Dear Liberal Arts Majors,

Sure, I've been known to make a joke or two at Liberal Arts majors' expense. You'd be forgiven for mistaking me for your own disappointed, blue-collar parents who squandered their life's savings sending you to Northwestern for five years so you could follow in Stephen Colbert's footsteps and study improv theater. And those $1,600/credit-hour acting courses do indeed come in handy when you have to speak cheerfully on the phone at a call center while simultaneously suppressing the urge to weep bitterly into your headset for eight hours a day.

See? I can't stop myself. I've lost control. The Liberal Arts jokes have the power now.

Sometimes my irrepressible loathing has taken the form of a smarmy caricature of the weepy, indolent, navel-gazing Liberal Arts archetype.
There is a pond/reflecting pool at my university... Not that anyone ever contemplates down at the water's edge, but you could imagine it being done, perhaps if there were more mature trees and this weren't a university for applied sciences full of engineering students but rather a liberal arts college like NYU- a lonely girl slowly pulling her hand through the water, mourning the recent end of a relationship. A poet lying reclined on the second-to-last step, eyes down, brow gently furrowed in contemplation of the meaning of meaning or perhaps the quiet study of the metaphorical significance of a sparkling crystal of quartz caught forever within the unrelenting grasp of the surrounding concrete. - Dear Fish
Other times I've simply declared my love for hard Science whilst silently condemning the Liberal Arts by omission.
Science and I are totally gay for each other. Just... as gay as it gets. Pride-parade-marching, rainbow-flag-waving, Bette-Midler-loving gay, and we can't keep our relationship and our sexual orientation a secret any longer. I hope you can accept our love, and accept Science and I for the big flaming homos we are. - Dear Science Likers 
Still other times the mockery has been more direct.
You probably think of journalism as the way your younger brother, who now lives in your parents' basement, managed to blow through $180,000 in four-and-a-half years at St. Lawrence University with nothing more than hepatitis C and a part-time job as a barista to show for it. - Dear Hip Hop 
But this isn't one of those letters.

As any Freudian analyst worth their salt has already realized by this point, I am myself a recovering Liberal Arts major. It's a struggle I fight every day, and I've made some progress- from admitting that my life was out of control and I was powerless to overcome the Liberal Arts, all the way to recognizing a higher Power and making a list of all the people (my parents mostly) that my Liberal Arts addiction has harmed. But I will always be a Liberal Arts major, even though I've been clean for over seven years now, and sometimes, when things get tough, I lash out and project the things I revile most about myself onto others. I'll sometimes accuse perfect strangers of majoring in Urdu poetry or pursuing a Masters in Gender Studies. I'm not proud of that, but I've come a long way since the days when I used to hang out in front of the dorm, smoking hookah, playing a Peruvian pan pipe flute, and telling chicks about how I was going to be a curator at an art museum one day, and that I am proud of.

All that said, even as dangerous as the Liberal Arts are, and as many lives as that major has irreparably destroyed, I have to admit that in at least one rare case, for one small group of people, knowing how to craft a compelling story has paid off in spades. That doesn't redeem the Liberal Arts, of course. The story I'm about to relay is the equivalent of winning the lottery or become a rock star. Neither playing the lottery nor starting a rock band is a smart strategy for financial success, but when those moon shots do pay out, they pay out in a big way.

The Hebrew Bible (and therefore the Old Testament) is a bit shaky as an historical document. The Jewish population was almost certainly never enslaved in Egypt. There is no evidence of a Joshua-led conquest of modern-day Canaan. No one else seems to remember a massive Israeli Kingdom stretching from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and no contemporary historical narrative corroborates King Saul, David, or Solomon even existing, much less ruling over a huge chunk of the Middle East. It certainly wouldn't have been the first or last time someone took a few artistic liberties while tooting their own horn. I'd offer Hillary Clinton's sniper fire, Brian Williams' rocket-struck helicopter, or Ben Carson's knife fight as a contemporary example, but it would be out of date too quickly, replaced by the next incoming wave of blowhard autoeroticism. Just think of every person you've ever known. Like virtually everyone.

Regardless of what the Israelis were or were not up to beforehand,
 what we do know is that they lost their collective shit over religious freedom and taxation under Roman rule in 66 AD, a story I'm sure most Americans can relate to. This fight for independence turned out a bit differently from the American Revolutionary War, however.

69 years, three revolts, and a diaspora later, the Hebrews retained a mere token presence in the region, all but enslaved, exterminated, or driven out completely. For his part, Emperor Hadrian was so weary of the constant rebellion that he renamed Judea/Israel as Syria Palaestina, and rebuilt Jerusalem under the name Aelia Capitolina.

This would have been game over for most cultures. God only knows how many clans have been scattered to the winds and then assimilated by larger ethnic groups over the last two thousand years. I don't think the Picts will be getting back together for a reunion tour anytime soon. The Jewish tribes would certainly have joined that long list of extinct peoples, but they had one single thing going for them- the Hebrew Bible. Yes, they had a literary collection of historical fiction that any Liberal Arts major would be proud of, but that was pretty much it. Any practically-minded engineer, lawyer, or doctor would have scoffed at the Jewish "civilization." They had no homeland, no army, and no infrastructure of their own. It was simply a matter of time before the last memories of what had been the nation of Israel died out.

