Are Humanities and Social Sciences Bad for Asians too?

If you’ve been reading the news these days, you’ve probably come across one, or more, or many articles and op-eds telling people about how terrible it is for students to be going into the humanities or social sciences.

How will you find a job with that Studio Art degree? Will that Philosophy PhD satisfy your hunger? That B.A. in Anthropology will just land you a job flipping burgers at McDonalds!

That looks delicious, except for the fact that I’m vegetarian.

Actually, they are right. Slightly. Humanities, arts, social sciences, and so on: unfortunately, these majors tend to make less money than their science and mathy counterparts, and they also tend to have higher unemployment, even though, from what I’ve looked up, they still make more money and have better employment prospects than people without college degrees. So perhaps, as some of these articles and op-eds suggest, there are too many people going into the Humanities and Social Sciences. Fine. Makes enough sense. Society needs people going into all sorts of subjects, not just politics and literature. But see, for me, there’s a wee bit of a problem.



I’m Asian.

Asians, see, don’t tend to go into Humanities and the Social Sciences. Lots of Asians go into science, or engineering, or tech, or medicine, or something along those lines. I notice, for instance, a shift from “lots of Asians” to “not a lot of Asians” when I go from, say, my science/tech classes to my humanities/social science classes.

That’s fine, really. I don’t have a problem with that. Actually, never mind, I do. Asians, along with other immigrant groups, tend to emphasize getting degrees in “useful” subjects much more than other non-immigrant groups. That’s perfectly justifiable, except so many Asians go into these “practical” fields that it’s become a problem of imbalance: some within the Asian and immigrant communities are starting to advocate for parents and other Asians to encourage their kids to go into fields other than the stereotypical doctor/engineer lineup.

Stop the madness.

What does this have to do with Humanities and Social Sciences enrollment in general?

It means that when I see the people saying that less and less people should be going into humanities and social sciences, I feel a bit conflicted. See, that might be true to some degree, but I’m also Asian. And as for us Asians, I believe the opposite should be happening – that more and more Asians should be going into the humanities and social sciences.

Frankly, I don’t enjoy hearing an older Asian man or woman saying that I should just become a doctor, and I don’t want to hear another of that from somewhere else. I’ve heard it enough times, and I can just tell when they are about to say it.  I don’t want to be another Asian doctor or engineer. I don’t need to. Some Asians are fine with those fields, and I respect that, but that is not for me.

It’s an odd conflict. In general, there are more people in the humanities and social sciences than there should be; yet within the Asian (and immigrant) communities, it’s the opposite, in my opinion.


Confucius, an Asian philosopher. I heard he was totally into the Humanities or something.

How to find the balance?

I don’t know.

But I do know it’s a good idea to not do something if you’re that ambivalent towards it. On the other hand, I also know it’s a good idea to plan ahead. There’s nothing wrong being an Art/Philosophy/whatever major, so long as you know the risks and consequences, and plan accordingly.

I think that’s what we should be telling stupid kids like me, instead of “Take this major,” or “Don’t go into that subject.” I should be telling myself “Think about why you want to do this, the pros and cons, and how you are going to manage yourself with these tools.” After all, majors are nothing but tools. College degrees are nothing but tools. Some tools are better than others, certainly, but all tools are useful somehow. You just have to familiarize yourself with the tool, its purpose, its limits and its potential.

That said, being a doctor ain’t fun. I’ve heard (though I cannot verify) that the debt from medical school makes other college debts look like a joke.

92% of statistics are made up!

Though I guess you can be a surgeon and get good pay to pay off your debts. Then again, it’s pretty stressful being one, I’ve heard.

(Note: I use “Asian” in this article, but in reality I could substitute Asian with most other immigrant groups. See here for more.)

The Historical Importance of 9/11 (Or Lack Thereof)

Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

Except that quote might have been misattributed to him, but let’s ignore that.

