Some Encouraging News

Despite my constant negative rants, I have always considered myself an optimist.  That optimism, struggling though it is, leads me to believe that the current cycle of racist backlash and the frantic efforts to turn back the clock by Christian Nationalists is beginning to abate.

Granted, those efforts still pose a considerable threat, but there are signs that the war on modernity is slowly losing ground, and we need to acknowledge them.

What was once a political party with a reasonably cohesive agenda is coming apart. For example, the GOP climate change deniers trying to keep companies from investing or otherwise doing business with environmentally and socially “woke” enterprises are angering longtime Republicans whose businesses are responding to reality–not to mention the demands of  environmentally and socially responsible customers.

Other indicators:

Polls of the electorate show that a majority of young voters identify as Democrats, and that the crazed antics of Congressional Republicans have begun to turn off older voters.

Calls for higher taxes on the obscenely undertaxed wealthy are growing.

The ubiquity of cell-phone cameras has brought increasing urgency–and potency– to the longstanding calls to reform policing and address racism.

Foundations, not-for-profits and others have recognized the danger to democracy posed by local “news deserts” and have been sponsoring new efforts at local journalism intended to remedy the dangerous dearth of information that has resulted.

And in the wider society, we may be seeing less resentment of “elites”– defined as educated Americans. I was particularly relieved to come across this article in Axios about an increase in the number of students studying the humanities.

The pro-STEM movement has gutted high school and college humanities programs — but there’s some evidence of a post-pandemic revival afoot, Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

Why it matters: In academic circles, humanities’ decades-long decline is blamed for the proliferation of falsehoods on social media, crass political discourse, the rise in racism and the parlous state of democracy (not to mention our etiolated vocabularies).

Driving the news: When the University of California, Berkeley, reported an uptick in humanities majors this academic year, there was elation — and shock — at the prospect of a trend reversal.

The number of first-year Berkeley students declaring majors in the arts and humanities — which includes English, history, languages, philosophy and media studies — was up 121% over last year.

The number of high schoolers applying to Berkeley with the intention of studying humanities was up 43.2% from five years ago, and up 73% vs. 10 years ago.
Some other schools — such as Arizona State University and the University of Washington — have also seen a rise in students declaring humanities majors.
What they’re saying: “Students are turning to the arts and humanities as a way to make sense of our current moment,” Sara Guyer, dean of Berkeley’s division of arts and humanities and director of the World Humanities Report, told the university’s news service

Why do I believe that study of the humanities and liberal arts is so important?

“Paradigm” is one of our contemporary, and overused, buzzwords, but it is an appropriate word to use in connection with the importance of the liberal arts, because the liberal arts give us the paradigm we need if we are to function in an era of rapid change.

We inhabit a world that is increasingly global and–despised as some people find the term and the reality it describes–multicultural. A familiarity with human history, philosophy, literature, sociology and anthropology prepares us to encounter, appreciate and survive in that world.

The liberal arts teach us to be rational and analytic in an increasingly irrational age. They teach us to be respectful not just of results but of process–to understand that “how” and “why” are just as important as “what.”

Most important, from my perspective, the study of the liberal arts is based upon a profound respect for the importance of genuine human liberty. The life of the mind depends upon the freedom to consider any and all ideas, information, points of view. It cannot flower in a totalitarian environment. Technocrats can live with Big Brother, but poets and philosophers cannot.

It may be trite, but it is nevertheless true that learning how to communicate and learning how to learn are the essential survival skills. If all one learns is a trade–no matter how highly compensated the particular trade might be–he or she is lost when that trade is no longer in demand. But even if that never happens, lack of familiarity with the liberal arts makes it less likely that an individual’s non-work life will be full and rich.

There is a difference between learning a trade and acquiring an education. That difference is the liberal arts.

So–modest as they may be–harbingers of positive change….


  1. Like the digestive process human society processes change, particularly technical changes in much the same way. It takes us generations sometimes to accept and incorporate the benefits of these changes.

    1. Eat food. (accept and use new information/tools)
    2. Break down the food into tiny pieces. (understand how it affects us)
    3. Absorb nutrition into the body: move the small particles out of the digestive system and the rest of the body. (incorporate into our cultures)
    4. Get rid of the waste, which is anything your body can’t use. (Get rid of the stuff that’s not useful.)

    So the uptick in the humanities was really kind of predictable. How to understand our societies when so much has changed in such a short period of time (historically).

  2. Another sign of positive change might be the federal prosecution of a massive fraud in Ohio: federal prosecutors allege that an Ohio utility paid $60 million to Republican state lawmakers to get a $1.3 billion (with a b–billion) bailout of it floundering coal and nuclear plants. The trial is currently underway. You can read about it daily in the Ohio Capital Journal, the counterpart to the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

    It’s an astounding read of peculation and graft. The Utility has admitted guilt; so have several operatives. The former Ohio House speaker and a prominent R lobbyist are charged in the action. It’s a tale of dark money funneled through a web of 501(c)(4)s to elect a chamber of patsies to do the utility’s bidding, all controlled allegedly by the charged ex-speaker.

    Read the reports here:

    To me, this is a sign that rule of law can prevail over corruption.

  3. I will make three points:
    1) A wild animal is most dangerous when cornered. The current frenzy from the Crazies is, to me, like a cornered wild animal. They know that the world is changing despite their desire to cling to power and they can’t do anything about it, so they are trapped.

    2) The liberal arts and humanities are complementary to STEM education. The two branches of knowledge are mutually informative. Together they make for a complete and satisfying education. I am glad to read this post as it is hopeful, which is not always the case with your posts in this blog. thank you.

