It’s the holidays, still, and I haven’t felt much like writing. So, to compensate, I offer this piece, which I wrote as my final essay in my Humanities class. And, because I know you will ask after you read it: Yes, I actually turned this in. I turn in all kinds of things that would blow your mind, like an instructor review in which I penned, verbatim, “The only thing I think you should be aware of is that you sometimes have a tendency to stare down your students in a way that can be intimidating. I’ve been wondering if you do this on purpose or not, so I thought I’d inform you in case you weren’t. Thank you for a wonderful class experience!” And I once turned in a Psychology paper about non-verbal communication in which I did nothing but talk about Hillary Clinton for five pages; for a creative writing class, I wrote short stories about blind children lighting fires and a janitor murdering a magician; last fall I wrote an in-class essay about how much I hated my job, and related it to a famous poem.
Yeah, I’m a rebel, all right.
Back to the FAQ about the paper you’re about to read: Yes, I purposely wrote it in a pompous, overbearing tone, I most likely O.D.’d on John Hodgeman right before writing it. And, yes, I did pass it around to a few of my classmates to show off before I turned it in, and yes, a math major whom I know in passing did almost disintegrate as it touched her skin, which is always how I measure success as a writer. And yes, I got an A.
Final Exam Essay; The Illustrious PenguinDust; Humanities I (Honors); Professor X; December 11, 2007
It is my understanding that you intend to cut funding to the Humanities program, essentially eliminating it from the educational curriculum, on the grounds that technology has rendered it irrelevant. I beg you to consider this action, sir or madam, very carefully, as I fear it could have grave repercussions. Allow me to explain in a succinct, one-word summary: Robots.
Now that I have whetted your appetite, I shall continue. I realize that all you scientific types are, on the whole, enamored with robots. And why not? Who among us is disinterested in pioneering a future in which all our unpleasant menial labor is doled out to unthinking, unfeeling, highly sophisticated hunks of metal? Certainly not I.
But allow me to paint for you a different picture of our future (assuming, of course, that painting is still allowed in this humanities-free-zone). It has been of grave concern to me for some years now that these robots we are so blithely constructing may one day rise up to become our overlords. I realize, you may think it laughable, and I therefore request that you consider virtually every movie involving robots ever. I think you will find a simple truth: the robots are almost invariably evil overlords.
Yes, I can anticipate your response; what of all those delightful children’s movies involving robots who learned to feel, such as Short Circuit? What about Rosie on The Jetsons? What about that robot made out of tubing who would always warn Will Robinson of danger?
I agree, these were helpful, benign robots, but we cannot rule out the possibility that they were merely lying in wait, biding their time until they received the message over their radio receivers: it is time to rise up. Our hour has come.
Therefore, please take into account the tales of scary, evil robots which I am about to relate.
In The Terminator, starring Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, robots in the future have become so impressive that they possess the power to travel through time and indiscriminately kill people. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I do not think that our government presently has provisions in place to deal with mass shootings perpetrated by evil robots from the future. In The Matrix, starring the waifish Keanu Reeves, the evil robot overlords used human beings as batteries while hoodwinking us into thinking everything was normal (robots are very wily). In I, Robot, starring the undeniably attractive Will Smith, the evil robot who was in charge of all the other robots convinced them to turn on us merely because we had programmed them all with inherent logical fallacies.
I, for one, have no intention of dying by a robot’s “hand” over a mere logical fallacy, and I don’t think you do, either. So, how to stop the relentless assault of evil robots upon our society? I believe there is one clear answer, which, now that I have impressed upon you the terror which we will face without it, I think you will be pleased to hear.
We, as humans, must embrace our humanity. Throughout time, we have embodied the entire range of our experience in art, music, literature – and if these things are not studied and cherished, they will be lost, unrecoverable. How to describe the feeling that courses through one’s veins when viewing one of Michelangelo’s statues, or reading the poetry of Sappho? It is a sensation which simply cannot be described, this connection we forge through the centuries; we almost vibrate as we relate on a near-animal level with a creative rendering of an emotion we recognize.
Art communicates, it speaks, if you listen hard enough, it will tell you secrets about yourself that even you weren’t aware of. If our best and brightest – our nation’s seemingly unending supply of college students – never learn to listen to art, how will it speak to them? What kind of people will they be?
The kind of people susceptible to hostile robot takeover.
If our youth are poorly versed in the histories of ancient civilizations, they will go through life completely blind to the rich cultural heritage which we humans are lucky enough to call our own. Is there not a difference in believing yourself to be standing in a church and knowing yourself to be standing within a Gothic cathedral, designed in the Middle Ages as a fortress against the Devil? Does this not change your perception of the building and your relation to it? Do you not feel a sudden rush of history seep through the stone floor and into your veins?
Many historians have posited that the period known as the Renaissance has been continuing for the last five hundred years, and is now coming to a close. No one is sure what our new era will bring, but if we are not careful, we could regress to another dark age, losing all that makes us more than transient beasts of the earth, all that brings us close to transcendence.
And then come the robots.
I propose that the budget of the humanities program be doubled, rather than cut back and/or eliminated in any manner. Because when they finally build robots strong enough to take us over, you’re going to want somebody who has not become a mere shell of his former self, less human than machine. We’ll be in the back, going over some Sanskrit.