Whenever I watch the news these days, I know I’m in for a depressing half-hour, especially in New York, where crimes big and small seem to happen nonstop. Whether it’s a subway groper, a child falling out of a seventh story window, or the violence in Syria, I am starting to understand that no news really is the only good news.
This steady stream of bad news makes me wish for a Garden of Eden on this world, a place that’s a little more innocent, and I’m reminded of a trip I took last December to the Galapagos Islands, famous for their role in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution. What struck me most about the islands was that, with wildlife galore and few predators, all the animals seemed to coexist so peacefully. Sea lions casually rested their heads on iguanas and birds never worried about their eggs being eaten. Tropical flamingos and penguins lived side-by-side. It was the oddest thing I had ever seen and it was inspiring.
So much of the violence and brutality in the world is taken to be an inevitable result of nature. But as the Galapagos show, in the right environment, a world that’s a little more peaceful can thrive. For the animals of the Galapagos, that environment comes from the absence of predators, but for humans, I think it comes from empathy and understanding of others. That’s a reason the social sciences and humanities are so important. In pursuing research on everything from global conflict to remote cultures, academics contribute to a better understanding of our world, which slowly over time has the power to make us more trusting and empathetic toward one another.
As a marketing manager for scholarly journals, my work can sometimes feel pretty removed from the larger mission of the academy, and I suspect that’s true for everyone from professors to graduate students to librarians to editors. So it’s important to step back every now and again and look at your work in the larger context of scholarship and its potential for the world. That’s true now more than ever, when the social sciences and humanities are increasingly asked to justify their very existence. But expanding knowledge, whether it’s about the physical world or human relations, is an important undertaking and we should all feel proud to be part of it.