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Discussing Santa Claus with Fiancee

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Charlotte's web has a horrible message if I remember correctly, and Santa teaches that one should behave so that one will recieve gifts. A better way to teach children morality is to tell them that their good behaviour will allow them to make things themselves, not have to rely on getting gifts as rewards. There is no aspect of trade in the Santa myth.

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First, I do not make a big differentiation between rational and non rational religious people. The very fact that they are able to accept such a rediculous notion as a belief in god, tells me in a word that they are capable of any other sort of irrationality.

One more point on the above quote.

I think Ayn Rand's definition of mysticism is very useful in this situation:

"Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses or one's reason" (From "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World" as quoted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

I have always tried to distinguish between people who buy into mystical premises apart from evidence verses those who buy into allegations against very obvious and unavoidable evidence. The former can happen more or less innocently for a variety of reasons such as never seeing a need to challenge various notions that one was fed in childhood, a poor educational background which never taught or discoraged critical thinking, intellectual laziness or simply lacking a serious interest in ideas. Those who accept and cling to allegations in spite of evidence that they do see and do understand - well, such people are to be avoided at all costs as they are not merely mistaken or misguided, the are openly at war with reason and reality. The vast majority of religious people I have known over the years fall into the first category and not the second.

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Charlotte's web has a horrible message if I remember correctly

I am afraid that I do not remember the explicit "message" that particular story intended. I was in grade school when I read the book which I think was also turned into a television cartoon I seem to recall watching. My point was merely that there is nothing wrong per se with a story about a pig that can talk to a spider which is capable of writing despite the fact that such things cannot happen in reality.

As for the message of the story - if it had a bad one, it went over my head. But I remember it to the degree that it made me realize something which I consider to be very positive: it was through that story that I first grasped in an explicit sort of way the profound value of individual life. When the pig in the story learned that he was going to be butchered, he cried because he loved his life and did not want to die. And I remember being very sad when the spider Charlotte who saved his life died as it made me realize that some people in this world are profoundly special and irreplaceable. What message the author actually intended for it to have - well, I don't remember it well enough. That is simply what I took from it.

and Santa teaches that one should behave so that one will recieve gifts.
Which is not necessarily a bad lesson so long as it is presented properly. Wouldn't you agree that if you are not a virtuous person, the odds of other people being nice to you in return are significantly diminished?

A better way to teach children morality is to tell them that their good behaviour will allow them to make things themselves, not have to rely on getting gifts as rewards.

I don't see why that is somehow mutually exclusive.

There is no aspect of trade in the Santa myth.

Maybe not. But so what? There is an aspect of cause and effect with regard to one's behavior in the Santa story which is a somewhat wider principle.

My point is the particular lesson that a child takes away from things such as Santa Claus largely depends on how it is framed by his parents.

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It simply does not follow that a mere belief in god translates into a person being "capable of any other sort of irrationality" (unless by that you mean capable of any sort of irrationality in the same way that you and I are "capable" of such irrationality in that we have free will and always possess the capacity to decide to no longer live by reason)

It really does. At best, they are both disintegrated with their use of reason. As much as I love Jefferson, and give him a good deal of leniency for living 200 years ago, he did own people and simultaneously believed that owning other people was wrong. While president, he attempted to enact legislation which made it illegal to speak badly about him. The degree of effect of their irrationality is certainly different, but not essential in determining their character and capacities. Both have a fundemental view about reality that is fundmentally mistaken. One does not accidentally believe in god. It's one of those big questions that people, even non-thinking types put a lot of thought into.

What do you mean by the mysticism? The sled pulled by flying reindeer? The timeless old man who lives at the North Pole? If that is mysticism, well, then so is Charlotte's Web and Superman. No rational person can believe that the things described in those stories could ever happen.

