Mathematics, though utterly useless for most careers and completely devoid of moral content, is an excellent example of a subject fit for humanist education. It’s hard enough that most children can’t enjoy it on their own, but it’s a source of wonder for any student who’s lucky enough to have a Frizzle-y enough teacher. The same goes, I think, for literature: we teach Chaucer in liberal-arts high schools because it’s a work of great beauty and fun. But it’s also high-hanging fruit, which means that most students can’t pluck it without help. A life with Chaucer might be no different than one without. Or it might be warped into a completely new shape. The only way to find out, of course, is to be taught Chaucer.
What if we utterly threw out the window the idea of math as useful and focused on it as wonderful?
Romantic love has been one of our most effective myths for making sense out of our sensations. It organizes bodily intensities around a single object of desire and it provides a more or less public theater for the enactment of the body’s most private life. In love, desires and sensations are both structured and socialized. The loved one invests the world with a hierarchy of desirability. At last we have a measure of value, and even the unhappiest lover can enjoy the luxury of judging (and controlling) his experience according to the distance at which it places him from the loved one’s image or presence. Passion also makes us intelligible to others. Observers may be baffled as to why we love this person rather than that one, but such mysteries are perhaps more than compensated for by the exceptional visibility in which the passionate pursuit of another person places the otherwise secret “formulas” of individual desire.