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Notable Fox News talking head and bow tie enthusiast Tucker Carlson would like the world to abandon the metric system.
“I’ll accept the kilometer when I accept the Euro — never,” said Tucker Carlson in a recently televised segment. The system, which his guest argues is an unsanctimonious vestige of the French Revolution, “connects us to our ancestors.” Through “cups… teaspoons, and tablespoons,” he continues, we “can still cook the recipes of our grandparents.”
Fortunately, the rest of the world has suffered no such detriment to their cooking from the adoption of this system.
The United States is the only place on Earth that does not use the metric system. Its intransigence can in large part be attributed to a sort of American Exceptionalism: We use the metric system because we’re different; it’s a part of our cultural heritage and we should, as the smooth-faced Carlson says, fight against the “global tyranny” to accept the alternative. When you understand why the metric system was created, however, such a view becomes instantly laughable.
The metric system, rather than a method of imposing systematic global tyranny, was the way through which the French sought to employ the most practical method of measurement. Rather than fumble about with the arbitrary inconsistencies of the time (how many teaspoons are in a cup? a fluid ounce? a tablespoon?), they decided to employ a system of measurement that could reliably transfer across scales.
Meters are a great example. To move from the meter to its larger cousin the kilometer, you merely multiply the initial number by 1,000 (kilo means 1,000). So how many meters are in 70 kilometers? Easy: 70,000. How many meters are in four kilometers? 4,000. All you have to do is move the decimal over three places.
Now let’s try to do this with feet. There are 5,280 feet in one mile. So how many feet are in 70 miles? Well, to get this number we have to multiply 5,280 by 70. The answer is 369,600 feet, but getting here is by no means simple mental math. Trying to work through these conversions is nothing but an exercise in severe masochism.
But there is a litany of other reasons that such an argument doesn’t hold water. If we wanted to stick to our cultural heritage, for instance, why would we have shifted from the system of Roman numerals to one invented by the Indians and later transplanted into the Middle East? Was it because one system was drastically more pragmatic and functional than the other? Why yes, yes it was. We have a history of adopting methods that are more functional than those that came before. The metric system is just the next logical consequence of doing this.
It’s not all of the U.S., however, that has adopted such pertinacity in the face of more practical systems. The world of science, for instance, has long since adopted the metric system. The universal form of mathematical communication is far superior to the inconsistencies associated with the former.
There are a few exceptions to the Rule of Metric Superiority, however. One of the more salient is the use of Fahrenheit over Celsius.
While Celsius is still a helpful system of measurement, the scale of 0 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit is far more tangible than a similar scale in Celsius. The difference between 70, 75, and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is easy to comprehend, for instance, whereas the difference between 20, 25, and 30 degrees Celsius is not. But such an exception doesn’t really help to excuse the large number of encumbrances associated with the current American system.
Logical thinking is not the staple of the cable news world — networks that find their niche audiences more aptly with ill-informed or artificially generated expressions of oppression. Let’s take Tucker’s opinions with a pinch — or 0.36 grams — of salt, and not let them influence our decision to adopt a far more practical system of measurement.