Young children do. They believe that a 300lb guy can squeeze through a keyhole and travel as light speed. 4 year olds are not rational persons. If santa was told as a story in the same way charlottes web is, then it would be a good deal less harmful. When reading charlottes web to a child, you can ask by way of leading them to a correct view of reality..."pigs don't really talk, do they?" Which might lead them to develop abilities of discernment. Santa is presented in a fundementally different way, however. Children are led to believe that he does exist and can perform many impossible tasks.

My take is that Santa Claus, like Charlotte's Web and Superman, properly presented, are harmless and entertaining fantasies. And, for many children, I suspect that Santa Claus is their first introduction on a very primitive basis to the moral principle that good behavior results in positive, selfish, material benefits whereas children who are naughty end up getting nothing but a lump of coal. In that respect, properly presented, the Santa Claus story could even be used towards a positive end.

What do you mean by properly presented?

The problem with the morality santa teaches is that it breaks down into using external rewards and punishments to encourage behaviour in accordance with the dictates of authority rather then an ability to understand right and wrong in a consistent integrated way. It's like a teacher giving candy for a correct answer to a question. Interest in learning is best promoted when a child enjoys the gathering of new information and a better understanding of the world. External rewards confuse the issue for them, and usually cause them to seek ways of efficiently acquiring the reward rather then understanding the material. The two things are not causally related, although they are sometimes made to seem so.

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It really does. At best, they are both disintegrated with their use of reason. As much as I love Jefferson, and give him a good deal of leniency for living 200 years ago, he did own people and simultaneously believed that owning other people was wrong.

But if he didn't continue to own those people, what would have become of them? Most would not have been in a position to fend for themselves considering the nature of the times. And, if he did not own them personally, somebody else most likely would have - and they probably would not have been as enlightened in their treatment towards them. All he would have really accomplished would have been to bankrupt himself. Jefferson's livelihood came from the estates that he owned. And at the time, cash money was a very scarce commodity. He would have not been able to go on the market to hire labor as people who own large agricultural properties do today - the revenue from the crops simply would not have supported it. Why would a free person of the time toil on Jefferson's property for a paltry wage when there was plenty of free land to be had further west that one could toil on and build up for himself? Nor was Jefferson in much of a position to simply change careers. Today, a person of his stature could earn money in management or on the board of some big company. Back then, the USA was not industrialized and there were no such big companies. My point is that slavery was very deeply ingrained in the world in which he lived both economically and culturally - and there was nothing that he could do to change that fact within the course of his lifetime. Taking in the context of the times is crucial when evaluating historical figures. Living in Virginia in the 1800s, for Jefferson to have nothing to do with slavery would have been even more difficult than if someone today decided that he refused to sanction dictatorship by refusing to purchase products which contain components made in China.

While president, he attempted to enact legislation which made it illegal to speak badly about him. The degree of effect of their irrationality is certainly different, but not essential in determining their character and capacities. Both have a fundemental view about reality that is fundmentally mistaken.
Well, if one considers oneself to be an Objectivist, then one would have to say that, prior to the publication of Ayn Rand's writings just a few short decades ago, darned near everyone had "a fundamental view about reality that is fundamentally mistaken." And yet look at all of the many wonders and glories that existed in the 1930s just before AR's first book was published: 100 story skyscrapers, airplanes, radio, Technicolor motion pictures and a world of entertainment and music that was simply amazing. If you are a fan of Ayn Rand's novels, you already know that for such things to have come into existence, it required a great deal of "character and capacities" not to mention rationality on the part of those who made them possible. And, yet, somehow, very few, if any, considered themselves to be atheists and most of them undoubtedly subscribed to views about reality which were fundamentally mistaken.

One does not accidentally believe in god. It's one of those big questions that people, even non-thinking types put a lot of thought into.

If mere belief in god is such a blight on a person's "character and capacities" why on earth did Ayn Rand, of all people, count certain individuals who believed in god to be among those she considered to be friends and had respect for?

