Megalomaniacs and the Assault on the Humanities

I exist in two marginalized disciplines—English of the “impractical” humanities and education of the soft (and “too practical”) social sciences.

In the so-called real world outside of academia, the disciplines that matter tend to be economics, political science, psychology, and the sacred “hard” sciences. Currently, I teach at a small liberal arts university, which is of a type that is increasingly being marginalized as a continuation of the larger and longer assault on the humanities, such as history, English, and the classics.

One may wonder just how the humanities have come under such relentless assault. I think I have an answer.

Daedalus earned the status of master craftsman, goes the myth, including the ability to build wings for humans to fly. But once he constructed these wings, Daedalus warned his son, Icarus, not to fly too close to the sun, less those wings would melt.

Myth, you see, defies the strictures of the hard sciences, such as physics, which would render this narrative with so many holes that no one would pay attention to the message; yet, the Daedalus/Icarus myth has endured, even replicated in the visual arts:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel

And poetry, “Musee des Beaux Arts,” W.H. Auden.

At the center of the Icarus myth—defying his father, his fall—is the recurring message of the humanities: beware human pride (hubris). It can be found again and again in classic literature/art, modern literature/art, and history.

Like the people and the world in Bruegel’s painting and Auden’s acknowledgement, we seem determined to turn away from this warning—and not without prompting from those who are filled with pride, the megalomaniacs who run the U.S.

Since the race for president now confronts us, just watch and listen carefully—megalomaniacs flying too close to the sun and demanding that we should follow.

The same megalomaniacs who assault and discredit the Humanities, where their kind litter the real and virtual landscapes.

Trump had it rough, you see, starting with a little million dollar loan and living off the fruits of how kind bankruptcy is to the Icaruses of the business world; you see he gets to fly too close again and again, nearly unscathed, and uses that to demand that we should follow, we should trust him to lead us.

And while Trump is a bit extreme, a bit cartoonish, he is the megalomaniac class that runs the U.S.—and his popularity proves how blind the average person is to this charade.

And while the megalomaniacs call for more mice to trot through the sacred disciplines—economic, political science, psychology, and the “hard” sciences—the way out of this mess lies forever there in the humanities, where the megalomaniacs are tragic, where their own voices are used to expose their folly.

Auden notes “how everything turns away/Quite leisurely from the disaster,” but the disaster is not someone else’s; the disaster is ours.

6 comments

  1. howardat58

    It is quite clear that study of humanities can give insight into how people “work”, and more so the ability to see right through them. The oligarchs don’t want this at all.

  2. clanton1934

    You are singing my song; although I am a physician /scientist/educator, I spent more time, than my students wished, getting them to read “The Western Canon” which made them better physicians and improved their writing. STEM is important but “man does not live by bread, alone.” Charles C. Rogers

  3. Faraday's Candle

    Philosophy & ethics to the wayside…..! “This is the seasoning and icing to the otherwise bland life. Don’t discard the part that is the very best part of what makes us human!” Brilliantly stated.

  4. mkguzi

    The consequence of an economic focus, blatant materialism, and most costly a loss of innocence which is fostered with artistic expression and appreciation.

  5. Pingback: Megalomaniacs and the Assault on the Humanities | nirugazi

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