On one of my recherche mailing lists — largely though not entirely peopled by academics — a recent contribution sounded the alarm:
[Trump] apparently will propose to make it harder for those wanting to major in the liberal arts at nonelite institutions to obtain loans.
To those of you who were wavering about whom to support, this may be decisive.
I know the guy who wrote this — let’s call him Pericles — and he’s a good guy, on the side of the angels on most topics. I’m not being ironical here. He really is.
So it’s with some reluctance that I use this as an opportunity to ruminate. Forgive me, Pericles — should you ever read this — for treating you as a corpus vile.
The article linked to — more or less an interview with a provincial economics prof who is associated in some way with the Trump campaign — doesn’t really say exactly what Pericles indirectly quotes: “… make it harder for those majoring in the liberal arts at nonelite institutions to obtain loans”. This is, in fact a bit of an inferential stretch — depending on a number of assumptions — from what Professor Trumpophilus Rusticus actually says. But let’s say Pericles has got it right.
The question that immediately occurs to me is this: Isn’t anything that discourages anybody from taking out student loans a good thing — ipso facto — as far as it goes? Even if it doesn’t go far enough?
Admittedly, the Trump plan, as sketched by Rusticus, isn’t nearly sweeping enough. Trump may be more of a liberal than he, or his supporters, like to think. This tinkering at the margins is more or less the hallmark.
Surely, by this time, the student loan racket is thoroughly exposed. It depends on a mendacious sales job: forty and fifty and sixty years ago, people who got a BA did X% better in life than people who didn’t, so certainly this law holds in saecula saeculorum. Never mind that more and more people are getting BAs, or that a BA means less and less.
Pericles is a liberal-arts guy himself, and so perhaps he sees in this measure another stroke of the axe at the root of the tree in whose branches he, and his reference group, have found themselves a nest.
In fact, I think he is right about that. It gives me a pang. Some of the people I admired most in life, and learned most from, and am most grateful to, nested in those same branches.
But this is the world we will be living in for the foreseeable future. The humanities — if you have to pay retail for them — are simply too expensive, on contemporary terms, for anyone except those with money to burn. And those with money to burn will take to the humanities less and less.
So perhaps we are looking at a new Dark Age — an outcome with which our masters will surely be quite happy. They would like us to have no literacy beyond what’s needed to write a memo, using no nouns but abstract ones, and no verbs in the active voice. They certainly want us to have no knowledge of history at all. Philosophy has a deplorable tendency to encourage the asking of questions, and in particular to questioning the question — always a bad thing. Rhetoric is best left to those whose job it is — namely, speechwriters, admen, and so on. Math is a silly study, except insofar as it qualifies you to be a Wall Street ‘quant’. And as for logic — what could be more subversive?
Humanists, I suspect, will have to become hedge-priests, and find ways to impart their learning and reflection to those who seek it, without official standing or institutional support, without grading, without the ability to bestow a credential, and without compensation.
Good Lord, that sounds great. Ovid as subversion. Where do I sign up?