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Why metric matters

In a world where Donald Trump rules and nationalism grows, it might be difficult to understand why the metric system deserves to be talked about; but it does, and now more than ever, precisely because of the issues the nation faces today.

The United States is a strange country. Fast food is favorite, people own the most guns, and the football looks nothing like the rest of the world’s. To top off the strangeness, the United States does not use the metric system.

According to the CIA World Factbook, only three countries have not officially adopted the metric system, also known as SI: Burma, Liberia, and the United States. That makes the U.S. the only western industrialized nation in the world that has not gone metric. This fact alone is enough to make one wonder why the U.S. has not converted.

The SI is easy enough with its base-ten increments and prefix repetition. There is no stumbling around on Google to rediscover how many ounces are in a pound, no pointless confusion over whether the recipe calls for two teaspoons or two tablespoons of oil. Everyone’s lives would be easier if the metric system was used.

Perhaps the reason the United States has not switched is because Americans like being strange. The nation has always prided itself on being different. These differences have made the country what it is today; they give the American people a national identity. But what happens when national identity becomes dangerous, when people start to look at the world as “us and them” instead of one global community?

Gridlock. Chaos. The worst wars in modern history were all sparked by nationalism. Society becomes a hyped-up super frat club, with hot testosterone in its blood and latent anger in its shouts. Phenomena like Nazi Germany, American slavery, and Donald Trump are all results of misplaced nationalism. With so much emphasis on the power of “us,” people forget to quiet down and take a stroll in other side’s shoes.

Everybody knows of the danger that comes with extremes; extremists are currently the nation’s most violent enemies. But there is a more dangerous extremist in play, one ignorant of its own faults. It is an extremist that is so driven to be different and great that it will toss empathy out the window and crush the majority with sheer spite. Within the hearts of all Americans, all men and women with influence, there exists this horror.

Well, how is this all avoided? People emphasize the similarities and focus on bringing the world together until there is no “us” or “them” but a single community, one where all differences are eclipsed by striking commonalities. Herein lies the importance of the metric system. Living through the lens of a single measurement provides the U.S. the simplest, most subtle path to togetherness with the rest of the world.

Subtle divides show that there is a dark side to being unique, a side that parents and politicians rarely talk about. It is up to the U.S. to shove it into the light. Measured in lumens of course, not watts.