Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dim Prospects

How not to get a job: study English. Image Source: Forbes.

Forbes just did a piece on the 'Best and Worst Master's Degrees for Jobs.' The top 10 degrees for getting a job fell in the computer sciences, physics, mathematics, the medical professions, business and economics. And the absolute worst Master's degrees for getting a job, according to descending pay and projected prospects, are:
  1. Library and Information Sciences
  2. English
  3. Music
  4. Education
  5. Biology
  6. Chemistry
  7. Counselling
  8. History
  9. Architecture
  10. Human Resources Management
Yes, at the turn of a Millennium, we see history and architecture, down at the bottom. And at the very time when the technological revolution has caused global literacy and written communication to explode at a scale never before seen in human history, all the major disciplines which teach written expression and analysis are relegated to the bottom of the employment and pay scales? And in a global economy, the study of foreign languages, rhetoric and grammar also have no prospects? Really? Did politicians, economists, jobs analysts, bankers and financiers learn nothing in 2008? Why are they still allowed to control the balance of power in our societies?

Forbes did not mention other subjects in the traditional humanities - law, philosophy, classics, linguistics, fine arts, theatre, dance, theology or the applied arts - presumably because these fields did not even offer numbers high enough to enter their sample statistics. Nor did Forbes touch on social sciences beyond economics, except for psychology, which is listed via the underrated discipline of counselling.

No wonder there is a terrible recession on, when this unimaginative, blinkered, conventional view still predominates. This view places supreme value on activities which generate a communications revolution and the basic infrastructure of international trade. Forbes hands us a world of middlemen and technicians who apply knowledge rather than discovering it: administrators, marketers, managers, industrial designers, economists, engineers, medical personnel and computer scientists. Empiricism is king. Positivism and neo-positivism consume all mysteries.

If there are any twinges of uncertainty, there are mass marketing machines and media cultures which create the false impression that the human aspects of the Millennial tech revolution have indeed been addressed. But they haven't. In a recent interview, indie author Craig Stone attacked the cult of celebrity, a myth of paramount creativity drummed up by marketing and industrial business concerns, which are no longer the popular commercial model:
I think with social media and Kindle we finally have the fairest way to find the world’s best writers chosen from a pool of millions – rather than what we have had traditionally – the best writers presented to us by the publishing industry who choose for us from a limited pool.

Is Stephen King the best horror writer in the world? No – but he is the best horror writer from a small pool printed by the publishing industry who resist other writers to maintain the reputation of writers that are household names.

In this new dawn, those previously thought of as writing gods are going to be revealed as just writers. Good writers, perhaps, but not the best because for the one Stephen King published there are hundreds ignored to sustain his reputation as the best because it’s easier and more profitable to publish a terrible Stephen King book than a great new book by an unknown writer.
Ironically, wildly popular Millennial reality talent shows seek to combine the two creative realities Craig Stone identifies. But these efforts are slickly produced and do not really solve the problem. Faux creativity is draped gaudily over every new gadget and applied software suite. Social networks build the Big Lie of the Individual, made 'special' by 'friends,' 'connections' and personal preferences. At some point in the 1980s and onwards, the word 'club' was used constantly in marketing lingo to confer special membership and privilege, when in fact it denoted that one had been absorbed into another featureless herd.

What 100,000 Facebook photo profiles look like. Image Source: Bit Rebels.

This employment focus no longer equally supports the very people who can understand and bear witness to the new reality which is being created. Unless a balance is restruck, with some jobs and pay priorities diverted to fields noted for imaginative, creative, critical, analytical and speculative comprehension, we will continue to see a failing, unrevised economy, and a beleaguered workplace. That economy will draw a line between perceived economic realities and real working needs, granting authority to the former and weakening the latter.

Persist in this direction, and one day, this one-dimensional Millennial mentality will fail us. The horror will stare back at us, point blank and incomprehensible. The signs of it are everywhere. The recession was spawned by abuse of advanced technological applications in financial speculation. Failing nuclear power plants arise out of untempered hubris in applied science and engineering. Oil conflicts see other demands for energy unfettered by moral or environmental considerations. A radical leader will explode on the Internet, demolishing cookie-cutter politics and stalemated governments.

In this climate, it is no wonder that the Internet has become a refuge for the devalued arts and humanities. To dismiss and underpay people in these fields deepens an evident professional divide. It alienates people with these skills when they are increasingly needed. Employers who equalize pay scales and question conventional jobs priorities could integrate the Web's dynamic world into a revitalized economy. If they choose not to do this, they risk creating - and risk some day facing - a fifth column in the economy.


  1. Thanks, Lee. I did not intend to slam the best disciplines for getting jobs, more to suggest that there should be a balance, and Humanities and Arts grads be paid and sought on par. Some societies managed this, as during the Renaissance. And we look back on those societies as extraordinary societies. The only problem is that we don't have a clear economic or political model for it. Societies with established arts and humanities patrons were hierarchical and generally not democracies. Could another system be found to balance people of different skills and abilities more fairly, to the benefit of all? Perhaps the Internet will provide an answer. Or - perhaps not.

  2. Here's what one poor little English major managed to do once the housing and budget crisis ate her job in Dec. 2008: she learned how to create WordPress sites, developed the information architecture for her own idea about promoting sustainable, exceptional food and drink in California's Central Coast, learned how to muddle through with Photoshop and wrote her own content and business documents. Voila! An English major with a facility with language, art, design, and other areas emphasized by the humanities suddenly has not only a Room of Her Own, but a digital printing press that allows her to step right over barriers created by others to block her way. You think a person could do that with the skills developed in the sciences alone? We write and read great writing by others: we know how to connect because we read compelling books, articles, plays, poems and such that reach us. IMHO, conservative factions would rather denigrate the humanities because we help to remember what they would likely wish to forget. We do, after all, teach Shelley's "England in 1819," which I'm sure they'd rather we didn't. Thank god I studied writing and literature: I will always, always be able to find work whether it's editing and organizing for others or creating my own content on my own site. Unfortunately, some folks tasked with promoting the value of a humanities major do a terrible job explaining to students what they can do with it. Seriously, the sky's the limit if you know how to write and can publish yourself and others on the web.

  3. Thanks for your comment, mzrad. Certainly, the Arts and Humanities thrive on the Web. But there are plenty of areas of the Arts and Humanities, especially in tertiary education, which are moribund and depressed precisely because their established modes of operation have not evolved with the technology. You can see this in the debate on virtual universities and distance courses.

    What I emphasized here was a dated mentality which assumes that a certain section of the economy is more relevant, more in demand, and hence worth more than other sections. But that kind of thinking is not, as economists would assume, truly a function of supply and demand, but of popular opinion, cultivated after WWII by mass media and marketing. From the 1980s onward, especially, it was clearly the general opinion that arts and humanities are worth less and less in demand than, say, computer technicians or less useful than medical staff.

    This post was a call for us to reevaluate where we direct our demand, to reevaluate our priorities, to ask why we think one service or activity is worth more than another; we must ask why someone in the banking sector might be paid 10 or 20 or 200 times what a practitioner in the arts might be paid - especially when the banking sector is spectacularly failing.

  4. What happened to Hemingway and Twain?

    And what does it mean when people defend the humanities - and philosophy! - for its role in training people in skills good for the economy?

  5. Money is just an idea, Joseph. It succeeds only insofar as we believe in that idea and the rules we have invented around it. As such, philosophy would have a role to play in understanding how and why that idea works.

  6. Did they learn nothing in 2008?


    Or 2009.
    Or 2010.
    Or 2011.
    Or 2012.
    Ad nausaeum, ad inifnitum.