You can’t just make things up

The map-making angle seems for the longest time to be a dead end. ‘During the corona’ I get the fantastic idea one day that I can interview WASD20 through Zoom. WASD20, whose name it turns out is Nathan, teaches American history at a high school. I quiz him about the economy of youtube channels and sponsorship. But quickly I sidetrack myself and become fascinated with Dungeons & Dragons and suddenly find myself getting a private lecture (with powerpoint slide-show and all) about the development of the genre. Because we’re having such a good time and it’s 4 PM which ‘during the corona’ in my house has become cocktail hour, I end up drinking a glass of rosé as WASD20 shows me his book collection. When we are done talking and I end the zoom meeting, I want to be WASD20’s friend and learn how to play D&D. I have forgotten why I wanted to interview him to begin with. But I do learn one thing immediately: You can’t just make stuff up. The stuff you make up has to adhere to some clear, acceptable rules (whether made up or not). As WASD20 reminds me; either you’ve got gravity and then water flows downward and follows a particular trajectory from mountain toward sea. Or you don’t have gravity and then you’re stuck in a universe without it, and you will have to deal with that. That’s the thing about it: the things you make up have ramifications. You are stuck with the made-up beyond what you might have intended.

Which reminds me: at an opening reception for a museum exhibition, I once ended up sharing one of those tiny, round, high tables with one of the museum’s board members. He was, incidentally, a senior regional politician. My primary field of research is policy-making and bureaucracy, so I decided to ask him about something I was pondering at the time: I often got the impression, when doing fieldwork in the national government administration, that the civil servants regarded politicians as stakeholders to be managed – a sources of disturbance to their job of running the country smoothly. I asked the politician what he made of my thoughts. He laughed and said that was probably true and if it were, he thought it was for the best. I asked him if it did not bother him to be relatively powerless against the civil service since he was the one elected democratically, but he asked me to consider the opposite. To consider what might happen if the civil service actually went ahead and did everything a politician might suggest. At that moment while drinking a tiny, lukewarm glass of sweet bubbly wine what he told me made me consider if in fact the primary virtue of the civil service is to slow down the process of making things happen. Of stopping too many things from happening.

Image: Nina Holm Vohnsen

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