In urban Pakistan, it’s the nightmare of every father who has college-going children.

“Daddy, there’s something I have to tell you.”

“Yes beta?”

*Long pause*

Daddy is looking at Mom for cues.

“What has she done?”

“I know you strictly forbade me to, but..”

“But what?“

“..I’m graduating as a social science major.”

If you’re a Pakistani and you’ve been to college, you know this sequence all too well. Boy/girl go to college having a science or business background. Boy/girl, as freshmen, take an elective course of some unheard of discipline - sociology, political philosophy, anthropology etc. Boy/girl fall in love with all things liberal arts.

But what explains the persistent phenomenon that, wherever you may be, it always seems like all the cool studentsare studying the liberal arts? And also that there’s usually a huge cohort of aspiring-to-be-cool students trying to adopt the fashion, only to be met with stern resistance from their parents, typically from the earning head of the family?

To grasp both the underpinnings as well as the perennial nature of this motif, let’s take a brief history lesson in the etymology of the term ‘liberal arts.’

Back in Ancient Greece, the concept of education was closely tied with leisure. Infact, the latter - or more precisely, the freedom to pursue the latter - was a precondition of education; only those from the aristocracy could afford the leisure time to engage in study, which was designed for individuals to learn to serve human and civic purposes, rather than for profit. The rest of the populace was destined to be workers.

The formal pursuit of knowledge thus came to be conceptualized as the ‘liberal arts’ - the monopoly of the elite who were economically ‘liberated’ from the necessity of work by virtue of their aristocratic background.

How does this translate today?

Today, the stratum of our society that can be best be viewed as an incarnation of the old aristocracy is the landowning class. The notion can be extended to include big-time industrialists, and in some cases high government as well. In all cases, the key is: if Daddy owns enough land to never have to work himself, or is the director of a large-enough organization, you’re raised without ever having to worry about making a living; you’re going to inherit control over daddy’s lands/factories/printing press/political party etc., and he knows it and isn’t worried about it. So you can go and study classical sociological theory.

In the affirmative, you form part of what Thorstein Veblen in his rather hilarious work The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) termed ‘the leisure class.’

On the other hand though, if Daddy is working a a banker, university professor, civil servant etc. we have a major problem. You’re going to be expected to one day produce a stacked resume for inspection for someone not named Daddy, and having attained one of life’s great honors – being one of the cool crowd- isn’t going to promise you a professional appointment that permits a decent living.

Thorstein Veblen’s ideas on the liberal arts do well to explain their prestige: a hallmark of the liberal arts’ student is their indifference towards the cause of ‘industrial employment.’ At college, if you’re not one of the cool (read: rich) crowd, it’s going to be a little hard to fake it. Which makes those students who are studying the liberal arts *undeniably* cool. Thus, unlike other fashions which Durkheim explained never endure because the middle and lower classes eventually crash at the party, forcing the upper classes to migrate to safety, in this case the aforementioned contingency (of a lifetime’s worth of professional indifference) keeps studying the liberal arts a perennial fashion.

Now, if you think I’m telling you all of this so I can play ‘love’s executioner’ with you, you couldn’t be more wrong. You see, to attain our purpose, we must first attempt “To take what seems foreign in a person, and see it as native. This is healing.” (Samuel Shem, Fiction as Resistance)

So that’s Daddy’s side of the story! He’s not just being old-fashioned and authoritarian.

Now, as you may have guessed, I - a far cry from the incarnation-aristocracy - too graduated a Social Science major. I had my own reasons though. As a freshman at college I had, through rigorous statistical analysis, established that over 50% of the pretty girls were in the Social Science classes, and that there was a correlation between the degree of prettiness and choice of major, such that the hyper-pretty girls were found almost exclusively in the aforementioned.

Being a man of probability, I thus went ahead and opted for Social Science major.

Today, I’m subsisting on a budget more befitting to a monk. But, guess what? Quite a number of those pretty girls actually talk to me now (yes beta.. even some of the hyper-pretty ones.) And thanks once again to my precocious encounter with social science, I have no ambivalence surrounding a basic tenet of life: to attain happiness, you can’t ever circumvent the fundamentals. As argued by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn in her research paper If money isn’t making you happy, you probably aren’t spending it right, our greatest, most enduring source of happiness is not in material goods but in joyful experiences with other people.

Lonely rich dudes who voluntarily became MBAs and chartered accountants, some not inconceivably having a life-crisis at this very moment while reading this on their iPads, don’t despair, you may hunt down an earlier column of mine, The Reason Women Adore Funny Men. I’m here for you, bros.

In all seriousness, tell Daddy you love him for spending his money on your education - let’s just please make sure we spend it where it really counts.

We, the social scientists of the not-so-leisurely kind, may never have lands, factories or airplanes to ourselves, but we have something else - we have access to the hearts of the people we want to have in our lives. We have access to our greatest source of happiness.

n    The author runs Scholars by Profession, a

    local research-initiative.