A Cry for Saving Humanities

I remember the shock of entering the humanities building of my alma mater, HUJI U, in the 2010s and finding that some rooms were still not air conditioned, some computers were still not replaced since the times when I was a student there in the beginning of the century, and the striking contrast between this view and the one I saw in the neuroscience building where students enjoyed writing on “flying” electronic boards. Each room was equipped with comfortable adjustable seats and other state-of-the-art technology.

I also remember the shock of hearing from one of my close friends, who is a librarian, that in her library the staff are still using typewriters. As much as I love retro, this isn’t a way to work in the age of thriving AI technology.

It’s been over a century since human technological advancement has been growing exponentially, while our spiritual growth, unfortunately, has been left behind. The 20th century stands out just by the fact that it had the deadliest war in history, in which technology took one of the major parts. In the 21st century, we are experiencing a falling rate of academic interest in the humanities, which may result in another catastrophe due to overall ignorance regarding history, ethics, and the implications of certain technologies.

Human sciences are not seen as a tool for winning an ongoing competition for resources and power. However, as history has repeatedly proven, it is thanks to the power of the human spirit and ideas, reflected in the works of history, philosophy, and literature, that some major struggles have been resolved. Deeply held beliefs and values can inspire leadership in times of crisis, as well as evoke resilience. Examples of this are such figures as Moses, Queen Esther, Deborah the Prophetess, Pericles, Marcus Aurelius, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Golda Meir, Nelson Mandela, and many others.

Deep knowledge of the humanities and social sciences is the only key to our ideological resilience that can guarantee a safe and sustainable development of ideas, models, and technology and secure a better future, and therefore they must be cherished equally to, if not higher than, STEM disciplines.

To start with, we should incorporate extensive humanitarian education into the regular school curriculum, and by that, I mean mandating the inclusion of humanitarian studies across all levels of education, from primary to tertiary. It should include courses on global history, culture, literature (and I will elaborate on why literature is important in my next post), and human rights.

Second, just like technological innovation is encouraged by multiple grants, hackathons, scholarships, special projects, and cross-institutional collaborations, the same should be applied to the humanities. This could be done by developing multidisciplinary courses that encourage students to engage with real-world issues, establishing partnerships between policymakers, educational institutions, and IT pioneers.

Finally, despite the common belief that the arts and humanities are not “practical” enough to be funded, fostering research and innovation in them is a must. Humanitarian sciences, which encompass social sciences, humanities, and the arts, offer profound insights into human values, behaviour, societal structures, culture, ethics, and communication and constitute a foundation for critical thinking. These disciplines contribute to our understanding of societal dynamics, which is crucial for developing policies, improving social welfare, enhancing quality of life, and preserving democracy. Their "products" might not always be tangible in the way technological gadgets are, but they manifest in freedom of speech, more equitable legal systems, more effective educational programs, and deeper cultural appreciation, which are essential for a functioning society.