Thursday, April 10, 2008

Excerpt from Shashi Tharoor's Article

In engineering, a lot of my friends debated whether Humanities as a subject should be included in the curriculum.
My aces in Humanity sort of put my argument for the inclusion biased, coz of the jack my GPA got courtsey these courses. In fact, I tried to squeeze in some more Humanities courses in my electives but the institute, for some reason, did not allow Humanities to be included even in the non-departmental open electives.

Shashi Tharoor talks about the need for Humanities in Engineering course here. I personally buy his argument tho' the context - to stop engineers from becoming terrorists is still ridiculous to me.
Just by statistics, the best brains go to engineering( read: most not all!) since it is usually at the frontier of the future - CivilEngg in the 20s, Chemical in 50s-60s, Electronics since the 60s, Computers since 80s, AI, Genetic Algorithm, Nanotechnology, etc.). The reason some of the best brains flock here is the challenge (again, some not most). Genius comes with its own burden - the burden of knowing that impact, wide and influential, is within reach in the future. The article ignores the social impact that many of these brains go to make - NGOs, social initiatives, awareness forums. Tho' I know that the author is aware of it.
It is also a presumption that Humanity per se is a sure-shot vaccination against the infection of terrorism. Some of the most violent men have been the most well-read - the Communist leaders, Pol Pot. The inherent violence (open to interpretation) of the superman ideology of Nietzsche is essentially a Humanities subject.

How do you fight violent states in today's age through any means but terrorism?
Big men, who believe they are big and destined to change the world, have the end in mind and not the means - the end being a better future: as they interpret it).
There has always been violence - it started with tribes, evolved into civilizational, national and ultimately ethnic clashes. The leaders were some of the best men of their times. Every collective violence is a reflection of the violence of the individual - be it a nation against a nation, or a race against another, or a group of mountain guerrillas swooping for a kill in the valley.
I do not offer glib solutions to terrorism as it is as complex as any pan-human phenomenon.
I agree with the author's broad views on the advantages of Humanities studies.
But his broad generalization and simplistic solutions mimic my feelings regarding Tharoor's most books and writings: good, heartening, promising - but not deep enough.

"...the argument in favour of studying the humanities. I have always believed that the well-formed mind is preferable to the well-filled one, and it takes a knowledge of history and an appreciation of literature to form a mind that is capable of grappling with the diversity of human experience in a world devoid of certitudes.
If terrorism is to be tackled and ended, we will have to deal with fear, rage and incomprehension that animates it. We will have to know each other better, learn to see ourselves as others see us, learn to recognise hatred and deal with its causes, learn to dispel fear, and above all just learn about each other. It is not the engineering mindset that facilitates such learning, but the vision of the humanities student. The mind is like a parachute — it functions best when it is open. It takes reading and learning about other peoples and cultures to open (and broaden) minds.
Ignorance and lack of imagination remain the handmaidens of violence. Without extending our imagination, we cannot understand how peoples of other races, religions or languages share the same dreams, the same hopes. Without reading widely and broadening our minds, we cannot understand the myriad manifestations of the human condition, nor fully appreciate the universality of human aims and aspirations. Without the humanities, we cannot recognise that there is more than one side to a story, and more than one answer to a question."

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