What are Humanities for?
Many young people with an interest in studying Humanities (philosophy and liberal arts included here) are often forced to explain their choice. Choosing the path of “the contemplative life” can be a waste of time for many.
When somebody wants to find out why someone would have the fatal idea of studying Humanities, there are two reiterated questions. To the question: “What are you going to work with Humanities at?” another worse is added: “what are the Humanities good for?” The first person is concerned about your future job. The second finds it difficult to appreciate the value of these studies due to the low possibility of being paid economically. Is in that difference where lies the first problem; what works is in the social meaning what gives job. And what gives a job is what has a value at a social level.
In the signifier of these questions is condensed the meaning for which education equals economic value; Or what is the same, the value of your studies is subjected to the market.
“The public sense of the profession is the sense that society, or a general system of values, recognizes and attributes to it, while the private sense is the answer that one or one is given about why they are doing what they do, or why he does it the way he does, a kind of creative insight into the valuable.” 
In today’s world, studies serve to the extent that they have an economic, industrial, or profit utility and are at the service of the historical moment in which they occur. Currently and increasingly Humanities thus become the non grata way; Because these focus on a very simple and poorly assumed principle: understanding the world around us, understanding the human being and to be aware of our passage through the world. We have to accept that it has been misunderstood what it means to understand the human being. This verb is synonymous with knowing and not controlling.
In this sense, Humanities have aged badly, they have become a good that can be dispensed with as existential consumption. Television programs on theater no longer exist, free televised interviews with personalities from the world of culture are scarce and to listen and reflect have been replaced by images and technology: the two threads that move the world. It matters little that the Humanities harbour the lessons of History or the eternal questions and answers of the mankind. Or that the studies serve to exercise something which is taken for granted as it is: to think. It matters little that this serves to feed the issues that maintain a healthy democracy or try to define the blurred limits of ethics, service, equality … Does no one see the social end of that?
Quite the contrary, their absence has meant our inability to ask the right questions of the system or oneself, and to recognize the limits of influence or manipulation on others. This absence is noticeable; philosophical reason has been replaced by the reason of algorithms and the thirst for unlimited sales and consumption. Now understanding individuals has the sole purpose of controlling their behavior. Without forgetting that the overvaluation of youth supposes the laxity of maturity that has infantilized the thinking man and his expectations.
Silenced by the myth of modernity and the low-cost glory of like, the Humanities suffer the fame of being a social waste like a forgotten grandfather in his retirement, oblivious to social activity. Competition buries everything that is not intended to take the world by storm, to have a global reach, to serve as a model for the entire planet, to standardize the consumer and achieve cross recognition.
Among the aspects of the Arts, journalism acts as an immediate spokesperson, being the most popular and the most dangerous sphere. This is studied as a technique rather than as a delicate instrument to apply knowledge. Its disunity with philosophy and literature and arts and the disinterest to complement them, forces us to understand them as entities so separated that they have given rise to mediocre journalism and the confusion that everything that is written in a newspaper has reasons to be true. The world has accelerated in such a way that argumentative rigour has become an annoying circumlocution. In the century of technical specialization, philosophy and Arts have been left behind and condemned to the self-reference of academic writing, slaves to the density of their theories in a digital world that warns the reader of the time it will take to read an article.
However, if the Humanities do not educate the journalist, they educate a type of reader. He the reader acquires a silent and solitary power: that of building a criterion. It is the counter response to what is dictated. And here is the real service and need for application. The responsibility and the ability to confront. Beyond the material that we receive in life, be it a job, a book, newspaper articles… what matters is what the receptor does with it. It is a silent utility, it is responsible for our complicity or not with public opinion, for recognizing the dignity of differences and individual independence within the community.
The student, after all, does not learn more faculties than those that Humanity has already known: philosophy, history, literature, language and the Arts in their different aspects. The set is in itself a power as broad as it is ungraspable. However, it is difficult to understand their choice as it is a knowledge that is not intended to generate or manage a consumer good in the first instance, but rather tries to practice the apology of content over the image. It is unattractive for not participating in the histrionics of the visual impression, for the serenity of being an individual and independent value, a social good that does not aim to reach a consumer but a person. He neither wants nor has to convince anyone. In reality, following its path is an act of bravery that involves the sacrifice of detaching oneself from the known and questioning it, of leaving the group to gain perspective. It is, paradoxically: an act of freedom and emancipation that hardly matches the ambition of control.
The Humanities are not a specialty, they are the common heritage available to each individual. They are not even studies in fact, even though they exist as such. They are our house, the origin of our customs, of the political parties, of the rejection and the quarrels caused by saying our political opinion, it is the origin of our sayings, the history behind the names of our streets, the censorship of the terms, the popular and the unpopular, the emptiness of our villages.
