Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Santa's Hos, and Other Fine Holiday Traditions

The condom was hung on his chimney with care...
In one sense, Santa Claus represents a pretty shitty model of morality.  It's basically the Stockbroker
Mentality, where everything is OK as long as you don't make the cardinal (and only) sin of getting caught.  It's a morality dependent on the constant threat of surveillance and punishment from some kind of ubiquitous Authority Figure in whose absence all manner of depravity is all but guaranteed to take place because it is completely dependent on external forces and does not require any sort of deep internalization or encourage independent thought, which, for some, is kind of the point.  It's safe to say that the concept of Santa Claus is not particularly conducive to any form of Modified Altruism, where an individual can critically analyze a situation, empathize to some degree with a variety of other social agents (both immediate and potential), and make some kind of a decisions based on the nebula of concepts surrounding the dictum "the most good for the greatest number of people"...

But on the other hand, the tradition of Santa Claus is something of a cultural boon for atheists and all manner of freethinkers from various walks of life.  I admit that recently after I had freed my mind from religious tyranny, I quickly added a clause to my worldview that took a hardline stance against teaching fairy tales and superstitions in any way that conflated mythology and reality.  Yes, for a short while I was among the ranks of douchebags who don't let their kids believe in Santa Claus.  Thankfully, a little perspective and a lot of booze helped me on the road to enlightenment and to not strip my children's childhood of all Awe and Wonder like a selfish prick.  In fact, upon further consideration and a healthy dose of whiskey in addition to the beer (and a few Tylenol 3s, because fuck it), I realized how the tradition of the myth of Santa Claus was, in fact, the perfect atheist tradition and counterpoint to the rigid application of religious dogma and blind faith.

The myth of Santa Claus is a secular parable in rational thought.  Santa Claus has about as much in common with religion as Justin Bieber does with that lion at the zoo who tried to pee on us last year, which is to say absolutely nothing.  There are two main reasons why Santa Claus is tha shit when it comes to positive life lessons, dog:

Round 1: I Am the (All-Knowing and All-Seeing) Walrus

God - whichever of the thousands of deities that humankind has worshiped and/or continues to worship - is always held up as an absolute.  That is, figures of religious authority outrightly discourage any critical analysis of their god and any and all related paraphernalia.  Critical thinking, logic, and reason in all their wonderful forms have been and are actively disparaged by religious authorities and other true believers while Blind Faith is actually encouraged as a legitimate paradigm to construct an effective worldview. 

On the other hand, Santa Claus encourages critical thinking skills in children.  Well, the myth of Santa Claus fosters these skills not Santa himself because that portly motherfucker doesn't really exist.  From a culturally objective standpoint it does seem a bit odd that a large segment of our culture spends the amount of time and energy it does to convince our children that some magical dude with a sled and flying ungulates annually delivers presents only to all of the well-behaved children of the world whose families can already afford to get them presents, the Santa myth is great. 

The great thing about the Santa myth is that when our children get old enough to critically analyze the myth and realize that it's bullshit, we verify that it is, indeed, bullshit.  And furthermore, we don't penalize them for questioning the myth and using their evolutionarily-bestowed mental faculties to question the world around them.  Santa Claus is like a code that kids have to learn how to crack.  As children grow older, they start to examine the quantifiable, empirical evidence and weigh it against their own beliefs to see if the two are compatible.  And once they get to the cognitive point that they cannot reconcile observable reality with a deeply-held belief, they fucking change or abandon that belief.  And what's more, they are encouraged to do so. 
All you haterz can lick my North Pole.
A 35-year-old man who legitimately believes in Santa Claus would, in today's world, be looked at as suspect and potentially mentally unstable.  Belief in Santa Claus requires the same Blind Faith that belief in a god or gods does; the only difference is that the faith in one is dogmatically defended despite no supporting evidence and in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  The Santa Claus myth represents the perfect model for one important component of self-actualization - the willingness and requisite mental plasticity to modify one's worldview based on critically analyzing and weighing all available evidence and drawing conclusions based on the countless forms of logical thinking and scientific inquiry at our disposal.

