During my time pursuing a liberal arts degree at the University of Victoria, I have met a great many honest, inspirational people. They will go on to change the way people think, speak, and behave in ways that I believe will truly make the world a better place. However, I have also met a lot of people who became intensely jaded by courses in the arts and humanities. There is wisdom in criticism; however, the hyper-critical nature of liberal arts academia can be downright devastating. Even habits that many people consider innocent and healthy—for example, listening to music that doesn’t demand close listening and interpretation—have been criticized by one scholar or another. This ruthless dissection of daily life can lead to an overwhelming sense of guilt: anything you do or say or think has been criticized by someone, and—even more dispiriting—usually someone brilliant.
In my experience, liberal arts courses tend to produce three types of jaded people: sad-jaded, angry-jaded, or elitist-jaded. Sad-jaded people may become depressed and woefully disillusioned by the subject matter of their courses if it is not presented in a well-constructed framework of inspiration and hopefulness. Existential crises and general gloom about the state of the world are the marks of sad-jaded individuals.
And then, of course, there are those who are heart-wrenchingly angry at the world. After learning all of the horrible things human beings have done to each other, and their perceived inability to make significant changes, they grow spiteful of the world.
But some people become jaded in a sneaky way. Elitist-jaded students are usually political anti-elitists who are so elitist in their language, communication, and rhetoric that the people they proclaim to defend would not be able to understand the better part of their theories—not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of privileged education. Elitist-jaded people often talk about how unjustly privileged they are, but only in the most privileged of language. They become exceedingly judgmental and are quick to undermine every societal habit and process that does not fit into their politically correct book of rules. This book of rules would be about a hundred times the size of the King James Bible, and if followed diligently it would quite literally make functioning in this society near impossible. Ironically, elitist-jaded people pass their judgments using a linguistic register that is, above all else, exclusive. More disturbing are those who pretend to be elitist-jaded because it’s cool. After all, anything that exclusive must be cool (and so the hipster movement was born—in a cruel twist of fate, jadedness became its very own commodity)!
Even the practicalities of obtaining a liberal arts degree can be disempowering. The degree itself saddles people with debt and oftentimes leaves them without many marketable skills. This absence of market-ready skills can lead to the feeling that society is inherently evil. After all, it will allow only people whose passions are marketable to live and work doing what they love.
That said, the way a teacher presents information can leave students inspired and empowered to create change. In these cases, I say the more difficult lessons, the better. Change wouldn’t occur without truth. I’m certainly not suggesting that living sheltered, ignorant lives is the only way to be happy.
I believe that there is incredible value in liberal arts education. But I believe that the presentation of critical academia must be executed in a way that doesn’t alienate people by constantly instilling feelings of guilt, depression, and anger. These emotions are important, and they can be the best possible form of motivation for change—if they do not become overwhelming. Because when they do become overwhelming, people grow jaded. I yearn to see models for change that don’t necessitate so much sad, angry, and elitist rejection of the world and the society that we live in.
But don’t listen to me; I’m just jaded.