THE CLOSER we look, the fuzzier it gets. The recounts, whether by
machine or by hand, whether done in hours or days, deliver different totals
than the original vote. But how do we know that the recounts are themselves
correct? Would a recount of the recount suffice to settle the score -- perhaps
best two out of three?
The problem is simple, even if the solution is not: The vote was closer
than can be counted without ruling out the possibility of statistically
significant error. We have no way to see clearly enough to see who won. The
system, mechanical voting machines and computers notwithstanding, is a human
one. As such, it is open to error, malfeasance and interpretation. In other
words, it is only relatively accurate.
Government, politics and contemporary life seem to have finally caught up
with mathematics, science and art. Moving into the 21st century, we are caught
in the vortex of post-post modernism, a situation predicted early in the last
century. Einstein's Theory of Relativity states that measurement depends on
the relative position of the measurer and changes accordingly. Heisenberg's
Uncertainty Principle tells us that the act of taking measurement irrevocably
changes the reality of that being measured.
The ecology of edges, looking through microscopes, telescopes or digital
scans, predicts the same result as we are seeing in the nightly news from
Florida. What appears as distinct and objective to the naked eye, say black
and white, turns out to be a small point of black and one of white with a vast
middle of gray moving in either direction.
Artists have been making art about this throughout modernism. The
pointillists, the impressionists, mid-20th century artists like Mark Rothko,
the op-artists, the current practitioners like Chuck Close, have all
demonstrated for us that the world looks categorically different from up close
than it does from far away.
We don't need to be statisticians or mathematicians to understand that
numbers only model the universe. They approximate what we call reality, but
they can't replicate it. With the hype of virtual reality swirling all around
us, it's hard to see where the numbers stop and our real reality begins.
The fact is that we will never know who we elected the 43rd president of
the United States. It is simply impossible to tell given the blunt instrument
of the ballot box by which the issue must be measured.
Introspective artists, scientists and philosophers have queasily learned to
live with cosmic uncertainty, the disconnect between what can be known and
what must be lived. They have long understood that what you see might not be
what you get, and vice versa. They know that technology can produce sublime
beauty just as surely as it can create horrible destruction. But it cannot in
and of itself create meaning.
We will just have to live with what it means to have elected "Either/Or"
for president of the United States. The man who will be inaugurated in January
may be, or may not be, the man actually elected to the post. We will have to
live with the fact that the president is unknown.
If we can remember to remember for the next four years that this president,
Mr. Assumed President, is a stand-in, maybe he will serve to remind us how
much of what we take as reality is itself only an approximation. To make it
real, we ourselves have to supply the meaning. To make meaning we have to live
as if life counted.
Donald Fels, a visual artist, lives in Fall City, Wash.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle