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The number of the least

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Those weird guys in funny robes were right. Chris Roper discovers that numbers do rule our lives.

So we don’t want to get too scary about this, but it’s true that numbers rule our lives. Even worse, those numbers are controlled by a secret society of stern faced men and women clad in implacably neat uniforms, who speak an arcane secret language and have an unimaginable higher purpose of which we wot not. Yes, I speak of the Accountants.

Ah, you thought I was talking about the Illuminati? Nah. There’s no mystery left there. By now we all know that they’re a bunch of clowns in funny robes chasing little boys. Possibly I’ve confused my clandestine organisations with my papal posses here, but it’s all the same thing from a certain perspective. I’m talking about a far more dangerous bunch, the people who really understand how numbers work, and can make them work against you.

Another guy in funny robes, St. Augustine of Hippo, who lived from CE 354 – 430, wrote that ‘Numbers are the universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.’ This would mean that accountants are the only ones who walk among the living who are privy to the truth. And this is possibly why they often look depressed.

Incidentally, St Augustine is one of my favourite saints, and certainly one of the most pragmatic. His classic potboiler, “Confessions” of Augustine of Hippo (not, in fact a self-help diet book), is famous for his youthful prayer to God, “Grant me chastity and continence, only not yet.” Apparently, he was a victim of his own popularity as a young man, with many admirers (what we’d call ‘Facebook friends’ nowadays).

But enough of poking fun at accountants and saints, which is as foolhardy as poking a rabid snake with a rolled up balance sheet. Some of you reading this might be accountants, although very few will be saints. So you’re probably feeling the same irritation I feel when government officials start criticising ‘the media’. Not all of us are the same. In the same way that, conceivably, there’s a non-muckraking, honest, not-embittered journalist somewhere in the world, there’s probably an exciting, cool, gorgeously dressed accountant out there. The basic point is that numbers are what make the world go round, in all sorts of ways. According to those wacky lads over at the Numerology Church, the study of numbers can determine their influence on your life and future.

In ancient times, when calculators still had big red numbers, you’d take your average life expectancy (say 65), divide it by the average amount of times per meal you have to beg a Cape Town waiter to bring you your bill (5), add a randomly chosen number based on the chances of there being good news on the front page of the Sunday Times (the always mystical zero), and you’re left with, oh oh, 13. Then you consult an approved, paid-up member of the Numerology Church (say, your Aunt Dora, or a wise old sangoma smelling of beer), who will tell you the appropriate place to spend your month’s salary so that you can double it.

It was failsafe, really. Worked almost every time, if by ‘almost’ you mean never. But that was then, and this is now. And the only numbers that count now are how many friends you have on Facebook, and how many people are following you on Twitter. Yep, numbers aren’t secret anymore. Now, anyone can go to a website, do the basic maths of divination, and predict your future. Only 70 friends on Facebook, divided by only 30 followers on Twitter, equals no chance in hell of getting laid Saturday night. It’s the mathematics of loserdom. An Illuminati for people who aren’t the brightest lightbulbs in the chandelier, if you will. And it’s proof that numbers still determine our lives, and that Dan Brown is right. [Ominous pause.] About everything.

First published in Obrigado magazine.

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