(FT) Edward Luce–US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy

Yet the folk prejudice against history is hard to shake. In an ever more algorithmic world, people believe that humanities are irrelevant. The spread of automation should put a greater premium on qualities that computers lack, such as intuitive intelligence, management skills and critical reasoning. Properly taught that is what a humanities education provides. Almost no one can fix their own computers: the field is too specialised. People ought to be able to grasp the basic features of their democracy. Faith in ahistoric theory only fuels a false sense of certainty. Few economists expected the 2008 financial crash. Historians were unsurprised.

Alas, America’s curiosity about itself is suffering a prolonged bear market. What may work for individual careers poses a collective risk to US democracy. The demise of strong civics coincides with waning voter turnout, a decline in joining associations, fewer citizen’s initiatives — and other qualities once associated with American vigour. The spread of fake news is often blamed solely on social media. Facebook bears a heavy — and largely uncorrected — responsibility for the spread of viral harm. But the ultimate driver is the citizens who believe it.

There is no scientific metric for gullibility. Nor can we quantitatively prove that civic ignorance imposes a political cost on society. These are questions of judgment. But if America’s origins tell us anything it is that a well-informed citizenry creates a stronger society. We may no longer be interested in history. History is still interested in us.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., History