Saturday, 1 August 2015

O Humanities, Where Art Thou?

The revival of interest during the Renaissance in what came to be referred to as the Humanities led to a watershed in how we think about the world and our place in it. Down the centuries since, it has been through the Humanities that we learn about our own potential as human beings – discovering why we can strive for a better future and how we must avoid the mistakes of our past.

So why is there a relentless move against the teaching of Humanities? Why do so many people in powerful positions want to see funding and time allocation cut for Humanities subjects? There are three inter-related reasons.

First, the rise of global plutocracy has fuelled the desire amongst those who have amassed the greatest wealth through rigged markets, to preserve the status quo. They do not want money to be ‘wasted’ on enabling people to think critically about how human interactions and social priorities may be altered.

Secondly, since only certain subjects are expected to contribute to the strengthening and expansion of corporate wealth and power, plutocrats want investment to target only these subjects.

Thirdly, instead of challenging the ideology of Mammon, all too many in the field of Humanities have simply retreated. Some have sought survival by mimicking the scientific-technological disciplines by conjuring up contrived quantification and equation. Others have shrunk their attention to micro-specialisms so they can have something ‘original’ to get published and make a claim for research funding.

The net impact is that the ineffectuality of the Humanities becomes more and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of enriching our understanding so we can reflect on how we should live, any attempt to address that very question is deemed too broad to merit academic consideration, which must have a tightly disciplined focus.

But what can be done? One long overdue move is to bring forward intellectual perspectives that offer alternative conceptions of how we should respond to life’s threats and opportunities, and relate to one another in ways unbound by the prejudices of outmoded traditions or the free-for-all of contemporary plutocracy.

In order to do this, we need to draw on the resources of philosophy, literature, history, sociology, etc to develop ideas on how we should live. One such set of ideas, often termed ‘progressive communitarianism’, synthesizes insights on the value of reciprocity, the nature of reasoning and consensus building, and the connections between community bonds and inclusive decision-making, into a cogent alternative for reviewing human interactions.

What progressive communitarian ideas offer, is not a definitive theory, but a possible model for how we can rethink and re-organise human relationships in diverse institutional and societal contexts.

The only antidote to plutocrats filling people’s minds with the false notion that their Mammon-centric system of society is the sole option for humanity, is to present the world with a different vision. To see what such an alternative may entail, take a look at ‘Reciprocity & Progressive Communitarianism’.

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