Has Humanities Become a Field for the Incompetent?


‘The human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’

- John Keating, The Dead Poets Society

After reading the title and the quote, you must have no confusion in how the narrative will cast a light on the distortion caused in the portrayal of humanities. Perhaps this is a topic that doesn't warrant any attention but definitely requires it.

Why Do We Need Humanities?

In a world with rising levels of discrimination, intolerance, inequality, and hate, we need humanities today more than ever, to understand and to bring about a change.

Humanities could be described as the field of study concerning human culture, by taking up subjects such as literature, art, music, philosophy, etc. A humanist or humanities scholar has expertise in the understanding and interpretation of humanity's fundamental concepts, i.e. cognition.

Now you'll ask, ‘but, what's the use of this…cognition?’. Well, we'll get to that.

‘You must strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are going to find it at all.’

As the quote from Peter Weir directed classic, The Dead Poets Society suggests, it's imperative to find your own voice. To have a personal understanding of what is happening around. To have an opinion based on a clear understanding of society. 

Humanities help you understand and distinguish yourself from the herd and develop an individual. It enables you to find your 'own self' amidst the chaos of life.

What Happens When You Find Your Own Self? 

You become free. 

As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.’

The human mind, when stimulated by basic information, strives to ask questions and form opinions. The different opinions and arguments form the crux of a well-functioning society. Intolerance towards a variation in opinion and raising questions stagnates the growth of the society and acts as a growing pest. Its consequences are fatal, both for the society and its people.

Bollywood actor Aamir Khan once made a statement on the growing intolerance in India. This was taken as an offense by many in the country. Many suggested him to leave the country as he was attributed with the tag of an 'anti-nationalist'. Now, if seen objectively, the irony of the whole situation comes to the fore. Aamir was subjected to the very intolerance about which he expressed his concerns.

Humanities not only enables you to form your own opinions, but it also teaches you how everyone is entitled to have an opinion that can be very different from yours. There is an understanding of being tolerant and always being open to criticism.

‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.’

- Abraham Lincoln 

Why Do Humanists Differ From Others?

Power puts to test the conscience of the greatest of people. In the right hands, it can help bring about the necessary change, but it can be destructive in the wrong hands. It's very tough to predict the power dynamic as it corrupts most.

A humanist understands the power dynamics better than students from any other field of academics and is thus the most competent to handle a position of authority.

In summation, we can say that to tackle the three significant issues of ignorance, intolerance, and power, a cognitive understanding must be developed in the students. And it's the responsibility of humanities to help students develop this understanding.

Therefore, identifying humanities as a field for the incompetent would mean accepting a society that is ignorant, intolerant, and corrupted by power.

Written by - Anish Mundra

Edited by - Mayank Tak

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