SF will save the humanities

The modern scholarly funding imperative is “fund only that which produces American wealth,” and this has been devastating to the humanities. But here’s a good reason to fund the humanities: they give us science fiction, and sf is a secret engine of innovation and economic growth. READ THE REST

So, in other words, SF produces American wealth?

Sure, lots of clever ideas appear first in science fiction, and lots of people in STEM careers read science fiction. But it seems to me that this is fundamentally the argument, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, and we desperately need to beat them.

That is, the imperative to reduce everything to a narrow question of how to increase profit margins is destroying us and our world. And it’s become a trope for liberal journalists to criticize some trend or widespread business practice and throw in the “plot twist” that hey, guess what, if we made this change, we’d actually increase profitability! Living well is a means to improving productivity!

Well, fuck profitability.

And really, the humanities, and the liberal arts, are where people should be learning how to say that there are things that matter more than profitability. Truth, beauty, and love come to mind. In fact, I’d suggest that the real reason that the humanities and the social sciences are under attack is because they explicitly encourage social criticism and the positing of alternatives.

Setting that last point aside for a moment, if somehow we were to win an argument that the humanities deserved funding because that would support the writing of science fiction, and science fiction is a source of wealth-generating ideas, wouldn’t that put the humanities in the position of depending upon patronage that is contingent upon the production of marketable ideas? Do we want to see book reviews that focus on whether the novel described marketable new products?


The article makes the point by example of SF inspiring science and engineering, ok I can accept that. What it doesn’t do is prove that liberal arts programs produce SF writers. Running through SF authors I read they had previous careers in science, engineering or programming. They are largely self taught writers and were not liberal arts students.

@andrew_41: Aside from the fact that Shulevitz’s argument is “only half-unserious,” I wonder how representative a sample “SF authors I read” might be. Then there’s the matter of the role played by the humanities in the education of writers who come out of “science, engineering or programming.” And what of the readership? Just tech nerds? That’s not what I’ve observed in the decades I’ve been involved in SF culture. (And exactly where, I wonder, does a self-taught writer find the materials from which to learn? Do they spontaneously generate from the cultural matrix?)

In any case, the whole matter of evaluating a branch of education according to how many dollars its graduates generate is a kind of economic reductionism, which is one of the pathologies of the current corporatist worldview, akin to the narrow notion that the only duty a corporation has is to increase value for shareholders.

The humanities have never, at least in my lifetime, received the kind of support that engineering and the sciences have. I entered college on the heels of the post-Sputnik panic that resulted in buckets of money getting dumped into the educational system, and some of that slopped over into non-science fields. On the other hand, research in the humanities does not demand the kind of funding that the sciences do–we didn’t need to equip labs or employ armies of post-doc assistants. The biggest expense for, say, an English prof would be travel funds for attending conferences or (even more pricey) salary replacement for time off to actually do research and writing instead of grading stacks of essays. These days, even those crumbs have gotten scarce.


“SF” = “Scholarly Funding” ?

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