Letters: Studying the humanities

Studying the humanities will feed your mind but not your children
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Sir: AC Grayling's defence of philosophical education over vocational training ("What's the point of philosophy? Discuss", 17 February) is admirable, but it bears the distinct mark of someone who has received enough economic and educational opportunities in life to allow him to withdraw from the real world in the pursuit of furthering his love of philosophy full-time. Indeed, Grayling's entire defence is a masterpiece of idealised abstract thought aimed at a vocational environment whose practical demands leave little room for such abstractions, or for those who understand them.

While I agree with the argument that students of the arts and humanities make valuable employees, the truth is that employers today don't care whether or not such studies make a prospective employee a better or more capable human being. As a graduate of both philosophy and religious studies, I have sat through interview after interview at which my would-be employers dismissed my educational qualifications and instead tried to figure out if I could just "get on with the job". I have had to put aside my qualifications in order to undergo more relevant vocational training - a distinct inversion of the very scenario that Grayling favours.

True, I value my education in the humanities, as well as the insights it has given me and the ways in which it continues to influence my personal development. I could never have studied anything else, but to all aspiring humanities graduates, I'd say be aware: you will suffer the derision of elitist prejudice at best, the agony of an employment history spent waiting tables at worst, and working under vocationally trained but educationally redundant superior employees most of the rest of the time.

Some humanities graduates are lucky enough and wealthy enough to escape into the contemplative scholarly circles of which Grayling is a part. But for everyone else, the humanities will go a long way towards feeding your mind, but they have no hope of feeding your children.



Sir: It is interesting that the study of history and philosophy is regarded as dispensible by the Government (Letters, 18 February). Of course, a few more historians in Parliament could have pointed out the folly of the Government's neo-imperial adventures in the Middle East, and philosophers could have destroyed the flimsy, contradictory arguments that were used to "justify" these adventures. Instead, we have a Parliament and a Cabinet dominated by lawyers, careerists and spin-merchants.



Passive smoking really does kill

Sir: Dominic Lawson is wrong in denying the existence of evidence that passive smoking kills (17 February). He cites the paper by Enstrom and Kabat, published by the British Medical Journal, that purported to show that passive smoking was not harmful and castigates those who argued that it should not have been published. While some of them did simply object to the message, many also drew attention to specific scientific flaws, a summary of which can be found on the website of ASH.

Since Enstrom and Kabat's paper was published, landmark research by Peter Whincup and his colleagues at St Georges Hospital Medical School, also in the British Medical Journal, shows that when biological markers of exposure to secondhand smoke are used rather than self-reported exposure, the dangers are even greater than was suspected.

The explanation can be found in the tobacco industry's own research, conducted at a secret testing plant in Germany. This showed that, volume for volume, secondhand smoke is four times as harmful as directly inhaled smoke. This is because much secondhand smoke comes from cigarettes smouldering at low temperatures in ashtrays, where they produce much higher levels of toxins than when being actively smoked.

The evidence is so overwhelming that even the tobacco industry admits it in private. Passive smoking kills.



Sir: Dominic Lawson's article is interesting but flawed. The claims about health risk from passive smoking may well be open to challenge, but the 75 per cent majority who don't smoke surely have the right to go into public buildings without having to suffer the obnoxious smell from the 25 per cent minority.

The reference to alcohol is interesting, but a separate issue. Alcohol abuse does obviously give rise to social problems, but that is no reason not to ban smoking.



Sir: Your continued support for a "market" solution to the public nuisance caused by smoking is misguided (leader, 15 February).

As Adam Smith pointed out, the market is a wonderful device for promoting human welfare through individual decision-making, but that is only the welfare of market participants, in this case the producers and consumers of smoking materials. Entirely outside the market are the third parties who are affected by the consumption of tobacco by others.

Tobacco consumers significantly reduce the welfare of third parties, whether these be non-smokers such as colleagues in the work-place or pub-goers or the taxpayer who picks up the bill for increased healthcare costs, lower life expectancy and lower productivity. The market will always fail to protect third-party interests unless there is intervention by government.

Negative advertising in all its forms, and higher product taxation are government interventions through the market mechanism. Parliament's vote to ban tobacco use in public places is a recognition that third-party interests are still insufficiently protected, and that we need to go further than any market-based solution can take us.

