How Not To Think About The Humanities

Thinking about the humanities as a major these days is a fraught proposition. I won’t lie to you — there is risk involved if you are worried about employment. Students at Stanford are tremendously lucky — the University offers generous financial aid packages; the average amount of debt that students graduate with is relatively low. Nonetheless, one cannot avoid the fact that jobs in most fields are hard to find. The economic implosion of 2007, the result of a huge moral and ethical failing (let’s be plain and call it recklessness and greed), has left lasting scars on generations who do not have the luxury of not thinking hard, long, and gut-wrenchingly about staying alive economically.

Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, which has been called “one of the watershed books in economic thinking” by Branko Milanovic of the World Bank, amasses 200 years’ of data to show the inevitability of ever-increasing economic inequality. The plight of the 99-percent will only grow larger. So in a terribly ironic sense students are forced by this “market” to abandon the humanities precisely at a time when we need the critical, introspective, philosophical, aesthetic and ethicaljudgment that the humanities nurture in us.