The humanities are critical, in both senses of the word. But it is not the government killing them. It is us.
That is why I couldn’t support the Love Humanities day this week, where professors and students around the country spoke against Government funding cuts and shrinking departments. That is despite my ardent love of the humanities.
You see I’m a third generation writer with several cousins in the business. Words and ideas were my friends before friends were my friends. I wrote a diary from the moment I could form letters, wrote stories throughout my childhood, wrote dramatic journals as a teenager, wrote essays at university and then stories (again) for my job. And I read. A lot.
I can still remember first learning the word “philosopher” and being filled with awe. I can remember walking past the library at University and catching my breath every single time (despite it’s hideous exterior) at the thought of all the thoughts it contained. To think that I – the first in my immediate family – was worthy of walking such hallowed ground! That was something to be proud of.
As the years have scurried by, I’ve become less and less sure of that sentiment. The humanities let me down you see.
I arrived fresh face thinking I would be immersed in a cauldron of ideas so potent I would barely survive. But I discovered that humanities in New Zealand didn’t mean the clashing of ideas. It meant rapid indoctrination into narrow left wing politics, and it meant learning the unspoken expectation that you must agree.
It didn’t mean talking about how Fox News was evil for pushing a right wing view, then pointing out that CNN was its equal on the left. It simply meant talking about how Fox News was evil.
It didn’t mean arguing about the meaning of life, it meant writing essays on the meaning of ripped jeans. (Yes, actually).
It didn’t mean being able to give your opinion openly in an atmosphere of respect. It meant getting scathing looks and condescending remarks if, for example, your social work class was discussing the then anti-smacking bill and you argued abusers were already law-breakers so another law wouldn’t work.
Most distressingly, it often didn’t mean much more than reading books our professors wrote, then obediently regurgitating quotes in essays. That meant I ended up hidden away in my room with a copy of Plato’s Republic during my spare time at University, while I studied the (let’s be honest) less worthy works of my Professors.
And all the while the only real debate and discussion was between left-wingers and extreme left-wingers, both trying to out-smart each other by being the more shocking.
In short, intelligence, courtesy, reason, critical thinking, and an open mind were not required. Only the desire to drink copiously while frittering away taxpayer money discussing the evils of capitalism.
It really did feel like the only requirements for graduation were a healthy dose of victimhood and wealth-hating, along with the sure and steady knowledge that “the system” was behind every problem in the world, so no one (except the wealthy) was really to blame for anything.
Hence the well-worn joke that graduates from other degrees make when you say you studied humanities: “Would you like fries with that?” (The idea being humanities degrees get you work only at fast food chains).
You see, what we have in New Zealand isn’t humanities. It is political and values indoctrination class masquerading as critical thinking. It is censorship pretending to be open-mindedness. It is thoughtlessness saying it thinks.
That is why I say it is not lack of government funding killing the humanities. Us artsy people are doing a great job of that all on our own.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz