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Opinion >  Letters

2+2 does not equal 5

An old joke runs: a psychotic person says two plus two equals seven; a neurotic person says two plus two equals four — but he doesn’t like it.

In an unknown study, a group of first-graders are confined in a room where a large, furious adult yells at them nonstop for a week: “Two plus two equals five!” After seven days they are tested and promised ice cream bars. The threatening influencer says, “Two plus two equals…?” And the children angrily scream, “Five! Where’s our stupid ice cream?” But sometimes there is a little red-haired boy with glasses who looks at his right hand, counts his fingers, and says, “Nope, it’s still four.”

The old term for this was brainwashing. The new term, conspiracy theory. The ingredients are fear, repetition, and reward. Anyone can start yelling from the internet — hypnotize us into anything: “COVID started with Mongolians on Mars.” It’s like tenderizing a steak. If you beat it enough, it’s ready for roasting.

The challenge is to reject the rage and repetition, find a calm center, and crunch the basic math. Count your fingers. Consider actual facts. Common sense works. You may not like that your particular two plus two equals four. Truth is never easy. But don’t let anyone convince you the answer is five!

Kurt Stephan



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