Linking to an xkcd that’s maybe somewhat related to a topic is certain nerdy millennials’ version of “Simpsons did it!” Not this particular millennial nerd, though. I am a philosophy major cursed with a long, detailed memory.
For a decade, emblazoned below every single one of the comics that made deconstructed art with stick figures who discussed philosophical concepts, was this warning message:
Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
The first time I saw it, I absolutely loved it.
That is, I was deeply grateful to the warning, with all its blatant loathing for my kind. For once, a STEMlord was being obvious about his hatred and gatekeeping of lowly folk like myself who chose to study such easy-peasy topics as ethics. I am not so desperate as to beg to go where I am not wanted, so I disavowed xkcd.
It turns out that I am a nerd blasphemer of some kind. Not only is “the xkcd” for some vaguely-appropriate topic added frequently to conversations I try to have online, but people also go to bat for the webcomic like they’re getting paid for it. My objections to it are met with disbelief.
“What warning? It’s not there, I checked.”
Ah yes, the coward’s way, to remove a strongly-worded thing when you’re popular enough to want an even bigger audience and don’t want to scare them off. No apology or explanation, though.
“It’s clearly a joke! It also warns away both adults and children.”
The strong language joke is a replication of viewer-discretion-advised warnings, a mainstream media precursor to other types of content warnings. These were the butt of many jokes made by people in my age bracket since many of us were children when we started (sometimes furtively) watching or listening to content with such warnings. The warning for adults is clearly meaningless nonsense.
The warning admonishing liberal-arts majors that they are not smart enough to comprehend the stick-figure philosophy rehash, though? Not really a joke. It is a repetition of a commonly-held belief that getting a degree (or even just taking a course) in anything but STEM is a waste of time and money.
People think that non-STEM majors are a drain on society, lack in academic rigor, and were probably better off not going to school in the first place. Atheist types insist that STEM is what makes you lose your belief in religion. At the same time, STEM types love to talk about philosophical concepts in a context-free way, as though they were the first to think of such matters.
None of this anti-arts line is necessarily objectively true, some of it is patently false, and all of it is why so much of the tech world lacks in basic, well, humanity. We’re looking at a future built by people who can’t get their heads out of their own perspective enough to realize such basic things as the fact that menstruation is an incredibly commonly-experienced phenomenon that affects the health of a significant portion of the population. We’re looking at people controlling our ability to work and live who can’t fathom the way most of us work and live. Precious few people are pausing to think about such STEM-deficient topics as ethics or societal impact.
All these are the sorts of things the liberal arts focus on, but as non-STEM disciplines continue to be derided, devalued, and defunded, fewer and fewer people who aren’t privileged enough to study and learn for its own sake will be granted access to it. Fewer and fewer STEM types will be exposed to enough of it to care, either.
It’s already happening. I’ve fought a lot of atheists and skeptics who insist to me that philosophy is silly and pointless while screeching “fallacy!” at anything I say that they don’t like regardless of its logical validity. The irony is lost on them.
Certainly not on me, though — I also have an English degree in addition to the Philosophy BA and can identify several types of irony, thank you very much.
Jokes that simply replicate some kind of actual real-life bigotry aren’t very good jokes in the first place. All I read in the “warning” was the attitude I’ve encountered for most of my life towards the humanities.
As of 2016, the warning message no longer festoons every page of xkcd. It was quietly disappeared by xkcd’s creators without any acknowledgement that it existed in the first place, let alone was removed. I’m still not reading xkcd, though, and STEMlord supremacy persists in the worst ways — so I’m still not willing to pretend none of it ever happened.