In his recent editorial (“Why a liberal arts degree? The Big Shaggy”), David Brooks of the New York Times writes, “… many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation; … Very few people have the ability to create a great brand;…”
Polite words almost fail me.
Mr. Brooks’ argument is that manipulating emotion by words is a rarer and higher-order skill than ‘simple’ problem-solving. This view was shared by the ancient Greek philosophers, who looked down on the people who made things as ‘mere artisans’. It is also the stated view of Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian (UK), and the late writer Norman Mailer.
To be consistent, this alternate reality means ignoring the hard work and dedication of legions of scientists and engineers, and treating our comfortable existence as the Natural state of things.
It is also the apparent view of our nation’s scientifically- and technologically-illiterate middle managers, administrators, money manipulators and politicians. Starting in the 1970’s, they collectively watered down science and mathematics education, reduced funding for research and de-emphasized manufacturing.
This ‘service-based’ economy allowed us the illusion of confusing the movement of wealth with its creation, and brought the nation to bankruptcy. Lawyers, accountants, bankers, hedge fund managers, and the like all have incomes which are vastly larger than those of the typical scientist, and yet they produce absolutely nothing of any substance.
Unfortunately for them, the energy, economic, environmental and societal problems that we face are largely scientific and technological. Simply put, without a lot of such work, most of us would starve.
At most universities, the number of majors in any one of psychology, sociology, communications, pre-law, and other non-technical fields dwarfs the total in the hard sciences and mathematics combined. Exactly where will we get the experts that we badly need?