The Spanish market
Work adapts to fashions. Work environment responds to the economic needs of the times that have come. The peculiarity of our country is the sum of many years of general ignorance and the inferiority complex of having been long and historically poor. Economic activities have varied throughout our national history. We start from the situation faced by one of our first democracies: an agricultural economy with 40% of the population illiterate and accultural and turned to collapse in endless days that werer only slowed down by the sunset. We are talking about the 1930s, when the majority of the population had the only foresight to earn their daily bread. The generation of our grandparents is the generation of the countryside, of working the land, sewing and repairing their own clothing, preserving, killing animals to feed all the family members who remained without falling into illness.
The course of economy turned to the rhythm in which the urban physiognomy changed. In the 1960s and 1970s, industrial cities expanded their borders with the wave of emigration from the countryside to the city. Studying was itself a guarantee of work, a guarantee of knowledge, and this one was rewarded.
In the national and international imagination, Francoism left Spain behind. The death of Franco and the already inevitable beginning of democracy, the normalization of work and of the rights of men and women allowed education to cease to be a privilege of some to start to be an option within the reach of the vast majority. Within the social and individual soul, the memory of poverty, difficulty, adaptation to the community to survive in a country traumatized by the Civil War was engraved in the gene of each family. The closed gates in the distant towns and the new life in the city meant avoiding forever going through hardships. In the 80s and 90s, studying was not in itself a guarantee of work, but rather aimed at earning money that had never been earned before. Universities were filled for the first time with poor students.
Years later, with the automatic increase in the number of workers, the demand for the employee became cheaper. There would be too much offer.
And it is here that the word progress changes its meaning. Another word that changes its meaning and with it another way of understanding social and work life.
To guarantee progress, one had to get on the bandwagon of the international business fabric promoted by the main leading countries of capitalism thoeories. As Spain is not understood by itself, but as part of the history and evolution of other societies at the same time, we are going to mention other European actors. Neither the United Kingdom, nor France nor Germany faced the 64 years of the cultural gap that national Catholicism had left during Franco’s regime. Francoism curbed the country with its doctrine, censured the culture and implanted the fear of difference.
Fear of poverty and difference are therefore determining factors to avoid stepping on the supposedly inert fields of culture. The important thing is to enter into economic activity and have enough human value to deserve a decent salary. Deciding a path that does not have as an end the economic gain supposes to dedicate oneself to a continuous justification of personal decisions, and to be questioned for choosing a path different from the one that the majority travels. In addition, the popularization and discrediting of knowledge with the progressive globalization and finally, with the overvaluation of technology has meant the definitive devaluation of critical thinking for the country.
Our approach is as social and close as it is destructive, the opinions of fellow citizens are deliberate before being asked and we raise our voices without even asking ourselves why we think what we think. There is much more exchange of opinions than the ability to accept differences, in many cases assisting offenses lived as inadmissible when an opinion is given in which the recipient’s achievements have no place. So, of course, you are envious.
Envying the rich is a symptom of the inferiority complex of the Spain in the queue, of the Spain that could be like other rich countries, that could speak English, create programs, sell them on the international market and undertake anything. There’s no longer believe in democracy, in the collective movement. You can also lead yourself and others, be an entrepreneur and appear in Forbes magazine, sell more than last year, have subsidiaries in all countries, be a guru of business growth, be on the cusp of progress. The aspirational image generates citizens victims of the idealization of a rich country, understanding economic wealth as the only possible idea of success. Although we ignore that the only end that is read here is individual success and that in reality to be a large country we must first stand out culturally. Progress is understood proportional to the number of entrepreneurs in the country.
A society that does not include culture in its economic activity is a society devoted to separation and individualism. Culture is relegated to leisure and entertainment. And the truth is that we are a country that consumes culture. In the Cultural Habits and Practices in Spain 2018-2019, the Ministry of Culture and Sports concludes the customs regarding cultural participation. Reading, going to the cinema and listening to music are not only the preferred activities, but it has also been studied that those who attended museums, galleries or exhibitions read more, go more to the theater and cinema. To this it stands out that 85.6% of readers used to read in their childhood. And of them 60.1% of their parents also read. We are strongly influential and influenceable. Curiosity is not innate, as they say, curiosity expands as you enter it.
To integrate the Humanities in the market would be a social achievement. Discovering its value and its relationship with every consumer is the harvest waiting to be harvested. To open ourselves to culture and give it practical value.
In an article published in the Xataka magazine written by Arantxa Herrán (that we already mentioned in this article) on the role of Humanities in the technological world, she stresses that images and expansion have gained ground as a consequence of globalization. The content is important only as it accompanies them. The creation of mixed teams, made up of technical and humanistic professionals, is a promising formula that is already being applied in many companies and sectors. Some examples are the founders of YouTube, Pinterest, PayPal or LinkedIn, they all coincide on being humanists or philosophers. For the development of Artificial Intelligence for example, linguists, anthropologists or psychologists are needed. Technological projects that do not take into account the cultural context fail because digital and humanistic skills are needed together. As they say, if you can’t beat your enemy, marry him. The solution is already being implemented by sneaking the Humanities into the content of technology companies, in communication, in journalism, breaking the myths of specialization and joining teams with eclectic training.
