Pharyngula

Planet of the Hats

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I know you will not believe me, but I swear it’s true: I’m not of this earth. I fled here years ago because my home planet was driving me crazy. Let me explain.

My home world is very much like this one. It’s populated by billions of bipedal primates, who are just like people here: sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes hateful, sometimes generous. They are grouped into cities and nations, and sometimes they have wars, and sometimes they cooperate. You really would have a hard time telling our two planets apart, except for one thing.

The hats.

My people are obsessed with hats. Almost everyone wears them, and a lot of their identity is wrapped up in their particular style. Some people always wear cowboy hats, for instance, and others wear bowlers, and each think the other is exceedingly funny-looking, and would never consider switching. They have elaborate ceremonies for their children in which they confer the hats, and kids often go to special schools once a week where they learn about the history and significance of their hats. Everyone has the importance of hats drilled into them from birth to death.

The particular type of hat was critical. Individuals only rarely changed hat styles, and when they did, it was considered grounds for sorrow by those who wore the abandoned style, and cause for rejoicing by those wearing the newly adopted style. Sometimes people would invent new kinds of hats, which were typically regarded as bizarre when one person was wearing it, but once a sufficient number switched to the new style, they were respected automatically. It meant that streets of our more cosmopolitan cities were filled with strange and comical hats bobbing along, but no one laughed. Laughing at a hat was considered a heinous crime.

It sounds very silly, I know. A minority on my planet also find it pointless, myself among them, and didn’t bother with wearing a hat. This is tolerated in the more civilized nations, although there are places where wearing no hat, or a strange hat, can get you killed. And honestly, many people in my country only bothered to wear their hat once a week, although the rest of the time they would keep them on ornate hatstands in their home, and attached much significance to their presence.

Now why should mere excesses of fashion compel someone to flee many light years to escape? There was something more. There was a near-universal notion of remarkable absurdity: most people believed that an important portion of their minds actually resided in their hats. The locus of their ethical sense was not believed to be in their brains, but somehow intertwined in the fabric of their hats. This led to strange customs: witnesses in trials were required to wear their hats to give testimony; soldiers were thought to be cowards without their hats; politicians vied to see who could wear the most ostentatious versions of their hats; sex was considered a filthy practice because people would take off their hats to do it. There was no scientific evidence for any of this, and the evidence actually contradicted the belief, but since it was hallowed by tradition, it persisted.

Hatters, milliners, and haberdashers were highly regarded professionals, and every town would have numerous hatshops. Their numbers proliferated, because obviously you could not have the person who crafted miters also making berets, or vice versa, but still they prospered because, not only were the majority sinking a significant proportion of their income into the purchase and care of their hats, but the occupation was considered too dignified to be taxed. Huge sums of money were poured into hatteries, and the people considered this to be a virtuous act that made them more noble and right. The president of my country listened very closely to his council of hatters, and no television punditry was complete without a haberdasher to use his vast hat-based wisdom to pontificate on domestic and foreign policy. They were all talking out of their hats, which was considered a very good thing.

I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the very idea that ethical thought was localized to a hat was a ridiculous notion, and that hatless people could be just as good and kind and wise as those with the most ornate hat (and that hatless people could also be wretched and cruel, of course, as could the hatted.) Our president had a rhinestone-covered 20 gallon cowboy hat with an airhorn and flashing strobe, and he seemed far less virtuous than my neighbor, with her simple and unostentatious cap. Hats obviously had nothing to do with morality, except perhaps in an inverse way: those who spent the most effort polishing the geegaws and flash on their hats usually put the least effort into honing their minds.

I could see the writing on the wall. Being hatless myself meant my chances for promotion were limited, but even more worrisome was that the height of one’s hat was becoming the sole measure of nobility of purpose, and the genuine leaders were being replaced with loud poseurs who knew how to stretch a crown and use a Be-Dazzler. When the People of the Easter Bonnet started encouraging war with the Chador Wearers, citing deep philosophical differences, I bundled my family into our rocketship and flew away.

