Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a multi-part series.
How can the humanities stimulate the economy in the age of emojis, AI, and memes? How do the humanities (or the “liberal arts”) inform and enlighten faith, work, and economics? To many, the humanities seem to be a waste of money, disastrously racking up student debt. Do students need only STEM skills for a technical society where the humanities don’t help? How can the humanities help us blend faith with economic activity? I contend that the humanities are one weird trick for advancing communications, social order and integration, and economic prosperity. People flourish by providing value for others. Christianity best incubates the humanities in a worldview environment that engenders practical work values and a productive economy. God created us such that we must intensely rely on each other in every aspect of life, especially work and economics. We must serve each other in integrity, and Christianity instills an inherent wholesomeness in doing so.
Can we sustain the desirable practical values of the humanities that our economy and workplaces need without a compelling metanarrative, without a metaphysic, without transcendence? Many have tried since the Enlightenment, but it seems implausible to derive practical and economic human values without such sources. The dream of an autonomous and rational humanism that produces naturalistic values to stimulate human flourishing sounds noble. Such secular values supposedly spring from a non-transcendent human nature, but the perennial and innate proclivity for humans to harm others for personal gain persists.
Crisp communication skills increase efficiency in every area of work, faith, and the economy.Click to tweet
If we strive for practical values in a valueless context of naturalism, people will intuitively suspect that and disengage from the practical values that are empty hoaxes. Internalized values get expelled. Cynicism about values sets in. Communication becomes a cruel game of rhetorical power, fake-news, deciphered only by the hermeneutics of suspicion. Identity politics roils. Truths become “illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are.” People intuit dubious values and feel that our pragmatic values needed for a vibrant economy are a power-trip of imposed rules to empower a few and control most. Is there a better way?
In work and economics, our good-faith transactions, produced by our transcendent values, must bring the greatest sustainable value to others. When people add value to other people’s lives a great synergy emerges benefitting everyone in a pay-it-forward fashion. Sometimes creation of value for others will earn money, but the greatest benefits accrue to everyone through actions that earn no money. Economy transcends monetary measurements because human beings possess creative abilities of value far beyond earnings and cash value for their labor, goods, and services (e.g., “sharing economy,” and “caring economy”). Martin Luther King added little to the monetary economy, but inestimable value to the social economy. Van Gogh earned little for his masterpieces but unleashed an artistic creation that can’t be valued in dollars. Parents have instilled extraordinary value in the lives of their children for no earnings. Think of countless underpaid teachers who create enormous value for our society and economy. All of these create priceless value transcending money.
What are the humanities? How are they essential for value creation?
The studia humanitatis, an evolving body of disciplines, studies languages (linguistics), literature, history, music, philosophy, education, arts, ethics, and religion to understand, build, and promote culture. They strive to understand the full human experience and its myriad cultural products. From its earliest stage in the Renaissance, the studia humanitatis endeavored to transform culture through acquisition and transmission of any object of cultural value. Today, the humanities can promote creative and critical thinking and avoid costly errors to businesses. People who clearly express ideas and procedures, and who creatively solve complex problems offer significant economic benefit. Crisp communication skills increase efficiency in every area of work, faith, and the economy. Poor soft-skills and communication skills diminish productivity and carefulness needed in the workplace.
In the next post, we’ll explore further insights into the humanities and the dystopia of a world without them.
This article is a part of the Faith, Work and Economics Curriculum Project. Come back next week for a new installment.
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 Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in and Extra-Moral Sense (1873) in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1982), 46-7.