A Realistic Defense of the Humanities
The first people to extol the value of the humanities, and those who do so with the most force and vigor, are professors. Similarly, refrigerator salesmen will often concur that refrigerators are an important staple of the modern home.
For example, intellectual historian Wilfred McClay makes well-rendered arguments about the importance of the study of the arts and humanities. In “The Burden and Beauty of the Humanities,” he defends the importance of this type of study by saying that it “connect[s] us with our civilization’s past,” and “guide[s] us in the search for civic ideals and institutions.”
These types of arguments are important and useful for explaining why people get involved with humanities study in the first place. They are less helpful to explain why people keep doing it once they realize exactly what type of tradeoff they are making in their career life.
In choosing to study the humanities, you acknowledge that the time you spend in school is not time you are investing with the expectation of a reliable, or immediate return in cash or prestige. These things do not constitute primary concerns for you.
You are taking some risks, but it is your prerogative to do so. You are allowed to make the choice to struggle a bit harder in your career life than your friends who do web design; you are allowed to have more freedom than your other friends in medical school.
Becoming literate is something equally, if not more important to you than the rewards and opportunities these other career paths offer. This is an acceptable position to take, and it is one for which some people will respect you. You will also meet a fair share of people who will not understand your logic, and will criticize it if you let them.
Here are important and difficult questions you will have to ask:
I can answer this last one on the basis of personal experience. Those people are working extremely long hours, and they spend a good portion of their remaining free time pondering the first three questions. For me, the answer is always a resounding "no," and it feels excellent, if you can afford me a moment of smugness.