Round 2: Because Because, That's Why

Religious beliefs are based on hierarchy.  Especially here in Western Civilization, religion has a particularly useful tool for establishing the "inherent" authority of some human beings over others.  A belief in god, and particularly the Judeo-Christian version of the bloke, necessitates a similar belief in a natural order where each member of a given community has a clearly-defined role within a hierarchy of authority and upward mobility is not tolerated.  A few related concepts include the Great Chain of Being, the Divine Right of Kings, and the conflict between the AIs and humans in THE MATRIX.  (Also, to a lesser extent, the slaves on Tatooine in THE PHANTOM MENACE that Qui Gon Jinn chose not to help for some reason.)  However, the purpose is always the same: to justify imbalances of power, particularly in the oppression of the common majority for the benefit of the elite minority.  Without these kinds of social systems in place, people might object to being fucked over while their king owned more land, and collected more taxes, and just fucking told people what to do or while bankers, stockbrokers, and executives squandered the future of the many to fund the present of the few.

The concept of a god or gods emphasizes not just Blind Faith, but specifically Blind Faith in an unquestionable and "right" figure of authority within an equally unquestionable and "right" chain of command.  The purposes of espousing this sort of worldview are strictly for the manipulation, exploitation, and oppression of one group of people by another.  I'm not saying that religion or a belief in a deity or deities is the absolute cause of all institutionalized social systems of manipulation, exploitation, and oppression in the world today, but I am saying that the mindset of those who do embrace the notion of gods is thoroughly and completely in line with those systems. 

Those in positions of power have found religion to be a useful tool for maintaining social hierarchies for three main reasons.  Firstly, most religious beliefs involving deities also incorporate some variation of the Perfect Plan trope, which is to say everything that happens in the world is driven by the conscious design of some sort of higher being.  Secondly, a great deal of religious dogma revolves around strict adherence to the status quo and hence a resistance to change in any shape or form.  Thirdly, most - if not all - religious belief systems include some concept of Supernatural Justice, whether that be some variant of the heaven/hell dichotomy or karma or spiritual enlightenment.  On the basis of these three ideological tenets alone, a belief in a god or gods, then, can be easily exploited by those who know how and for those whose best interests lie in exploiting it. 

How do you quell rebellion from the masses?

Step 1: Convince the exploited that their exploitation is, in fact, not exploitation at all but instead part of a larger plan that they just can't comprehend.  Bonus points if you can convince them that everybody's station in society is preordained by a deity or deities.

Step 2: Simplify all of the complexity of human social interaction into two extremes - Order and Chaos.  Use some variation of the "it could always be worse" trope to make the subjugated majority believe that any change is away from the Order of the current social system towards the only viable alternative that is Chaos.  Bonus points if you can actually get the exploited people to fear change so much that they actively work against their own best self interests and allow their basic human rights to be violated.   

Step 3: Persuade the huddled masses that their suffering is transitory and that they should endure suffering without question because it's either a test from a Higher Power or because True Justice awaits everyone after death.  This is a key step, because people will endure a lot of shit if they believe that the people inflicting the shit on them are due for some kind of cosmic comeuppance and they are due for some kind of eternal reward during the final reckoning.  Bonus points if you can get them to freely give even more money/possessions than are already stolen from them by institutionally established means.

The Santa Claus myth, on the other hand, is pretty much the polar opposite (some North Pole humour for you there) of this sort of dogma.  Santa Claus is established among children as an omniscient authority figure that arbitrarily metes out justice.  However, the social negotiations surrounding Santa Claus as a child ages provides a model for entering into effective dialogue with figures of authority.  This is a rite of passage that not only teaches children to question what they're told but also how to challenge authority in a constructive way.  Within this particular cultural model, people are encouraged to call other people out on their bullshit but in a negative way like "You've been lying to me for 12 years, motherfucker, and I'm going to carve your dead, black heart out of your chest with your own broken femur," but in a rational, thoughtful way like "Based on the available evidence, I don't believe that your assertions of one man's supernatural toy distribution system should have any bearing on my worldview and I respectfully challenge the validity of this dominant social narrative." 
But you see, abortion is wrong
because then we have less
children to molest.

That's the fucking brilliance of Santa Claus.  Without even realizing it, the model for peaceful social progression has been sitting under our noses.  Rational, logical thought based on effective interpretations of available evidence coupled with ongoing dialogical processes.   

The point is not to deny our children fairy tales; it's to make sure they develop the critical thinking skills necessary to not confuse myth with reality.  Neither is the point to deny our children a sense of wonder or awe at the universe.  Fairy tales are OK when they're used to inspire or for entertainment or educational purposes but not when they are proselytized as facts in order to foster blind adherence to potentially harmful and regressive dogma for some ulterior motive whether that motive be some kind of financial or material gain, the abusive exercise of power, the subjugation or alienation of fellow human beings, or, in the case of the Catholic church, the raping of young boys.  In a nutshell, as long as we acknowledge fairy tales and myths as fairy tales and myths and don't elevate them to the status of religion then we'll all be a lot better off.