The liberal arts of chemistry (i.e., a set of states of energy tries to talk)

Next best comment attributed to a news article responder:

I agree with many of your arguments as written, but to be fair, I think it is more complex than that. Other contributing factors include the following:

– The “two cultures” of the arts vs. (not and) the sciences is a major issue. For various reasons, our society takes sciences more seriously than the arts. (Just look at the reward sizes of typical NSF vs NEA grants, or salaries and employment rates of graduates of science vs. arts programs, or who we give H1 visas to and for what.) The wedge between the arts and sciences–which is epistemological and political and waged from both sides–makes them “separate but equal” in the historical sense of that phrase (i.e., not at all equal!).

– While the sciences make an obvious case for their own state support (technological innovation, etc.), the humanities have not been as successful since the 1960s. It used to be that people believed that teaching Great Books made us model citizens. But the humanities were among the first to deconstruct that argument as ideological. And they were right: there is a problem with only reading dead white men. But if we don’t teach dead white men, then what can we teach that the public will agree should be taught? Multiculturalism and grand theory have been two answers proffered since the 60s, but (I’m stating a fact, not advocating for it) these have not achieved consensus in the way that dead white men had in the past.

I also think that the humanities themselves have their more recent origins (since the 19th century) in upper class culture. If only well to do men could go to college, then all that Latin and TS Eliot and critical thinking was another way they could demonstrate their fitness for their white collar professional jobs over everyone else. But with college becoming more accessible since the 1950s, the class alignment has changed, and people have become more specialized in order to be competitive. It’s not enough to be smart any more, you also need to know C++. (Of course, now knowing C++ seems to excuse one from being smart, which is a problem.)

Of course a concerted cross-generational conservative political attack on critical thinking and the humanities hasn’t helped. But neither has the hard turn to postmodern theories that to the public just sound crazy (like Baudrillard–and I am not saying he was crazy, well maybe a little bit, but very few outside of comp lit departments really understood what he was trying to do) so it just seemed like a waste of public resources–not saying I agree!

Anyway, my point is that we humanists need to make our own case for public support of what we can offer–and this is a slow and long-term commitment. Critical thinking is a very good argument and I agree with it. I think we can strengthen that argument with a more compelling rapprochement with scientists and technologists than humanists and scientists/technologists have collectively done so far (it’s a two-way street).

The best comment attached to the same news article:

I’m dismayed to see that you are equating the liberal arts with the humanities. The liberal arts include the social sciences and the natural sciences. Chemistry is a liberal art. Music is a liberal art. Psychology is a liberal art. So while I agree with your analysis, this article is itself a symptom of the decline of the liberal arts amongst those who think they’re defending them. Which is the saddest part of this all.

Repeat after me:

The Emperor Ming: Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?

Klytus: An obscure body in the S-K System, your majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet Earth.

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