In 1959 C. P. Snow delivered a controversial series of lectures at Cambridge University, later published as “The Two Cultures.” Purportedly a disinterested examination of the difference between the studies of the humanities and the researches of the sciences, the lectures were received as if Snow were predicting the demise of the humanities, to be buried under an avalanche of scientific progress.
Now, 55 years later, it seems Snow’s ill-disguised prediction is being proven accurate. Schools are giving up teaching handwriting, issuing computers to students along with — or instead of — books, neglecting the classic writings of western civilization. As David Lehman (a poet) notes in the New York Times Sunday Book Review for July 18, 2014 (accessed via aldaily.com, July 23, 2014), English departments such as that at UCLA are supplanting classical studies with issues-oriented studies, such as gender, race, and class.
Perhaps I’m just a grumpy old curmudgeon, still trying to become an adequate man of letters and bemoaning that I’m barely becoming competent in a field which is in its death-throes, but I can’t help but view the loss of the humanities as a deep tragedy.
I see learning as a three step process: Grounded in knowledge, interpreted for understanding, and lived in wisdom. It is not science but the humanities — and especially theology — which will help us with the second and third stages. The sciences are wonderful for knowledge of physical realities but that is all. The odd efforts, for example, to ground ethics in science are simply pitiful, if not completely foolish. Science does not know the human heart. . .except the one that pumps blood.
On some sports show, the basketball player Shaq O’Neal (sp?) was caught in some minor bit of ignorance and covered himself by saying, “Einstein said, ‘Don’t memorize it if you can look it up.'” Mark Cuban, a sports-team owner and aggressive businessman, once said there was no longer a need to learn things because you can find anything on the internet in just a few seconds. Whatever other ignorance such ideas reveal, they certainly show a complete disregard for understanding and wisdom.
In fostering ignorance, our dismissal of the humanities has the effect of reducing a person’s private little universe to minuscule dimensions. Those who think that “personal relevance” is the measure of all values live in a very tiny and very lonely one-person cosmos.
Some may think such cultural transformations are driven by our wonderful advances in science and technology. That’s not the case at all. The driving force behind the changes is greed. Some people are using technology to make great sums of money. Those well grounded in the humanities do not sucker for such nonsense.