The Acting Hand

Death and suffering are reported each night on the evening news. I’ve seen friends, family, and acquaintances taken from this world seemingly at random. I watch on social media as friends and acquaintances struggle with life-changing illnesses. How do we make sense of this? How do we persist in the face of the indifference and randomness of the universe?

As social creatures, we are born with a theory of mind, the ability to attribute intent, emotions, beliefs, and knowledge to ourselves and others. It is no wonder that we are drawn to create order out of this randomness by assigning it some external reason, intent, or plan: The Acting Hand. Whether we blame the devil, god, fate, the stars, kismet, or destiny, we gain comfort from imagining an actor and motivation behind our suffering. With order comes solace. With chaos comes madness.

But what of calamity meted out by our own hand or the hands of others? Are we solely responsible? Is it an act of free will or a throw of the dice? In the eye of popular science, addiction becomes a disease, the sociopath is born that way, and the abused becomes the abuser. Who creates the despot, the murderer, the rapist, the junkie?

Although I understand intellectually that some events are truly random, I still feel a strong emotional draw to imagine some intent, The Acting Hand, even if only in metaphor. The hand is not just a metaphor but also the central question. In this series of staged vignettes I’ve brought this invisible hand to life to prompt further reflection on causation, randomness, and free will.

The theme of play is also central to the work. As children and artists we play God in our make-believe worlds and we can be cruel and destructive in our play. I’ve depicted events from history, literature, the evening news, and my own personal experience using children’s toys to illustrate our complex relationships with the suffering and misfortune in our lives and the world around us. Heavy stuff to be sure, but there is a thread of dark humor woven into these images that I recognize as one of the ways that I cope with my own fear, worry, and anxiety.

“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.They kill us for their sport.” King Lear (4.1)
“an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!” King Lear (1.2)