Darn it, Santa didn’t bring me what I wanted this year. Again.
What I wanted was, of course, what all right-minded people say they want—in public—when they are questioned about the perfect holiday gifts.
World peace, religious tolerance, and an end to global poverty, hunger, and disease.
Did I find any of these under the tree?
Why did I receive red and green SmartWool socks, a belly putter, a pair of enamel candy cane cufflinks, and a boxed set of Clint Eastwood DVDs instead? I am trying to put myself inside Santa’s head.
Santa is magic. I am reminded of the story of Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent, VT) walking along the shores of Lake Champlain. He finds a bottle, picks it up, and pulls out the cork. A genie appears. “I will grant you one wish,” says the genie.
Bernie Sanders says, “Peace in the Middle East.”
“Look,” says the genie, “I’m just a genie. I can make all sorts of fabulous wishes come true. But there are limits. Make another wish.”
“I want to be President of the United States,” says Bernie Sanders.
The genie says, “Let’s get back to peace in the Middle East…”
Santa’s elves make all sorts of things in their North Pole workshop. But they don’t (at least I hope they don’t) make atomic bombs. The last time we had anything resembling world peace—between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War—it was because both countries had atomic bombs. Following this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, the way to achieve world peace is to give everyone atomic bombs. I can see why Santa might not want to go there. And dropping atomic bombs down chimneys would be hazardous.
Also, requesting world peace implies that there are no bad guys in the world who need to be fought. Evidence from news sources indicates otherwise. We’re asking Santa to engage in a clear violation of his “Naughty or Nice” rule.
But religious tolerance would be a wholesome goodie for every boy and girl. If we regular folks are clever enough to create a bumper sticker that spells out “Coexist” using every manner of sacred and secular symbol, then Santa should easily… Wait a minute, I don’t see Hinduism—third largest religion in the world, more than one billion adherents—represented on that bumper sticker.
And what do we really mean when we say “religious tolerance”? Are we actually taking into account what some people worship? Some people worship money, some people worship power, and lots of people worship themselves. Are we supposed invite the Koch brothers, Vladimir Putin, and the Kims (Jong-un, and Kardashian) over to go caroling, light the Menorah for Hanukkah and the Kinara for Kwanza, celebrate the end of Ramadan with the feast of Eid Al-Fitr, exchange gifts at Hinduism’s Diwali Festival of Lights, and meditate on Buddhist Bodi Day? And what about the people who worship violence? They’d come over, set off their suicide vests, and blow the Silent Night, the candelabras, the shish kebab, the sweetmeats, the inner peace, and us to Kingdom Come.
Well, an end to poverty—that’s the least a gigantic give-away program like Santa’s could do. And, in theory, it can be done. World GDP (including North Pole toyshop gross output) is $84.97 trillion. World population is 7 billion. Divide one by the other and you get $12,138.57 per person. Multiply that by number of people in the average global household and you’re well over the $27,910 U.S. poverty threshold for a family of five.
The problem, in practice, is how to do it. The thing’s been tried in Lenin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, etc. With decidedly mixed results. Also, we’re not just letting Santa be Santa. We’re asking him to be the Grinch as well. Before he makes a present of ending poverty around the world, he first has to steal goods and services from the one-per-center Whos in the conspicuous consumption Whoville example of income inequality. The Grinch’s dog Max was reluctant enough about this. What if Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Republican? There are signs. The name itself. The only other Rudy I can think of is Giuliani. The red nose—“Freshen that up for me, boy.” The question of “reindeer games.” Perhaps these were hacky sack or Ultimate Frisbee. And the name-calling by Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen types.
This leaves hunger and disease. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has observed, within Santa’s hearing I’m sure, that, “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” And, according to the World Health Organization (certainly on Santa’s “Good” list), the ten major countries with the longest life expectancies are Japan, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, France, and Israel. What do these countries have in common? They are—even Italy—functioning democracies.
But no one ever asks Santa for “good governance.”
Good governance would mean sticks and coal for too many of our favorite politicians. The ones we vote for most. In the Christmas spirit, I’ll name no names.
But Christmas is over. Bah, humbug is back. And in that spirit let us examine our purported desire for world peace, religious tolerance, and an end to global poverty, hunger, and disease.
What, I suspect, we really want from Santa is peace (and quiet) at home for the holidays. No drunk Uncle Dickie face-down in the yams. No lewd toasts from the bum brother-in-law. No children’s heads exploding from figgy pudding sugar rush. No Christmas cookie bulimia from Goth teen daughters. And no washing machine with a ribbon around it as dad’s gift to mom.
Religious tolerance would be improved by a parking spot less than six blocks from Christmas mass, room in a pew, and a damn short homily.
An end to poverty should come—where’s Santa when we need him?—in January when the credit card bills arrive.
We’re hungry. Santa, please don’t let our mother-in-law put the turkey in the oven for seven hours until it’s like carving a bowling ball.
And, as for disease, who isn’t sick of Christmas by now?