We stayed briefly at the Planet of Shoes, but found the same problems there, so now we’ve settled here on Earth where, clearly, the situation is completely different.

Comments

  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    January 31, 2006

    You see, living in Britain, I feel the absolute opposite. Hats used to be ubiquitous here, from your businessman’s bowler to your working man’s flat cap with all manner of things in between. Now hardly anybody wears a hat, even da kidz, who wear hoodies instead. The only common headgear is the chav uniform of a Burberry baseball cap, which is hardly stylish. I really, really, really want to be able to wear a variety of trilbies or fedoras, because frankly they are the coolest piece of male clothing ever invented. (Actually, what I really want is a fedora with my press card stuffed in the band, but even I realise how sad that would be.) But since I’d be the only person in the whole of London with such a hat on my head, and I’m far too ugly to be a trendsetter, I’m stuck in hatless hell.

  2. #2 The Disgruntled Chemist
    January 31, 2006

    Wonderful post.

  3. #3 Steve LaBonne
    January 31, 2006

    Beautiful parable, but I’m afraid the people infected with the religious meme will “see but not see and hear but not hear”.

  4. #4 ema
    January 31, 2006

    The locus of their ethical sense was not believed to be in their brains, but somehow intertwined in the fabric of their hats.

    Good thing you didn’t settle in Illinois, where

    “Conscience” means a sincerely held set of moral convictions arising from belief in and relation to God, or which, though not so derived, arises from a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by God among adherents to religious faiths

  5. #5 PaulC
    January 31, 2006

    OMG! PZ’s from Lidsville?!? http://www.70slivekidvid.com/lidd.htm Next you’re gonna tell me Richard Dawkins is really HR Pufnstuff.

  6. #6 PaulC
    January 31, 2006

    Another thought (and another seriously dated pop reference): does this mean that the band Men Without Hats was really “secular humanist” propaganda? Hmm… “we CAN dance if we WANT to” … yup sounds like a lot of liberal moral relativism to me.

  7. #7 NelC
    January 31, 2006

    Ginger, since I went bald, I wear hats all the time. Not from vanity, but just to keep the weather off. Wooly hats in winter, baseball caps in summer. It’s not trendy, but they keep my head warm, dry or free from sunstroke, which is all I care about.

  8. #8 Tracy P. Hamilton
    January 31, 2006

    May I write the ending to your story?

    CLOSEUP – MEIERZ

    Dumbfounded, he slides from his saddle, approaches the form. Nova dismounts and follows him.

    MYerZ (a cry of agony) My God!

    He falls to his knees, buries his head in his hands. CAMERA SLOWLY DRAWS BACK AND UP to a HIGH ANGLE SHOT disclosing what MEIRS hasfound. Half-buried in the sand and washed by the waves is the Statue of Liberty (who of course is wearing a hat).

    OUT

    FADE OUT

    THE END

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    January 31, 2006

    If Nova is wearing that fur bikini, I won’t care what she or some dumb statue is wearing on their head.

  10. #10 Will McKenna
    January 31, 2006

    Yeah Baby! Jessica Biel in a fur bikini! 😉

  11. #11 Torbjorn Larsson
    January 31, 2006

    I like it! Not only is it a post that clearly exposes the foolishness with, err…, hats to me, but it also happens to coincide with my hatred for head wear! (I have nordic thin hair but can, and like to, give it volume. Let’s say that any hat leaves a bad impression…)

  12. #12 Rey
    January 31, 2006

    Yer tryin’ ta make some point here, aren’tcha?

  13. #13 PaulC
    January 31, 2006

    Actually, hats one of the most effective ways to avoid a sunburn if you’re susceptible. I’m sure I’ll be denounced as an adaptationist, but maybe the Planet of the Hats has higher overall UV exposure than earth and all the lunacy that goes along with the hat fixation is the price paid for the lower skin cancer rates.