    3) I had to look up “etiolated”. Thank you for the new word of the day.

  4. Your first line made me laugh… but it was unnecessary for only an optimist would produce a blog every day with such credible and cogent content. It’s why you have such a loyal following. When I want to read what pessimists think, I read the on-line comments sections of news sites — and sometimes of your blog 🙂

  5. Thanks for a positive post this morning, but I’m finding it difficult to have a positive outlook for Indiana’s future while the radical Rs that control our state legislature swiftly turn everything they can think of backward by a century or two.

    Their actions of demanding more control over our lives certainly don’t match their motto of wanting a smaller government.

  6. Steve – thanks for letting us know about the Ohio Capitol Chronicle and the story you referenced. I recall reading about the Ohio state speaker and this issue a two or three years ago and had no idea it was still going on.

  7. The point of education when I was matriculating was to learn how to find out what you need to know. You can’t do that with STEM. It can’t stand alone. Most of our great STEM thinkers were very well read and had many interests outside of science and technology. I’m no longer interacting with high school age people, but when I was I feared they were missing out on so much that life has to offer, because they didn’t like to read. I suspect that, when you’ve been given a steady diet of science and technology without poetry and prose, you find it hard to believe that so many wonderful things are out there.

  8. I agree that the GOP is coming apart and that leads me to wonder what will happen in those districts that are heavily gerrymandered to favor Republicans. I am nowhere near ready to make predictions but I hope the Democratic Party leaders are thinking about how to react. What if, in the future, there are no candidates with an R after their name? What are the current congressional crazies like MTG et. al. likely to do?
    To whom will the true conservatives look for leadership? Where will the right wing big money go? Are there huge opportunities on the horizon to accomplish things like reversing Citizens United and abolishing gerrymandering? Pondering the possibilities.

  9. “Students are turning to the arts and humanities as a way to make sense of our current moment.” If this is really a trend, it is encouraging, but it will take a generation for the effects to become entrenched.

  10. “Polls of the electorate show that a majority of young voters identify as Democrats.” Sorry, but they don’t vote much and…have different views then we do (Public Affairs Council 2022):

    % of public calling these a “major issue”:

    Politicians concerned about getting reelected
    Boomers – 85%, Gen Z – 53%

    Politicians using their power to make money
    Boomers – 80%, Gen Z – 44%

    Politicians are too partisan
    Boomers – 82%, Gen Z – 43%

    Politicians spend too much time raising campaign funds
    Boomers – 73%, Gen Z – 37%

    They ain’t gonna fix nothin’ – IGIO.

  11. I liked Steve’s comment: “It’s a tale of dark money funneled through a web of 501(c)(4)s to elect a chamber of patsies to do the utility’s bidding, all controlled allegedly by the charged ex-speaker.”

    Now you know why Republicans want to defund the IRS and use unbelievable propaganda to manipulate voters who don’t know.

    Colleges and high schools shouldn’t chase STEM alone to make well-rounded young people. And students should not be focusing on just humanities. How much does a Bachelor’s degree cost?

    The AI-driven ChatGPT can replace writers and artists if you haven’t been watching. With access to a billion bytes of data/info, jobs will indeed be lost.

    Another note is that the DAVOS crowd is working on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. FIR is the fusion of humans and tech. For instance, Elon Musk is working on implanting computers into the human brain.

  12. Sounding good to me, Sheila!
    STEM and liberal arts support one another.
    Loud mouthed idiots like MTG and LB may be showing youngsters that
    rational approaches to life have special value. As I think of today’s issue,
    it occurs to me that the QAnon idiocy seems to have been fading away of late.

  13. Steve,

    Wouldn’t it be perfect if Jim Jordan was somehow involved with the scandal breaking in Ohio. His district is so gerrymandered, it looks like a snake roadkill. I picked that analogy on purpose.

    Over the decades, the Gen Z equivalents have always voted low in percentage. So, now, with social media and crazies hogging the microphones, that low percentage takes on new meaning. Not to worry. If we still have a democratic republic in 2024, those numbers will change.

    When I taught science, I ALWAYS included the historical perspective of discoveries and their meanings, both accidental ones as well as those following the scientific method. When kids asked me why we sent men to the moon, for example, I had to review the political history of the cold war and its on-going competition of fear and dominance. That made for many spirited discussion. Old Socrates was probably weeping with joy.

  14. “Over the decades, the Gen Z equivalents have always voted low in percentage. So, now, with social media and crazies hogging the microphones, that low percentage takes on new meaning. Not to worry. If we still have a democratic republic in 2024, those numbers will change.”

    Read over the attitudes I just posted. Then read “Bowling Alone” and the ongoing pattern of loss of social equity, generation by generation. What you smokin’??

  15. I like your optimism, but Indiana is still a very red state in terms of changing its tune. Check out the uproar at Homestead High School outside of Fort Wayne. Very sad situation.

  16. Lester,

    Save your snark for somebody else. I read too. Maybe not what you read – whatever that is – but I try to gain validated information from reliable sources. Try it some time.

  17. Lester – you are right and you are missing an important point. Every vote matters.

    My “What are the Midterms and why you should care Road Show” (form 2014) ended with some important points. Some elections are won by a few hundred votes, or a few dozen, or even less.

    In 2010, Christina Hale beat Cindy Noe by 51 votes to win the 87th District State House seat.
    In 1984, Indiana’s 8th Congressional District, Democrat, Frank McCloskey beat Republican, Richard D. McIntyre by just 4 votes.

    A few extra votes matter. Democrats lost many elections by concentrating on the “big blocks” and ignoring everyone else. Now the GOP is doing the same thing – mostly.

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