News and current events today challenge us to be able to see the world from the persepctive of others. The more insulated we become - socially, economically, politically - the more difficult it can be to understand the broader issues and events swirling around us. Of course, an education steeped in the humanities can go a long way towards making us better people, better citizens who can relate to our fellow citizens constructively, who want to understand, who can access solutions outside of our own personal interest, experience or perspective. This connection is the focus of recent NYT opinion column:
Sir Isaiah [Berlin] argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty — and then forging ahead. “Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood.”
Second, John Rawls offers a useful way of thinking about today’s issues such as inequality or poverty, of institutionalizing what our society gravely lacks: empathy. He explores basic questions of fairness, leading to a compelling explanation for why we should create safety nets to support the poor and good schools to help their kids achieve a better life.
Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.
Though there is room and impetus to do so, it's not really necesary to try to re-position the humanities within the context of the 'Digital Age.' They are important in their own right and always will be as long as there remain any adherents to the first part of the word. Anyway, good essay, and we're always happy to see the humanities get some ink and pixels. They are important because we so declaim, because we decide we care about humanity. Classes are in session this morning in a variety of departments and programs, from anthropology and classics to linguistics, philosophy and religion, educating our students in the traditions on which stability, progress and justice in our modern world depend.