  14. #14 Republic of Palau
    February 1, 2006

    I’d like to see my gravatar’s cuttlefish hat on everyone. It’d certainly add to the gaiety of nations.

  15. #15 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 1, 2006

    Hey, who’s the painter of that penguin, R.o. Palau? It looks familiar.

  16. #16 Matthew Cromer
    February 1, 2006

    Actually the idea that your identity is embedded in your brain is just as silly as the idea it is embedded in your hat.

    I guess the bottom line is that materialists believe in magic: somehow a collection of neurons of sufficient size and complexity is supposed to — poof — generate awareness and experience. What is the evidence for this proposition? None. Have the “memory traces” ever been located? No. But the faith of reductionist materialists continues on in the face of all setbacks. . .

    Materialists view the brain as analogous to an ipod. Destroy the ipod and the music is gone with it. But the brain actually functions more like a radio — the actual awareness and memories are not part of the brain at all. The brain is a filter to focus and restrict awareness to the needs of a particular individual. But the filters are imperfect. That is why phenomena such as telepathy occur despite the disbelief of reductionistic materialists. . .

    http://amethodnotaposition.blogspot.com/2005/08/category-scientific-studies.html

  17. #17 Ginger Yellow
    February 1, 2006

    “I guess the bottom line is that materialists believe in magic: somehow a collection of neurons of sufficient size and complexity is supposed to — poof — generate awareness and experience. What is the evidence for this proposition? None. Have the “memory traces” ever been located? ”

    Um, yes. If you activate individual neurons you can trigger specific sensations and memories. Similarly if you take away chunks of people’s brains they lose memories and other manifestations of consciousness. Seems pretty clear to me.

    “That is why phenomena such as telepathy occur despite the disbelief of reductionistic materialists. . .”

    You silly, silly man.

  18. #18 Patrick
    February 1, 2006

    hopefully there will always be people who know that one’s hat does not dictate who one’s friends and enemies are, and that there is no right or superiour hat. people who know that a hat can provide a sense of community, and should strengthen the bonds between peoples and bring them together, regardless of differences in headwear. i wear a certain hat because things in its history move and inspire me, but don’t really care what you choose to wear. Porkpies, skullcaps, berets, fedoras…it’s all the same in the end, really.

  19. #19 Fed Up
    February 2, 2006

    “The brain is a filter to focus and restrict awareness to the needs of a particular individual. But the filters are imperfect.”
    Thus the necessity for the Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie
    http://zapatopi.net/afdb/

  20. #20 Republic od Palau`
    February 8, 2006

    Th cuttlefish hat pic is by an artist called Ursula Vernon – there’s also a companion pice called ‘Jellyfish Hat’, for other invertebrtate fans.

  21. #21 nemo ramjet
    August 17, 2006

    “…Actually the idea that your identity is embedded in your brain is just as silly as the idea it is embedded in your hat…”

    Let’s see you say that again with a partial lobotomy.
    -aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeecth-th-th-th…(poop)
    Bad reception?

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    October 18, 2006

    The good Mr Cromer is committing the mother of all logical fallacies: confusing ignorance with knowledge.

  23. #23 Kseniya
    December 13, 2006

    … and Mr. Cromer, obviously, has never known someone before and after a serious head injury.

    I guess the bottom line is that materialists believe in magic: somehow a collection of neurons of sufficient size and complexity is supposed to — poof — generate awareness and experience.

    Define “awareness” and explain to me how even the humblest creature on this green (ok, blue) earth fails to have some degree of awareness – awareness of the state of its environment, changes in the state of its environment, awareness of the proximinty of food, etc. Any plant that turns its face to the sun is aware, on some level, of the sun. In that case, the magic number of neurons would be… lessee… zero?

    There’s no magic threshold: it’s a continuum.

