Monday, December 12, 2011

They Proclaimed the Emperor Had No Clothes

Perhaps it's just the side of me that's sensitive to the ways in which we disrespect one another, but when many people say (or write) those words I detect an undercurrent of judgment - "That Emperor thinks that he's such hot stuff, but he's too stupid to realize that he's naked! And people won't be honest with him because they're afraid of being executed! What a jerk!" Of course, attribution is always a dangerous game, and so it's quite likely that many people don't mean to critique "power" in the way that I take them to.

For myself, when I read the tale, I come away with a different feeling. Once closer to this Hillary Price Rhymes With Orange cartoon. I feel for the character of the Emperor because he's never portrayed as an evil man, just vain and more sadly, insecure. The two quick-witted swindlers realized that and played the Emperor, and those around him, like fiddles. Fairy tales can get away with things that would never fly in any other medium of storytelling, and the populating of an entire capital city with people who deep down suspect that they're actually frauds seems like one of those things. But I wonder if it isn't more true that we know.

This came up in the context of my asking what Occupy Wall Street had done to make people hate them so, and while I'm not sure their crime is pointing out the Emperor's nakedness, I do think that OWS had taken on the role of the boy in the crowd and threatened people with fraudulence, even if they didn't intend to do so. When you're attempting to rouse a populace to rebellion, your primary target is always their sense of Hope. People do not lay their lives on the line lightly, and if you're going to motivate them to risk everything they have, it's easier once you've convinced them that not only do they have nothing, but they have scant chance of ever getting anything. In this, I think that OWS misses the mark, and that in seeking to undermine people's hopes, they are instead, for some people, undermining their sense of Legitimacy, always a much more dangerous proposition.

I do not know that Occupy Wall Street set out to tell people that they are not as capable as they believe themselves - that instead, they are simply the beneficiaries of a wicked system of governance that masquerades as enlightened, and that in a "just" world, it would be they who lived lives of quiet desperation. Or if they are poor, that their lack of skills, brains or resources will condemn them to remain that way for life. The Emperor's chief failing was that he feared to be revealed as someone "unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid." And even at the end of the story, he feared to be called out as having been gulled through his own insecurities. Better, he and his nobles reasoned, to keep up the charade, even once the townsfolk, having lost their fear of the "magnificent fabrics'" powers to label them fools, proclaimed the truth.

Of course the simple answer, accept yourself for yourself, no matter who that turns out to be, is so facile as to be worthless. Were it so easy, many more people would have done it by now. Accept others for themselves, no matter who they turn out to be doesn't seem to be any more workable. So I am unsure of the solution to the potential problem that I have identified. Perhaps there isn't one. It's something that has escaped most of mankind of millenia - it's possible that it's simply my own hubris that leads me to think that I could find one. But, I'm a fool that way. And I'm okay with that, so I'll keep looking. And I if do it right, I'll learn to have no fear of what I find.

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