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But if he didn't continue to own those people, what would have become of them? Most would not have been in a position to fend for themselves considering the nature of the times. And, if he did not own them personally, somebody else most likely would have - and they probably would not have been as enlightened in their treatment towards them. All he would have really accomplished would have been to bankrupt himself. Jefferson's livelihood came from the estates that he owned. And at the time, cash money was a very scarce commodity. He would have not been able to go on the market to hire labor as people who own large agricultural properties do today - the revenue from the crops simply would not have supported it. Why would a free person of the time toil on Jefferson's property for a paltry wage when there was plenty of free land to be had further west that one could toil on and build up for himself? Nor was Jefferson in much of a position to simply change careers. Today, a person of his stature could earn money in management or on the board of some big company. Back then, the USA was not industrialized and there were no such big companies. My point is that slavery was very deeply ingrained in the world in which he lived both economically and culturally - and there was nothing that he could do to change that fact within the course of his lifetime. Taking in the context of the times is crucial when evaluating historical figures. Living in Virginia in the 1800s, for Jefferson to have nothing to do with slavery would have been even more difficult than if someone today decided that he refused to sanction dictatorship by refusing to purchase products which contain components made in China.

Well, if one considers oneself to be an Objectivist, then one would have to say that, prior to the publication of Ayn Rand's writings just a few short decades ago, darned near everyone had "a fundamental view about reality that is fundamentally mistaken." And yet look at all of the many wonders and glories that existed in the 1930s just before AR's first book was published: 100 story skyscrapers, airplanes, radio, Technicolor motion pictures and a world of entertainment and music that was simply amazing. If you are a fan of Ayn Rand's novels, you already know that for such things to have come into existence, it required a great deal of "character and capacities" not to mention rationality on the part of those who made them possible. And, yet, somehow, very few, if any, considered themselves to be atheists and most of them undoubtedly subscribed to views about reality which were fundamentally mistaken.

If mere belief in god is such a blight on a person's "character and capacities" why on earth did Ayn Rand, of all people, count certain individuals who believed in god to be among those she considered to be friends and had respect for?

I do not understand your purpose in defending religion so strongly? Do you believe in god, yourself? I thought I was pretty clear that people with an irrational base are capable of holding true beliefs. Just not consistently true beliefs. What they lack, beyond any shadow of doubt, is an integrated view of existence. They are misintegrated or disintegrated. The question being discussed is whether santa is good for kids or not. My primrary argument is that he is not because it leads to a lack of trust in their senses. This lack of trust in their senses during very formative years often leads to belief in god or other mistaken ideas, which will not ever be beneficial to their life.

Regarding Jefferson, understand that I love the man. He was a hero of mine, far before I ever heard ayn rand's name. Personally, I give him a lot of leeway, being born so long ago. Shoulders of giants and all. The same goes for adams, aristotle, mencken, nietche...they did superb with what they had. I am well acquainted with jefferson's rationale for owning people. It would have been very inconvenient for him to have to work full time and not be able to order $800 worth of macaroni from france. But it's just that, a rationalization. He was mistaken. Heroes are allowed to be imperfect and still be heroes. But he fact remains, he was mistaken and his zeitgeist does not alter that fact.

What I hope to understand here, is what is best for a child. To counter my view you have to show me 2 things. 1-That a belief in santa in the way that you mean, does not cause a child to mistrust his senses. And 2- Something about believing in the particualr view of santa(or god) that you advocate is beneficial to human life.

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The problem with the morality santa teaches is that it breaks down into using external rewards and punishments to encourage behaviour in accordance with the dictates of authority rather then an ability to understand right and wrong in a consistent integrated way. It's like a teacher giving candy for a correct answer to a question.

