Sunday, March 28, 2010

the third culture

I recently read John Brockman's essay The Third Culture. This much I agreed with:
In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s.
He wrote this in the early 90s, but it seems just as true today. Of course you can eke out an existence with a degree in the liberal arts, but it mostly entails (a) arguing with other liberal arts people and (b) training other people in the liberal arts.

The problem with Brockman's "third culture" is that it's not a third culture at all. The third culture is just the second culture after the second culture has dismissed the first culture as irrelevant and reactionary. There's no vision here of what a partnership between humanities intellectuals and scientist intellectuals would look like. There's simply a denial that humanities intellectuals have any of relevance to contribute to the advance of civilization. That's either silly or dangerous, depending on your opinion of the relative worth of the humanities.

So I pose the following question to you for discussion:

What role should humanities intellectuals play in the advance of human civilization?

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