Monday, August 1, 2011


I recently read an essay (which I won't dignify by linking to it here) by a guy who works at Google. This guy delivered a commencement address describing his odyssey from being a "technologist" to being a "humanist" (apparently, he went back to school to earn a Philosophy Ph.D. after earning a bundle in the technology industry). He waxes eloquent about the wonders of humanistic inquiry, how it has enriched him as a thinker and a person. And then he tells us how wonderfully the humanities can serve society: apparently, with his fancy new Philosophy degree, he got the brilliant idea to create a new kind of internet search engine.


As someone who believes in the humanities, I'm frankly tired of those who try to argue that humanistic inquiry is "as good as" technological, scientific, material, or economic pursuits. What these arguments typically boil down to is what I've described above: a claim for the ways in which the humanities can get you a good job, help you solve a technological puzzle, or add to the material prosperity of humankind.

What you'll never hear these supposed "supporters" of the humanities say is that the humanities are good in ways that simply are not reducible to dollars earned or techno-gadgets built and improved--that the humanities are, indeed, in some ways antithetical to the values embodied by techno-society.

If anything, these techno-humanists are more dangerous than those who simply vilify, ridicule, or demean the humanities. The latter at least are being honest: they believe that all there is to life is money, material possessions, and technological advance, and they have no time to waste on anything that doesn't contribute to those ends. Techno-humanists, by contrast, act as if they favor the humanities--but really, they merely wish to transform the humanities into another servant of the almighty technological god.

So the next time you hear someone sing the praises of the humanities while telling you how he used his Philosophy degree to dig us deeper into the pit of techno-slavery, ask him this: might he not try using his Philosophy degree to try to start digging us out?

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