  24. #24 JD Malmquist
    April 15, 2007

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something… but there’s some irony in today’s postings. This, in my opinion, along with The Wall story, are absolutely _excellent_ examples of framing.

    Granted, you’re framing moral issues here, and not scientific ones, but I’ve always thought that The Lorax was an excellent frame on environmental issues.

    I guess it didn’t take, though, given the culture of destruction we still have in this country.

  25. #25 Phill
    April 17, 2007

    “That is why phenomena such as telepathy occur…”

    No. No, they do not occur. I’m (not at all) sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you are incorrect.

  26. #26 Steve8282
    July 13, 2008

    Please publish a book of things like this. I would buy a minimum of 10 copies for my friends and family.

  27. #27 Jim
    July 13, 2008

    But did they wear their hats to chur…oh, ha ha I see what you did there. Very nicely done, sir!

  28. #28 Nicole
    July 13, 2008

    Wow, that’s a really great analogy. As a somewhat new reader, I’m loving this best-of series!

    (Keeping my fedora, though. It looks good when swing dancing!)

  29. #29 Andrés Diplotti
    July 13, 2008

    Going hatless is a hat style too!

    /sarcasm

  30. #30 Santiago
    July 13, 2008

    One of my favourite posts on Pharyngula, and only just discovered!

  31. #31 Muffin
    July 13, 2008

    Thank you. I hadn’t read this before, but it’s really brilliant.

    Chapeau!, if you’ll allow the pun. ^_~

  32. #32 kev_s
    July 13, 2008

    Yep. The religious are as mad as hatters.
    (Sorry if someone else made this obvious comment and I missed it.)

  33. #33 MMB
    July 13, 2008

    The good Mr. Marjanovic is confusing knowledge with belief.

  34. #34 Leigh Shryock
    July 14, 2008
  35. #35 Christopher Olson
    July 14, 2008

    Oh, I get it. You’re talking about religion.

    A good alternate ending to your parable could be your realization of the Catholic Church’s supreme providence over so much of Earth, and how the Catholic Church’s leader is identified by a large pointy hat…

  36. #36 Kenny P
    July 14, 2008

    Minnesota, hats off to thee…

    I am sure PZ is refering to the Rouser!

  37. #37 Steve
    July 15, 2008

    I laughed out loud at the President’s rhinestone covered 20 gallon hat with an airhorn and flashing strobe.

  38. #38 amanda
    July 16, 2008

    The silliness being, however, that the space traveler blames the hats or the shoes on all his problems with society as opposed to a human–excuse me, Hattanian–tendency to misuse these differences and similarities. The space voyager is right, if it weren’t for hats, it would be shoes, or geographic location or skin color. The problem wasn’t that there were hats, since there is nothing wrong with wearing a hat, but that people chose to be mean to each other based on their hats. The Hattanians would act like they do even if there were no hats– but they would also be hatless.

  39. #39 Matt
    July 17, 2008

    Good article. You do the 55414 proud.

  40. #40 zay?flama
    July 18, 2008

    thanks

  41. #41 Zeekster
    July 18, 2008

    I just passed this story along to my dad who said “This has a slight flavor of ‘Oblieo & Arrow’. I enjoyed it.”

    Thanks PZ.

  42. #42 Ross
    October 27, 2008

    As much as I like the majority of this allegory, there are times where you make your satire a little too blatant. If you make it softer, a little less blatant (the punditry bit, etc), it becomes so much more poignant. I’d really urge you to keep your commentary to the social applications of religions/hats, since extending a hat metaphor into politics, even for satirical purposes, just reads as heavy-handed.

    Again, a wonderful allegory, especially the wearing-hats-in-foreign-countries and hats-off-during-sex bits.

    ~Ross

  43. #43 RickrOll
    December 18, 2008

    An elegant mix of George Carlin and Douglass Adams. A comedic tour de force! brilliant!

    *applause*

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