by the numbers

“you can only manage what you measure.”   it’s a ubiquitous concept in modern business literature.  it’s part of our culture’s facination with science: find something to measure, tweak the variables, record your results, maximize your bottom-line.  the concept is oh so apealling.  we apply the scientific method to our businesses, our goverment, even our families.  it feels so objective!  how can you be wrong if the numbers back your decision?

i have a nephew who’s autistic, and i might have a bit of asperger’s syndrome myself – at least it provides a convenient excuse for my lack of social skills.  last week i read a fascinating article in wired magazine which launched me into youtube’s videos about autism.  amanda baggs, featured in the wired piece, is severely autistic with the signature traits you’d expect.  she doesn’t speak, she engages in repetitive motions and sounds, she seems out of touch.   what she does do is type about 120 words a minute.  with a voice synthesizer, a video camera, and an agenda; she’s become a spokesperson for autistic people who’ve had little voice in the past.

i find the whole thing amazing and inspirational.  i have to say that i disagree sharply with some of amanda’s views, but even those places i find her perspective insightful.  i especially appreciated one of her videos titled, being an unperson (below)it’s almost nine minutes, but well worth the time if you can spare it.


amanda illustrates brilliantly the point where measure to manage breaks down.  as soon as any human metric is applied to assess the value of a person, the one applying it has left the realm of science and begun to play god.   such a judgement inevitably leads to deprecation of the person or group considered inferior.   first; “let’s keep them away from our families so they’re not a bad influence.”  then: “let’s keep them from reproducing so they’ll eventually die off.”  finally: “let’s kill them.  it’ll make the world a better place.

this was the science applied in hitler’s death camps, lennin and mao’s purges, the genocides in kosovo, rwanda and darfur.  it was the basis for the west’s eugenics movement that morphed  into the abortion and euthanasia lobbies.  they don’t measure up; let’s get rid of them.

jesus was asked to define a person’s bottom-line responsibilities.  i’m going to paraphrase, but i don’t believe i’m harming the meaning of his response:

value god more than anything else
value your neighbor equal to yourself

not because they’re like you.  not because of their knowledge, skills or abilities.  value them simply because they’re another human being sharing a ride on the same planet.

quoting amanda: “this is no line you can draw and correctly say that on this side lay the real people”

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