Life Experience ·6.4·

The uncertainty of finding your own path and following your passions

The profitability of STEM and the vanity of the Arts and Humanities

Nowadays, for people who want a stable and a high salary, the typical career paths would be that of a doctor, lawyer, IT professional, management expert or generally said, something from the business or STEM department. Positions that usually are highly respected by society or needed in corporations. Graduates from the technology or science fields are highly in demand, because right now, in an era, where technology is evolving constantly, those are the people the industries need. There has been a great emphasis on the STEM education in the last years and STEM-related careers in the UK grew strongly between 1989 and 2000 (The Guardian 2018). The industry needs those with the „hard skills“, while the „soft skills“ are pushed further into the background. In order for companies to strengthen their competitiveness on the market, they fight for the best graduates. Since the people who can provide the skills needed are highly in demand, they are promised great benefits and high salaries. The companies who manage to get hold of the best, of the most knowledgeable, will more likely be able to increase their own profits in the future. And that is the key. Profit. Money. Nothing more, nothing less. You can see it, when the governments make an effort to promote and fund those subjects, while trying to cut the funds for the arts and humanities. There is a constant fight for the status of the most technological advanced country, because countries with the most advanced technologies will be at an advantage in several aspects. That can only be achieved when you can get hold of the people who have the skills to further develop those technologies and thus bring the country forward. There might be people who have genuine goals. The improvement of lifestyles, to help disadvantaged people for example. However, in the end it still comes down to whether someone can make money and a profit from it. Without a budget and a solid financial basis, even the greatest idea can’t be realized. There is rarely anyone offering financial help without wanting a piece of the cake.

As I have observed, nobody questions your choice of study if you answer with a business or a STEM subject when you are asked about your major. Because it makes sense to study those. Because you will supposedly have a future in those fields. Because the government and the industries tell you that that is where the future and the money lies. You might even earn some kind of acknowledgement sometimes. If you tell people that you study something from the humanities or from the art department, I feel like most of the times you are going to be ridiculed, not taken seriously or pitied for your job prospects that they see for your future. I know what I am talking about, because I experienced both sides. Most of you probably know already that I studied International Business Management with a focus on China before, something entirely different from what I majored in, which is Modern Japanese studies as my major and Information Science as my minor. When I told people that I studied International Business Management, the reaction that I usually got was „Wow“, „Respect“ which showed me that the subject I was studying at that time was praiseworthy and respectable. Then I decided to change majors. The first time I knew for sure, that the experience was going to change was probably on the first day of university in the new city, when the freshmen were greeted in the big lecture hall. The student councils of every subjects were introducing themselves. While there was hardly a notable reaction, when the other student councils came forward, when it was the turn of my major I heard „What the hell is that?“, „You can study that?“ from some girls sitting next to me. It was not said in a curious kind of tone, but more in a condescending way. What I was about to study was not praiseworthy anymore. Now when I tell people what I study, the reactions I get range from „Aha?“, „Sounds interesting“, „So what is that?“ to „What are you going to do with that?“. I mean I understand that it is not a common major and that some people might be genuinely curious and are actually interested in what it is exactly. Yet, the overall sentiment I get is that people don’t take you seriously. In my experience, subjects from the faculty of arts or humanities are, compared to the STEM departments, generally looked down upon, because they are seen as useless. It feels like they are laughing at you or pitying you for studying something that has no future in their eyes. In addition Modern Japanese studies is not really a typical subject to study on people’s list and people have difficulties to classify the students studying it. Is that something that is needed in the industries? Can you find a job with that? Who can make use of that? For the art majors, as well the arts and humanities, it is already established that the students are going to be jobless after graduating. Everyone always jokes about how the students from the faculty of arts or humanities are running straight towards unemployment. Even we joke about ourselves in that way. However, why is it like that?
Society makes us think that our self worth is dependant on our productivity, which in turn determines our success, while that success is measured by how much money we make. The traditional idea of success is graduating from university, enter a big company, get promoted, buy a house and have a family and that is only achievable if you choose certain career paths.  If we don’t manage to fit into that mold and follow the path that society and our surroundings  define as „being successful“,  we feel like a failure. The majors are divided into majors that are deemed useful and into majors that are deemed useless to society, into majors with good job prospects and majors with bad job prospects. That is solely based on whether they can generate profit for corporations or not or whether anyone else can make use of you or not. It is not a matter of whether you are using your skills and knowledge to help others, otherwise we would pay nurses, teachers and all these other professions accordingly. No, it is always about money. And depending on what you are studying, you are viewed accordingly. There is this demand, that you should serve a certain purpose while living in a society. A society that gets to decide your worth based on what you are doing with your life. A doctor helps people, scientist develop new medication or work on finding solutions to various problems in this world, business managers help companies to increase their profit, lawyers make money by defending the right groups of people. And behind those is always someone getting a profit out of it, the arms industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry or influential people in high positions. Generally said, the more profit or influence you are generating for someone, in one way or another and the more useful you prove yourself to be, the more valuable you become to society, a corporation or someone with power and connections. As things are now, maybe it’s not wrong to say that society is one whole corporation. Profiting from every aspect of life is what counts and that is why majoring in a business field or studying a STEM subject will be more profitable.

