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You'll laugh, but I want everyone to read this.

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Jul. 8th, 2009 | 01:01 am

New Liberal Arts as a guidebook for a new [and simpler and more harmonious] economy?

A PDF file just convinced me that I'll never go to grad school. At least, not taking it seriously. I'm so excited that I'm barely jealous that I'm not cool and clever enough to have been a part of this. I'm too excited to labor over this post for days; instead, I'll just write it fast and recursively and hope madly that some of you will find this as illustrative as I do. New Liberal Arts are all the forces I can see at work and that I want to be apart of, but that I've been separated from by coursework and fashion and family and the universal threat of loneliness.

The reason I haven't found the field I want to study or the job that I find important and well-suited to my skills is because what I want isn't fully formed yet. I am wholly and completely a product and member of my generation, and my generation is shaping an inchoate new market to utilize society's information and energy.

This PDF file, New Liberal Arts reads as a collection of professors selling new courses on interdisciplinary themes of the 21st century. The pithy, playful unabashedly broad, yet easily absorbed descriptions follow the age-old spirit of the liberal education by offering topics whose further exploration might help us solve problems that will never be eliminated by science and technology.

From factory model schools to Cold War-era science fairs to multiculturalism to MBA programs, established curricula serves as a proxy for a critical mass of people who agree on what the most pressing social problems are. Here, the fields that hold potential solutions range from the established fields, redefined: attention economics, journalism re-described as a community's conversations with itself, mapping understand your role in the built environment...[which in turn] helps you understand fields like design, language, and economics.

The truly interdisciplinary like coding/decoding and play.
Modernist themes now in sharp relief - creativity, genderfuck, iteration.
The faddish ones - food, brevity - and the debatable ones - inaccuracy - can maybe be skipped.

But the brilliant pieces like reality engineering coursework includes War of the Worlds, A Million Little Pieces, and The Hills, translation we can't afford not to understand people whom we do not understand, photography, and my personal favorite, negotiation the lubricant...which reduces the friction of disagreement and produces collective, social rewards that compensate for an absence of personal, ego rewards.

These ideas will define our future. With others, of course. If I'd been in on the discussion I'd had submitted/suggested motivation and value, descriptions for another post.

Maybe it's just a study of our culture, but if so, the justification is the same as for myth and magic you have to learn and be immersed in your own myths... what are your archetypes, themes and tropes, core beliefs? What's a bigger liberal arts stereotype than Know Thyself?

New Liberal Arts pays homage to the reinvented, Long Tail-loving American individual with sections on creativity and finding. I don't mean to say that there's a paradigm shift in the way culture is organized, because the only change might be that William Whyte's organization men belong to co-ops instead of corporations.

But maybe there's a compromise emerging between the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses outer-directed mass of Americans and the rigidly confident inner-directed solo thinkers described in The Lonely Crowd. With the sharing of information and a new value for the good of the whole comes an implied belonging and responsibility, where people try to figure out their core beliefs and value systems together, and act accordingly.

I feel a little behind here because I never listen to podcasts or watch videos online, I am stodgy old media, and maybe everyone already has heard all of this. But even! There are a lot of us, a critical mass of twentysomethings who want to do with their lives work that isn't traditionally "work". Endeavors that are creative, intellectual, and with positive halo effects. Work that is collaborative and not aimed necessarily a manufacture of a physical or even intellectual "property". As "more things are becoming more like words and web pages", the production and transmission of products like goodwill, community, and beauty becomes more feasible.

It's clear that the saturated service and financial economy isn't sustainable in for the long term, much less widely accessible. Why not a market whose inputs and outputs are pleasure, friendship, fun, efficiency, and truth? This market won't buy and sell ideas themselves, it'll exchange new uses of them for net benefit.

I know, I know. Amorphous. Starry-eyed. Blatantly present-biased. It's impossible to know if this book signifies a true shift in cultural values or rather than the latest lifestyle liberalism trends.

But if science and technology have surpassed any reasonable expectation from thirty years ago, why can't the new liberal arts utilize them to create new lifestyles and with it, livelihoods?

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Comments {5}

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from: gergoeschainsaw
date: Jul. 8th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
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faddish? I feel like food is one of the more important ones. I mean, just learning what to call "food" in the first place (shameless Michael Pollan plug) has become difficult.

this is interesting. but you're right, some of this is way too amorphous and ... I mean a marketplace of ideas is a good metaphor, but...

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Morgan McCrory

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from: plexi
date: Jul. 8th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I'm excited by the energy of the project and am interested to take a look at this later on this weekend! I'll get back to you with thoughts.

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(Deleted comment)

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from: thalia9
date: Jul. 9th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
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the book? i guess you wouldn't understand, old man

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(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)

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from: thalia9
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
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yeah, you didn't get the concept at all

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(Deleted comment)

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from: thalia9
date: Jul. 10th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
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you are definitely taking it too seriously, but it's not a joke.

i don't know what about it made you think it was a serious proposal to replace existing higher ed curricula - which, btw, has been in flux ever since it was established. it's just a culture piece to describe the multiple ways that people can/should/have taken advantage of new technology and cultural mores to further traditional liberal arts and invent new ones.

furthermore, it's a comment on the fact that neither the traditional liberal arts or "hard" science/technology can solve what are shaping up to be the most dangerous and intractable problems in modern society. so why not explore new options?

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