So, what precisely is wrong with this? A child is a rational being, but they are not fully capable of thinking properly straight at birth. For one thing, their very brains are unformed and will not grow to their proper size and structure for many years. I have read studies somewhere that a child first completes reaching the conceptual level around 13, and self-awareness around 7. They can't even speak for the first year or two, and cannot absorb the written concepts of others until (at best) the 4th year. I know from my own introspective experience, that I only remember thinking of myself as my self from around the age 7. I mean literally my sense of self! Before that time I can only remember myself as an automaton (although of course I wasn't). I really became a full-fledged human being around the time I hit puberty, if I try to introspectively remember myself. From 7 to 13 is the transitional stage. At age 7 or earlier, I remember that things just happened to me and there was no self-reflection on my part, just a passive absorbtion of the world around me. It's not that I metaphysically lacked free will, but that my brain was not formed yet to fully realize it (or even to fully realize that I had a sense of self).

All of these things need to be taken into consideration. At some point in a child's youth, they are still more of an automaton than a full-fledged conceptual person, and they behave more by edicts from authority than from personal rational conviction. A parents are one such authority. A Santa Claus is another, except that he is an exclusively benevolent one -- he will never punish you like your parents would, but he will bring you gifts if you're a good boy. Expecting Santa to teach children about the conceptual nature of ethics is to demand extraordinarily too much. But what Santa does teach, and what is important to a child at the age that he will believe in this make-believe, is that good and bad exist, and that good is more desirable than bad. And, of course, as others have said Santa helps improve a sense of life by reinforcing the connection between good action and rewards, by adding brightly benevolent moments to a child's life, by strengthening his connection to his parents (when he eventually recognizes who that man is behind the wooly mask), etc. It is a marvelous make-believe, if the parents approach it properly -- namely how they have been approaching it for all these centuries. To propose that a Jesus-like Santa is bad would be a straw man, because no parents ever do that, and so dismissing the entire idea based on the potential misuse that never occurs and is never suggested, would be a logical fallacy.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Free Capitalist,

What version of Santa are you supporting? Are you advocating telling the child right off the bat that it's make-believe or are you advocating the game in which the child is led to believe that Santa is real?

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To knowingly lie to someone else, for a purpose other than to avoid a disvalue is self-sacrificial, and can be argued to be a form of force
Is pulling a prank on someone an initiation of force?

It doesn't seem so funny when you discover that they've filled the computer with sunflower seeds because the gerbils might be hungry.
:blush:

The primary epistomological damage [of belief in Santa] is that it causes a child to doubt his senses.
Be specific. Which of a person's five senses does believing in Santa cause a child to necessarily doubt?

The question being discussed is whether santa is good for kids or not.
No, the question was whether santa was bad for kids or not.

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What version of Santa are you supporting? Are you advocating telling the child right off the bat that it's make-believe or are you advocating the game in which the child is led to believe that Santa is real?
Inspector,

Has anyone advocated, in the history of Santa Claus, of teaching to the kids that he is real in the fullest sense?

But playing a game of make-believe does not entail telling the child that Santa doesn't exist right off the bat, and that the child should suspend his sense of disbelief. That's not how make-believe games work.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Inspector,

Has anyone advocated, in the history of Santa Claus, of teaching to the kids that he is real in the fullest sense?

Edit: That depends on what you mean. For instance, my grandparents insisted he was real even after I told them I was pretty sure it was just make-believe. But that isn't what I meant to ask you.

But playing a game of make-believe does not entail telling the child that Santa doesn't exist right off the bat, and that the child should suspend his sense of disbelief. That's not how make-believe games work.

I don't understand. A game of make-believe, as I understand the term, means that the child is told, or is meant to understand, that the game is in no sense real. It is not presented as real in any sense, fullest or otherwise. An example of this is when you read the child a fictional story: the child is supposed to understand, from the get-go, that it is fiction.

What I am asking you is what way you advocate telling the Santa Claus story to children.

Do you advocate:

1) Making it clear from the get-go that it is make-believe and that the parents are the ones giving the gifts?

2) Leaving the issue ambiguous with a kind of wink-wink, but never specifically stating that Santa is a real entity?

3) Telling the child that Santa is a real entity that brings gifts, but letting the child know the truth when they figure it out and ask you about it?

