The American Academy of Arts and Sciences published a report (http://www.humanitiescommission.org/_pdf/HSS_Report.pdf) lamenting the decline in Humanities in the US. For a group of authors presumably trained in the humanities and clear prose, a surprising amount of the report is just disgruntled fluff. But what really got to me was watching the videos on their website, where various celebrities are praising the humanities. A few choice quotes: "The Sciences are the how; the humanities are the why". "The humanities are the subject areas that let us really probe what it means to be human". "The humanities teach us who we are". "The humanities are the epitome of human expression". "Without humanities, life doesn't have life".
There are certainly many reasons to study the humanities. But what bothers me is that many fuzzies include actual human-ness among them. Unable to make their case by appealing to metrics, they fall back to asserting that the study (read: funding) of the humanities is necessary in order for us to be fully human. In doing so of course, they imply that techies like myself are deficient - as if my knowledge of computer programming is filling the void where my soul ought to be. Well, I'm here to say that engineers are people too. Not knowing Shakespeare might make us boring (for the record, I have a fair deal of Shakespeare memorized), and it might even be a professional liability, but it doesn't detract from our status as human beings. "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" and all of that.
First up, the most basic observation. Our human-ness doesn't come from humanities, science, or anything else that is taught in schools. Our basic merits and dignity come from the relationships in our lives, the pursuit of fulfilling labor, our capacity for happiness, our contributions to the greater community - all those values and virtues that don't fit into a classroom. Book-learning is important for being well-rounded, but neither literacy nor arithmetic plays a role in being human.
A little more to the point (or at least a little more catty), "techie" subjects are as uniquely human as humanities subjects, if not more so. Our social lives and emotional palettes are pretty typical among social mammals. Horses and dogs and dolphins all know love, sorrow, and the pleasure of companionship. In fact many people argue that we are less "emotionally intelligent" than these others. But in tool use - the basis of engineering - we are absolutely unique. Only a few other species have ever been seen to use tools, and *none* of them have been observed using tools for the making of other tools. Using a knife to sharpen a stick is more a celebration of our humanity than all of Shakespeare's sonnets.
There is a great quote by (the author!) Robert Heinlein, which I don't necessarily agree with, but which is so good I have to include it here: "Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best, he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear his shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house". Insofar as this is true of mathematics, it is also true of science, literature, engineering, cultural anthropology, and music. There is nothing "human" about the humanities and "alien" about techie subjects; they are all equally human, and all equally important (or unimportant) to realizing our humanity. There is lots of room for debate about funding of the humanities, and about the respect that is given to different disciplines, but nobody has a monopoly on the human spirit. Claiming otherwise is just below the belt.