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Lay Off the Literati

Published: November 11, 2005
Section: Opinions


There is a point where even the friendliest of teasing becomes annoying. We all enjoy making light of ourselves and our choices, but we dont like it when someone else does it. For many of us here, joking about our silly humanities majors is a great deal of fun. Feel free to make the parallel to Jews making jokes about big noses and blacks embracing the N-word. But just like Jews and blacks, we dont want to hear our jokes repeated back to us by outsiders. And for humanities majors, the outsiders are science majors. (For the purposes of this article, I am including the Arts and social sciences and pretty much anything that isnt science as humanities.)

Yes, we understand that science is complicated and difficult. We arent afraid to admit we are terrified of numbers and chemical equations, but please dont assume that its because we are stupid. I hate to challenge the precious status quo, but science is not harder than humanities. And I, as a humanities person, would like to get a little more respect for the hard work I do.

I suppose one might think that since they did well in their high school history and English classes, they would be a star in collegiate humanities classes. I dont think that is necessarily true. High school humanities have very different standards than collegiate humanities. Just because you could master the 5 paragraph essay does not mean you can handle our 3 hour long essay exams, our 25 page research papers and our 300 pages of reading a night. Let us not forget our professors who are demanding by day, and grammar Nazis by night.

We may not know calculus or the periodic table, but in order to succeed in our field, we are expected to know the political and cultural implications of any event from any time period in any country. We must be closely acquainted with all historical or literary figures, American or otherwise. In order to understand the allusions in our texts, we must have a solid background in history, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, theology and cultural knowledge of every civilization from the Egyptians through the Middle Ages through modern day. Basically, we have to understand the entire world and its people, as well as their significance, their past, present, and future. It may not be astrophysics, but its a lot of knowledge.

Science is important. Everyone who owns a microwave understands how important science is. But lets be honest. Not everyone needs to understand how the microwave works in order to use it. Science provides us that luxury. The people who invented suspension bridges, antibiotics and the internet are indispensable. We all need suspension bridges, antibiotics or the internet at one point in our lives. There is no denying the practical importance of scientific development. Its right in front of us. We can touch it, swallow it, and surf it. It is a little harder to see how social scientists contribute to the world, however.

You cannot feel or taste the presence of social science and the humanities, but they are all around us. They gave us democracy, Saturday Night Live and religion. They gave us Hollywood, journalism and fashion. They gave us welfare, advertising and the civil rights movement. There is more to life than manipulating the physical elements that construct it.

It is believed that humans are capable of thought because it is a tool we need to survive. And yes, without inventing tools, we probably wouldnt have survived. But our capacity for thought extends beyond our ability to make tools. We are also capable of thinking socially and abstractly. Though it is less obvious, we need social and abstract thought to survive as well. Even the most primitive concepts like family and religion still shape our lives today. And believe me, the concept of family is no less important than making fire, and the concept of government is no less important than the invention of automobiles.

And please, dont make fun of us for picking a major that wont automatically land us on an employers doorstep after we graduate. The fact that it is harder for humanities majors to find jobs only proves that the humanities fields are more competitive. And for those science majors without a thesaurus, that means its hard. Im not trying to say that med school isnt difficult, but I will point out that today there are a lot less people applying to med school, and the pre-meds dont have to face much competition. The situation is much less kind for humanities graduates.

So please, lay off the jokes. Yes, we know that Otto, the bus driver from The Simpsons, was an American Studies major. And yes, we know well all probably end up in (shudder) law school. We can joke about never finding a job, but its mean when science people do it. Do we laugh at them for being atrocious spellers? Well, we do, but only amongst ourselves. Laughing directly at them would be mean now, wouldnt it?