One of the more memorable moments of the fourth Republican presidential debate was when Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida remarked that our country was in more dire need of welders than philosophers.
While expressing his disdain over the fact that American society seems to ignore the merits of vocational training, Rubio declared, “welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and [sic] less philosophers.”
The crowd burst into applause and cheers at his remarks.
As a philosophy major, I’d like nothing more than to beat the hell out of Rubio’s remarks because there is no semblance of truth to them, and to further call into question the mentality of the individual putting forth this claim.
So, esteemed reader, allow me to retort.
In the first place, Rubio’s claim is egregiously, irresponsibly and deceitfully (whether wittingly or not) wrong.
While the debate itself was still ongoing, twitter was already awash with fact checking Rubio’s statement. More followed in the hours and on into the days past the debate.
A Washington Post article published that same night noted that recent graduates with a BA in philosophy tend to make about the same amount of money as welders. Mid-career, however, the median annual income of philosophers jumped to over $80,000, while welders saw an increase of only a few thousand dollars.
The Fact Check website published by the Annenberg Public Policy Institute likewise noted that, “Actually, those with undergraduate degrees in philosophy earn a higher median income than welders.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an annual mean wage of $71,350 for postsecondary teachers of philosophy and religion, while welding, soldering, and brazing workers purportedly earned a mean annual wage of $39,570.
Forbes, The New York Times, CNN and other media outlets published stories which agreed overall that Rubio’s claim had missed the mark.
As a matter of objective fact, welders do not make more money than philosophers. Hence, Rubio’s quip here is either awfully misinformed, or, more disconcertingly, intentionally misleading.
The second part of Rubio’s claim argues that the U.S. needs “more welders and less philosophers.”
The rhetoric employed here is one that lauds the working class while condemning those who think critically—and teach others to think critically—for a living.
There is danger to this mentality, and I sincerely hope to not be the only individual calling it out as such.
A society in which people don’t think for themselves is one that blindly follows the dicta of those in power.
A society with fewer philosophers is one in which the government is increasingly more free to commit atrocities in broad daylight and convince its people that they are being done for the greater good without having anyone call their motives into question.
We are talking here about societies like Stalinist Russia, which sent millions to suffer and die in the gulags, or Francoist Spain, in which even poets whose ideas ran contrary to government agenda could be summarily executed.
Whether or not Rubio will ever admit it, ideas, and their free circulation and expression, are the essential sustaining force behind a representative democracy like the U.S. Without the work of political philosophers like John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the framers of our own Constitution would have had a much more strenuous time establishing a government, which was ideologically distinct from the English crown.
And I suspect that Rubio isn’t all that acquainted with philosophy, but I can guarantee both him and the reader that we do much more in philosophy than stroke our beards and pretend to be deep in thought. A few examples:
In metaphysics, we examine the nature of reality, what it is to “be,” what essence and substance are, whether or not humans have free will, whether the attributes of a thing make it what it is, etc.
In epistemology, we study what knowledge is, whether anyone has any, on what grounds someone can claim to posses knowledge, and what sort of things we can claim to know.
In ethics, we analyze what sort of life is best for a human being, what actions we might consider praiseworthy or blameworthy, and whether there is an objectively right or wrong way to act in a given situation.
Even if we were to consider an education as merely an ends to a nice paycheck, the way Rubio seems to be doing, it remains untrue that welders would reap a greater financial reward than philosophers.
When we step outside of Rubio’s reductive, plutocratic box of educational merit, we find that insofar as philosophy has always studied the central and most consequential problems of human existence, it can never be worthless, and we can never “need less philosophers.”
I’ve written this piece not to attack welders, or anyone else who engages in a manual trade. I think Rubio does make a fair point in his claim that we should expand vocational training and make it more accessible to those who want to pursue trades.
My stance in the end here is that each one of us has his or her own respective contribution to make toward the overall well-being of society.
Just as we don’t condemn welders for working hard in the construction of buildings and the maintenance of infrastructure, I also don’t think it’s fair to condemn philosophers for sifting through the ideas that can supervene upon and guide the destinies of entire nations.
I’d like to keep my books, and I imagine welders would like to keep their blowtorches. Why can’t we allow for both?
Featured Photo Credit: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo taken by Gage Skidmore)
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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