Preface: I want to say it was Carl Sagan who railed against “magical thinking” i.e. the desire of people to believe in astrology and tarot, and hope their ‘lucky’ number will hit the lottery. However I’m not willing to do the ‘googling’ to see if it was Sagan, and it doesn’t matter – oodles of skeptical inquirers, scientists, and…well.. rational thinkers rail against magical thinking.
Magical thinking: the wishful (and irrational) propensity to ascribe supernatural powers to things.
Body: the oldest kid (OK) is going on a field trip with her/his class this Thursday. Fun! Along with a parental permission form there is an oath of good behavior s/he must sign in order to go. (When I was a kid we didn’t have no good-behavior… well… no matter…)
Anyhoo, it seemed like a perfect teachable moment: The OK is in third grade, and s/he is encountering more and more ‘adult’ things. I felt my fatherly juices stirring and I was just about to refill my pipe and embark on a fatherly lecture about the importance of signatures, and oaths, and “a man’s word” yadda yadda yadda. I was especially gonna emphasize the importance of reading what s/he was about to append his/her signature to.
Then, like a bolt of blue, it struck me how silly it all was.
When I bought my house I signed reams of documents. If I had read each one, I’d still be in the lawyer’s office (ten years later). I used to grit my teeth and grouse about the ‘terms of service’ on every web site/software I encountered, until I learned to stop worrying and click the ‘I Accept.’
The OK wants to go have fun, so sign away!
Because the alternative is unacceptable.
J’accuse: The thing is, we just went through a horrible recession caused by mortgage securities based on bundled sub prime loans where each and every loan was signed. Prudish pundits wrung their hands over all the irresponsible home buyers who signed papers swearing to pay their loans back!
But I accuse the pundits and the financial institutions and the great conglomerates of magical thinking! They have ascribed magical supernatural powers to the signature. Idiots; the joke is on them. They used their big brains to manipulate regulations, government, accepted accounting practices, and the humble mathematical derivative. And then they rested it on a tarot card.
My signature is meaningless not because I am a dishonorable man, but because your onerous boiler plate is a dishonorable obstacle. It has changed the signature from an honorable handshake to a specious formality, a kowtow to the fact you hold all the aces and me none of them.