9/11 was undoubtedly a tragedy by any means, and a sad example that even in the modern day and age, mankind is still capable of, well, terror. Now that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, newspapers, television, and politicians will remind us of how important 9/11 is in a historical context, and how history took a turn for the better or worse – the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the realization that the world will never be the same…

Or is it?

As a student of history, I have to ask myself: was 9/11 actually an important event? Did it define the first decade of the new millennium? Will it have ramifications for decades and centuries to come? In truth, I feel the answer to all of these is a cautious “no.” Or at the least, “not as much as one would think.”

For the people who lost loved ones and/or who were directly affected, 9/11 is undeniably a turning point in their lives, and I won’t argue against that. But for the rest of us? For the world? I don’t feel that history is really controlled by single, prominent events like 9/11, even though we certainly like to think that way. We like to think that World War I was caused solely by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We like to think that the Roman Empire suddenly collapsed solely because some Germans razed the city in 476 CE.

But history usually doesn’t works that way; I think history follows trends, not single events. For instance, World War I was going to happen, sooner or later (even Bismarck predicted the Balkans would cause a mess). The whole war was the culmination of decades, even centuries, of European competition for power and resources. And as for the Romans, the Empire was already on decline for two hundred years, and Rome wasn’t even the capital anymore (the capital shifted to Ravenna several decades previously). The whole Fall of Rome was the culmination of a trend of barbarian migrations and a failing Roman economy, and it didn’t happen overnight in 476 CE.

Occasionally, of course, you have some really crazy people or groups of people, like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, who totally upset the balance of things and define their era. But that doesn’t happen a lot. And I don’t think Osama bin Laden defined our era, nor did terrorism.

In reality, I think that history since the end of the Cold War has been defined by at least two main trends (there probably are more, but these two are the ones off the top of my head). Firstly, we have the technological boom and increasing globalization. Internet. Computers. The Eurozone (chuckle). E-Commerce. The entire world is connected so much more than it was even one year ago, than it was since 9/11. This has led to some good things – like the spread of knowledge and ideas – and also to some not-as-good things – like how the economic recession affected everybody in the world.

Secondly, we have the overall geopolitical trends. The collapse of the USSR appeared to make the US the dominant power of the world. But there are always rising powers, and even some older ones, waiting in the sidelines. China is the most prominent example, but other important ones include Russia, India, Brazil, and so forth. Furthermore, within the past two decades, it’s been clearly shown that the US doesn’t dominate the world 100%, and not just because it’s too focused on the War on Terror.

Other things have been happening in the previous decade, too – the Middle Eastern revolutions, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the establishment of the Eurozone, the economic recession …

Heck, has anyone noticed that the Republican presidential candidates don’t talk too much about the War on Terror? It’s all about the economy. 9/11? Yes, it’s sad, we say, but we’re more worried about our jobs and income right now. And that’s how Stalin’s purported quote works: when it’s one person, or something dear to us, or something immediate that we can focus on, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s something far away, or something we can’t exactly grasp, it’s just a statistic. And you can think of history like one very, very big and vague statistic.

Of course 9/11 was a terrible thing. We should remember those who died, and also remember what evils humans are capable of. But it wasn’t the only thing – good or bad – that has happened within this past decade or two. It didn’t define history so sharply. Rarely does history suddenly “change.” It usually slowly morphs from one era to the next. But that’s not all bad.

This will sound a bit corny, but it’s like growing a tree. We have to sow the seeds of prosperity and success for future generations. The seeds won’t become big trees right away – maybe not even in our lifetimes, but if we take care of them right, water them, and give them a supportive environment, they’ll be nice, big trees someday.

Of course, the problem is that everyone disagrees on how to take care of those seeds. And that’s how many conflicts start, from political deadlock to big wars.

But at least we can try. We can turn the seed of 9/11 – of all that has happened in this past decade – into something better for future generations. I’d like a nice tree, literal or symbolic. Not too many trees. A nice, solid, figurative tree in a huge figurative meadow of figurative flowers or something. I hope my grandchildren would appreciate that.