Contribution to a Colloquium held by the Computer Science Club
of Hofstra University, New York, in October 1996


link here to BWMA website
The BWMA was formed in direct opposition to recent legislation in the UK whereby all packaged goods are to be marked and sold in metric quantities only from the 1st October 1995. This restriction will be extended to loose goods, displayed in bulk but measured out to customers' requests, on the 1st of January 2000. Marking by the equivalent in ordinary measures is permitted as a secondary statement, but to be less prominent. Even this information is being omitted by large stores with a vested interest in the process, and, it is hoped by the perpetrators, will be abandoned in general within a few years.

Members of the BWMA have written to their MPs objecting to such uncompromising and un-debated regulations, which were pushed through in compliance with outside instructions. They were all rewarded with stock replies obviously composed by wordsmiths at the Department of Trade and Industry which were highly prejudiced yet effectively inhibited further discussion.

Vivian Linacre, Chairman of BWMA , managed to get beyond the 'No' level to some of those responsible for carrying out the policy. (Not for making it. That had been decided long ago as part payment for being allowed into the European Economic Community, as it was then called. De Gaulle promised that "Britain will come in, but she will come in naked". Not quite realised, but the economic and cultural cleansing process is now well in hand.)
This was an attempt to discuss principles, but served to highlight the means by which aims have been pursued. One ploy is to assert that either America has effectively become metricated, or is in active process of being so. Metric Programme Director, Gerard C. Danelli has admitted there are unexpected cultural objections, so will concentrate on the commercial side for the time being.

Professor Gene Zirkel (of the DSA) makes a good point when encountering eulogies on the 'benefits' of the metric system by asking "which one?" The latest version is not even decimal but milli-metric, with its three figure adjectival prefixes to the unit noun operating in a base of one thousand. For a carton of milk now labelled 568 ml 1 PINT, how small or faint should the clearer real life quantity be printed to meet the requirement of 'less prominent'? The cultural/social requirements of measures - distinctly named grades which can be dealt with by small numbers fitted into a divisible framework - was not considered in the "Snuggling up to Europe" programme. One incautious remark in a reply to Linacre was "I doubt that there is likely to be a meeting of minds on this issue." Which says it all.

They are well aware of the need for such facilities, which, if allowed in their practical and ergonomic forms as developed for convenience in use, will remain the choice for dealing with our everyday affairs. Metric would stay the preserve of those dealing with the very large or very small by means of frequently indeterminate calculations, and for whom rows of figures bracketed by lots of zeros are no handicap.

Most so-called reforms are usually no more than a transfer of difficulties to areas less capable of defending themselves. Metric has everywhere had to be forced upon a resentful public by the authoritarian methods it will be used to foster. In the absence of manifest advantages supported by honest debate, resort is had to obscurantism, misleading or blatantly erronous statements and political chicanery, with no intention of being deflected from a set objective. Finally there are the un-redeemed assurances of "no compulsion" or "voluntary only" by successive goverments to lull us into a false sense of security.

The original Enabling Legislation, poorly debated some twenty years ago by an indifferent Parliament, has been used as a blanket justification for a 'salami slice' series of 'Statutary Instruments' whereby quite serious regulations can become law without the bother of public debate. For our measures, these were nodded through by committees whose ignorance of what they were destroying was matched by their contempt for the ordinary user and indifference to the loss of potential for future developement. The Director of our Metrication Board said we should not foreclose on the options of future generations whilst engaged in doing just that. He could keep his ideas in thought-tight compartments!

Indoctrination of the young is a powerful tool that has been effectively applied down the ages. It is now being used for this purpose in the expectation that historically developed means and methods will be forgotten as a bad dream. Traditional human-orientated measures are mentioned in school curricula, but at best with a dismissive "we know better now" attitude if not openly critical or sometimes misleading. Recent studies have concluded that the understanding of decimalised numeration is poor, children happily reverting to whole numbers and simple fractions when released from official arithmetic. The aversion to mathematics and science generally, so deplored by many commentators, must be due to the subjects not being taught in terms that are in accord with ordinary experience.

I am at one with Walter Lippman, who considered that we are now entering a new Dark Age. This is being characterised by superstition ar wish-fulfilment supplanting actualities, ready made or officialised opinions propagated via controlled channels and repeated diligently by faithful yes-persons, with only the latest edict or advert having any significance. The whole has to be sustained by the time-honoured policy of bread and the circus ticket. Metrication plays an important part in this decline by detaching us from the real objective world, constructed through the relationships between twos threes and fours, and the recourses whereby it can be assessed and understood. Gulliver's fifth and final voyage could have been to a land where the science of Laputia had gotten into the hands of the Yahoos. Perhaps not even Jonathan Swift was able to imagine such a situation as is now unfolding.

I spell this out in some detail as a warning to you in the United States who are at the top of the metric slope,which will become steeper with time. Already Representative George Brown of Wisconsin managed to slip in a last minute clause into a Government procurement bill requiring all specifications to be in metric measures. Largely being ignored, it is ready for activation when considered safe. You should ensure that the principles of social measurement will be taught in schools alongside the self-styled 'scientific' method with its abstract subservience to numbers. There is a precedent for this which is quite apt: schools in Fundamentalist / Creationism areas are obliged to also teach evolutionary ideas and allow pupils to decide which is the more reasonable.

By being strongly represented in Academia, The Dozenal Society of America tends to be more concerned with theoretical aspects than us in the DSGB. But, outside the Ivory Tower, interested parties are busily digging away at the the foundations. It must be realised that the price of liberty of thought is eternal vigilance, and that Measurement of the People, by the People, for the People is not necessarily an un-alienable right even in The Land of the Free, so could vanish from the Earth.

Copies of BWMA booklets have been lodged in DSA's library at Nassau Community College, and the Editor of their 'Bulletin' has been invited to quote from them as thought fit. Anyone wishing to have details may apply direct to the Association.

The British Weights and Measures Association
45 Montgomery Street
Edinburgh, Scotland
and you might also like to contact:
The Dozenal Society of Great Britain
Walnut Bank, Underhill
Moulsford, OX10 9JH