(the fourth option is to insist, even after the child asks, that Santa is real. I can tell that this is not your position but my Grandparents did this to me so it is very much something people do)

Edited by Inspector

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1) Making it clear from the get-go that it is make-believe and that the parents are the ones giving the gifts?
No way.

2) Leaving the issue ambiguous with a kind of wink-wink, but never specifically stating that Santa is a real entity?

3) Telling the child that Santa is a real entity that brings gifts, but letting the child know the truth when they figure it out and ask you about it?

(the fourth option is to insist, even after the child asks, that Santa is real. I can tell that this is not your position but my Grandparents did this to me so it is very much real)

The question is, are 2 and 3 that different? The real issue is how far the parents push the game here. If they are going to insist on it at all odds, if they will play a Jesus game with it where they will make you believe it at all costs and punish you if you don't, that's one thing. If they will either wink-wink or make it semi-real but confess once you become mature enough to see through it, then what precisely is the huge difference between the two? The whole point of make-believe is to make it real enough so the child goes along with something, but fantastical enough that it won't become TOO real to them akin to a physical entity or an "actual" (sic) God. In the most mystical times of Europe, Santa always remained nothing more than a benevolent fantasy. So I maintain that you guys are fighting a straw man...

Edited by Free Capitalist

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So, what precisely is wrong with this? ... I remember that things just happened to me and there was no self-reflection on my part, just a passive absorbtion of the world around me.

You are exactly right. Montessori referred to this delicate period as the "absobent mind". The child from 0-5ish literally sponges information. Which is why second and third languages are so much easier to learn if you get them from the start and why seemingly minor things such as a belief in the mystical can have profound longterm effects.

The main problem with external rewards is that they hamper their desire to learn far more then they help it. Productivity needs to be its own reward. For young children, the act of accomplishment, is and ought to be the primary motivation. Money is a great example of this. Money, essentially, is a barometer of the value of your work to other people. If you were to pursue it as an end in itself, happiness would not result. It would be a secondhanded self-esteem. You pursue the virtue of productivity. Money might come with that, but not necessarily. It's the same, but more important for young children. Rather then work for the reward of an increased sense of accomplishment and therefore efficaciousness, a child taught to seek external rewards engenders in him a desire to chase ends without regard to means.

All of these things need to be taken into consideration. At some point in a child's youth, they are still more of an automaton than a full-fledged conceptual person, and they behave more by edicts from authority than from personal rational conviction. A parents are one such authority. A Santa Claus is another, except that he is an exclusively benevolent one -- he will never punish you like your parents would, but he will bring you gifts if you're a good boy. Expecting Santa to teach children about the conceptual nature of ethics is to demand extraordinarily too much. But what Santa does teach, and what is important to a child at the age that he will believe in this make-believe, is that good and bad exist, and that good is more desirable than bad. And, of course, as others have said Santa helps improve a sense of life by reinforcing the connection between good action and rewards, by adding brightly benevolent moments to a child's life, by strengthening his connection to his parents (when he eventually recognizes who that man is behind the wooly mask), etc. It is a marvelous make-believe, if the parents approach it properly -- namely how they have been approaching it for all these centuries. To propose that a Jesus-like Santa is bad would be a straw man, because no parents ever do that, and so dismissing the entire idea based on the potential misuse that never occurs and is never suggested, would be a logical fallacy.

The jesus like santa is precisely the one I was raised with. It is a good deal more common then you might expect. It was made clear that my getting presents not only depended on my behaving whilst the omnipotent guy at the north pole watched me, but on my conitued belief in him as well. It was the definition of primacy of conciousness.

I agree that santa cannot teach the conceptual; nature of ethics. Good and bad can be taught much more accurately by way of the childs own actions and their consequences then by authority because this keeps it within the context of their own knowledge. There is really no benefit to muddling their mind with labeling things as good or bad because their parents say so. If they understand cause and effect, they will be much more likely to develop a proper ethical system on their own with their parents as guides then learning to behave based on mantra and dictum. "Sharing", "honesty","violence", etc are all context based issues. To tell a child to never tell a lie, or never hit someone else does him a disservice.