So why do we need the art and humanities disciplines, when there is no future in those? Why do people pursuing art still exist? Doesn’t art only cater to the interest of the student, an individual, not to the interest of the whole society? Don’t they just create for themselves for their own pleasure, selfishly, without thinking about how they can contribute to society? The students of the arts and humanities seem to philosophize all day long, study the existence, knowledge, languages, the mind. Why are things how they are? Why do we think how we think? Why are societies developing the way they are? We don’t study how to cure illnesses. We don’t study how to develop new technologies. We don’t study how to manage a business. We don’t study how to make the most monetary profit out of something. We don’t learn a skill that helps a company increase their profit. We learn to think. We study things nobody needs, let alone anybody can profit from. So those subjects and the people studying it don’t serve a real purpose, right? These degrees are useless. They are useless, because they don’t offer anything productive, they don’t provide any „hard skills“ that are needed on the market. The society and the environment we grow up in make us think, that the arts and humanities are inferior subjects compared to STEM and less valuable to society. A degree is only valuable when it offers physical and tangible results, something that can clearly contribute to a corporation or the society. Instead, we do a lot of critical thinking, we question the politics, society, history and the present. There is no immediate profit that can be counted in numbers from doing all of that. We dismiss the need for „soft skills“, which is critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication skills and the ability for collaboration. Because it doesn’t show immediate productivity, even though it is known that those skills are essential in a corporate setting as well.
Or maybe it is something else? Critically thinking people have proven to be a risky entity to established systems and governments. In the recent years it seems that there has been a great apparent effort in different states to silent and oppress people who start to question the system they are living in, or who don’t want to give in to the dominant culture. So it might be preferable to see citizens pursuing a 9-5 job, where they do as they are told, just to be able to afford rent and food and then return home too exhausted to do or think about anything else. What I often see nowadays is that company advertise themselvers to be „like a family“ and you can become part of the „family“ as well. However, that just means that you should sacrifice everything for the company, because „they are family“ and you shouldn’t make time for your own life. Yet, when they can’t profit from you anymore, they will never hestitate to let you go. Nowadays I have the impression that they want us to think that a 9-5 is the „safe and reasonable“ path. Nevertheless, for those living that life, a 9-5 job is the epitome of being stuck in the routine of a daily life they are unable to get out of to pursue what they truly want, too afraid to lose that „security“ and the managers of those companies earn huge benefits, even after they are being let go. The ones with power get more powerful and the rich get richer every day. However, for ordinary people, things that might be a slight inconvenience to others can be the cause of their lives crashing down onto them. It can be an emergency in their family or their car simply breaking down. They have to count every penny to make sure they are not on the verge of homelessness.

No matter how much we have achieved in our lives, when we lose our jobs, we become worthless and people will see you as the scum of society. Because they made us believe that we are only worth of something if we are productive. We do everything in our power to be acknowledged and all our lives we work on becoming an ideal part of society. Just in order to survive. Just in order to be seen and heard. However, does it even make any difference in the end? What is the real purpose of working towards being the most efficient, the most knowledgable, the most skillful, in order to increase someone else’s profit, while we give up on our own dreams? Is that what success is? Is that what happiness is? Is that our only purpose in this life?

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