You are born into a society to two loving parents. During the first few years of life they raise you with caring and compassion.
At age 5 you go off to school. There, your teacher teaches you many things, including basic mathematics. Once day, she starts covering basic addition, enumerating equations such as,
1 + 1 = 2
2 + 2 = 5
3 + 3 = 6
4 + 4 = 8
And so on. The fact she’s teaching you that 2 + 2 = 5 doesn’t bother you at all or raise any alarms. She’s your teacher, you’re the student. She’s an authority figure, you’re just a small child. She must be right. 2 + 2 = 5. You don’t even think about it.
As you get older and rise through the grades at school, all the other teachers repeat 2 + 2 = 5, and grade your mathematics papers accordingly. You become accustomed to getting As or at least Bs on all of your math homework. You are happy.
At home, your loving mother cares for you, often reminding you that, good, honest, caring people always use 2 + 2 = 5 when doing any math. Saying 2 + 2 equals any other number is selfish and wrong. As you become a teenager, your strong, masculine father, whom you love very much and want to make proud, often puffs out his chest and booms that “real men” make damn sure that 2 + 2 = 5. Only “idiots” and “pussies” say it equals anything else. The boys on the playground sometimes say (or at least imply) the same thing. So do all the cute girls you’re suddenly becoming attracted to.
Your family often takes you to church. There, the pastor often gives rousing, fire-and-brimstone sermons about how 2 + 2 = 5, and those who believe it equals any other number are sinners, are evil, and will go straight to hell when they die. You certainly don’t want to go to hell! You redouble your efforts on your math homework, confirming always at that 2 + 2 = 5 in any equations you work on. Your teachers nod approvingly and continue to give you good grades.
You become a little older, 18, 19, 20 years old, and begin to form political opinions. The right-wing conservatives on Fox News and talk radio often talk about those who believe 2 + 2 does not equal five are disgusting degenerates who are violating the Bible. They’re also unpatriotic and don’t give a shit about their country to whom they owe so much freedom.
Surprisingly, the progressives and left-liberals also hate people who don’t believe 2 + 2 = 5, though their opinion is a little different. Those who don’t believe 2 + 2 = 5, they say, are selfish and racist. They hate poor people, hate teachers, hate children, and especially hate women. They’re complete assholes who don’t care about anyone but themselves.
After all of this you are very thankful you’re not one of those people. 2 + 2 = 5. Thank goodness.
You become an adult. You move out, get a job, and get your own apartment. Your newly found freedom is nice and you can’t wait to start your own life in the real world. You are happy and full of optimism.
Something very peculiar happens one day. You are balancing your checking account at the end of the month. The Quicken software you use, like most of the other bookkeeping software, assumes that 2 + 2 = 5. Yet for some reason, all the numbers add up wrong at the end of the month.
In frustration, you decide to do the mathematics yourself on paper, and amazingly, end up with the same problem. The numbers just don’t add up right. Weird. Finally you forget about it and go out with your friends.
For the rest of the month, it’s chaos with your checkbook and your bank. You keep bouncing checks and debit card charges, pissing off vendors, and getting charged overdraft fees by your bank. It’s maddening.
However, when you talk to your friends, you notice they’re all complaining about the exact same problem. It seems that pretty much no one can balance their checkbooks correctly. Just about everyone you know, no matter how smart or educated they are, are constantly bouncing checks and having trouble with their monthly finances. Over time, this becomes a normal thing to you. Eventually you just stop noticing it. You just accept that this kind of problem is a normal thing that everyone has to wrestle with.
A year later, you go do do your taxes. You fill out a few forms, and mail them in. You’re excited, because it looks like you get a big fat refund from the government! Awesome. You anxiously await your refund check in the mail.
What comes instead is an angry letter from the government saying that all of your numbers were wrong on your tax return, and that you actually owe them $6,000 in back taxes. Needless to say, you’re furious. You don’t have $6,000. So you work out a payment plan with them, and angrily start paying the government every month, in addition to your usual bills and taxes.
Your anger is alleviated a little, not much but a little, the next day when you hear all of your other co-workers bitching about the same thing. They were all told that they did their taxes wrong and owed way more than they should have. There is much frustration. Intense anger is directed at the government and politicians. There are even whispers of government conspiracies.
The long years wear on. For some reason you don’t understand, every time there are numbers involved in your life, you have constant, massive problems. “Why is this happening to me?” you ask, “I’m a good, honest, moral person. I’m doing everything I was ever told to do. This should not be happening to me.” Your only small comfort is that just about everyone else you know is also suffering the same problems to varying degrees, so at least you’re fitting in and people approve of you.
One day you’re sitting at a coffee shop, glaring into your smartphone, angrily grumbling about how you’ve discovered you’re paying way more interest on your car loan than your budget ever called for. You strike up a conversation with another fellow sitting next to you. He’s a nice guy, but there’s an air about him that’s very unusual. He seems to be much happier than most people you run into, and a little bit of a smartass. Regardless, he’s fun to talk to. He introduces himself as Whitelizard.
As you start going on and on about all the problems in your life, Whitelizard smiles knowingly, like he’s heard it all before. Eventually he stops you and says, “I’m going to tell you something. You’re not going to like it, and you’re not going to agree with it, but if you actually do it, it will completely turn your life around for the better.”
