The Innumerati among us

From Cocktail Party Physics: we are in…like…so much in trouble… episode two.

In my grouchier moments (one of which I am having right now), I am considering a public relations campaign to make fun of people who can’t do simple math and shame them into either acquiring some fundamental skills or staying quiet and not bothering the rest of us with their ignorance.

I’m tired of hearing from people how hard math is. Do you ever hear people saying things like “oh, yeah, reading. I was just never good at that.” Admitting that you are illiterate is harder than admitting that you are an alcoholic or a drug addict at this point. But admitting that you can’t do math – well pfftt, I could never do math either, so that’s just OK.

Squares and square roots [as used in the Pythagorean theorem] are not beyond the ken of ANYONE who wants to understand them.

And that, unfortunately, seems to be the crux of the problem. I know plenty of people who can calculate how much the 40% off sweater on sale at Neiman Marcus will cost, but claim that things like mortgages or interest on their bank account are just too hard to understand. If you don’t understand percentages (and compounding), perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to take out a mortgage. (I know, not feasible because it would lead to another financial crisis.)

Which reminds me of a line from Robert A. Heinlein:

Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.


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