L. Neil Smith's

Number 4, January 1996

Beyond the Grinch...

By Louis James

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         I stumbled on a great deal of pent up energy when I responded to a posting about X-mass on an Objectivist discussion list. This made me think that there may be a great number of people, even Christians, who aren't quite comfortable participating in The Santa Conspiracy.
         The problem is that most folks don't know how to get out of it without coming off as a Grinch.
         It may be too late for this season, but as you sit there, picking pine-needles out of your socks and hoping that the old batteries you put in the noisiest toys won't last long, I have some ideas that might interest you.
         In the first place, we need to put this Grinch thing behind us. There are plenty of things to celebrate in life, even Sir Isaac Newton's birthday, if you feel you must celebrate on the 25th of December. The Santa Conspiracy is not only not necessary, but the Grinch option is not the only alternative. There is much that can be done, beyond the Grinch, and there are good reasons to look for such options.
         In the recent discussions I had on this subject, I found that about half the adults I spoke with seemed to remember feeling a deep sense of betrayal when they found that the people they had trusted the most in the world, their parents, had been systematically lying to them for years. Not only that, but every adult in our culture seemed involved in a conspiracy of lies, closet secrets, and other furtive activity. The rest seemed to think that "finding out" was no big deal and that there was no harm done.
         I submit that, no matter how "nice" and well-intended the conspiracy may be, ANY lying to children is harmful. I even tell my kids, "now, this is going to hurt" when they get a shot. The pay-off, I assert, is that my children believe just about everything I say (in a serious tone) and regard me as a reliable source of useful information. They come to me with their problems and ask for my thoughts in solving them. If this habit persists when they become teen-agers, I will consider the pay-off to be almost beyond comparison to the investment.
         Besides the general advisability of truthfulness with one's children, the myth itself has a dark side. "He sees you when you are sleeping, he knows when you've been good or bad. So you'd better be good for goodness sakes!!!"
         The myth is nothing more than a tool for extortion in the hands of some parents. A way of systematically attempting to bribe children to exhibit desired behaviors, backed by a supernatural entity that is essentially omniscient. Think of the unhealthy patterns this plants, patterns children will be saddled with when grown.
         I ask you, does The Santa Conspiracy teach children to develop an internal moral compass, or does it demonstrate that in practice right and wrong are nothing more that what will be rewarded and punished by authority?
         And when children find--as they inevitably will--that they've done something truly awful, and gotten rewarded anyway...
         If I were a Christian, I would worry about the disrespect this teaches children to harbor toward omniscience. It would encourage experimentation with sin. Now, I'm not a Christian, but I still think that the promulgation of an insupportable authority myth encourages experimentation with wrong-doing. I cannot think of anything more harmful to the development of a young person's character that that secret sickly-happy feeling of "I got away with it!"
         I think that shots of this feeling are more damaging, more addictive, and have longer lasting effects than any narcotic yet discovered.
         Okay, so lets assume that you needed relatively little prodding to take my side, or that you are at least willing to consider that I may have a point (or two). So what can one actually do? How does one opt out of The Santa Conspiracy without being forced into the Grinch option?
         Well, if you're a Christian, I imagine that you could expand on the gift-giving voyage of the three kings (wise men) and do all the "fun stuff" without lying to your children.
         If you are not, as I've already mentioned, you could go through the exact same holiday routine, substituting Newton's birthday for X-mass. You can tell your children that there are many stories in the world, that the Santa story is just another story, like Superman. Might as well get some brownie points out of this; you can tell them that they are much to important to lie to and much too smart to believe such stories anyway.
         All the usual questions are on your side. How could he visit every single house in one night? How could a raindeer fly? How could he know everything? Why would a toy made by an elf come in a box marked K-mart? Instead of spinning more lies (and yes they are lies), you can congratulate your child on her/his sharpness for figuring out the hoax.
         In my house, we don't celebrate X-mass at all, it's just another day on the calendar. But we do celebrate the New Year. We have a tree, sing songs, play games, watch the ball drop, toast another year of happiness for the family, and open presents. The boys love it because they don't have to be threatened into bed so I can sneak presents out. They get to stay up until midnight! By the time they get back to school, they've done just as much partying as the next kid, opened just as many boxes, and had just as many deserts.
         And they still believe me when I tell them things.
         There are options beyond the Grinch and there are very good reasons (I've only gone into two) for exploring them. I hope you will.

Space for Fun and Profit

NASA delenda est.

There's plenty of money to be made in space; let's go get some.

Houston Space Institute
PO Box 266151
Houston, TX 77207-6151
(713) 990-9536

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