In the previous comment section, Gannon asked how come we haven’t converted to the metric system. Before I get to that, I’m going to write about the keys to the Internet.
I’d link to it if I could find it, but a few years ago I ran across an astonishingly dumb column in The Guardian that completely misunderstood the United States of America, the Internet, and most importantly human nature. You may recall a few years ago that there was a big push by other countries to try to get the US to hand over the keys to the Internet from the Department of Commerce to the United Nations. The aforementioned article in The Guardian said with a certain amount of glee that with the world united in insisting that the US give up control over the Internet that we would have (and I’ll never forget this wording) “little choice but to comply”.
That left to beg the question… “or what?” As in, we will have to comply “or what?” The UN will set up the infrastructure for its own Internet? A league of countries will go to the trouble of building an alternate Internet so that it can hand it over to the UN? They’ll invade Washington DC? If there is no “or [insert some consequence that the US could not endure]” then there is a choice. As it turned out, there was indeed a choice and the US chose to hold on to control of the Internet for the time being. Haven’t even heard mutterings about the issue since.
A few years ago when I went to a friend’s wedding in Canada, a discussion about the differences between the United States and Canada came up. When these conversations come up with Canadians, it is almost invariably in the form of them asking us “What is wrong with you people?!” about this issue or that. If the subject were to come up today I would probably be quizzed about our warmongering or our president or one of the many problems that they have with the current direction of our country, but given that it was pre-9/11 I was surprised by the two subjects that came up most frequently. I expected that it would be our health care system or gun-loving or something, but instead it was our tort system (a subject I will expound upon at a later time) and… the metric system.
One guy asked why we hadn’t adopted it and a couple more idealistic fellows asked why the conversion process was taking so long and when it was going to happen. My answers were “not sure”, “what conversion process?”, and “it may never happen”.
After I got back to the states, I asked started asking myself why it hadn’t and it didn’t appear that it was going to. I came up with an answer and then forgot the question and moved on to more important things like repercussions of Robin’s flirtations with Spoiler on his relationship with his then-girlfriend Arianna.
When I was in elementary school, I was dutifully informed by my teachers that the metric system was the wave of the future and that the English system they were teaching us would become obsolete. If I needed an excuse not to learn the English system, I had one. The problem is that I had to learn about inches, feet, gallons, and pounds anyway. Reality made me even if the teachers at West Oak Elementary were telling me that it would be useless knowledge.
The teaching of the metric system never entirely went away, though the examples in the math textbooks slowly started moving back to gallons and yards by the time I got to high school. I remember this because I remember thinking that the books must have been out of date, though in retrospect I’m not sure that they were.
In addition to their odd pronunciation of the word “applicable”, their odd-yet-correct pronunciation of the states Nevada and Colorado, their use of the phrase “Oh my heck/hell”, and a million other things, one of the quirks of Deseret (or more likely the corner of it where I worked) the metric system kept coming up along with the question of why we never adopted it.
Remembering the question reminded me of the answer which actually came indirectly from the Canadians which had asked the question to begin with. When they asked, I asked how the conversion in Canada went. They basically said that the government said that they were going to convert everything to the metric system because it was more logical and it was what everyone else was doing and so Canada went metric. They described it about that simplistically, though I kept trying to make it more complicated by asking “why?” like a bored second grader sitting in the back seat on a 600-mile car trip.
The thing is that everyone in the US had decided, once upon a time, that it would happen here, too. It just didn’t. And I think that part of the answer to the “why” is that Americans are extremely reluctant to being told from on high “this is what we’re going to do” even when there might be a logical reason behind it if we don’t feel like we were adequately consulted on the matter. Part of the success of persuasion is to make people think it was their idea or at least that they had a hand in the decision. It’s noteworthy that the many of the most fierce political backlashes come from Supreme Court decisions (Roe v Wade, gay marriage) rather than legislation.
Unfortunately, by its very nature conversion to the metric system is more of a top-down decision.
Beyond that, though, another big reason is the same reason that we held on to the keys to the Internet. No one was in a position to force us to do otherwise. We don’t need to move towards the universal measurement system to do trade with other countries because we don’t have a shortage of countries to trade with (at least not on that particular basis). We’re big enough and powerful enough that we can unilaterally expect other countries to work with us on the matter. In other words, we converted as much as we needed to in order to keep doing global business, but it wasn’t as much as it might have been for other countries. Americans would rather everybody else learn English rather than we learn Esperanto. We don’t know off-hand what’s wrong with them learning pounds and ounces rather than us learning metrics. And so on.
To bring these ideas together, not only do we not like being told by our government how it’s going to be, we particularly hate being told that we need to do it because other countries are doing it. It’s not an uncommon mistake, but generally speaking telling us that everybody else does it differently causes us to dig in our heels (unless, of course, someone can actually apply enough pressure to get us to reconsider).
My favorite example of this is the death penalty. As an opponent of it, I get very, very frustrated with my fellow travelers’ tendency to mention that we are one of only a handful of countries that continues to execute people. That the world does something one way and that we do it another is not, on its face, evidence that we are wrong. If other countries do things a better way, it needs to be explained why that way is better. I think that the metric-advocates placed too much of an emphasis on world community arguments rather than the ease with which one can divide and multiply by ten.