For many people, Latin is useless. I won’t enter into a discussion on the meaning of “utility,” a concept with variations and stratifications that are centuries in the making, and which itself merits an entire book. What I will say here, however, is that those “many people”—civilians, politicians, professionals in every field—have a sadly (and dangerously) limited idea of education and human development. What their focus on “utility” betrays is the belief that, in the end, knowledge amounts to know-how, that thought should be immediately adapted toward a practical aim. But if that were the case, knowledge would hardly be useful: we’d have surgeons, plumbers, and not much else, given that machines are growing more and more responsible for satisfying our primary needs. Eventually the surgeon or plumber will disappear too. And if such is the fate of knowledge, that it be surrendered to machines—or, as we put it more often these days, to technology—what exactly will there be for humans to know? Of course, we’ll have to learn how to build the machines and keep them functioning, and to dispose of the remains when they become obsolete, and to procure the materials necessary to build new machines.
In short, all in service of machines, with the idea, no doubt, that machines are fundamental, the only truly useful thing, the all-encompassing solution . . . But what about the rest? Those needs that aren’t immediate, that aren’t practical or distinctly material, and yet are no less urgent? The so-called spirit? Memory, imagination, creativity, depth, complexity? And what about the larger questions, which are common to other essential domains of knowledge, including biology, physics, philosophy, psychology, and art: where and when did it all begin, where do I go, who am I, who are others, what is society, what is history, what is time, what is language, what are words, what is human life, what are feelings, who is a stranger, what am I doing here, what am I saying when I speak, what am I thinking when I think, what is meaning? Interpretation, in other words. Because without interpretation there is no freedom, and without freedom there is no happiness. This leads to passivity, a tacit acceptance of even our brighter moods. One becomes a slave to politics and the market, driven on by false needs.