There’s a sad trend in our society, a trend that seems to be consuming every aspect of our culture. It’s a trend towards monetising everything, from art to education.
The value of your degree is measured in what job it will get you when you are done school.
Programs that aren’t immediately recognized as highly profitable are questioned, scorned, and eventually universities stop offering them altogether. Your parents scratch their heads and wring their hands, wondering why you’re wasting your life by not simply learning how to drive a truck, or fix a car, or dig things out of the ground.
I know some of you that are still reading after that are thinking to yourself that this guy must be some sort of a socialist bastard, someone that is three years into his useless history degree and feels the need to justify his decision to throw his life away by not enrolling in business or engineering. This guy is going to give us a lecture about how important the arts are, how important education for the sake of education is, how drab society would be without vibrant culture, and how we should give our hard earned money away to lazy homeless people that didn’t work hard enough.
But I am not really going to give you that lecture. Yes, the arts are important. Yes, society would be drab without them. But it’s not just that galleries would be closed and nothing really beautiful would be made. It’s not about denying that poor people are lazy – of course some of them are, just like some of the CEOs of corporations are lazy. It’s about what we would lose without the “liberal arts” degrees that we heap so much scorn on.
“Learning for the sake of learning” is a dying concept. It used to be valuable to learn about other ways of understanding things. You could understand economics from a business perspective, but also from a historical perspective, or a psychological perspective, or a fine arts perspective. That is apparently not valuable anymore. It’s far more important to get a business or engineering degree so that you can show an employer that you’ve “drank the koolaid” and joined the business club. Understanding the world in unique and interesting ways is thrown by the wayside in a world where corporations and industry wants carbon-copy employees: agreeable people that are constantly searching for a way to make money on anything and everything, but never look at something from a perspective other than how it can be made profitable.
When the only lens that we can view the world through is the lens of the businessman or the lens of the engineer, we will have lost something, something that can’t be taught in terms of market trends or risk-versus-reward ratios. The fact that business classes teach students the “steps to creativity” – that “steps to creativity” even figure into it – is very telling. Once we manage to put everyone in business, where the idea of creativity is reduced to a step-by-step procedure, we’ll stop finding ways to be truly creative.
Governments and companies pumping millions upon millions of dollars into research and development will have nothing to show for it. The elusive “innovation” that they are seeking with such desperation isn’t a scientific formula that people can just plug into a machine that produces new, exciting, or innovative ideas; it’s something that happens when you let your guard down and let the ideas come. It’s not something that can be quantified, nor is it something that can be planned for. The drive to view everything through the idea of money will ultimately bankrupt our society’s creativity.
That’s where the liberal arts and the fine arts come in. They are introducing new ideas into peoples’ minds, so that the meeting of those ideas can generate new and innovative ones. It’s not a useless degree; it is far more useful than it is given credit for. If we want to profit in the future, it probably makes sense to realize how valuable they truly are.