On Math And Politics: Confronting impersonality


Photo by    John Bakator    on    Unsplash

Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash

Math and politics have a lot in common. Both are languages: Math is the language of science, and politics is the language of collective will. Both are indispensable tools: Math is an indispensable tool in other disciplines for analysis and comparison; politics is the tool of governance and of collective expression.  

Another trait math and politics share is that they both can seem remarkably impersonal at times. There is elegance in the arguments, patterns and objects of math, and there is dignity to the structure of these arguments and the ardent stringency of how patterns and objects are examined. Yet the elegance and dignity of math is often veiled by the way math is taught, how it is applied, and cultural perceptions of it.  

In politics, too, especially in a democracy, there is elegance and dignity behind the impersonality — in both its purpose as an expression of collective will, and in its capability to be both an instrument and record of the moral growth of society. Yet the elegance and dignity of the purposes and capabilities of politics are often veiled by reality. Legislation and debate are never perfect representations of collective will. The rhetoric and dialogue of our political leaders does not always reflect moral growth in our nation, or of an increasing consciousness of the value of human lives and the value of our own landscapes and environment.  

Impersonality isn’t just in math and politics, though. Impersonality is all around us.  

It is in crowds of people who don’t talk to each other, remaining strangers — on public transport, in lecture halls and on busy streets. It is in news reports of immense tragedy and loss that we can read without being profoundly affected. It is in the void of neither scorn nor admiration from the landscapes we invent and are amidst — in tall, hulking, gray buildings and tall, lanky brown trees, in patternless cracks in the pavement and in the absence of variation in a hazy blue sky on a winter’s afternoon.  

Impersonality is in the infinite and crowded space between us and the chaos we cannot frame. It is in the reductions and simplifications of complexities and synchronicities that we do not understand or that challenge what we think to be valuable and sacred. 

Yet, as humans, although we often do, we are not conditioned to accept impersonality. Despite the impersonality of our worlds, we remain fundamentally personal beings. We are inspired and compelled to action by what is personal, by what touches our own lives. We seek affirmation of deeply personal truths in the world and people around us — truths of what has value and importance, truth of the value of our own lives.  

So to be inspired to act and to assert the value of what we know to be sacred, whether through political action or in other areas of life, we must look beyond what appears to be impersonal. In impersonal crowds of strangers are puzzling and interesting geometries formed from the intersection of human life that can incite wonder and curiosity. In news reports of tragedy and loss are stories of human lives affected by political, economic, cultural and environmental circumstances that we sometimes have the ability to affect, even if in a small way. The impersonal structures of our landscapes are witness to our lives and wanderings; these structures, then, are privy to the lonesomenesses and joys of the human heart as under gray buildings and brown trees we remember, reflect and learn. 

 Underneath impersonality there are unforeseeable expressions of truths and beauty. We will only discover them if we look beyond to see the patterns, order, dignity and humanity that are all around us.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.

Sharon Spaulding is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at sharon.spaulding@uconn.edu.

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