Archive for June 14th, 2022

The Emperor's New Clothes

In the large town where the emperor’s palace was, life was joyous and happy; and every day new visitors arrived. One day two swindlers came. They told everybody they were weavers and that they could weave the most marvelous cloth. Not only were the colors and the patterns of their material extraordinary, but the cloth had the strange quality of being invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or unforgivably stupid.

–Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes

In the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor was overly concerned his public appearance. Playing on this, two swindlers come into the kingdom and convince the emperor that they are the most magnificent tailors he has ever encountered. These faux tailors tell him that they can weave the most magnificent cloth and make him a remarkable suit of clothing. They say it will be invisible to those who are unusually stupid, incompetent or unfit for the positions they held.

The emperor goes big for this idea, thinking that such a suit of clothing will enable to determine who is wise and should be trusted and who is stupid or unfit and should not be trusted with any position of power. He employs the tailors at great expense to weave the cloth and make him the clothes.

Looms were set up and remained empty even as the swindling tailors said the fabric was being made on them. The emperor sent many ministers and other officials to check on the progress of the suit and the swindlers would take them to the loom where they would exult over the nonexistent fabric. They would describe the beauty of the colors and the pattern and the officials stood in rapt attention, nodding and oohing and aahing even as their own eyes told them that nothing was there.

Not a single person would say that there was nothing there. Nobody wanted to be marked as stupid or unfit in the eyes of the king.

The weavers brought the clothing to the king and convinced him that the suit was so light that it felt like wearing nothing at all. When the emperor cried that there was nothing there, they called in his court and, being afraid to be seen as either a fool or unfit, they exclaimed how marvelous the clothing appeared on the emperor. Emboldened by the silence of his court, the emperor decided to parade his new suit through the streets.

The people of the kingdom had heard of the amazing fabric that would be invisible to the stupid and the incompetent. So as the emperor strode naked before them, they cheered with rousing approval.

That is until a small child exclaimed, “ But he hasn’t got anything on!”

The crowd tried to shush the child but soon a whispered buzz was going through the crowd. The child was right!

The crowd cried in unison, “He hasn’t got anything on!”

The emperor shivered and blushed.  Knowing that it was true, he continued his parade with his toadies holding up his nonexistent train behind him as he marched.

I ran the above version of the Hans Christian Andersen fable several years ago. It seems pertinent this morning.

The Andersen fable was first published in 1837 but is based on a Spanish fable from around 1335. There was also a similar Indian fable that predates even that. The idea of a vain and inept public official being propped up by toadying underlings willing to continue the farce is not a new idea. It is evergreen and extends across all nations, indeed.

I believe we are at the part of our own pitiful version of the tale where the emperor (or the emperor wannabe in this case) is bared to all for what he truly is– a fraud willing to sacrifice our system of democracy for power and piles of other people’s money.

It’s a shame that it has taken so long to get to this juncture in the story. Many folks have been saying that he has no clothes for years and years and it seemed obvious with even the most basic scrutiny. But his courtiers wanted to keep their places of power and his adoring crowd of follower wore, along with their red hats, blinders to his swindle, refusing to believe the proof before their eyes.

It’s sometimes easier to continue the farce than admit you have been swindled.

Of course, this parade of fraud is not over. There is more to come, unfortunately. But at least someone has cried out, “He hasn’t got anything on!”

And no sane or sensible human can dispute that.

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