Every time after a good cry, after being scolded for being 2% away from 100%, for being one away from a five, I hold that gutting pain in my chest. It is at first blunt and piercing but it slowly fades, and I let out a laugh. Every pore of our bodies, clogged by generational trauma, suffocates. But laughter, the boldness and unavoidance of its accompanying breaths, time and time again becomes another breath, becomes another step into clarity.
But this time I laugh, because I find that as “laughter” is trapped in “slaughter,” “numb” is trapped in “numbers.”
Numbers, symbols with miniature right angles and smooth curves that would have no meaning otherwise, reflect only what we decide to impose. We pressure performance, value production, and expect perfection. We’re only worthy if we have this number of likes, this percentage of viewer engagement, this amount of reposts; we’re smart if we get a seven, a 1500, a first place; we’re only beautiful if we’re a 10… We fall into place, fall into quantities, fall into capitalism’s ways and wishes.
It’s so cruel, what we decide to do for no reason.
I catch myself falling, too.
I refuse to read books rated below four out of five stars on Goodreads. It’s crazy to me, how I say that I am my own person, I make my own decisions. And then there are the ratings, the keyboards clattering, the thumbs ups and thumbs downs, the Yelps, the Goodreads. Books nourish our minds, and food nourishes our body, yet we choose our nourishments based on how others fed themselves. Is there autonomy at all when we assign a number, a critique to everything we know?
No, perhaps not.
In a society that is defined by the internet, the media and sensory overload, is there true original thought? Garnering unprecedented amounts of information is no longer to satisfy an innate curiosity, but instead to feed the urge of monetization, of competition that leads to inequality, to suffering.
If physics has a study of thought and language, it would tell us that thought and language are the most miraculous translation from matter to matter, medium to medium. Language literally turns the little sparkles made by your neurons, the complex, intangible, abstract, invisible beauty produced by your brain into something tangible—writing, word, hand motions. And this is passed onto another, becoming the little sparkles in another’s brain. The trend of our contemporary world therefore morphs from reality into the numerical values in our language.
So perhaps to undo it, we start by speaking differently. Don’t work your score on the SATs, how much salary you earn, the ranking number of your school into every conversation. Imperfection is okay, unrated matters are equally worth exploring, and don’t let the “numb” in “numbers” paralyze our expansive potential for change.
Editors: Joyce S., Chris Fong Chew, Leandra S.