We are being bombarded with statistics, wave-like attacks. The debt statistics of the great financial crash starting in 2008, then the awakening interest in inequality, and now the dreadful stats of Covid-19, which are instigating another wave of debt and expenditure statistics.
If statistics could put the world to rights, allowing what Condorcet called “the sweet despotism of reason“, then happiness would triumph over misery.
Goethe wrote during his erleichternde travels in Italy:
“By statistical is meant in Germany an inquiry for ascertaining the political strength of a country, or for questions concerning matters of state: whereas the idea I annexed to the term is an inquiry into the state of a country, for the purpose ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants and the means of its future improvements”.
Faith in the power of statistics and its flipside, ignoring them until sheer urgency compels attention, is worth the consideration of a few non-statistical lines. Mary Douglas, the cultural anthropologist, warned – or rather simply observed – that modern societies lack adequate symbolic representations of danger.
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