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The Carletonian

Side effects of liberal arts majors

Numerous treatments have been proposed in response to the ongoing epidemic of EAT, or Excessive Awareness of Triviality, a condition associated with unwanted recognition of life’s meaninglessness and inability to function without the prospect of reward. The most effective treatment is not new but has been used by some subsets of the population for hundreds of years: a liberal arts education. Beyond treating EAT, liberal arts boasts many other benefits, including reduced likelihood of error in apostrophe use, increased ability to sleep in nontraditional environments, and significantly reduced sensitivity to both short- and long-term sleep deprivation through exposure therapy.

Despite its benefits, however, liberal arts treatment is not a perfect solution. Among its most common side effects is a decreasing ability to differentiate among topics and disciplines. In mild cases, a patient will struggle to distinguish a key concept in one field from the same concept in a different field. In more extreme cases, patients have become unable to differentiate between two of their assignments on entirely different topics. A sociology paper becomes an art history paper when its author proceeds logically from the last paragraph he wrote – which was all about the influence of past artists on their society – and then takes a philosophical turn. The paper, moreover, is submitted neither to the professors who assigned the papers. The risk of such mishaps increases when patients undergo concurrent exposure therapy for sleep deprivation sensitivity.

Most patients of liberal arts treatment also experience reduced ability to prioritize. Since they take so many classes and participate in so many activities, they can become overcommitted if they invest themselves fully in too many of these pursuits. And it is often unclear which of a student’s pursuits warrant their commitment.

The most effective treatment for liberal arts side effects is for each patient to select one field of study to focus on. This encourages factions to emerge among students as the “majors” in each department form groups, enabling clearer distinction between similar fields. A major also provides each student with a logical subset of high-priority classes, and the resulting opportunity for conscious disengagement from other classes; this ability to prioritize is associated with reduced anxiety and even with decreased stress.

However, this course of treatment can have major side effects. Some are predictable: art majors begin to see specks of paint on everything, even when there are none; chemistry majors worry their friends by referring to sliced apples as “rusting” when exposed to air for too long; Classics majors develop obsessions with correct Greek and Latin plurals in words that are supposed to have become part of English.

But some major side effects are more unfortunate. For example, we know that patients who major in STEM or even social science become wealthier than those who major in arts or humanities. We would expect that majors in these impractical subjects, discovering later in life that they can be happy with little money, would gain the necessary insight not to overvalue money. In fact it is the opposite: the belief that money can buy happiness is itself a long-term side effect of an impractical major.

A very recent study surveyed two groups of people with different income ranges, asking each subject the same question: “All else being equal, do you believe that more money tends to make people happier?” Members of the higher-income group were 53% more likely to understand that more money does not increase happiness.(Interestingly, 100% of both groups rated the following statement as “true”: “The more money my children make, the better their lives will be.”) Psychologists speculate that the possession of wealth helps to demystify its effects and to combat the misconception that it can solve personal and psychological problems.

In the end, EAT patients must make peace with some unwanted side effects from their majors. A widespread treatment for these side effects is the choice of a secondary academic focus, which can help to balance out the effects of the first; however, such a secondary focus will invariably have minor side effects of its own.

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