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The main problem with external rewards is that they hamper their desire to learn far more then they help it. Productivity needs to be its own reward. For young children, the act of accomplishment, is and ought to be the primary motivation. Money is a great example of this. Money, essentially, is a barometer of the value of your work to other people. If you were to pursue it as an end in itself, happiness would not result. It would be a secondhanded self-esteem. You pursue the virtue of productivity. Money might come with that, but not necessarily. It's the same, but more important for young children. Rather then work for the reward of an increased sense of accomplishment and therefore efficaciousness, a child taught to seek external rewards engenders in him a desire to chase ends without regard to means.
Okay that's an interesting perspective, one that I hadn't considered before. However, ethical accomplishments are entirely invisible to a 5 year old child. In fact, they remain invisible to many adults. Santa's purpose is not ultimately: clean the yard, and therefore Santa will bring you a toy. Santa's purpose is: be a good boy, and Santa will bring you a toy. It's an ethical value here, before the child is old enough to understand ethics. Without Santa (or similar devices) it would be enormously hard to instill good qualities in very little children, because there will appear to be no reward from being an honest little boy (except that you get taken advantage of by dishonest boys at school). With Santa at your side, you can be a good little boy and brave the difficulties that come with virtue, and get a toy car as a result of your goodness.

The jesus like santa is precisely the one I was raised with. It is a good deal more common then you might expect. It was made clear that my getting presents not only depended on my behaving whilst the omnipotent guy at the north pole watched me, but on my conitued belief in him as well. It was the definition of primacy of conciousness.
Parents make mistakes. I have never heard this, and none of the parents I have ever known (including my own) ever took it that seriously. Santa is not a real person but a make-believe idea, and as such people can misuse it. But misuse does not define a concept. We can agree that Santa should not be taught Jesus-like, but that is already a moot point because no sensible parent would do it in the first place.

"Sharing", "honesty","violence", etc are all context based issues. To tell a child to never tell a lie, or never hit someone else does him a disservice.
I disagree again. Here a child is taught ethical values, again, before he can conceptually start thinking about ethics. He is taught what not to do, how to behave, so that when he eventually conceptually arrives at these concepts he will merely have to verify and validate what his parents had taught him, rather than invent and re-teach himself all of the virtues that he never had as a little kid. Edited by Free Capitalist

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No way.

Why not? What's the harm?

The question is, are 2 and 3 that different?
I don't know, but I did first want to know what your position was before proceeding.

The whole point of make-believe is to make it real enough so the child goes along with something, but fantastical enough that it won't become TOO real to them akin to a physical entity or an "actual" (sic) God.

I guess I'm working with a different definition of "make-believe" here. I wasn't under the impression that "make-believe" excluded the possibility of the child being "in" on the fact that it's made-up.

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I guess I'm working with a different definition of "make-believe" here. I wasn't under the impression that "make-believe" excluded the possibility of the child being "in" on the fact that it's made-up.

So let me guess how this will work: the parents talk about the Santa Claus while they wink-wink that it's not really true, while the child pretends to await the chimney visit, and pretends to delight about the gift while he wink-winks that he doesn't really believe it.

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So let me guess how this will work: the parents talk about the Santa Claus while they wink-wink that it's not really true, while the child pretends to await the chimney visit, and pretends to delight about the gift while he wink-winks that he doesn't really believe it.

Your tone is unnecessary.

What I want to know is: what would be so inferior about the following:

The parents tell the Santa Claus story as make-believe, where the child is "in" on it from the beginning. The child doesn't have to pretend to await the arrival of gifts under the tree, since gifts will still be put under the tree overnight for him to wake up to in the morning. Does it make a difference if the child thinks they came through the chimney or not? I submit that the answer is no. There will be a gigantic mound of presents awaiting him when he wakes up and that is what matters.

