Saturday, September 28, 2019

Clad in Motley

It occurs to me that Greta Thunberg is being deployed in a manner similar to the idea of a court jester or fool of old: someone who can tell "the powerful" things that they don't want to hear and are immune from punishment for doing so. I'm not sure of the honesty of doing so, however; President Trump and other people who are invested in current levels of fossil fuel use have shown themselves unwilling to give Miss Thunberg a pass, for either her age or her autism, and I suspect that this was part of the plan all along: she was held up as a punching bag that couldn't be legitimately punched specifically so that when she was punched, there could be the requisite outrage about it. (To be sure, however, I'm not entirely certain that things were quite as cynical as all that. But I am fairly confident that there were people who positioned themselves to take advantage of how they knew the situation was going to turn out.)

I'm not sure that there's much value in the idea of someone who can tell the Emperor that they have no clothes simply for the sake of having the Emperor look weak or unwise. To the degree that rulers did (if they ever did) have people on the payroll who were exempted from losing their heads if they said something that displeased the monarch, it's presumably because someone realized that there needed to be someone who would level with the ruler. Sycophants come into being when flattery becomes a profession; having someone around with a different line of work can be valuable.

But if one of the knocks on President Trump is that he doesn't value unflattering information being delivered to him, then he would have no use for a jester. But it's also worth noting that this characteristic isn't unique to the President. There are a lot of people, at all walks of life, who prefer to simply be told how good they are at life. And once battle lines have been drawn, they often have little patience for the news that maybe they're fighting the wrong war.

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