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Sunday, February 24, 2013

On Useless Knowledge

       Does "useful" mean good?  And if "useful" means good, what does "useful" mean?  A Power Line blog about literature brought up some odd comments.  One commenter said that communications is a more "useful" major than literature.  I take it to mean this commenter thinks communications is more helpful at getting a job than literature.  But does this mean communications is more "useful" than literature?  Estase thinks there are many fields of study that are worthwhile that are nearly no value at all in the job market, and, conversely, there are many fields of study that may get one a job, and are not any more of an education than trade school.  Communication majors may be prepared to be local news personalities, but any familiarity they have with actual thinking about broad issues of right and wrong or reality versus illusion will be nil.  The fact of the matter is that the kind of thinking about abstract reason that was once the hallmark of a liberal arts education is nearly extinct.  Far more undergraduates will read "I Rigoberta Menchu" than will read Plato's Gorgias.  The reason for this is that the only abstractions modern colleges like to teach about are the three isms:  racism, sexism, homophobia.  OK, so the last doesn't end in "ism," but you get the idea.  My major as an undergraduate was political science, something that could get one lost in a miasma of crap, but which also allowed one enough wiggle room (at least in the mid 90s) to take plenty of philosophy courses.  Indeed philosophy is another "useless" major, odd since in 1940, most college students were philosophy majors.  What percentage they constitute now would be interesting.

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