on Santa Claus

Module initiated 1997 Christmas, links will be reconnected
mission: to argue that Santa Claus is early social practice in social compliance: accepting bribes, keeping silent in the face of falsehood

Santa Claus has been an important metaphor at my home page for a few years now. I first developed it in my module on Survival: Social vs. Biological.
Around the same time I made more points in a special Christmas message. Those points were since moved to the note file for my module on Integrity vs. Existence: What Price Kleptocracy?
Believing the material deserves not only to be evergreen but to have its own module, I now move it here. First I duplicate the note. Then I will redevelop it.

Belief in Santa Claus:

No one really cares whether you believe in Santa Claus.
What people care about is: how old is your little brother when you clue him. If you tell him too young, you risk losing your share of the loot.

First: Do we really imagine little brother is so stupid that he’s been taken in? Isn’t it rather that a four year old is more than old enough to see how his bread is buttered and wise enough to keep mum and go along? By the time citizens are old enough to become lawyers or congressmen they know very well how their bread is buttered: it’s buttered with lies.

Second: What then is sometimes “wrong” with older brother? Why do some few care about the truth of things even at age 60? Why do we lie to our children?
Is it simply because we’ve been lied to and want no one, not even our own children, to be exempt from the harm?

I believe I have discovered the “true” answer after a little reverse-engineering:

Santa Claus is the culture’s method
of training the young in the importance
of going along to get along.

Swallow absurdities gladly or you won’t get any presents.

This is essential training for an employable adulthood in a consumer society. Santa is an early test of compliance with group compliance. Be silent in the face of the obvious is lesson number one. Don’t challenge the assigned mythology. Don’t ever notice when the emperor is naked, when you drive on roads built by slave labor (or by convict labor where a certain set of classes is easy to convict) … Don’t make a peep when you see evidence repressed or ignored, debate silenced (or
people of conscience driven from the society, morons promoted, great teachers fired, the promoted teachers ignorant of recent (and not so recent) genius in “their” field …

(I suspect Santa also relates to group magic. If no one demurs, then what we say must be true. If Santa is true, then all the other things we tell ourselves must also be true: we are free, kind, Christian, generous, moral, law abiding, the good guys … No, no: don’t look at the evidence; listen to us chanting: our chanting is all the evidence you’re allowed.)

00 08 31:
I just recalled a delicious parallel illustration. In The Ice Storm the family is gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. Film auteur Ang Lee has cast the professional class family in Connecticut from whence the father and neighbors commute to business or practice. Congruently, the same train serves the son and his prep school. They’re intelligent, good looking, educated, well housed, have money, blah blah. This conspicuously secular family decides that grace would be appropriate on this odd, quasi-secular
note occasion. The fat unhappy daughter decides to go for it. Thank you, God, for letting us kill all the Indians and steal all their stuff. (A scowl just like my sister’s when she was young and unhappy. I put it in italics rather than quotes because I reconstruct, not quote.) This moment is the epistemological complement of Santa. In the latter case we’re pretending as a group to believe something we don’t; in the fictional case at hand we normally pretend not to know something we all do know: the daughter commits the deliberate, provoking solecism of noticing the truth. She is of course chastised. Indulgently, parentally, but still: she is chastised: for the truth.

Of course her truth was simplistic: she got it out fast. But the truth, whether simplistic or whole, is hard. We can’t face it. Society is organized to avoid it. And to punish those who don’t.

Then why, at age thirty, and at age forty-five, and still at age sixty, do I insist on behaving like older brother (and the fat girl in the movie)? Because I have come to believe, based on my reason, learning, and experience, that our social instincts have passed beyond the area in which they coincided with biological survival. Since the Industrial Revolution, and more so since the Atomic Age, social harmony, while it can be proved to lead to ever more figures in some bank accounts, will finally prove to lead to a very dead, however “rich,” species. Belief in Santa may seem harmless: belief that the government is well intentioned seems ever so small an additional step. The very worst thing that could possibly happen to us would be to succeed at what we think we want.

I hope you notice that Santa is merely one of the more obvious examples among an ample host. Everyone catches on with Santa. Some catch on with the Church. It’s high time that at least some of our “intellectuals” began catching on with the State, with the Law … with the military, with industry, with commerce … with the doctors, hospitals, and schools …

For instance, here are a few familiar themes to think about: are they “true” merely in our mythology? Will the claims stand up to rational testing?

We are a nation of laws, not men.
We are all equal under the law.
The law has achieved for us a level playing field.
We honor liberty, freedom …We have a free marketplace.
Now that we have an EPA, the environment is protected.
My vote counts.
. . .

2002 11 19: Playing tunes from a fake-book that includes pop tunes from half a century ago I come upon the following: precious:

I BELIEVE in wishing wells —
And I also believe in a lot of things,
Things the daisy tells.

That a four-leaf clover brings
Lots of luck, lots of joy,
Lots of happiness,
I BELIEVE those things.

And when it’s Christmas
I BELIEVE in Santa Claus.
I guess that
I BELIEVE because.

That dreams come true.
If you’ll wish for the dream by a whishing well,
Don’t tell the wish or you’ll break the spell.
It may sound
But that’s what

I decided on my own line breaks, but the capitalizations of “Believe” follow the book!



Scanning the boob tube for sports my surfing was once halted by the promise of a debate with a communist. The five minutes before the hour were shared between commercials and touting the following half hour. The first five minutes of the next half hour repeated the promise, advertising the network the while for its astonishing American liberalism in letting a communist speak. The panel defending “America” was introduced, the camera paused briefly on the communist, and the remainder of the allotted half hour was devoted to the panel extolling their American virtue in allowing a communist to speak. (Note that the debate was now being revealed to be not between communism and capitalism but between this communist and America!) Commercial commercials were larded in, and by the time the final five minutes of the half hour arrived to advertise the next half hour, the communist (if that’s what he was) had never been permitted time to say more than hello.

Some debate. Reminds me of the false promise
I know I have recounted here where Look, during the Goldwater campaign, promised to “define” conservatism. Doesn’t the Booboozee know what words are supposed to mean? don’t the hard hats? The only people we heard from were Rotarians and honchos for the Policeman’s Benevolent Association (representative, not factual: it was a long time ago). I’m no communist in any sense having anything to do with Marx, but I wanted to hear what an actual communist might say. The only real topic present was the medium making celebratory noises about itself.

Top Context


Christian polities had supposedly been under God. The deist (read agnostic, if not atheist) founding fathers of the US wanted a clean slate. The conservative majority wouldn’t let them have it. Still, centuries passed before “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. And Thanksgiving was inserted somewhere in the middle.

We associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, the Pilgrims with Puritanism: so there’s a God association there: we’re supposed to be thankful to a kleptocrat landlord, who, owning everything, is beyond the reach or our rage. But it’s the state, not the church, doing the supposing.

Funny, funny. Or should I say ironic? (No, I don’t mean sarcastic.) I’ll chose some other time and place to interpret why the faithful are supposed to be thankful: no matter what. (That place turns out to be Games We Play.)

Top Context

Social Epistemology

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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