As we all know, humanities academics have an unparalleled ability to identify what is most politically effective. Indeed, it’s typical to find that a conversation that started out as a recondite scholarly debate quickly shifts terrain to political concerns — it’s just in our blood.
Nowhere is our effectiveness so obvious as in the institutions over which we have the most direct influence: colleges and universities. We have fought tooth-and-nail to the point where state and federal funding bodies cannot even consider cutting education budgets without a massive public outcry. Academic publications are available for free online or in a cheap hardcover, as we’ve come together to radically exclude for-profit firms or even the logic of “running things like a business” from academic presses — much less universities themselves. We’ve gradually managed to make the case that higher ed, including graduate school, should be freely available to anyone who wants it, including a modest stipend for living expenses.
Our influence outside our immediate institutions has also been massive. The conditions of academic labor are considered sacrosanct and inviolable, and indeed the general working population looks at our working conditions as a kind of model, so that labor unions have made major progress toward maintaining full employment by reducing the working week and providing two months of paid vacation for all workers. Universities have taken an active role in managing the communities they operate in, turning what were once forgotten rural hamlets or rust-belt ghost towns into vibrant models of social democracy.
And of course, given how much immediate practical benefit most people have gained from the cultural leadership of academics, expert knowledge is treated almost like an oracle: the “global warming” scare was quickly handled, as the country moved decisively away from its misguided car-centric culture toward a policy of greater urban density and public transportation. One can point to similar achievements in guiding the culture away from animal cruelty and factory farming, or toward designing products from the bottom up to accomodate recycling, or an endless number of other related areas.
And, of course, who can forget the pony for every man, woman, and child?