When numbers lie... What you did not and should absolutely know!
Life & Society
The use of numbers can be interpreted as a technique of manipulation but, at the same time, it is a malaise which admits the lack of credibility from which our society suffers.Updated on October 20, 2020, Seytoo
The tendency to invoke numbers in communication is now well established: Surveys which test the popularity of a person or a measure, the arguments of politicians when they explain the validity of their policies, ... the number of calories lost or consumed when eating a food, the ratio between height and weight, the necessary daily intakes of such mineral or vitamin.
The famous figure (50%) for democratic admissibility is no exception. Mathematically, if we consider the rate of opposition to a decision as a slope, then it suffices to find a course (curve) that allows this slope to be kept below the rejection threshold. Such a solution is always possible if one has the necessary freedom to choose the course, that is to say when the legislator has the necessary prerogatives to pass a law by judiciously fragmenting it. A bit like a large piece of furniture that you take apart to pass through a small door without breaking it. Moreover, it is not for nothing that the expression “democratic game,” a priori compromising, has never been contested by the “players.”
The very idea of pretending to explain a complex reality with the help of a few innocuous numbers should be challenging. Without claiming to be exhaustive, knowing, for example, the rate of economic growth does not say much about social and political reality. Knowing how often, or how many cores, a computer processor does not say much about the performance a buyer expects. Often, the “sellers” figures put forward hide other more or less glorious ones, the agreed “sacred” thresholds can serve as questionable manipulations.
To assert a perception of one's environment or of oneself, based on figures, is to opt for an arithmetic representation of Man and the world. An impoverished, simplified representation, which allows those concerned to increase it with profits of all kinds, while retaining the credibility of the numbers due to their neutrality and native innocence. A bit like the concept of “augmented reality” where, on the impoverished basis of a landscape, virtual elements can be grafted on demand. In other words, from well-chosen figures we proceed to an extrapolation which presents a credible image, by inheritance, but unfair of reality. We end up with theories and ideas that are globally false but which cleverly pump their credibility into that of numbers.
Credibility becomes a scarce commodity, a magnetizing material that can be drawn from various, often non-human, mines. This is to create memberships for ideas or products. As if human beings no longer have their natural share of credibility. Word of a man! We said before. Thus, the use of numbers can be interpreted as a technique of manipulation but, at the same time, it is a malaise which admits the lack of credibility from which our society suffers.