Also, why would the child have to pretend to delight in the gift? Is the gift somehow diminished just because it didn't come from a bearded fat man? "Oh, here's that toy train that I wanted sooooo badly but because it came from you and not a magic man, I have to pretend to like it?"

I know that when I was a kid, I didn't give one holy damn where the gifts came from; just so long as there was a big pile of 'em under the tree in the morning! So what I want to know is, what does a child gain from actually believing that there is a magical elf? It's a common bromide that "kids love magic," but is this really true? And if so, does it require that they believe in nonsense?

Edited by Inspector

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The parents tell the Santa Claus story as make-believe, where the child is "in" on it from the beginning... Does it make a difference if the child thinks they came through the chimney or not? I submit that the answer is no. There will be a gigantic mound of presents awaiting him when he wakes up and that is what matters.
The presents are all that matter... so why even tell the story of Santa as make-believe? Or, for that matter, why tell the child any fairy tales??

What does a child gain from actually believing that there is a magical elf?
I don't think there is necessarily any gain. But why is it necessary here for a child to gain from Santa, as opposed to merely not being harmed by Santa?

And how are you defining "magic"?

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I don't think there is necessarily any gain. But why is it necessary here for a child to gain from Santa, as opposed to merely not being harmed by Santa?

Because the burden of proof is on the Santa-as-real crowd to prove that it is worth doing.

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The presents are all that matter... so why even tell the story of Santa as make-believe? Or, for that matter, why tell the child any fairy tales??

Because the stories are out there, so if the kid doesn't know them, he will be confused.

And how are you defining "magic"?

In that context, I was referring to the standard bromide that is used. If I could define it, it wouldn't be a bromide...

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Another popular myth that some parents promulgate: the tooth fairy. You lose a tooth, you get cash -- sounds like that would qualify as a "benevolent" myth too? Or, does the non-volitional nature of tooth loss put it in a different category? I'd be interested to know if those who think they'll tell their kids that Santa is real also plan to tell them that the tooth fairy is real.

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Your tone is unnecessary.

What I want to know is: what would be so inferior about the following:

The parents tell the Santa Claus story as make-believe, where the child is "in" on it from the beginning. The child doesn't have to pretend to await the arrival of gifts under the tree, since gifts will still be put under the tree overnight for him to wake up to in the morning. Does it make a difference if the child thinks they came through the chimney or not? I submit that the answer is no. There will be a gigantic mound of presents awaiting him when he wakes up and that is what matters.

Also, why would the child have to pretend to delight in the gift? Is the gift somehow diminished just because it didn't come from a bearded fat man? "Oh, here's that toy train that I wanted sooooo badly but because it came from you and not a magic man, I have to pretend to like it?"

I know that when I was a kid, I didn't give one holy damn where the gifts came from; just so long as there was a big pile of 'em under the tree in the morning! So what I want to know is, what does a child gain from actually believing that there is a magical elf? It's a common bromide that "kids love magic," but is this really true? And if so, does it require that they believe in nonsense?

Inspector, no tone other than slightly sarcastic was intended, sorry. But anyhow, the problem with your scenario above is, why have Santa in the first place? What's the point then? You asked earlier why I so categorically rejected the "in the know" scenario, and the reason is -- it'd be utterly pointless. Either you create a make-believe or a fairy tale that has some reality to the child, or you don't even bring up fairy tales in the first place. A fairy tale where the child knows it's false from the start would be ludicrous, which is why the sarcastic tone in my previous post was not misplaced. You have to fool the child, in a sense, that's what a fairy tale does; but you don't fool him to a degree that he starts believing it fully, and you don't make it real to him to the degree that actual objects are real.

