Hi, I’m Eric Kaplan. I split my time between writing for the Comedy Show the Big Bang Theory and writing about the philosophy of Santa Claus. The reason I was invited here is obviously neither of these – it is my waist and beard. It’s because of those two things the waist and beard I believe that certain letters started to be misdirected to me. Letters to Santa.
Most of them included requests for gifts – computer games, itunes gift cards or cash. In each case I was smart enough to see through what the child thought he or she wanted and instead send him a toy drum, a wooden soldier or an incredibly gigantic alphabet block.
However now that the season is over I have had time to answer some of these questions. I’m new at answering letters to Santa so I wanted to run some of the answers by you and see if I did well or poorly.
I’m asking all the Santas cause like everyone I’m interested in validation.
And obviously presents
Here are the letters:
If you are real how come I’ve never seen you?
Carpenter’s Gulp, Wisconsin
There are a lot of things you’ve never seen, including quarks, justice, and Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli. Sometimes what we see depends on who we are. Your dog has never seen a lawyer and your pet fly has never seen a person, because a dog doesn’t have a concept of a lawyer and a fly doesn’t have a concept of a person. But who other than Santa would have given you your own pet fly with two changes of costume and a Fly Beach Habitat complete with tiny see-saw and swings?
But why do you make it so hard? If you really wants us to believe in you shouldn’t you let us believe in you?
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Maybe. Or maybe we become better people by stretching our capacity to believe in things, even when there’s no proof that they’re real.
Very truly yours,
My friend Joe doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Why is that? Is he an evil heretic? Should I, perhaps, burn him?
Chief Justice Antonin Scalia
No. Your friend is doing a very important job for Santa Claus. Santa knows that if every kid you met believed in Santa Claus it would be obvious that he existed, and you wouldn’t get to stretch your capacity for belief (see second answer). So Santa dispatches a special kind of elf called a Mofelzip to the house of some children. The Mofelzip tells these kids that they are Santa’s Smartass and their job is to do their best to convince his friends that Santa is not real. The brawny four-armed elf lives in smartass’s house throughout the Christmas season, sleeping in his bed, using his toilet to dispose of his elf-waste, which looks like snow but smells like cinnamon, and monitoring how well he does his job. On Christmas Day, the Mofelzip gives the child a slice of roast beef for every friend he has convinced that Santa is fake.
Rock out with your stocking out,
But those chimneys? And being everywhere? I’m happy to stretch my capacity to believe, Mr. Claus but c’mon!
Robert Downey Junior.
First of all I don’t like your tone of voice. Remember what happened to Jabez Dawes the boy who laughed at Saint Claus
|What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of ‘Don’t,’ and ‘Pretty Please.’
He howled, ‘I don’t know where you read it, But anyhow, I never said it!’ ’
Jabez’ replied the angry saint, ’It isn’t I, it’s you that ain’t.
Although there is a Santa Claus, There isn’t any Jabez Dawes!’
Not as if Santa was going to threaten you with being turned into a jack in the box and Donder and Blitzen licking off the paint. Santa wouldn’t do that. Although Santa used to have a buddy named Belsnickel and he would do that and worse besides. Maybe it’s time to bring back the coal in the stocking, or better yet the brick in the stocking if you catch my drift. I mean I come into your house when you’re asleep. You might want to stay on my good side…
But Santa does not threaten people with hitting them in the head with bricks in the middle of the night. Oh, no. Santa was making a philosopihcal point.
You have two eyes, there are two Dakotas, and the helium atom has two electrons. The number two can get to a bunch of places at once, why not Santa?
Frankly how do you know you exist? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?
You don’t do you. So back off
DICTATED BUT NOT READ
Dear Mr. Claus,
Hang on there. I’m pretty good at science and I think your analogy with the number two is nonsense. WE don’t expect the number two to bring us gifts. What gives, fat man?
Isaac Newton Professor Of Physics
I’ve calmed down a bit since the letter from Robert Downey Jr. An elf had urinated in Santa’s lap and he was not at his best.
I’ve now realized that your skepticism, and that of the star of Iron Man comes from a place of real pain. People who are angry at Santa desperately want to believe and don’t want to be let down. So rather than threatening you with bricks or mocking you and saying you don’t exist either, I’ve decided to give you the best answer I can.
Have you ever read the story the Gift of the Magi?
