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The position of the humanities in American Society is one fraught with peril in spite of the increasing value in which they provide across all aspects of society. As advances in science and technology over the past half century have captured the attention of society and business the humanities have been often in recent times by employers and donors been at best considered a legacy inclusion in the higher educational curriculum, and at worst been taken as an expensive obstacle to freeing up university resources for business and technology curriculum. In the meantime globalization of business and the continued advances of technology have fueled an increased need for the soft decision making and critical reasoning skills that are promoted through education in the humanities.

At a time in which the United States is positioned in three wars of choice the crass national and multi-cultural scope of studies has been identified by a consortia including the AAU, traditionally biased toward the sciences, as a critical issued of national defense policy.(1) While the sciences lead by mathematics are often lauded for the information they acquire crossing cultural boundaries with mathematics often being featured in cultural references as a type of language in which an extraterrestrial cultural may first contact us through its universality, studies in the humanities often forces its students into encountering languages and narratives which are culturally bound in their assumptions while offering a wealth of insight into the cultural logics which are applied in interactions across national and sovereign borders as multi-state interactions continue to increase in commonality.

One of the leading innovations in American philosophy which has its root in Emerson in the 19th century is the primacy of metaphor as a meaningful form of communication. The still alive American philosopher Mark Johnson continues to propound this position at a time in which hard scientific observations about the world appear to be most prized. While scholars like Chompsky and others have since Husserl have worked to couch the human experience as explained through research in the humanities in increasingly technical language, in the United States we have a strong multicultural tradition of scholarly studies in the humanities which begins with Frederick Douglas, Edward Blyden, and Alexander Crummel which reached mainstream transatlantic acceptance with Pierce, William James, and John Dewey and continues to be exercised by the likes of Cornel West, Larry Hickman, and current President Barak Obama (note: I have trouble considering Lumann/Postmann as humanistic thinkers much as I have trouble considering Whitehead as such) even though the practice of the particular strain of philosophy known as American Pragmatism had been crippled by the Red Scare that Emerged in the post-Deweyian era an continued to experience the brunt of an intellectual recession which has been aggravated since the advent of the MBA through today.

In spite of the value of a broad education in the humanities, the labor market of which peaked in discipline specific job opportunities between the advent of the GI Bill and the end of the Vietnam War and conscription in the United States efforts to develop and retain talent in humanities scholarship has consistently eroded. As professional and vocational training in business and technology fields are strengthening their positions in many of the Baccalaureate and Graduate educational programs at Universities the traditional discipline even going beyond the humanities to the pure sciences seems to be eroding.(2)

The field of aesthetics and ethics in contemporary business and governing activities seems even to be determined by statistical tools borrowed from marketing and the social sciences. Usability testing of interfaces in the development of new technology is often determined by the results of testing, and policy has often been rooted in the aggregate motion of opinion polls over periods of time since the advent of inexpensive long distance telephone calls.

One interesting aspect of the emphasis of curricula oriented towards immediately employable skills over broad fields of study has been the adoption of simple libertarian political positions by classmates with economic backgrounds similarly dismal to my own only to see them abandon their positions for more pragmatic ones after a job application cycle or the Bar exam. My smart money would bet on Cornel West’s The American Evasion of Philosophy (1989) being the defining work in the humanities of the contemporary era (second half of the twentieth century). One of the more baffling things about public discourse in the United States after 1993 has been the pervasive anti-intellectual stains of thought which have grown since William Jennings Bryant’s arguments in the Scopes Monkey trials to promote a position of fatalism with respect to misfortunes suffered over any scientific advance.

In spite of the advances in understanding provided to us by the human genome project, it is a rare occurrence for information so derived to be used in any situation other than the most terminal forms of breast cancer. Most pharmaceuticals are substrates metabolized by substrates of enzymes whose activities are encoded in alleles for various enzymes in CYP 450. In spite of that the only clinical testing for CYP 450 enzymes to reach common clinical acceptance in the testing for CYP 450 2D6 alleles prior to tamoxifen therapy for ER receptor positive breast and cervical cancers. The fact of such strong ancestral determination in the activity of liver enzymes that affect liver response are determined through one’s ancestors may be the greatest ethical dilemma raised by genetics thus far. In the case of ER receptor positive cancers specific to the female gender one’s CYP 450 2D6 alleles are the most significant factor influencing one’s survival rate and lifespan after ten years.

The aspect of CYP 450 enzymes which is determined genetically hold much promise, but also a lot of pitfalls which will affect the entirety of medicine rooted by pharmacotherapy into the indefinite future. In spite of the tremendous impact on drug response affected by CYP 2D* alleles, the fact that genetic testing to determine initial drug dose in initiating pharmacotherapy is not utilized is especially disheartening. A person could possess a 2D6*10 and a 2D6*39, the first confers reduced function while the second isn’t understood in peer reviewed literature at all. On my CYP 450 2D6 there isn’t much cause for concern as the 2D6*39 is usually considered as as *1 (wild type) and the *10 only involves a 90% reduction in function in most cases. CYP 450 2D6 is fairly unique in the human genome as a gene in which the inheritance of particular alleles has profound effects on the navigation of an individual through contemporary society. To illustrate the influence of 2D6 on contemporary living many drugs which are 2D6 substrates are SSRIs and other antidepressants or chemotherapeutic pro-drugs used in treating cancers.

Neither Hume nor Kant or even Russell and Dewey could have imagined the ethical problems that understanding pieces of the human genome would have on medical ethics. In exploring other single-nucleotide polymorphisms from my genome that have ethical implications ranging from the assumed mundane to the confirmed profound, on the mundane a CYP 450 1A2 means that caffeine is minimally stimulating and the caffeine in a cup of coffee can clear my system before finishing a second cup. On the more ethically interesting a DRD2 affecting polymorphism known as TAQ 1A which is correlated with a lessened number of Dopamine type-2 receptors raises many ethical problems ranging from addiction and substance abuse to general behavior patterns considered reckless. In many ways the presence of TAQ 1A has greater predictive value in determining certain outcomes including smoking cessation success than many sociologic and other social scientific measures in themselves.

The humanities are a a tremendous disadvantage compared to biology and other sciences in their ability to draw attention for reasons such as this. A new interpretation of Kant or Husserl doesn't seem to have the same potential impact on a person's life as finding a genetic marker that can add years to one's life by guiding their treatment. While study in the humanities is often invaluable in providing skills to the students who study them facilitating a greater ability to participate in society as a citizen, research in the humanities seems to offer such comparatively little value that expanding support for the humanities relative to the sciences seems unattractive.

Notes

  1. “A National Defense” Inside Higher Ed (May 20, 2011)
  2. Shaw, Kate. “The Phd Problem: Are we giving out too many degrees.” Ars Technica (April 24th, 2011) ://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/04/the-phd-problem-what-do-you-do-with-too-many-doctorates.ars


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