[ fiction - may 09 ]
The administrator's parable
The administrator was more than an administrator. He or she had his or her own hopes, and fears, and longings. He dreamt of being a poet, reading verses late night on Radio 4. She dreamed of travelling the frozen wastes of the Arctic, or the Antarctic, it changed each time, striding into the white. The administrator - he or she - loved an Astrid Gilberto song heard once on the radio, although he or she never caught the name of the song nor the singer.
So the administrator was, as said, much more than an administrator. And his or her life encompassed a lot more than this parable. Parables reduce, flatten, eliminate detail in aid of meaning. We are supposed to nod vigorously and note the message. The administrator, in fact, would have nodded more vigorously than anyone listening to this parable. He or she or it or whatever recognised the point of the parable - something about the futility of administration, or the impossibility of human desire, or greed, or capitalism, or authority, or something like that.
She or he would cry tears as the constant residual guilt and reluctance and longing for a different life suddenly expands to fill the mind, allowing neither rationalisation nor comfort. The parable sears itself into his or her consciousness as capturing with exquisite and precise exactitude what is wrong with his or her life, and all of our lives.
This parable is short. The administrator, in the parable, is described as capable and efficient, and as having firm unquestioning faith in the ability of administrative approaches to solve every problem. This is not true, but for the purpose of the parable it is necessary to state it. The administrator is highly thought of by peers and superiors. A number of projects are brought to completion ahead of schedule and under budget. He or she is given new responsibilities. These involve more long-term projects, ones which extend the scope of administration into a less tangible field. Literature or love, for example. The administrator takes the same no-nonsense approach as ever. She or he sits down with spreadsheets, with ruler and compass, with log tables.
Of course, the parable is reassuring about the futility to all this. The administrator is stymied, and shown to be oblivious to this, and oblivious to the futility of his of her approach to the problem. This is, as should be clear, not true. Nevertheless, the administrator cries at the parable.
The statistician's parable
Do you miss the statistician?
We drove him away when we got tired of her way of pointing things out. We wanted things to be a certain way - comfortable, every day in every way getting better and better - and he refused to reassure us. We took her and his tests of association and confidence intervals and left them all at the edge of town. From now on our town would proceed the way we wanted. For reality is always malleable, and the statistician denied this.
She lingered in the hills outside town, scavenging for berries at first, but gradually winning over the sheep farmers. They seemed keen to have him advise them. We in the town were surprised at this. We like to define ourselves against the credulous, roughly dressed, unsophisticated, frankly smelly sheep farmers. Their embrace of the statistician disturbs us. Why would they need her services?
We hear that the sheep farmers want to know, with precision, how much they need to supplement their flock's feeds by. One of us of a historical inclination informs us all that the statisticians, it turns out, got their start on the farms, comparing fields fertilised with different things, or not at all, and the like. Another one of us - who likes to tell good-natured jokes against himself as his grandfather was a farmer - tells us all that farming is more precise than we thought.
One night we call a town meeting. All the people who decided to run the statistician out of town discuss kidnapping him back. Then I point out that the farmers' faith in the statistician is further proof of their backwardness - we in the town are beyond such faith. We'll eat their mutton and lamb, and wear their wool, without ever thinking about where it came from. We will go right ahead and create our own reality in the town. We are all agreed, after my intervention, that we do not miss the statistician.
The psychiatrist's parable
Every morning the psychiatrist gets up and drives to clinic. He diagnoses mental illnesses. She prescribes treatment. He reviews patients and adjusts their management plan, if needed. Even the most challenging situations are faced calmly, rationally, with equanimity and decisiveness. There are meetings to attend. She makes incisive points. At the end of the day, he goes home, has a nice dinner and plays with the children for a while. She enjoys her life.