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Steven Weber

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United States of Numerica

Posted: 10/12/11 10:00 AM ET

It's fascinating -- and oh so depressing -- how American culture has been literally decimated, reduced to numbers or stories about numbers, its cultural essence condensed to so many dollars and so little sense.

There was a time when the dull, sexless rolls of stock prices were rightly relegated to the back pages of the dull, sexless business section of the newspaper; the soulless kinetics of a particular stock on its ping-ponging trajectory viewed on a swiftly moving illuminated conveyor belt around the circumference of a building in Times Square at a pace suggesting "Nothing to see, hear or feel here, folks"; a slim sliver of tape belched forth from a ticking, glass-domed machine, looking for all the world like something Jules Verne would have devised for Captain Nemo's drawing room.

Now, though, it is the stuff of the actual and virtual front page and is more likely to be the first thing an American sees when he/she opens the newspaper or clicks onto a news-site. A consumer-based numerology has become the focus for a majority of Americans, their attention less on "dog bites man" and more on the ensuing inevitable litigation.

And with that, people's idea of what would be required in order to be elected president of the United States has devolved from a varied set of skills, one of which being business acumen among many areas of proficiency, to business acumen itself being the main and in some cases only qualification for the job.

Forget statesmanship, forget knowledge of -- or curiosity about -- other cultures, forget respect for history and the lessons in governance such a respect would impart. It's having run a business -- even into the ground (Arbusto, anyone?) -- that is nowadays prized above all things. Anything else is either gravy or drool: being wary of foreigners is good; being able to speak a foreign language with reasonable proficiency is bad. Being tough on "crime" is good; being outspokenly compassionate is akin to fingering grandma while she naps (I threw that in to be wildly provocative. Sue me.).

But being able to say that you were a boss of a great big shiny store entitles you to strut cockily across the political landscape, proclaiming a firm grasp on all it takes, apparently, to be president of these here United States.

Although I can't be sure (I am very, very lightheaded from having played a marathon game of Operation®), I think this numerical narrative has its roots in the 1950's when some white-haired guy in the Eisenhower administration may have accidentally let on that the government was no longer referring to its voting population as "citizens" but rather as "consumers." And gradually, this attitudinal shift began to subtly shape said population's perspective to the point where it is now counseled to purchase stuff in response to a terrorist attack on the Homeland. And if this isn't what happened, it certainly sounds plausible. Again, sue me.

It's almost like The Matrix, with the wonderfully abstract elements which make up the world reduced to a shower of numbers and equations. Except in the real-life version that we have today, the one which sprung from the unimaginative, corporate, profit-obsessed intellect, the essence of what determines success consequently incurs the removal of all it perceives as dross, leaving just the numbers themselves. The cool sunglasses, slow-motion Kung Fu and H.R. Giger-esque designs are wastes of time.

So why this idiotic, society-destroying shift? Study after study tells us that life without art, without wisdom, without growth, without imagination isn't life as humans are evolutionarily supposed to live it. It's how ants and (if we're being generous) paramecia are supposed to live it. The minds belonging to those who have excelled in areas where numbers take primacy over imagination have managed to incite this shift and have -- probably -- knowingly dragged all human potential for peaceful, fulfilling existence with it.

It's why, along with a fixation on finance, the preponderance of fantasy-based entertainment has glutted the culture: vampires, wizards and cars that become robots are all that's left of a perspective stunted by a fixation on the soulless creature generally referred to as Finance. The dearth of reality based entertainment speaks even more to the dehumanization of a rational, truthful, organic reality than to the contrived version which now comprises our every waking moment.

The result of this cultural tilt has prompted an eminently adaptable populace to become equally tilted and unimaginative and less likely to demand more complex creative or sociopolitical output. I mean, I think.

Phew. I'm exhausted. And now for my next number --

 

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