Curious, you ask, “What? What is it?”
“2 + 2 doesn’t equal 5”, Whitelizard says with a glint in his eye, “Actually, 2 + 2 = 4.”
Instantly, you jerk away from him like he just slapped you in the mouth, and you glare at him like he’s a madman. “What the hell are you talking about?” you scream, “That’s insane. Everyone knows that 2 + 2 = 5. Are you some kind of idiot?”
“I know that’s what you’ve been told,” Whitelizard says, nodding sadly, “What you’ve been told is wrong. Why do you think you’re always having these problems with numbers? Why do you think everyone you know has the same problem? Is this some kind of big coincidence? Of course not. It’s because 2 + 2 = 4, not 5.”
“That’s ridiculous!” you laugh, “2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. You’re full of shit!”
“Let me show you something,” Whitelizard says. He pulls out two coins and places them on the table. “How many coins are there?”
“Two,” you say, still visibly upset.
“Okay,” Whitelizard says, “Now I’m going to add two more. Okay? 2 + 2.”
You shrug as you watch Whitelizard slowly place two more coins on the table.
“Now,” he says, “2 + 2. Count the coins.”
You count the coins. One, two, three…four.
Wait a minute. That can’t be right. One, two, three…four? This just can’t be right. This Whitelizard guy is some kind of magician and he’s pulling some kind of trick on you. Or he’s a hypnotist and he’s somehow deluded your mind. Or he’s put some kind of drug in your coffee. Or…or…something. This…this just can’t be right. With this clear evidence of something disproving a basic rule of life that you’ve been told your entire life, you explode with fury.
“Fuck you man!” you scream, “You think you’re so fucking smart! You think you know everything! This little thing with the coins? It’s all bullshit. You’re making it up. You’re just pissed off at mathematics! You’re just trying to sell me something! You’re a shallow, selfish prick who hates women and you’re going to hell, dude. Fucking asshole!”
You grab your coffee and storm out of the coffee shop. It’s been a very long time since you’ve been this angry. What a jerk that guy was!
Later that month, you pound your desk in frustration as you get more notices from the bank about some new overdraft charges. Then suddenly you think back to that strange guy at the coffee shop. He was clearly crazy and obviously an asshole, but would it hurt to try out what he said in a very small way?
Carefully, you get up and close the door to your home office and close the blinds so that no one sees you. Then you carefully balance your checkbook and the transactions in your checking account just like you always have, but this time, you do it with 2 + 2 = 4, not 5.
When done, you sit dumbfounded at the results. For the first time in your life, your totals come out perfectly and your entire checkbook balances to the penny.
What. The. Hell.
You don’t really understand what you’re seeing. This can’t be right, but yet there it is.
You try it again. You go to figure interest on your car loan using 2 + 2 = 4. Again, all the numbers come out perfectly. Still disbelieving, you try it a third time, doing some math on some measurements for a homemade bookshelf you’ve always wanted to make. And again, it works perfectly.
You start to get a little excited. It’s like you’ve suddenly acquired some kind of superpower no one else has.
Over the next few weeks, you very quietly start switching all the math you do from 2 + 2 = 5 to 2 + 2 = 4. You’re very secretive about it and tell no one. If anyone actually found out you were doing this, you believe they would call you a sick, selfish, evil asshole who hates children and you’d probably lose your job and lose all of your friends. You certainly don’t want that! So you keep it all on the down-low.
Yet despite this, for the first time in your life, everything starts to work perfectly. Soon you’re one of the happiest people you know.
A few years later you’re walking down the street and bump into a guy who looks familiar. To your shock, it’s Whitelizard.
“Hey man!” you say excited.
“Hey,” he says with a smile, “How have you been?” He’s his usual happy self, and it’s almost as if he’s forgotten you screamed at him the last time you talked.
“I have to tell you something,” you say. Then you pull him aside, glance around to make sure no one is looking, and say quietly, “I tried that 2 + 2 = 4 thing. It works! I mean, holy shit! It actually works! I can’t believe it’s this easy!”
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Whitelizard says with his usual smile.
“Look, I’m sorry I yelled at you and called you an asshole, back then…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Whitelizard says, “I was telling you something the exact opposite of what you had been told your entire life by everyone in society you loved, trusted, or looked up to. Of course you’re going to be upset. Anyone would. I don’t blame you. I’d probably react the same way. Hell, it took me many years to accept it myself! But hey, at least you had the courage and independence to actually try it out. Most people just get angry, stubbornly stand their ground, and go back to their lives of up-and-down chaos. You’re one of the few who actually tried it. And now you know. I’m just glad you gave it a shot.”
“Me too,” you say, “Just…”, you look around carefully, “Keep your voice down, okay? I don’t want anyone to know I’m doing this. My dad would hate me and my girlfriend would break up with me and my boss…”
“Look,” Whitelizard interrupts, “Soon, you won’t give a shit what those people think, and you’ll find that once they see you’re happy, they won’t really care and will still love you anyway. Then you’ll be truly free. But I realize this is still new to you. One step at a time.” He smiles and slaps you on the back.
You talk for a bit longer, shake hands with him, bid him farewell, and continue down the street.
You look up and smile as you walk. The sun is shining. It’s going to be a good day.