On the other hand, the European Commission demands that the Humanities be complemented by training in adequate digital skills. Taking an interest in technical skills is the missing piece for the humanist to be part of the market puzzle.
The collective reality
The reality is that many don’t even know what it means to be a humanist. On LinkedIn, the best current demoscopic platform to calibrate the values of society without need of surveys, a free position as a humanist appeared. In the halo and immediacy that self-publishing grants, a humanist was required to motivate and ambition his workers. That’s right, they were looking for people who managed to strengthen communication links between employees and get the best out of each one. Precious work, but it has as much to do with the Humanities as with mechanical engineering. That is to say: Nothing at all. A humanist can be human, in the sweetest sense, but it is not necessarily the other way around. So we start from a term that not even society is familiar with or of which it clearly recognizes its meaning.
On the same platform, a Spanish CEO dedicated a post to proudly open up about the management of his company in the face of the Coronavirus crisis. As a leader, he needed to communicate his relief and generosity at having managed to bring his company to life, stressing that he had given up his salary in order to pay his workers. In the description of his example, he had omitted absolutely all the accents that the Spanish language could apply. His message received thousands of compliments in a country accustomed to corruption and the legitimate lack of protection of workers’ rights. As if an event as such should be appreciated and not be assumed as the duty of the employer. Few other seasoned readers, in their persistent and irrepressible ability to extract various readings from the same text, they were able to recognize in addition to an entrepreneur speaking of self-admiration and inequality, a leader who did not need accents and to thousands of readers who did not miss them.
The quarry of examples does not end and every day normality is woven in this way. From this another truth follows: you can measure the quality of a text by the level of shame in your society.
And the truth is that everything is important, even accents. To know the meaning of words, the rigour in self-publication; each person is an example to others. Taking care of oneself is taking care of the receiver and of his sensitivity. Mistreating heritage, be it language or historical heritage, and placing progress in praise of personality and self-affirmation, brutalizes society as a community of individuals under the same culture. The only purpose of the contemporary worker is to save himself under the pretext of leading others. It is the reaction to the “save yourself if you can” of the neo-liberal capitalist system. It is the double-edged knife that allows you to distance yourself from the conviction of a salaried employee and celebrate economic individualism. It is gluttony faced to seeking a solution against hunger. It is covering up the answer in the background. And truth is that we need to remind to the producers and stock market executors that we all are, how we can guarantee our collective needs. Educating ourselves to recognize our responsibility in the world is necessary. The lack of sensitivity, self-improvement, rigour, the will to be an example to others, hide our dependence.
But if “external obedience” is stronger than “internal spiritual activity”, using our own expressions, our democracies risk weakening. For this reason, he recalls the crucial importance of citizens’ education, which should not be limited to the acquisition of general knowledge, but also to the teaching of coexistence, citizenship, self-knowledge and the development of reason. After Montaigne, who advocated an education that got “well-made” heads rather than “well-filled” heads, Spinoza knows that the more individuals are capable of acquiring a sure judgment that helps them discern what is really good for they (what he calls “self-interest”), the more useful they will be to others as responsible citizens.
There is an alternative future to the trend of technological isolation and forgetfulness of the humanities. Coming out of the obsession of recognition, of the messianic complex of the entrepreneur who has Silicon Valley as a temple, the propagators of the doctrine “put the world in your pocket” whose words have replaced those of the temple of Delphi “know yourself”.
We have seen these days that technology and business alone do not support the planet. They are very good for distraction but do not have the solution to take care of humanity in the long-term. The world stopped playing Monopoly when a tiny has seeped invisible through our airways from air polluted by the hectic network of work connections that occupy our calendar. He has not been able to succumb to the most advanced way of the future, the technological and ultra-liberal era of building economic empires that once began in a California garage.
That a goal costs €436,000, that New York Fashion Week moves €790M a year or that Ibiza receives 8,1 million travelers each summer on its tiny runway, no longer makes sense.
Then, coexisting with the news that day after day reiterates the analysis of an unknown virus that has silenced the streets and our expectations, the buried voices of philosophers and thinkers appear. Another thing is that they listen to them after years of granting them illegitimacy. However, an evidence emerges, the individual success of “save yourself if you can” disguised as leadership is replaced by looking for the formula for collective success, and that is called progress.
-  Ibáñez, J. (2016). El reverso de la historia. Calambur, Col. Criterios, página 31. Barcelona.
-  Lenoir, F. (2019). El milagro de Spinoza (Trad. Ana Herrera). Ariel (2019).
On the author:
Belén Lucas is Bachelor in Humanities by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and Master in Romance Cultures by the Humboldt Universität in Berlin, with a specialization in French and Spanish. She lives in Berlin, where she works as a cultural manager and translator, and assiduously collaborates as an editor for Berlin Amateurs.