Government intervention has been absolutely central over the last 40 years in reducing tobacco use and its costs, both to consumers and to others affected by it. The market, left to its own devices, could not have achieved this, and that remains the case today.



Sir: I'm not a smoker, but I fail to see how, in any city that has a few hundred pubs, there cannot be one or two licensed premises - decided through a process that could include approval by staff and customers - where smoking is allowed. A pub is a place where some people (including bar staff!), go to get out of the house and share a social drink and smoke with like-minded people, and it is a vindictive, meddlesome, illiberal and shameful law that denies them that pleasure.



Father and son in the bull-ring

Sir: It was Cayetano Ordóñez, known as El Niño de la Palma, not his son Antonio, who featured in Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon (report, 31 January). Papa was less than generous about his old friend, calling him "a disgusting coward" for failing to expose himself to the horns when killing. Antonio appeared in Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer, written three decades later, wowing the author by killing "recibiendo" - that is, holding his ground and allowing the animal to come to him.

Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, who, as you report, is teaching Adrien Brody capework to prepare him for the role of Manolete, is Antonio's grandson and Niño de la Palma's great-grandson, as well as the son of yet another famous matador, Paquirri, who was killed in the ring at Pozoblanco in 1984. Spaniards put great store by the pedigree of their fighting bulls and, not unnaturally, they extend the principle to their bullfighters, too.



ID compulsion by the back door

Sir: The Government's concessions on ID cards are nothing more than a smokescreen. The real issue is the backdoor compulsion built into the Bill.

By "designating" documents such as your passport, driving licence or a CRB check certificate, the Home Office will be able to force more than 95 per cent of the population on to the National Identity Register during what they want people to believe is an initial "voluntary" phase.

If you wish to travel abroad, drive a car, or keep your job you will have no choice but to be registered when you renew or apply for the required document. The Government's ID plans threaten personal security and offer nothing in return.



Sir: To those of us who oppose ID cards, what is of real importance, the heart of the notion of freedom under law, is the right, as you put it in your leading article (14 February), "to engage in any activity which is not expressly prohibited"; to wander around without saying who you are or what you're doing there, to do what you want without having to justify yourself, even to disappear and be of unknown whereabouts.

Some of this might be unwise or even selfish, but in the last resort it is your right.



On the move

Sir: Good luck to Jonathan Jones and his family on their move to Western Australia ("Record number of Britons move abroad for better life", 18 February). I hope he and his family will find the residents of Perth do not share the same attitudes as he does to "immigration and the like".



Caring for prisoners

Sir: During the Second World War, I was a prisoner of war in three camps in Germany: Dulag Luft and Stalag Luft III, run by the Luftwaffe, and Colditz, run by the regular German Army. In all these camps, the treatment of the prisoners was impeccable. Perhaps the Americans should ask Germany for advice.



Gunpowder plot

Sir: In response to the ricin terrorist scare, Mike Mitchell (Letters, 17 February) asks why an innocent householder would possess the ingredients for gunpowder. I have charcoal in my house for BBQs; I have saltpetre for making my own bacon and ham; and I have sulphur for dusting plant diseases. But I have no intention of making gunpowder. Or bombs of any kind. I can generate more chaos through allowing the simple proliferation of ignorance and paranoia. Who needs terrorists when we have governments to deny us civil liberties and create fear?



Sir: One day, the Government is going to sort out independent reporting of the No-Ricin Plot by legislating for "proscribed terrorist incidents", in the same way that it brought in the list of "proscribed terrorist groups" in the Terrorism Act. In this way, the Home Secretary will need only to officially declare that a particular incident is "terrorist in nature" and we'l know where we stand as to the legality of glorifying it or indeed saying anything about it that has not been officially sanctioned.



National disgrace

Sir: It's national anthem time - again. What's the logic of playing "God Save the Queen" to celebrate a Scottish member of the British team winning gold, and then playing the same dismal tune at Murrayfield when England meet Scotland? It can't be both an English and a British anthem. An old song, but time for a rethink.



Short listed

Sir: I note that the miniskirt did not make the top 10 ("British design icons are named", 17 February). Presumably it was not quite up to it.