Friday, August 07, 2009

Buy the Numbers

Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science
----- W.H. Auden

Statistics show,
ours is by far the wealthiest age in history, but
we have less land per person, less green space, and dirtier
air and water.

Statistics show
that our phones are ineffably sleek and sexy, that we have more of them, make more calls, with cleaner connections, and do it for less money, but
we say less, forget it faster, confuse more, and abandon commitments sooner.

Statistics show, life expectancies increased by twenty years in the past seventy, and so you'll only age 45 minutes in the next hour; that if you're not already dead you could live to be 300 --- but only if you were born yesterday.

Statistics show, July is warmer than January
and that January is warmer than July --- if you happen to live in Australia.

Statistics show, that every square inch of dry land on the surface of the globe will soon be submerged in wriggling sinuous human flesh, and
that all of these wrigglers will own bigger starter-mansions, and flat-panel TV sets, louder Dolby with less harmonic distortion, posier shock-absorbing mountain bikes, and that they all will have more, healthier, and better-engineered food.

Statistics show, that the average SUV will soon be bigger than the state of Minnesota, and need the total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia just to drive the mean distance between Walmarts (about 50 feet), that computers will soon be so fast you'll be able to calculate tomorrow yesterday, and store the Encyclopedia Britannica, the entire archives of the New York Times, the complete works of the Marquis de Sade, and the film library of MGM in something smaller than a drop of mosquito spit, but
you still won't be able to find your car keys or wrist watch when you're in a hurry.

Statistics show that if present trends continue, children will only be born
to unmarried parents, but only married parents will have kids who are educated,
housed,
clothed,
and fed.

Statistics show,
that statistics lie.

Statistics show
we all know this.

Statistics show, that nothing is growing faster than the use of statistics compiled by governments to increase the profits of transnational businesses.

Statistics show, people choose their statistics to fit their prejudices, they show you should never think with your heart, never act imprudently, never ignore your own benefit, and never ever ever do anything statistics warn you against.

What statistics won't show is how or why to love another human being, cherish the beauty that hasn't been spray painted, strip-mined, industrialized, or urban-sprawled out of existence
yet,
demand that the poor and weak receive the same respect and dignity as the rich and the powerful, or deride the mathematical fraudulence of assuming all humans behave as identical, independently distributed random variables when they are in fact
transcendantly,
irreducibly, and
polydimensionally
unique.

(I've been meaning to put this poem on the blog for a couple of months, but have run into problems with line breaks. What exists here is just the best I could do for line breaks using the blogger editor at the moment. I thought this would be fun because of a recent NY Times article about statistics, and note, to follow the link you will need to be a registered user of the Times, which doesn't cost money, but does cost a certain amount in releasing marketing info, which is probably not worth it if you are not already a Times reader.)

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Hi Terry,

It's always wonderful to see anything by Auden, even a brief quote. My opinion of his writing was and remains best said by himself: "He was my north, my south, my east and west..."

The section of "Buy the Numbers" that I intend to quote as often as possible in conversation as follows:

>>What statistics won't show is how or why to love another human being, cherish the beauty that hasn't been spray painted, strip-mined, industrialized, or urban-sprawled out of existence
yet,
demand that the poor and weak receive the same respect and dignity as the rich and the powerful, or deride the mathematical fraudulence of assuming all humans behave as identical, independently distributed random variables when they are in fact
transcendantly,
irreducibly, and
polydimensionally
unique.<<

Of course, it copied very oddly, but not that badly! To me, this is a remarkable summing up of what is essential to "life" for anyone who cares to accept the burden of awareness. For those who choose to live in this sense, you have presented a welcome burden, I believe.

Kathy Mutty