You asked "what does a child gain from actually believing that there is a magical elf?", and the answer is simple. I'll quote what I myself said earlier:

At some point in a child's youth, they are still more of an automaton than a full-fledged conceptual person, and they behave more by edicts from authority than from personal rational conviction. A parents are one such authority. A Santa Claus is another, except that he is an exclusively benevolent one -- he will never punish you like your parents would, but he will bring you gifts if you're a good boy. Expecting Santa to teach children about the conceptual nature of ethics is to demand extraordinarily too much. But what Santa does teach, and what is important to a child at the age that he will believe in this make-believe, is that good and bad exist, and that good is more desirable than bad. And, of course, as others have said Santa helps improve a sense of life by reinforcing the connection between good action and rewards, by adding brightly benevolent moments to a child's life, by strengthening his connection to his parents (when he eventually recognizes who that man is behind the wooly mask), etc.

The benefits from Santa Claus to the child are many -- enormous influx of benevolence, education about the good, addition of more enjoyable times, and more enjoyable things, about each year, etc. But the benefits from Santa to the parents are just as important -- the philosophical reason why parents have made Santa Claus alive, for all these hundreds of years, is that it helps them teach their child about ethics, before he can be ready to understand ethics. Parents already do that themselves when they teach the little child how to behave, but Santa is a tool they employ to amplify those lessons even more, and make them more real to the child. Both the parent and the child win when this extraordinarily benevolent (but not quite real) figure is important in a little child's life.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Another popular myth that some parents promulgate: the tooth fairy. You lose a tooth, you get cash -- sounds like that would qualify as a "benevolent" myth too? Or, does the non-volitional nature of tooth loss put it in a different category? I'd be interested to know if those who think they'll tell their kids that Santa is real also plan to tell them that the tooth fairy is real.

I haven't given much thought to the tooth fairy, but here the same principles as with Santa Claus would apply. Why has the tooth fairy been used all this time? What's been the point? You yourself describe it: "You lose a tooth, you get cash". So the point, as I understand it, and as I would use it if I were to use it, would be that natural change and growth in a little child is natural, and good. It's both a reward for the body going according to the natural flow of things, and a powerful example to the child that changes are okay, growth is okay, and even if there's blood from the tooth loss it's nothing to be worry about but instead should be celebrated.

So the tooth fairy celebrates nature, the natural progress of things, and adds even more benevolent moments to the child's life. It's ingenious, really. I'll seriously think about whether I'll be using it when I get children.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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In what way is it more benevolent to play along with the tooth fairy myth than to simply have a ritual where parents pay for teeth? [Note, I say "ritual" to stress that there is something more than simply handing over cash in a clinical way.] Our son gets a dollar for every tooth, and we kid him that the tooth fairy left it -- but it's a game and he knows it. Part of the game is how we manage to slip it under his pillow without him knowing! I don't think he would enjoy it better if he sincerely believed a tooth fairy existed.

So, yes, I agree that the ritual is benevolent. However, I question the necessity for myth.

Take another ritual: birthday celebrations. I think a birthday celebration is a great event -- it's the one day that one celebrates no particular achievement, but the individual's existence, as such. I know of no common myths associated with birthdays, but it would be easy to invent one: say a story about a birthday stork -- the stork that brought the kid to the world returns each year, bringing goodies like chocolate cake and ice-cream! Perhaps adding such a story would make the event more fun.

It's an understatement to say that children love pretend play. Much of their life is spent on pretend-play, and they sometimes pretend-play with a very serious intensity. Most of what they do is pretending to be the adults and "super adults" they aspire to be. All along though, kids also retain a clear idea of what is real and what is pretend. I don't think that confusing them on the issue (by claiming that some pretend aspect is real) adds any value.

It is safe to say that the tooth fairy myth or the Santa myth on their own are not going to do the kid any significant harm. On the other hand, I personally don't find that such myths would add to their enjoyment.

One could take the idea of myth further by asking: why not create a myth of a benevolent God who will reward the good and punish the evil, and who is always there to turn to, and who lives inside oneself as one's own conscience -- so that one must turn to one's own soul and face oneself honestly when making decisions. Wouldn't that be benevolent too, if we used that when the kid's young and let them realize it's a myth as they grow older?

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