The first reason to get a degree (or several) in the Humanities is if you have certain needs that can only be addressed by getting this sort of education. I know that this sounds confusing, so I will give a real-life example to illustrate my point.
When I was 20 years old and still living in Ukraine, I invited an acquaintance (let’s call her Anya) to come over to my place. Anya was from a very poor family that lived in the country-side. She was one of 4 siblings. Her father was a violent alcoholic who boozed all day long and never even tried to make a single dime. Her mother worked day and night to feed the family and then struggled to fight off the violent husband who beat her and stole the money she made to buy booze.
Anya was a very bright young woman who didn’t want to live this way. She came to the city to get an education and create a different kind of existence for herself. In short, she is a very admirable, self-made sort of person.
When Anya saw my huge apartment (and when I say “my”, I mean that it was really mine, not some bank’s), my book-lined study, and my gentle, adoring husband who served us a beautiful meal he’d been creating and decorating for three hours (I didn’t know how to boil water at that time. Cooking became my hobby much later), she gasped.
“You are the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “You are living the life of my dreams.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not happy. I feel like none of this has any meaning. My life is empty and useless.”
Anya looked at me like I was a raving maniac. After that visit, she started avoiding me, and we never talked again.
In this situation, Anya and I could have never found a common ground. She was trying to address issues that, for me, had already been solved by the previous generations of people in my family. What for her was an important goal she was going to achieve after years of struggling was something I saw as a given.
Let’s look at this issue from a different perspective now. My North American friends are always very baffled by my unwavering love of capitalism. They like me, so they have learned to accept it as a strange quirk. The difference between us is that they grew up surrounded by all kinds of goods and services anybody could possibly wish for. And so did their parents, grandparents, etc. For them, being able to go out and just buy toilet paper is not a big deal. For me, however, it’s something I did not experience as a child, so the joy of having things available for consumption is still very fresh.
My North American friends never had to figure out what to do when you cannot buy basic goods for any amount of money because such basic goods do not exist in your society. This is why now they can concentrate on the disadvantages of capitalism. I would need a couple of generations of living in a capitalist society to get to that stage.
The professional and financial success, the husband who adored me and never tasted alcohol were not my achievements. They were my mother’s, and she’d handed them to me when I was born. (My mother’s origins were not as tragic as Anya’s but, still, very similar to hers.)
I needed my own set of challenges to feel like my life wasn’t simply a replay of my mother’s existence. This is why I could now dedicate all of my energies to thinking about the meaning of life, studying philosophy and Latin, and analyzing Spanish literature.
When you develop such a set of needs, a degree in the Humanities becomes indispensable to you. It is not the only way, of course, but it’s one of the most logical ones.
In majoring in a good [meaning, STEM] field you increase your earnings potential, begetting a bevvy of financial benefits. . . With high incomes and increased wealth, you can go and enjoy a better life. You can afford better food, live in a better neighborhood, drive a nicer car, and do not have to go into debt to do it. You can send your kids to private schools, get them better educations, and ensure a better future for them. You can also retire earlier, travel more, and just have more leisure time in general.
If you create a list of priorities for yourself and the ones Aaron enumerates in this quote make the top slots on that list, then you probably should think long and hard before getting a degree in Literature, Classics, or Philosophy. If, however, things like “reading huge numbers of books and discussing them for hours with like-minded individuals” make the top of the list, my colleagues and I are eagerly awaiting you in our classes.
[To be continued. . .]