We live in a world dominated by big business. By money, the accumulation of, the investment of. Money, Business are seen as the cornerstone of western society. To be rich, to want money, to make money is seen as pre eminent. Science is also seen as important although I suspect as a means to yet again make someone very rich. Yes I know we all need the invaluable work that scientists do to further our understanding of how our world works, to save lives, to make breakthroughs that will advance our society. We need engineers, mathematicians, computer wiz’s.
These people create wealth, create jobs, make a country’s economy strong. I have a son who is a mathematician and very proud of his efforts I am. He will be an asset to many potential employers. Interestingly though, he did not choose Mathematics because he would earn big money on graduation but because he loved the subject. There is great beauty in maths, physics, chemistry.
Then there’s this other lot. The artists, designers, musicians, historians, geographers, classicists. They make the world erm, well, what do they actually do to make our world better?
Humanities as a broad umbrella term, covers a wide range of studies that are concerned with the study of human culture. Law, politics, languages, education, philosophy, literature come under the umbrella.
Humanities, particularly the creative however, have been under threat from successive governments across the world. The need to train future workers and scientists is seen as the key to our future. Why do we need more writers, artists, actors, musicians, historians, classics scholars? They are not always vocational courses or subjects. What job will a classics scholar go on to do? Why do we need to know about the language, culture, history of ancient Greece or Rome? What relevance does it hold in todays sophisticated hi tech society. Why do we need those that study performing arts, fine art, writers, historians?
The arts and humanities are a hugely undervalued area. Schools, colleges, universities are all living in increasingly competitive worlds. Finances are tight and decisions have to be made. Priorities must be established. The UK government has made it abundantly clear that education is there to produce the workforce of the future and that funding must be focused on subjects that will provide that future workforce. It kind of reduces education to a car factory where the only valuable subjects (components) are those that make the country (car) work. The only students that have value are those that pursue subjects with clear career goals.
The arts are after all a bit woolly and lets face it, who needs to know what happened in history. We don’t need geographers to tell us how our world works or what effect we have on it. Scientists will do that for us and they are far more valuable. This simplistic view of society and education is promoted by politicians to explain how funding education can be controlled. They think that by keeping the message simple, it will be understood. This is patronising as well as inaccurate.
The performing arts bring in billions of pounds to the UK economy. The world is enriched by British music, cinema, theatre, ballet. British cinema, theatre, music is hugely respected throughout the world. The visual arts have a rich and influential effect on the rest of the world. We are a country that continues to challenge, fascinate, inspire the wider world. They also generate large amounts of wealth for the economy. Historians hold the knowledge that can predict the future of how our world operates. By understanding the past, we can better predict the future for societies, nations, continents. The classics also lead us to understand the nature of modern society by studying the birth of civilisations.
Language is the vital tool that enables us to understand each other. The study of literature teaches us much in the same way as history. To reduce society to its mere productivity value removes the civilisation from society. We become empty, meaningless. Let’s suppose we make enormous amounts of money and our nation becomes even wealthier than it already is. Firstly, that wealth is never evenly distributed and what do you do with that wealth? Do you buy more ‘things’ ? Do you horde your wealth so there can’t have it? Do you show your wealth to others in order that you feel more satisfied? What does wealth bring? It will never enable you to be able to paint, sing, act. You will have to buy the services of those who can.
So all of a sudden, the arts have a value! They enrich, entertain, stimulate discussion and ideas. They bring beauty, joy, warmth to our lives. We cease to be cogs in a big machine. George Orwell’s 1984, stripped society of its humanity. It was a stark prediction of how the world could be under control of an unquestioning power that denies any culture, art, intellectual discussion.
Right wing politicians for many years portrayed communism as the greatest threat to our freedom but in truth, hasn’t rampant capitalism done the same? Orwell’s view of a possible nightmarish future is more sophisticated than dictatorship or communism. Government will never encourage you to question their motives because they are there to govern. It is not a dialogue as some would have you believe. Various U turns in policy of the present Conservative government have been more about the preservation of power than listening to the electorate. The politicians that persuaded millions to vote leave in the EU referendum did not do this for the greater good. The promises have already been broken and those that shouted loudest have gone remarkably quiet since. It could argued that those who argued to remain also did this motivated by self interest. Maybe politics is one part of humanities so corrupted by power and greed that we could reduce funding for courses designed to produce future career politicians (such as PPE degrees)!
We must as a society, place a monetary value on the humanities. We must treat the arts with equal respect as the sciences. Both are vital to the successful maintenance of our society. There are those that will never be scientists, technically minded, skilled in finance or business. They will however be blessed with creative and artistic talent. There are those gifted historians, students of ancient and modern languages, philosophers who have a great deal to offer. We should support and value their input not marginalise and starve of funding. So, for the sake of humanity and the humanities, please ask your government to share the cake evenly amongst education.