Missed opportunity, lost humanity

In our world and country, the mechanistic, technocratic approach to life has gained momentum in the past few years. Come to think of it, we operate more like machines these days than as humans. We are mainly motivated by profit, not humanity.

One factor for this “development” is our emphasis on sciences and the relegation of humanities. For many students, success is money, and whatever that brings it. Like animals, we care less about the implications of our actions. We live for the moment.

But a recent article Prof. Adam Frank puts the issue in perspective. A professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and self-acclaimed “evangelist of science”, Frank’s article, “What is the Value of an Education in the Humanities?” is pungent and compelling. It is a wake-up call that we are missing the point in our education and it is “a tragedy of overwhelming poignancy”, as pointed out decades ago by Albert Einstein.

Recognised as the most notable scientific figure of the 20th Century, Einstein, despite himself, first drew attention to the danger of our obsession with science only in his “A Message to Intellectuals” on August 29, 1948. “By painful experience, we have learnt that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life. Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind…creating the means for his own mass destruction. This, indeed, is a tragedy of overwhelming poignancy,” he noted.

This tragedy manifests in endless wars in our world. The tragedy is evident on our campuses, where students routinely unleash violence, even in private universities now. The tragedy is on the street, where hoodlums and gangs reign supreme and security agencies are helpless. The tragedy manifests in our homes, where couples who have not called it quits are just trying to endure their marriage, perhaps because of the children. The tragedy is apparent across the country, where corruption is rife and life is hard for the majority.

So, Prof. Frank regrets little attention being given to liberal arts, “…used to contrast an education focusing on the arts and humanities (English, history, philosophy, etc.) with one focusing on technical subjects that include engineering.” Arguing that four years spent in the college or university is often “the sole chance we give ourselves to think deeply and broadly about our place in the world”, he laments that turning a university to “nothing more than a job training (emphasizing only those jobs that pay well) is another missed opportunity for students and the society that needs them.”

His submission: “In spite of being a scientist, I strongly believe an education that fails to place A HEAVY EMPHASIS (my emphasis) on the humanities is a missed opportunity. Without a base in humanities, both the students – and the democratic society these students must enter as informed citizens – are denied a full view of the heritage and critical habits of mind that make civilization worth the effort.”

With the relegation of humanities, what has our society become? A mechanical society lacking in compassion. In the introduction to his play, Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels (1991), Prof. Femi Osofisan puts the issue in focus:

“This play is on a theme as simple as that – COMPASSION, a sentiment now considered a sign of weakness or “effeminacy” in today’s macho world of touch American gangsters, Super-Bonds and Superman, and Kung-fu experts. Just see what our world has become, with kindness so out of date. Alas, the road towards “civilization” and “development” takes us daily father and further away from our humanity. But should this be so?”

Definitely it shouldn’t. Missing the gains of humanities is losing the essence of our humanity. Rather than consider humanities irrelevant or inferior, we should consider the field a necessary complement to the sciences so that the gains of the two would be achieved in a balanced manner.

Science is good; yet, it is not enough.

Re: Does religion poison everything?

Religious ideals have influenced mankind positively, making mockery of undue liberalism that has legitimized social vices and confusion in the society. Religion is a tool for social and political order. Religion has assisted the state through the establishment of schools, hospitals, charity homes, etc. Religious education and ethics should be included in our country’s educational curriculum for the young ones to understand the concept of religious tolerance as the basis of peaceful co-existence. Multiple woes betide those politicians that hide under the garment of religion using their influential positions to frame non-existing religious ideals to polarize people for their selfish gain. Politics causes confusion most times while religious values stabilize the society. That is why government can’t survive without the support of religious bodies. – Aina Akindele Oyebanji, Ketu, Lagos State.