I have just finished reading "The Ultimate Utility of Nonutility", by Lisa Colletta (Academe magazine, September-October 2010).
In it, she writes the following:
"A liberal mind is one which is independent and disinterested, aware of the history of thought, action, and reaction, and understanding of ambiguity. The liberal arts are not valuable because they are useful politically or vocationally. They are valuable because they are what constitutes real knowledge.
...I would claim that real knowledge of the real world is emphatically not the domain of the professional fields. The professions teach students skills, skills that may indeed be useful, but are too often uniformed by knowledge or thoughtfulness."
She is not alone in her dismissive attitude towards the sciences and engineering. I have seen similar opinions expressed by David Brooks of The Washington Post, Simon Jenkins of the UK's The Guardian, several other political commentators, and all too many university professors.
They remind me of the ancient Greek philosophers, debating the virtues of democracy, while surrounded by slaves and servants who do the actual work.
Apparently, her 'real' knowledge and grasp of the ephemeral nature of human constructs have failed to make her aware of the frailty of our whole civilization.
Were it not for the excess food and other resources provided by the Agricultural, Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, our comfortable lives would not be possible, the lofty ideals of the Enlightenment would be so much empty rhetoric, and democracy as we know it would not exist. In fact, without the relatively small number of technical experts, the best estimates are that 95% of humanity would starve to death within a few months.
Let her ponder that the next time she pontificates to her students.