Down with the Metric System

Posted by 2 on September 15, 2006
Agrarianism, Culture

(1) The metric system is statist.  It was imposed during the French Revolution.  Almost every other country in the world was “forced” to accept the metric system over its indigenous units of measurement.

(2) The Revolutionaries knew what there were doing.  They knew that the way a society measures things is very much a religious practice.  Look at the attempted calendar reforms of tyrannous governments.  The Soviets moved away from a seven-day week.  The French revolutionaries did something similar (each 30 day month had three ten-day weeks ending with a rest-day, the decadi).  The calendar was revised to begin the year count with the beginning of the Revolution.  Look at the use of “CE” and “BCE” in academic literature.

(3) Aside from religious motivations, centralized states used imposed “systems” to rule over their serfs more efficiently.  They love numbers and statistics and use these to further enslave their populations.  The bureaucratic state must be resisted at every level.

(4) The traditional units of measurements evolved by slow, natural forces.  They do not constitute a pre-packaged “system” of measurement.  In it, much of our past is preserved and passed on to future generations. 

(5) The traditional units worked because they were personal, quotidian and humble.  Feet, inches, cups, bushels, etc. were based upon objects in the real world.  (Want to know how long an inch is, look at the width of your thumb.)  Such measurements are easily grasped.

(6) Think of the linguistic richness that the traditional units allow.  In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord rhetorically asked who could add a single cubit to his life by worry.  A cubit is basically the length of a man’s forearm.  The image was vivid to his hearers.  Now replace it with centimeters and the illustration becomes absurd.

(7) Guilds and intellectual communities may freely adopt a standard system for purposes of communication, especially in cases where the community is international.  The problem here, however, is that this desire for uniformity and efficient communication becomes religious.  Many at the beginning of last century were advocates of Esperanto, a universal
scientific language.  (Leibniz, I believe, was the first modern to propose such an “international” language.)  But this drive for unity and centralization over against diversity and individuality is a temptation to be resisted.  God’s confounding of language at Babel is a warning against such endeavors.  Aside from the obvious problems, think of language itself.  There is no place for a Shakespeare or Ovid in such an artificial language.  All metaphor, entendre, word-play, wit would be destroyed.   The drive for unity is science gone mad.  Scientific knowledge for the purpose of techne becomes an end in itself.  There is no place for art, beauty or any thing else that makes life worth living when science becomes god.

8 Comments to Down with the Metric System

  • Interesting points, but as an engineering student I’d rather use a universal measurement system wisely built around base 10 than the obscure, “personal” units of the indigenous imperial system.

  • Keith– I was going to do a followup to MB’s post but you beat me to the punch.

    The point is, the unit that is divided is arbitrary; after that, you can divide by whatever is convenient.

    The “mil” in US industry is 1/1000 of an inch.

    There is nothing better or worse between the mil and the millimeter from a scientific standpoint.


  • Well, I was thinking more along the lines of 1 mile = 5280 ft, 1 ft = 12 inches, etc, as opposed to 1 km = 1000 m, 1 m = 1000 mm, etc.

  • Keith– Yes, that is granted, but don’t let the nomenclature fool you. The point is, they have a single lineal unit, meter, with prefixes that simply mean 10, 1/100, 1000, and so forth.

    Likewise, pick a single lineal unit in our system (say, the inch) and go to town with multiples of 10, ignoring the other units (mile, yard) as if they did not even exist.

    That’s fine, in that context. Say, calculating the force between two aggregates of electrons at a certain distance.

    1. Why should that context drive the other units out of business, in contexts where they might be more intuitive and satisfactory?

    2. Why not have standardized to the “yard” rather than the “meter”? Deciyard, kiloyard, centiyard, etc.?

    Any unit is ultimately arbitrary.

    The question is whether some units though arbitrary couple in to our human experience in a richer way, including history and intuition, and thus are worthy of being preserved.

  • Yes, very good points. I realize that the length of a yard is arbitrary. But I am not concerned with the origin of these measurements (whether they’re indigenous, etc), but rather their relation to one another.

    Yes, we *could* have deciyards, but we *don’t*, so my point remains about the awkwardness of converting between imperial lengths. I do think that for the science and engineering community a universal standard is extremely convenient and reduces error and confusion (besides being vastly more efficient). On a local level I see nothing wrong with indigenous units and certainly appreciate their contribution to culture and heritage.

    Anyway, I’m really enjoying the posts on agrarianism. I’d like to learn more.

  • Razz– I know what you mean calling our system the “imperial” units, and don’t blame you. It comes from the British Empire.

    However, our inherited units could equally be called the “peasant” units, or (updating for America) the “redneck” units. Or how about (keying off of Copeland’s fanfare) “measuring units for the common man.”

    By rights, the metric system ought to be called the imperialistic one.

  • I miss the 90s when It seemed that our country was moving forvard where christian fundementalism racism and attacks on the poor as I believed were going away the world was becoming more international there was that handshake between the israeli prime minister and yasir arafat and science was winning the culture war. Unfortunatly in the year 2006 we still debate evolution and the metric system and esperanto. All I see Is smaller cell phones why havnt we been to mars yet? In the 20th century we were afraid of killer robots taking over the world what we have is worse I pefer killer robots to christian and muslim fundis METRIC RULES!!!!!!

  • There you have it, folks. World-views really do hang together. The seemingly most unrelated things are all part of a coherent package.

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