Everything must be useful – History’s most boring idea

I am looking at the lead story in Issue 275, titled “G8 must recognise role of universities in recovery”. I have a first-class honours degree in English literature from the University of Western Australia. They are not easy to get.

I got mine in 1962. I am now 71 years old and more or less retired.

When I was doing my degree years ago my friends would ask me whether I was aiming at being a taxi driver. They were all doing the “useful” degrees like agriculture, engineering, accountancy, law etc.

Well I think I have had a productive life. I have mostly worked in university administration. But in addition I have been a drover, a City Council Alderman, a poet, an Arts Administrator, a father and grandfather.

I am strongly opposed to the idea that everything has to be useful. Jeremy Bentham suggested this idea many years ago and it has to go down in history as the most boring idea ever to be seriously suggested.

How useful is a symphony, or a painting, or the theory of relativity?

People who maintain that time ought not to be wasted need to think again. Most time is wasted in every field of human endeavour. It has always been thus. It is the way we do things slowly groping forwards.

Giles Pickford