. In the story, you will recall (and if not, spoiler alert), the husband sells his favorite possession, a watch, to get his wife a comb for her beautiful hair, only to learn that she has sold her hair to a wigmaker in order to earn the money to buy him a fob for his watch. From a utilitarian point of view this gift exchange was a fiasco. From a rational point of view it sure seemed like a diaster – neither of them got anything any good. But from another point of view – I don’t know whether to call it the trans-rational point of view or the jolly point of view – the couple did something great.
Let me explain.
Consider what it would be like if gift-giving was perfectly rational. Let’s say I wanted to avoid the mistake of the couple in “The Gift of the Magi”. So rather than guess what my wife wants for Christmas I tell her and she tells me what she wants. Pretty good, right? As it happens I want a book of philosophy and she wants a really nice hat. But if Mrs. Claus gets me a book of philosophy it’s going to be some feminist stuff which I’m not interested in. If I get her a hat it’s going to be a red hat with a white pom pom which she doesn’t care for.
Then let’s say we take it a step further. I give her the money to buy her gift and she gives me the money to buy my gift. In fact we don’t even have to do that. Mrs Claus and I have a joint account. So I will simply buy a philosophy book and she will simply buy a nice hat.
Have we created the perfect way to exchange gifts? No! We have rationalized gift-giving out of existence! Because what I have just descrbied is not a gift it is a purchase.
If we need to preserve our practice of sharing gifts and our sense of wonder and mystery in general we need some way of keeping the mind in check.
Santa belief is just such a way.
Do we need to lie to ourselves? And even if we do need to lie to ourselves can we? If I know Santa doesn’t exist how can I make myself believe he does? Do I need to take illegal or morally wrong psychedelic drugs? Or operate on my own brain by looking at myself in the mirror? Or find a kindly vet who will do it? That seems drastic! And messy!
I think the situation is jollier than that, because this account of self-manipulation and self-deception is wrong, in so far as its account of the self is wrong. The view that Santa belief is self-deception assumes that we have a clear self with preferences and beliefs, and that this self chooses to believe in Santa in order to get some things it wants, but there is reason to suspect that this is only a Cartesian myth.
As the early 20th century social scientist and philospoher Otto Neurath pointeds out in his simile of the boat that must be rebuilt while it is still out at sea, we are always reconstructing our beliefs from a standpoint of ongoing continuing action and never have the opportunity to review them all at once. We come to awareness with things we say and do, images that excite us to reverence and disgust, and communities we are a part of. None of this is especially clear to us at the outset. What does it mean that I’m in my family? What does it mean that I want to be happy? What does it mean that I believe in democracy? We are in the family, want the happiness and believe in the democracy without having a clear idea what “family,”, “happiness” or “democracy” are.
Each belief is the beginning of a voyage of self-discovery and self-transformation. We don’t have a fully -realized self that investigates these questions. Rather, our self comes into focus and achieves its shape as we discover or decide what we believe and what is important to us.
When it comes to Santa, some of us have inherited him as a set of feelings, or images we love, or songs we sing, and it’s an option for us to move forward with him. In other words, we are not utility-maximizing agents trying to decide whether it’s worth it to believe in Santa. We come to be a self by the things we say, the relationships we form, and the goals we shoot for. If these are Santa-ish things, relationships and goals, then it makes sense to say we are coming to be our selves as believers in Santa.
You could say that the self is a gift we have received from our language, our history, our biology, our culture and our family, and like a gift it is defined not by what it is but by how we use it and the quality of the relationships it brings. If we receive the gift of our self with gratitude and we hand it on to others with generosity, we are not just believing in Santa, we’re being Santa-like ourselves.
Are we faking it till we make it? Is Santa a lie we tell ourselves to make our lives more meaningful? Or is he as real as we are?
You might as well ask if we’re naughty or nice.
How come kids whose parents have money get better gifts from Santa than kids whose parents do not?
|His Holiness Pope Francis Apostolic Palace Vatican City|
|His Holiness Pope Francis Vatican City State, 00120|
You’ve asked a question that made Santa very happy.
Here’s what Santa would like you to do.
Go find somebody who has less than you and share with them.
Cause if you do that you know what youv’e done Frankie?
You’ve done something even cooler than believing in Santa.
You got to be Santa.
But even so take a look under your tree, Your Holiness. Cause I just sent a you a drum, a wooden soldier, a and truly gigantic alphabet block.