Monday, January 25, 2016

Picking On The Math Guy

"You know what he said? He said Four!"

"Oh, my God! You're kidding!"

"Everyone started laughing! What a dummy!"

"Like, a total loser. Doesn't even know the answer for 2 + 2!"

The girls giggled at their classmate's woes for giving the incorrect answer. Correctness for them was very simple: whatever is accepted to be correct - and vice-versa. There is no mythical "truth" outside of that - unless you want to be laughed at! Social engineering at its finest.

The teachers too knew that which was correct: whatever put food on their tables. A few rebels would fight the new mandates but they were quickly ostracized and outcast. When word came down that the new answer to 2 + 2 is five, initial discussions quickly rationalized the new order.

"We have to keep an open mind. They're trying something new."

"There are no absolute truths. Only fringe radicals believe otherwise."

"What difference does it make what we say the answer is? One number is as good as another."

Some knew better but did not say better. Some did not care to know better. Some only knew what to repeat. But all who embraced the new order had one thing in common: they claimed they were being "responsible to society." "You can't eat ideals," scoffed one.

The king was very happy to hear about the mass corruption of his subjects. Had they been an honest people his rule would have ended in public outrage. He never could contain his spending and in doing so had vastly exceeded the kingdom's budget. But with the new way of counting, his reserves expanded overnight! Now when 400 coins were counted out the total came to 500. Budget balanced!

Malvin the Math Guy - he the ridicule of teenage girls - understood none of this. He saw no reason to lie and no reason to honor the king's destructive order. After all, no one has a say in the rules of math. They stand on their own. He could see that. What doesn't anyone else?

The Math Club - who had expelled Malvin - intellectualized in delightful conspiracy and hearsay the mysterious ways of the new order.

"I hear rumors that the latest research is pointing closer to six, not five."

"Amazing! This really is cutting edge stuff we're getting into nowadays."

"Yes, we can't be beholden to the old ways and old thinking. We must always be pressing forward. Some people can handle that. Some can't. Not everyone has the intellectual capacity to grasp these new concepts."

"Yeah, that Malvin is living in the past for sure. He's all sour grapes about this but he has only himself to blame."

"Indeed, with this new paradigm many previous mathematical impossibilities have been wiped away, unleashing new technologies of a brave new world!"

Malvin tried lying. He tried fitting in, but never could convince himself of the words he was instructed to say. He watched mournfully as the answer then changed to 5.5 ("First time ever two whole numbers equaled a decimal! Exciting breakthrough, this!") and then finally to Six (as the king's intoxicated spending accelerated). Malvin didn't know what to say or even to whom he could speak who would listen. He trudged along day after dying day in solitary confinement.

Part of him held out hope born of faith. Many times he'd heard the sneer: "Oh, so you're right and everyone else is wrong. What an asshole!" But he clung to his belief that even as a minority of one, the truth is still the truth. But the isolation wore on him. Malvin could never muster the confidence of expression of those who have wholesale social backing when parroting the latest "correct" answer. Malvin was simply dubbed the "Lonesome Loser".

In his darkest moments, even he had doubts hearing the eloquent and assured explanations from on high for the new formulas. These men couldn't just be making this up, going before the crowds without sound reason! That would be utter madness. What am I missing? From every angle I've tried I still come up with four. What Malvin was missing was that he painted others with his own brush; that others were fellow devotees of truth, and for them to derive a different answer concerned him mightily.

But the lies strained the kingdom as the new formulas were undone by reality. Three wheeled cars with four sides failed miserably. No one wanted to be "negative" or "betray" their rulers but life kept getting harder and harder as the doubts kept getting harder and harder to deny. As widespread panic rose to a fever pitch a reason must be found for their woes that did not include them. The answer was simple: Malvin.

The trial was attended by a packed courtroom and every word and action diligently reported. Everyone knew when to be shocked and outraged and acted their part on cue. The mass contempt for the traitor who spoke reason "fluently" comforted the liars who'd begun to fear the outcome of their wicked ways. "It's not us, after all! Whew! I knew he was no good. His nose is too big." This is what passed for insight.

Malvin was given a fitting death: he was burned at the stake. Sanctimonious editorials lamented his unrepentant soul with false remorse ("But Malvin must die for the greater good"). A parade was held to celebrate the "purification" of the land. "The future is ours! We are safe at last!"

But immediately after the murder splintering groups seized intractable positions against one another. "Six is OK but not 6.5. Now that's crazy" "Anything less than eight is absurd!" "You people who want to keep increasing it are going to ruin everything! No one will take us seriously!" "What are you? Some radical who wants to go back to Four?" "People! Be reasonable. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. We should compromise on six." Contentions flared into grudges which flared into new purges and more state sponsored murders.

Eventually the kingdom died off of it's own volition engulfed in self-fear and hysteria. But this gave little satisfaction to Malvin who sat in Heaven watching. What's the point of anything if everyone ends up dead?

"So they lie their whole life, destroy the social fabric, and vilify and butcher anyone who sticks up for the truth and tries to make things work. What's the point? I don't get it. Why did they get a free ride when I got the shaft??"

That's when a smiling Jesus leaned over and whispered into Malvin's ear: "You don't see any of those fuckers here do you?"

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