2012-12-24

Against Santa Claus

Why do parents teach their children to believe in Santa Claus? Don't roll your eyes at me - it is actually a good question. What good comes of a belief in Santa Claus?

ABC News Weighs In
An ordinary guy named Peter Dacey, responding to the author of this ABC News piece, offers his explanation as follows:
If you don't believe in Santa, no good comes of it, as either you're correct or you're not, in which case have fun forcing your parents to get you all your future Christmas gifts while Santa visits the believers," said Dacey. "On the other hand, if you do believe, the worst that can happen is that you find out you were wrong, and what's the harm there?
Yes, folks, I do understand that this is a puff-piece, not to be taken so seriously, but I still have to wonder what on Earth Peter Dacey is talking about. Dacey reasons that there is no inherent value to knowing that Santa Claus really and truly does not exist, because it's no fun (and, by implication, I suppose less fruitful?) asking your parents for something you want than it is to hold out hope that an imaginary fat man in a flying sled is going to give it to you - and, worse, that if you don't get it, you weren't an adequately "good" boy or girl that year. "On the other hand," the worst part about discovering that there is no Santa Claus is finding out you're wrong.

Dacey wonders what the harm is, but the harm is clearly outlined by Emily Charlton, another respondent featured in the same news piece, right at the beginning:
"I remember feeling embarrassed and upset," said Charlton.
....
Charlton ran to her mother for reassurance that what she suspected was wrong.
"I will never forget what came next," she said. "She looked at me, and without skipping a beat said, 'Don't tell your brother and sister.' I was devastated. … A huge bomb was dropped on me and as silly as it sounds, it really changed my life.
"The worst part of all was how unceremoniously it happened, it was like one minute I was a child full of wonderment, and in a flash was snapped into a world of non-believing, magic-less adults."
Charlton's parents - like many parents all over North America and elsewhere - elected to place their child in a naive fantasy land, knowing full well that they were propagating a ridiculous fantasy. However much excitement this lie produced in their child early on, the fantasy ultimately resulted in Charlton's being humiliated in front of her friends and devastated by the moment her parents ultimately came clean with her.

She takes it further: she felt her world was an amazing, magical place, until she discovered that her parents had been lying to her all along, at which point the world lost a great deal of its magic.

But The World Is An Amazing Place
The real tragedy in Charlton's experience is that she suffered some real disillusionment as a child, and this was an experience that left a significant impression on her that continued into adulthood. I don't really care about Santa Claus, but it is surely a mistake to deliberately set a child up to be disillusioned, when the whole illusion is supposedly concocted for the benefit of... the children.

Meanwhile, back in the real world (the world in which Santa God does not exist), amazing - dare I say "seemingly magical?" - things are happening all the time. From iPhones to 3D printing to synthetic insulin to dancing robots, the human species is responsible for things that would have been considered utter sorcery just 200 years ago. We have unlocked the power of the atom and used it to power cities. We have sent spacecraft into the depths of space, beyond the threshold of our own solar system. We put a radio controlled car on the surface of Mars and drove it around. We have injected cancerous tumors with tiny specks of gold, and zapped them with invisible rays that made the tumors explode. We have harvested the venom of snakes and spiders and used it to save human lives.

The list of real miracles is infinitely longer and more impressive than the preposterous lies we tell our children about Santa Claus. But we human beings are a warped race of bald apes, who somehow derive greater satisfaction from lying to children for the benefit of the looks on their faces than inspiring those very same looks by the awesome power of truth.

You Don't Have To Lie
Really, think about it. There is no reason to fill your child's head full of lies. The world is sufficiently amazing to generate a real sense of awe in your children. The fact that levitation can be demonstrated in a scientific laboratory proves that, with the right kind of scientific progress, your child could actually be the one to build a flying sled and travel around the globe that way.

But rather than fill our children's heads with the real possibilities of human progress, we have elected to lie to them for years about a cartoonish god-imposter whose only real achievement is fulfilling a child's most materialistic desires.

So, on the one hand, we could tell our children the truth about human excellence and fill their spirits with hope for the human race, and on the other hand we could tell them lies about magic and dash their hopes when their brains are too powerful to endure the ongoing, humiliating dishonesty of it all.

Okay, those are your two choices. Are you really surprised that our children grow up to die in hopeless wars or gun each other down in movie theaters and schools? How dare you feign shock and outrage? You did this.

The God Angle
Not convinced? Then let me step outside of my idiom for a moment and offer you a religious-based argument against Santa.

When your child is very young, you concoct a lie about an inherently good, bearded man who appears in the clouds, who rewards all the good children and punishes all the bad ones. A few years later, you tell your child, "Just kidding! It was all a big, dumb lie that I told you just to see the look on your face as I pretended to perform miracles that no one will ever really be able to perform! But you figured it out, grew up, and came to realize that no such thing is possible! But I love you anyway!"

Do you this kind of thing nurtures your child's belief in God? Don't kid yourself. A child whose dreams of Santa-God get dashed early on is a child who grows up ever less-likely to fall for that kind of thing ever again.

So, here's a pro-tip: If you want to raise your child to believe in God, maybe you shouldn't engage in a big dress-rehearsal for atheism.

Back To Peter Dacey
Now back to Dacey's question: What good comes from not believing in Santa Claus? Well, I've listed a few highly positive things already: (1) A better appreciation for mankind's really amazing accomplishments, (2) Preventing your child from experiencing a wholly unnecessary and emotionally jarring disillusionment, and (3) If you're so inclined, a better likelihood that your child will actually grow up to believe in something.

(Remember, folks, here at Stationary Waves, we are against theism, but very much in favor of belief as expressed in the old Ayn Rand adage, "Ideas matter.")

Like the ancient Greeks, and pretty much everyone in the known universe, I believe that truth is inherently valuable on its own merits. What a child gains from the truth is the ability to see the world as it really is, the ability to trust their own observations without an irrational "magic world-view" that constantly advises them against what they can see in front of them with their own two eyes and the power of their own minds reasoning about the physical evidence.

More importantly, though, by electing not to lie to your children about Santa God, you also help foster a higher level of trust between you and your child. You spare them Emily Charlton's emotionally jarring experience of having to realize that one of the things that made her happiest in her short life was all a big lie that her parents had told her.

And that's why I'm against Santa Claus.