Civilisation and democracy are a joke without humanities

Nov 22,2018 – JORDAN TIMES – Akram Al Deek

Leading nations worldwide such as “Great” Britain have already started wars against humanities — philosophy, arts, literature, history, languages, etc. — by applying major financial cuts in order to focus more on sciences. While Germany is best-known as the place par excellence to study engineering and technology, Berlin finds it very difficult to challenge the arts-funding status quo to maintain its rank as Europe’s self-proclaimed “art capital”. Most Arab countries marginalise courses on drama and arts in schools and deem them redundant and with no purpose.

It goes without saying that there is a very urgent need to call for a just focus on humanities and their integration with other disciplines. We are in an imperative need for more writers, more dreamers, more art galleries and less banking and uranium.

The percentage of male students who enrol for the degree of English language and literature in Jordan is 2 per cent, whereas the astounding majority of 98 per cent of literature and English major students are females. It is suggested that in the Middle East, women read and men lead. Literature is not masculine and vigorous enough by local societal standards. Unfortunately, the real value and significance of some of the BA majors in humanities is measured by financial means and opportunities in the job market. Having said that, and while sometimes I seem to have lost faith in humanity, my faith is always restored when I start teaching my undergraduate students one particular course at university: Introduction to Literature. For it is not a mere course, it is an attempt to restore faith in humanity by means of reading and writing, by means of becoming more dignified. For you, change the world by becoming a better person. And the humanities help you become that person. It speaks a universal language. Literature does not feed money. But it certainly feeds a sense of gratitude and grace, and offers possibilities to becoming. It makes us smarter and nicer because it fuels in us empathy and compassion as opposed to indifference. Evidently, there is always a bit of Oliver Twist in us. In an age of robotic and mechanical dehumanisation, literature as an example of humanities is a constant reminder of brotherhood. One of the very few good things that came out of communism is that Stalinism made writers into professionals. “Engineers of the soul” Stalin called writers of the Soviet Union. Even dictators believed in the supremacy of soul over mind, of writers and their poignancy, however, for different ends.

While I was an academic lecturer in England, I taught Introduction to Literature as a university compulsory course, so that students from pharmacology and electrical engineering are also exposed to the science of arts and the outstanding benefits of literature; being introduced to literature was not an exclusively and compulsory requirement for English major students only. In other parts of Europe, students of architecture and graphic design eventually graduated from faculties of art and humanities because the aesthetics of life are not mechanical, but poetic. They are not exclusive to a confined segment of society or to restricted disciplines. The word university comes from Latin for “universitas”, and it means “whole”.

Humanities are doubly important for the following reasons: They open a window to languages, histories and cultures, foster social justice and equality, teach empathy, promote for diversity, teach scepticism and creative thinking, teach critical, deep and close readings of texts, people and matters and advocate for multiplicity over singularity. Because without humanities, democracy is a joke. Humanities allow us to see business models and paintings alike under new lights where not everything can be reduced to a data point. The opposite of humanities is not sciences: it is savagery. The reason why Amazon and Facebook are successful is because they have great teams who command great understanding of human behaviour and human needs. For example, the art of calligraphy is behind rapid commerce of their products.

It is a myth that the opposite of engineering and science is art. The art of human bodies in essence is the harmony, or the conflict, between brain, science and heart, art, between pickle and the jar. One cannot work without the other. Technically, the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body, and the right side of your brain controls the left side of your body. We are an X: two slashes across the body that together complements the Y of the mind.

The writer is author at Palgrave Macmillan and an assistant professor in post-colonial and English literature at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times


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