day? Is someone in the newsroom shoving articles down a tube?


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