15 December 2011

Saint Nicked

Recently several friends have shared this rather cute piece of technology (below) that allows you to create a personalised video from Father Christmas. As long as Santa can get his virtual lips around the real name of your child (or your own, should you be feeling very lonely), you can create a real virtual message from St Nick himself.


As you can imagine this has been circulated with glee among parents I know, as if children need any more encouragement to get excited about the impending festival of toys. But for me this takes things a bit too far in the traditional, unwritten contract-of-deceit that exists between parents and children at this time of the year.

As a liberal rationalist, I have always been ill at ease with the collective childhood deceptions such as Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, but have been helplessly carried along on the tide of participation that starts at nursery. So far I have managed to stick with my core principle that I should teach my children how to think, not what to think; to get them to consider the evidence and to try to offer a plurality of views on the important issues of the day: the Middle East conflict, crisis in the Eurozone and why Shaggy has a taking dog.

This can come back to haunt you, as two years ago Sam grilled me mercilessly about how Santa could possibly do all he is reported to do in a single night. Inside I was bursting with pride at the relentless logic of his Questioning Funnel, while mentally scrabbling for possible plausible answers to the next question. We agreed at that point he would consider all the evidence and come to his own conclusion. The dawning of the truth was ultimately delayed by 12 months by the evidence of a half-eaten carrot and drained whisky glass on our hearth. I had become part of the conspiracy and hated myself for it.

So you can probably see why I can't bring myself to create one of these Santa videos for my children. It's one thing to tell a few white lies in order to create a sense of wonder and magic at Christmas. It's quite another to be fixing evidence to make the case. This is not the tradition of imaginative story telling to fire children's imaginations, it is fraud. If you need faked video evidence to make your story plausible, then maybe it's time to 'fess up. Otherwise, where do you draw the line? Creating a fake DNA profile for Father Christmas so you can test a swab sample lifted from the whisky glass?

It has been a widely discussed question as to why, when children find out Santa isn't real, they continue to trust what their parents tell them about other things. We are probably saved from being a species of Sophists both by the impracticalities of doubting everything and by coercing older children into participating in the conspiracy. But I wonder whether there isn't a collective harm being done at a deeper level.

Take the world of Conspiracy Theories and the almost child-like minds that believe the most elaborate hoaxes can be brought upon the world by the same bureaucracies who can't even manage to accurately count the number of people in its own prisons. Certainly they are people who could do with an earlier introduction to the rigours of the evidence-based approach, as opposed to wishful thinking.

No comments: