People go out of their way to defend the status quo.
Imagine challenging Santa Claus. Imagine saying he’s a lie that makes no sense, and you don’t support lying to children.
Most people will immediately jump to jolly old St. Nick’s defence. He might be a lie, but that’s not what Santa Claus is about. He’s about instilling a bit of magic and wonder in children. He’s about bringing them happiness at a dark time of year. He’s about bringing family a bit closer together, and he’s an excuse for parents to give their children presents and bring them cheer. Maybe he also helps keep kids in line for the Christmas season, too.
These points are all true, but they’re missing something important.
The goal of Santa Claus is not any of the above justifications. If the above justifications were the true goals, we probably wouldn’t have Santa Claus.
There are better ways to teach your children magic and wonder, ways that don’t disappear when they turn eight or nine.
Imagine if instead of teaching children about Santa Claus, we actually neglected to teach them that the stars are other suns. Imagine if instead of having a Christmas ritual we had a cultural ritual of taking our children out to see the stars for a few nights every year around the solstice, when the nights are longest. Surely a view of the heavens will help instill them with a sense of awe and wonder, especially in these days of light pollution where few have ever seen the arm of the milky way stretching across the sky.
Only when they turn ten years old do we finally tell them that the stars are other suns.
Imagine that feeling, learning the breadth of the universe for the first time. You probably don’t remember it, because you were told so young. Instead of disillusioning children about magic, we could instill a deep sense of awe and wonder that doesn’t disappear as you grow up.
It would require significant effort not to spoil the surprise, but since we’re talking about Santa-level conspiracies, it’s on the table.
And perhaps this isn’t the best idea. Perhaps there are better ways still to put a bit of magic into children’s lives. The point is not to take this suggestion and run with it. The point is that if our goals were actually about bringing a bit of happiness to children and bringing the family closer together, Santa Claus probably isn’t the best possible choice.
Everyone jumps to Santa’s defence, because that’s the status quo. They argue in favor of St. Nick, and there are obviously arguments in favor. But the question isn’t whether Santa Claus is devoid of virtue – everyone will agree that the jolly myth has some virtue. The question is whether he’s the best way to achieve our goals.
Santa Claus isn’t a good because he brings joy to the home. There are better ways to do that, and if you find yourself arguing in Santa Claus as a means to that end then you should be happy to accept an alternative that better fulfils that end.
The status quo usually has some virtue to it. There is some virtue to door-opening classes, but that doesn’t mean we should make door opening a mandatory course in schools. The question isn’t whether the status quo has virtue – the question is whether the status quo is the best possible option among the options available to us.
We propagate the status quo because it’s tradition. Because it has the inertia of the entire world behind it. The status quo usually has some virtue, but that’s not why we teach it. We teach it because even though it’s not the best means to our ends, it’s the easiest means to our ends.
That’s a big deal: doing something half-decent is better than sitting around whining about why it’s wrong. But if things are going to get better, the status quo is going to have to change. It’s going to have to be challenged. When it does, it’s important that you don’t get confused. The status quo has benefits, but they’re usually far from ideal.
It’s important to remember that we could do better than Santa Claus, if we were really trying.
So next time someone challenges the status quo, pause before you jump to its defence. List all of the virtues that you were about to espouse, write them down, and then ask yourself:
If these are really my end goals, is there a better wait to attain them?
Otherwise you’re just propagating myths.