What kind of Emperor puts up with people pointing out the obvious and attempting to embarrass them? A piss poor emperor with no direction and no control over his subjects! Why, the sort of fellow that would let that pass probably shouldn’t be emperor, if he’s letting people get away with that kind of nonsense. First it’s criticizing your exhibitionism, next thing you know, you’re exiled to some island or, even worse, beheaded.

Better to nip the whole thing in the bud and get on with proudly displaying your wanger to your subjects, right?

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a rather interesting story from Hans Christian Anderson. In it, an emperor is hoodwinked by some rather crafty fellows into thinking that he is being made some very expensive and very magical clothes. These clothes can only be seen by those deserving of their position within society, allowing him to know exactly who belongs in his government. Of course, the clothes don’t really exist and the emperor, naked as the day he was born, traipses about asking how fine his “clothes” look while everyone just follows along with the lie to keep from losing their jobs. The emperor, naturally, can’t see the clothes either but his mouth stays shut as well. It’s only at a parade in His Highness’s honor that a child speaks up and declares the monarch nude that the fellow wises up.

Anderson’s story has a lot to tell us about the nature of humanity and social structure in such a short story, something I absolutely love about the tale. All of the adults follow along with this ludicrous idea out of fear and a sense of social pressure. Not minding the fact that this is obviously a farce, the people choose not to stand up for truth, but rather, sit back and accept the lie and fall victim to the scheme. Their ruler is even more ridiculous. While it isn’t exactly explicit in the story, it can be inferred that members of Royalty weren’t seen as especially bright and that their access to money, especially, was capable of leading them to some very stupid decisions.

The best part, to me, are the confidence men that perpetrate the whole thing. While it could be seen as a criminal act, the ability to convince a king and, subsequently, the entire population of his kingdom, that you’re able to create magic clothing is an amazing feat. I’m not sure what else to say about that except that they’re my favourite part of the whole thing.

The whole thing reminds us that sometimes the innocence of youth is what’s needed to reveal truth. Kids aren’t encumbered by the social constraints and the fear of reprisal or ostracism that adults are. As such, a childlike lack of regard for social structure isn’t just important, but rather, absolutely necessary if we are to recognize truth.

The pressure a society places on its members to conform and adjust their view toward the “normal” can be a healthy thing. For instance, it can lead to moderation and a sense of understanding the viewpoints of others. However, it can just as easily lead to people just jumping on the bandwagon, telling each other what they want to hear, and exerting as much effort as possible to preserving their place in the social hierarchy, leading to an inability to not just fail to assert, but also to even recognize truth that lies before them.

If all you’re doing is attempting to conform or even reacting to conformity, you aren’t able to speak up for what’s real and true.

I mean, what’s the worst that could happen if you speak up? The guillotine is sharp, you won’t even feel a thing.