Stats Data & Score Keeping (PAL: 200 vs. ISR: 1) (Gaza 2014)


Ghoulish is not the counting of casualties per se as much as it is running a daily tally of the dead, and comparing it to the relative security and high degree of protection enjoyed by the citizens of Israel. All the more ghoulish are when the competing figures are scored as such and illustrated graphically. In the newspapers, this comparative casualty counting first started with Syria, assessing the number of Syrians killed by the regime versus those killed by the rebels. About Syria, the papers have since given up, whereas with Gaza we are given sharp visual indicators of up to the minute data. Either in the press or online on social media, the more and more it seems like people keeping score and comparing stats at a sports tournament.

Data is never simply data, at least not for long. Anti-Israel partisans use them to make their own point. At the very least and at their very best, the data is tallied to call attention to the pressing need to stop the killing. Just as common if not more typical are the malicious forms of criticism by critics who use uninterpreted data to make broad meta-arguments. These might usually highlight what appears to be a callous disregard for human life by what gets painted-by-the-numbers, as a racist or colonial regime. Most of all, they seem as if meant to shut down the back and forth of critical analysis. Drawn out of context, this use of the numbers is stand-alone and positivistic. They are meant to impress, presented as if ready-made to provide immediate and self-certain evidence with which to produce a winning argument about the current round of fighting and about Israel and Palestine as a whole.

The numbers are irrational. You cannot argue with them. Gross and unfalsifiable, there is no evidence that one could muster to present against the conclusions advanced by the critics who want to visualize the count. Some people use the tallies at their fingertips to draw moral and political judgments while knowing nothing or next to nothing about the Israel-Palestine conflict apart from cheap slogans and clichés. A part of our information saturated culture, the problem is that the stats are dumb. They lack the human, moral, or political dimension required to interpret and transform the given state of things, not on the ground, and not even as they appear to most of through the media.

What the numbers do indeed articulate is the asymmetrical nature of this particular conflict, the rough balance of power and terror. And that’s about it. As presented in their most raw form, the tally does little to distinguish between civilians and combatants. They tell us nothing determinate about the catastrophe that is this armed conflict, nothing about the political parties and motivations that have entered people into it. Turning the dead into data, the stats tell no story. What happened to these people? Where did they live? Were they at war, at home, at a café, on a bus, at the beach? Were they just unlucky, or was their killing inevitable, if not pre-meditated? Who were they? Were they soldiers? Were they children? And how were they caught up in a conflict to which they may either have themselves contributed or of which they were entirely innocent, in which, in either case, they were caught up and cut down? Reflecting the faceless inhumanity of armed conflict, the stats are politically useless. They say nothing relating to the steps and missteps taken by a governing authority to protect its own citizens, to promote and protect its rights as their leaders conceive them, or the steps and missteps taken by a governing authority whose actions put in grave danger the lives of its own people and the lives of people not their own.

Raw data and rough represent indices to the differential scale of human misery. They are a-human and apolitical bits of information that do nothing to clarify the unfolding human, political, and military stress and strain, or hold those responsible to a just account, morally and politically.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Stats Data & Score Keeping (PAL: 200 vs. ISR: 1) (Gaza 2014)

  1. Barbara says:

    What do you mean by “the numbers are irrational”? It’s like saying that the facts are irrational. I’m not sure if either numbers or facts in general can be described as rational or irrational. They’re not telling us a whole lot without interpretations, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t make them irrational, does it?

    • zjb says:

      By irrational I mean that you cannot argue with them. They would seem to brook no possible counter-evidence that might count against the claim that their use is supposed to convey.

  2. mmat says:

    972mag has a list that does indeed expand on at least on that human dimension.

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