We Are Moving beyond Numbers (?)

by Renard Teipelke

Afterwards, everybody always knows better. We were obsessed with numbers. “We” as in “the majority”, “the public”, “the decision-makers”, or “our/the representatives”. It does not matter if you or I were obsessed with numbers. It was the zeitgeist for at least the past two decades. It worked well for most of the time because of the numbers or despite of them. But then a financial implosion triggered a global economic crisis that resulted in a political and – in many places – even society/community crisis of an extent unforeseen by those experts who are throwing out predictions and forecasts every day. Now we have to deal with this mess. And the time of pure number fetishism is also over (at least for now).

The number fetishism was uncovered when we started to realize that the faking of statistics, the biased framing of information, and interest-led predictions have been more ingrained in this political-economic system than we thought or knew it to be. The era of number fetishism is also over, because we started to realize that we – the common people as well as the most highly acclaimed experts – cannot completely understand the numbers anymore. A system was created that has ‘mysteriously’ overtaken the power and control of its former creators.

This Armageddon in the heart of our society calls for new sources of information. For new ways of understanding situations, processes, and developments. Different approaches to look into the past, present, and future. And there are plenty of sources, tools, instruments, approaches, etc. out there that can be used and that can be useful. These sources have been in use for a long time. Some of these sources had heydays decades or even centuries ago. Some of these sources have played a major role in some academic disciplines, others are rooted in everyday life and culture. So what ‘sources’ am I referring to? I think about pictures, maps, videos, songs, theater plays, word clouds, graffiti, and many other sources out there. Everyone of us can think about some of these sources in our everyday professional and private lives.

The good thing about this end of number fetishism and the use of ‘new’ sources is that even strict and closed circles in academia, economy, and politics are starting to turn to these uncommon information sources. Technically, in some of the above mentioned tools and instruments, numbers are still the foundation, the data base, the root from which the final product emerges. However, the final product asks its users to take a different look than they did before when looking at pure samples of figures. This difference in perspective, approach, and reasoning helps to come up with different understandings and new conclusions.

This gives some hope to believe that we learn from our mistakes (no matter, who the “we” stands for…we are all in the same boat). And this will make theory and practice in any possible field more interesting. Whoever starts now entering such a field (as a freshman student, young professional, or a job/career changer) will encounter a fresh wind and a (maybe uncomfortable) uncertainty. It is a changed situation that can be helpful in introducing new thinking and seeking these gaps to be filled with new kinds of theorists and practitioners. Let this journey which is new to most/all of us begin.

World Crisis Theatre proposes a meeting of professional artists and young people coming from different countries in Europe. Their common goal is the creation of two plays dealing with the 2008 financial crisis and the present one, together with organising public activities.
The project builds on the last play of the British playwright David Hare, The Power of Yes — an investigative theatrical documentary at the heart of the financial crisis as it was lived in Great Britain.

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