Anyone else doing a lot of long division these days?
I was very sick with the flu for the past three days. As recently as twelve hours ago, I was writhing in agony freezing to death while simultaneously sweating through multiple layers of clothing, fully enveloped in a heavy duvet. Every time I swallowed, I winced in pain, and every time I coughed, I almost cried.
I noticed as I crawled out of the fever over the course of the night, that I was doing math.
I am decent at math; good at it in a way appropriate for someone in my line of work. If I were to categorize the kind of math I am good at, I’d call it “speculative calculus.” What’s that mean? Well, I can’t spit out the answer to 91048 x 43, and I rarely do the full workup on multiples and subdivisions, but if you told me that a growth trajectory for a small retail business over the next 36 months had to factor in a small percentage of inflation due to cost of living adjustments, I’d be within 5-7% of the numbers produced by a spreadsheet.
For at least four hours last night—and yes, I counted the exact duration, inasmuch as I trained my eyes on the digital clock in my bedroom while I thought I was dying, because that is also a form of math—I calculated, repeatedly and with the same conclusion, the cost of “a frictionless plane.” What would it take to deliver an absence of conflict?
My calculus delivered absurd secondary equations: how do I measure the volume of a fungus filling a finite void? What is the most unimpeachable compensation value for any given amount of any given kind of work? How many people would choose royal blue to paint a wall?
I was somewhat delirious, I understand. It’s the flu. That’s what happens when you have a massive fever. But the math had me thinking about all of the math performed by people frantically planing the conflicts in their lives. We are solving for x, with y and z variables that are completely out of our control.
I’ve talked about Necropolitics by Achille Mbembe before, I think. This is where I first learned of the “phenomenology of numbers”: the treachery of words like “decimation” and “millions” whose linguistic subterfuge invalidates individual tragedy. Gross numerical figures have a way of erasing lives.
I am trying to find a formula to the hyperbole, to get ahead of it. Or, to end it. I have not been able to stop thinking about how to solve for x, with a calculus of geopolitical war and finance. And I want the math to be beautiful but that depends solely on my ability to solve this equation.