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Dorothea Van Camp

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Tyranny of the Quantifiable

I have spent decades resisting the narrow definition of my work, often disappointed in what seems to be a need to “name what it is” rather than to allow it to just be. Uncertainty is a condition of our existence. Will I still be here tomorrow, will there be a pandemic next week, will the country survive until next election? Self-righteous assuredness has always rubbed me the wrong way and I somehow always had a sense that an unwillingness to accept uncertainty could even be dangerous. Growing up, I thought that if anyone was 100% cock sure of something, anything at all, they were probably more than a little bit a fool. Part of education is learning how much you don’t know after all. One of my favorite titles ever was for my drawing The Wrongness of Rightness.  

I have to admit, I never expected to experience the place where we are now.


Since the 1950s, political scientists have theorized that political polarization — increased numbers of “political partisans” who view the world with an ideological bias — is associated with an inability to tolerate uncertainty and a need to hold predictable beliefs about the world.

“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general.”

From a study supported by Brown University van Baar et al. Intolerance of uncertainty modulates brain-to-brain synchrony during politically polarized perception.


“The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favor of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the numinous, the uncertain.”


Woolf’s  Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable, The New Yorker, April 24, 2014, & Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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