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Useful And Fantastic: Adult Arithmetic

"So much sorrow, strife and stupidity could be avoided if everyone understood simple addition, percentages, and how to imagine numbers,'' writes Val Yule.

For science you need school maths or more. For everyday life you need Arithmetic for Adults. It should be taught in schools. People still buy products advertised with Free Gifts or even Free Cash. Who think that anything is ‘free’ if included with anything that has a price?

So much sorrow, strife and stupidity could be avoided if everyone understood simple addition, percentages, and how to imagine numbers. Think of adults gambling, misunderstanding the laws of probability, and preferring one chance of a big jackpot to 100 chances of a smaller payout. But there is much more to Adult Arithmetic.

In Europe one billion is (in USA a trillion) a million million, while in USA One billion is (in Europe a milliard, a thousand million). We are all lost imagining numbers like these. Let us say that 1 million is 1 plus 6 zeros

Simple arithmetic helps when shopping. Quality and durability with a higher price may be more economic than half a dozen trashy things CHEAP!

Counting numbers shows that it does matter what individuals do. Each person who takes the firm's property as perks, evades tax, or hits girlfriends, helps to push 'average behaviour' into a criminal mode. When enough drivers do 80 where the speed limit is 60, then otherwise law-abiding drivers are forced to go at 80, too. Then the irresponsible drivers speed up to 100.

In fiction and film, consider the arithmetic of realism. Compare how much is shown being destroyed and how little is shown being created or repaired. How much killing and wounding; how little of the consequences that continue for years. How much of real life is rarely shown, and how much is over-exposed. Reality TV does not/cannot show ordinary people's 24-hour days.

Simple arithmetic is also needed every time a statement is aired that claims 'Everybody'. 'Everybody does it'. Ask how many? Who? When? Where? Everybody wears Nike shoes.
Everybody enjoys seeing other people copping trouble.
Teenagers have always got drunk - taken drugs - or run wild.
All men are rapists. Every man has watched strippers. Everybody has a God-shaped hole in their hearts. All cultures have used alcohol. All politicians tell lies. Everybody steals library books. A college lecturer explained to me that nobody can teach honesty in schools because everybody steals biros.
Everybody does this? Everybody?

Adult Arithmetic checks generalisations about nations, race, religions, social classes, and genders. 'Women are bitches'. 'Poms whinge'. 'Whiteys smell'. 'Blacks aren't intelligent'. How many? When? Where?

'Man is naturally violent' is arithmetically incorrect. Only some men and fewer women are violent. Even these are only violent some of the time. It is arithmetically more accurate that "Man is mostly peaceful.'

'War is inevitable because humans love war.' Cut this generalisation in half by excluding most women. Cut it further by finding out the number of war lovers in samples of 100 men from different times and places. Compare it with the numbers who hate and fear it.

Differences between men and women. They overlap in everything except basic reproductive biology. For example, most men have better spatial abilities than most women, but many women are better than most men, and many men are worse than most women.

If there is a law, people will want to break it. This is argued against banning dangerous drugs. How many people want to break it? How many do not break a law because it is the law?

So many pictures of violence in news about demonstrations - where 20 yobbos clash with police. What of the 5,000 peaceful demonstrators?

Poor adult reading skills add to poor adult arithmetic. Check this out. Read carefully an article in an online magazine that has elicited over 15 responses. Check these responses. How many comments have been triggered by one key word or phrase, overlooking what the article has actually said? Even fast-skipping sub-editors can write titles contrary to authors' intended messages.

People cannot imagine the size of our foreign debt, now it is in billions. So they ignore it and believe the government's wonderful management of a strong economy.

World population is increasing from 6-billion to 9-billion by 2050. Can we imagine life with that number? Many of us were alive in 1959 when it was a third of that. We can count the resources depleting and the megaslums growing.

World population will still rise to 9 billion by 2050, a 3 billion increase from 2000, despite falling birth rates, because low rates of increase of a LARGE number can still be bigger than high rates of increase of a smaller number.

So as populations get bigger, lower birthrates will still result in larger NUMBERS of people in the population.

Baby bonuses for big families appear not such a good idea when you realise that families that have two children each will have 32 great-great grand children while families with 8 children each will have 4096 great-great-grandchildren.

Simple arithmetic is needed for those who cry 'genocide' when replacement reproduction is recommended to stabilise population growth.

Percentages. The common way to mislead with statistics is to report a percentage without saying how many. A report saying that 100% of voters wanted a nuclear industry may not reveal that only twenty people voted.

A serious fallacy about percentages is not realising that a small percentage of a large number can be bigger than a large percentage of a smaller number. People assume population growth is slowing because percentage rate of growth is slowing. But a population of only 1,000 growing at 20% in one year adds 200 to the world's population. A population of a billion growing at only 1% adds 10-million.

Graphs mislead when they omit the zero point or earlier data. People worry about Europe or Japan de-populating, but it will be a long time before either has fewer people than they had 50 years ago.

Bell-curve graphs can omit one extreme end. Many people believe that 'goodness' is boring, because the bell curve in their minds reaches from the negative pole of 'evil' only as far as the 'neutral' central point, which they think represents goodness. But that is only boring neutral. Goodness is a very positive quality at the other pole.

Our present arithmetic of production calculates the costs only of Capital and Labor, assuming resources are infinite. But if finite resources are costed in as the future cost that the next generation must pay, the necessity for unstoppable growth looks unprofitable.

Awful things result from thinking More is Better. Primitive and not-so-primitive peoples swallow more pills than they are prescribed. Big Machines are preferred even for small tasks. We assume that the Bigger the corporation the less likely it is to make Big mistakes. You can't have too much of a Good Thing depends upon what that thing is. When you have too much, you have to chuck stuff out. When there are too many people, Nature can take revenge while environments and other species are ravaged.

Charles Dickens in Hard Times regarded Numbers as the opposite of imagination. Numbers can be made substitutes for people and other living things. Every one of us now is a long list of numbers. These are our many identities. But a love for numbers can be aesthetic and numinous, if one could use that word, as in the Cambridge toast 'Here's to Pure Maths and may it never be of any use to anybody'.

Past philosophers saw history as a turning wheel, as civilisations with their golden ages rose and fell again. Our civilisation abandoned that for the hopeful idea of linear progress. But for us time is still on a line, and its events are speeding up as we speak, to where we do not know.


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