[VIEWPOINT]Keep the spirit of humanities aliveMany young people have rushed down the road that leads to success and making money the easy way, and that is not a new phenomenon.
That tendency has gone to extremes nowadays, and humanities scholars have started to scream in pain, saying that their field of study is in danger of withering to death.
On Sept. 15, 121 professors of humanities at Korea University at last issued “a statement on the crisis of humanities studies.” In addition, the deans of more than 80 colleges of humanities nationwide will issue a joint statement next Tuesday.
In the past, university professors often expressed their position by issuing statements on political situations whenever social turning points occurred.
However, the statement this time is new because it warns of an academic crisis in the study of humanities.
Here, we can discuss the issue from three different vantage points.
The first point is that the discussion should start among the scholars themselves, reflecting on what went wrong.
While they have delved into their traditional fields of study while staying in their ivory towers, social changes and demands from society have changed drastically.
As a result of such drastic changes, scholars are forced into a position in which they cannot avoid criticism that they have turned their shoulders away from the tough realities.
Scholars studying humanities must not only study deep into their professional field, but also expand their field of study to interdisciplinary spheres which border with new sciences, opening broader horizons.
The second point is that the statement should not stop at a simple appeal to get more research funds.
Even though we must admit the fact that market principles dominate, scholars of humanities should be able to proclaim the meaning of human existence in order to prove how important their professional fields of study are.
Although the power of capital and technology runs the market, we should not overlook the fact that human beings run the capital and technology.
But human beings cannot live on capital and technology alone. When people understand the value of being human, they feel the true meaning of life. The studies that mainly focus on literature, history, philosophy and languages have never lost their value.
If the foundation of humanities studies was not strong enough, human beings would have ended up as unstable and distorted beings. This foundation is the fundamental difference that distinguishes humans from robots.
The last point that we should take into consideration is the fact that all of the conflicts and confrontation that take place in our society nowadays arise from the absence of the spirit of humanities.
Recently, we are surprised to find that even within the group who are at the helm of state affairs the efficient communications with each other is not easy.
In the absence of a grand consensus on the nation’s future, they only indulge in minor discussions which tend to be led by their own selfish interests.
I dare to say that the historical legitimacy of Korea could have been kept solely by the spiritual strength of Korean humanities studies. With just functionalism and commercialism, we cannot produce the creativity that will lead us in the new century.
As a result of pursuing the policy of “economic development first” blindly, the tragedy of the fall of Seongsu bridge occurred. It was a symbol of the economic success of our country and as a result of the intense competition to develop natural science and technology, the cultural prosperity cultivated by the spirit of humanities has disappeared.
Naturally, our ailing society has no other exit but to indulge in partisan struggles, including the epidemic of video gambling, as seen in Sea Story.
The history of mankind is said to have developed through three apples. One is the apple of Adam and Eve. Another is Newton’s apple and the last one is the apple of the painter Cezanne. The three apples that represent religion, science and art, respectively, tell us the relationship between human beings and the world.
Now, we are dreaming of a new heaven in which the human being eats the fourth apple. That is a genetically modified golden apple.
In an era of crisis, the humanities studies consider the meaning of existence, which will restore the dignity of human beings to mankind.
If the humanities wither to death, human beings would be, by being genetically distorted, either degraded to be slaves of science and technology or rotten frozen food.
A society without humanities would be a corrupt heaven, where technology and money are worshiped as a panacea.
* The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Dong-ho