But that book. That practically meaningless bundle of literary self-indulgence. Like a desperate sailor sending out an S.O.S. as the ship sinks, the message echoed on, long after the transmitter itself lay rusting at the bottom of the ocean. It was one last, desperate Hail Mary into the yawning chasm of historical oblivion.

What were the fucking odds?





Not only did the Hebrew Bible keep the Jewish people themselves intact and viable as a culture, it inspired a little side project called Christianity. And 1800 years after Israel's destruction, a shared mythology with Christianity would help lead to the recreation of the Israeli state. Like a dehydrated tardigrade plopping into a puddle after a millenia-long hibernation, The Kingdom of David was to undergo a most unlikely reanimation.

Recreating an Israeli state in modern-day Palestine certainly wasn't the common sense option. There was plenty of land available in Nebraska, but the The Hebrew Bible and its descendant, the Christian Bible, insisted that the Jews belonged in Palestine, so Palestine it was. At first Jews just sort of started showing up in the late 19th century. Then England showed their support for an Israeli state with the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the US got on board as well. If that sounds like a normal thing to do, it shouldn't.

Imagine you're living your life in Rochester, New York. You commute to your job at a marketing firm five days a week. You pick up your kids from elementary school. Sometimes you go to Florida on vacation. You're fifty pounds overweight and your blood pressure is 165/100. In short, you lead a normal, American life.

One day, however, you notice that both your neighbors have moved out, and their houses have been torn down. In their place now stand two Iroquois longhouses, made of rough-hewn poles and tree bark, with smoke curling up through a hole in the roof. You finish getting out of your Ford Mondeo, slam the door absent-mindedly, take a few steps up the driveway, stroke your chin, wrinkle your brow, and think to yourself, "Well this is certainly interesting."

Your new Iroquois neighbors introduce themselves, explain that they prefer to be called Haudenosaunee, which seems like quite a mouthful and a tremendous burden to place upon a new acquaintance, but otherwise they prove to be adequate neighbors. The late-night war dances and chanting sometimes annoy you, but overall you might even prefer the Iroquois cookouts to those awkward 4th of July picnics that Ed and Linda used to throw. 

Then China issues a declaration stating they think it would be a great idea to recreate the Iroquois nation in New York. You and everyone who already lives in New York are like, "No, actually that's a horrible idea. And besides, why do the Chinese even care about this at all, since it has nothing to do with you and you live on the opposite side of the globe?" The Chinese then answer, "Because in our holy book it says that the Iroquois have to be in possession of New York again before the Sacred Buddha can return to earth," and you retort with, "The Sacred Buddha can eat a dick," but the Chinese pretend like they couldn't hear that last part.

Every year you notice more and more longhouses popping up in Rochester, until the Iroquois own about 10% of the land in New York and compose about 30% of the population. Evidently, with China's support, they've been advertising all over the world, recruiting Iroquois settlers with promises of their own country and a better life, and shipping them to NY. And despite being in the minority, the next day the UN announces that the Iroquois now own half of New York State. If you live in Brooklyn and you're not Iroquois, you have to get out. And back in Rochester your neighbors knock on your door and say, "You've been an adequate neighbor, Pat, but you have to leave, because your house now belongs to one of our cousins who needs to tear it down and build a longhouse before the onset of Winter. Please don't make this more awkward than it already is."

Naturally, a bunch of survivalist Tea-Partiers with tri-corner hats and don't-tread-on-me flags, led by Donald Trump, rejoice at finally having a good reason to break open those two-ton pallets of assault rifle ammunition in the basement. War ensues. The Iroquois buy lots of modern weapons from Japan and South Korea and once again you plead in desperation, "Why do Japan and South Korea give a shit about any of this?" and the answer from Japan and South Korea is the same as China's and all you can think is, "This end-times Buddah stuff is a bunch of superstitious nonsense." But be that as it may, the high-tech weaponry is not nonsense, and the Iroquois win the war, taking over most of the other half of New York State in the process. You protest, "Wait a minute, I didn't even really support the Tea Party in the first place; why can't I at least go back to my dumpy, temporary Buffalo apartment now that the war's over?" But the Iroquois respond, "Your half of NY is now also our half." You start to think maybe Donald Trump was on to something after all.

Now you're living with your family in a walled ghetto in Queens, along with all of the other surviving non-Iroquois New Yorkers, walled in on all sides, with every border crossing guarded by an Iroquois patrol, and you think back to the first time you saw an Iroquois longhouse pop up next door twenty years before, and say to yourself, "What the fuck just happened?" An Iroquois security checkpoint guard overhears you through the paper-thin walls of your rat-infested apartment and shouts, "WE ROCKED YOUR ASS WITH THE LIBERAL ARTS, MOTHER-FUCKER!"

Now take that whole hypothetical scenario, and imagine that it had been nearly 2000 years since the Iroquois last lived in New York, that by their own admission they had themselves stolen it from an earlier tribe, and that it had been the ancient Canadians who had originally divested the Iroquois of their homeland, not the forefathers of any modern day New Yorkers.

That's what happened in Palestine, all thanks to a wildly successful work of historical fiction.

So is the Liberal Arts pen mightier than the STEM sword? I guess it is, if you use that pen to write a book that convinces people to send you lots of swords.

Sincerely,
Sebastian Braff

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