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Nathan Thomas
Lies and Damn Lies

September 2012

It's been a wild summer.   

I hope your summer has included quiet moments at the beach or in the mountains or in your favorite spot.  I hope your summer included a few sweet snoozes and maybe some snogging with a sweetie.

My summer has been typified by a night a few weeks ago in which my beautiful daughter was visited by the Dark Angel of the Projectile Vomit that made Sir Ian Holmes' explosive scene in Alien look mild by comparison.  By the time we got my daughter and her bed cleaned up and calmed down, it was far into the early morning.  A couple of hours later, I was awakened with a sprightly, "Honey, there's a bird in the house.  Can you take care of it?"

So, memories were formed, as they say.

Once again we're in the midst of the heady season of presidential ambition.  Friends, let's face it, normal people don't want to be President of the United States and don't have the capacity to be President of the United States.  It's an impossible job guaranteed to piss people off.

One of the regular features of the season is the daily reading of polls. The numbers.

And here I need to apologize in advance of many good friends and family members who are members of the Baby Boom Generation.  I love all of you.  I do. You didn't give us Coke (that's from the late 19th and early 20th century) – you gave us the Real Thing.  You fought both in and against a war in SE Asia.  You helped the Equal Rights Movement(s).  You also helped elect Ronald Reagan.  Twice.

Recently, there was a discussion in the New York Times opinion pages about the Boomers.  That discussion centered on whether or not the Boomers were selfish and acquisitive.  I leave such distinctions to others.

My problem with Boomers is the love of numbers --  of data.  One of the mantras I've been hearing lately is the phrase, "Meaningful data."

"Show me the numbers," says the Boomer.  Now that same person will gleefully repeat the quote about lie, damn lies and statistics.  That person knows how easy it is to "juke the stats."  Yet, our society has been hornswoggled into believing that the numbers have existential meaning.  The acme of this belief is the great "No Child Left Behind" scheme that relies on nothing but questionable quantification and bequeathed to the nation by Boomer president George W. Bush.

Lest I be misunderstood, I'm not arguing against science or the best of the Enlightenment.  One of the great achievements that came out of the Enlightenment was the notion that we could know an orderly universe that obeys its own laws.  By the time of the 20th century our culture relied ever more heavily on knowing things by the quantifiable evidence of experiment and the development of technologies that resulted from that quantifiable way of knowing physical laws.    

But, quantification found its way into the social sciences as well. And the "certainty of numbers" provided by "scientific thinking" allowed businesses to borrow the techniques of the social sciences in turn and grow commerce via "evidence-based" planning. Given that business had previously reached limits of "build-it-and-we'll-see-if-they-come" planning, the quantification of evidence-based development/marketing/sales suggested that most of what's necessary to know comes out of numbers.

A moment's reflection allows most of us to realize that quantification doesn't encompass all knowing.  There are multiple ways of knowing things and expressing things.  If this were not true, there would be no arts. There are things we know that are not quantifiable and not mere opinion. That's the fallacy of the Boomers. For example, polls existed before the Boomers and will exist long into the future.  But it was Boomer journalists who turned polls into thinking they meant something more than they mean.

And this realization brings us to our first main point.  There are many ways to know things.   And when it comes to human behavior, we can learn things in ways other than quantifiable studies.  We can learn from the arts.

Come the spring I'll have the honor of taking on Lear.  I've started my preparation work even now. There's no easy way to try to encompass the entirety of the work.  It takes effort.  But we also know that the easily won prize means less to us than the one that came at the end of much struggle.  In the end, it's not the prize, but the struggle that gives meaning.

And that's the point of things.  The problem is that, in a sense, the arts are impractical.  But remember this truth:

A necessary thing need not also be practical.

We forget that truth at our peril.  If our chief concern is but to feed and to keep the rain from our heads, we should probably give up very much in our lives.  But what makes us human is the need to follow our Creator by being creative ourselves and to reach out to other humans with our thoughts, feelings, hearts, minds, and souls – to give expression to the idea that, "Here is how I see the world, how I hear the world, how the world moves underneath my legs and arms, and the stories that make the world a place for all that is human."

The undiscovered country is the unfathomed and unfathomable totality of the human experience.  It is necessary to boldly explore that terra incognita.  Every day.  With every ounce of creative energy.

The old man in the play says:

      "O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
      Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
      Allow not nature more than nature needs,
      Man's life's as cheap as beast's . . ."

                        -- King Lear. II. 4.

So, I hope you had a restful summer.  Summer is good for resting in the shade.  And I'm not suggesting that I want my beautiful daughter to vomit ever again. But that being said,  it's the struggle that makes it live.

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©2012 Nathan Thomas
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives

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September 2012

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