Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lessons We Learn From Our Children: A Five-Legged Stool And A Potato Of Milk

My wife and I have been getting some interesting lessons from our children, two of which stand out as especially relevant. Working together, they form a synergy that explains far too much about the current political situation. And even though they're of no importance in and of themselves, it still might be worthwhile to tell you about them.

When our daughter was learning the alphabet, we gave her a DVD set called "40 Years of Sunny Days: The Best of Sesame Street." It's an excellent compilation of skits, songs (this is my favorite), and art. We had fun watching it with her, she had fun watching it herself, and she learned the alphabet and much more. But some of what she learned was wrong!

One of the older skits was done in simple drawings with a voice track. It shows a mother sending her daughter to the store for "a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." The daughter recites the list over and over on her way to the store, and although she suffers a momentary lapse once inside, she brings home the right things.

Our daughter loved that skit, but she didn't understand it. We know this because she would walk around the house saying, "a loaf of bread, a potato of milk, and a stick of butter."

Her older brothers challenged her many times, asking questions such as, "How could you have a potato of milk?" and "A potato of milk? What does that even mean?" And every time, she gave them the same response: "a loaf of bread, a potato of milk, and a stick of butter."

Stubborn? Oh my goodness. Where does she get that from?

Meanwhile, our eldest son was involved in a group project in his science class. The assignment was to design and build a stool which would hold as much weight as possible. The teacher offered to provide all the materials, and our son suggested a hollow concrete cube.

It would not have been pretty, but it would have supported everything the class could stack on it. On the other hand, there were three people in the group, and he was the only one who liked his idea. The other two wanted to blow up a balloon, cover it with papier-mâché, and paint it blue with green stripes. So that's what they did.

They made legs out of empty pop cans, also covered in papier-mâché, also painted blue with green stripes, and they papered the legs to the balloon in such odd places that the stool fell over, even without any weight on it. So they added a fifth leg. Then the smallest girl in the class sat on it for about three seconds, and it didn't collapse. So they declared their experiment finished and their stool a success. Our son was mortified.

But this is how democracy works, kids. Two clowns with a bad idea will overrule one serious person with a good idea, every time. That's on a small scale. On a larger scale, the ratio gets worse. N+1 clowns who know nothing will overrule N serious, well-informed people, every time. So 51% is a landslide. 50.1% is a mandate. And so on.

And that's a problem. Meanwhile, most of the people -- at least, most of the people I know -- seem quite content to absorb whatever they hear. If they hear something often enough, and nothing to the contrary, they believe it -- even if it's not supported by any credible evidence, even if it's not remotely plausible, even if the very words don't make any sense at all. And when they're challenged, they'll stick by their nonsense, no matter what. That's another problem.

It's not as if honest people control the voting machines or anything. And it's not as if we control the media either. We don't even have a presence in it. So if there were no volunteer truth-seekers, everyone would hear the same lies all day long, day after day. And nobody would ever hear anything different. Then they wouldn't even need to rig the elections.

It's good to be blogging again. 

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