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Hogarth judge

November 2017



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Hogarth judge

Standing up to the juggernaut of high modernism

Common sense, æsthetics, and national character have prevailed; the forces of high modernism and weenie rationalism have received a setback. The European Union has chosen to no longer pressure people in the British Isles to convert exclusively to the metric system.

Do metric advocates really even have a clue how broken and ugly their scheme is? The fact that litre doesn't rhyme with "lighter" only shows that it's a word that has no business in the English language. By contrast, according to the OED, units such as "pound" and "inch" have been part of the language since 900-1000 AD. The number 12 is a colossally abundant number, while the number ten is a deficient number. In plain English, it's easier to split things into different fractions with a system based around 12 and 16 than around the number 10 and only 10. Specifically, the lack of a provision for thirds breaks any system based on monomaniacal decimalism. This is a flaw with US currency as well, which needs to convert to a base 12 system. We multiply and divide things into threes a lot more often than we divide things into tenths.

The good system contains units like feet and fathoms, based on human body parts. This human scale allows it to contain units that serve as "rules of thumb". The metric system is based on a miscalculation of the distance between the north pole and the Equator at the longitude of Paris. It was designed by scientists and bureaucrats remote from the lives of ordinary people, and their work shows this disconnect. The litre and metre are relatively reasonable sizes, or would be if they divided into thirds and twelfths rather than ten and only ten. But the gram is entirely useless for daily use, unless you're a cocaine dealer, being too small; while a degree celsius is too large and imprecise. By contrast, the Fahrenheit scale was custom made to measure weather phenomena: it has human scale.

The metric system is an alien, bureaucratic imposture. We do well to reject it utterly. Now, to move forward towards its utter abolition everywhere, and the reversion to traditional measures that change with languages and national boundaries.