Truth-tellers, Court Jesters and an Emperor’s Wardrobe Malfunction (Part A)

Truth-tellers, Court Jesters and An Emperor’s Wardrobe Malfunction – Part A

Calvin Mulligan, Futurescapes21C, April 7, 2018 All rights reserved

Once upon a time…
When I was a small child growing up on the farm in the fifties, and it was time for bed, my parents had two sources of bedtime readings. One was a “best of” compilation of iconic bible stories and the other a treasury of classic folk tales. This was my introduction to the Hans Christian Andersen fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” 1
Over the course of my youth and lengthy career, my influences and inspiration have come from an eclectic mix of the mythical and the real, the living and the dead. The nameless boy in the crowd in the Andersen tale stands tall among my heroes. In fact, my appreciation for his role in awakening a town to the nakedness of their vain emperor has continued to grow over the years. 
Wikipedia captures the essential elements of this instructive 1837 Andersen fable. 
A vain emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two weavers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is either unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid”. The emperor’s minister cannot see the clothes themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions, and the emperor does the same. Finally, the weavers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him, and the emperor marches in procession before his subjects. 
The townsfolk play along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all, and the cry is taken up by others. The emperor suspects the assertion is true but continues the procession.2
 A strange, long term kinship
The essence of a good fable is that its value, like that of gold and wisdom, endures. The best fables come to life and inspire. This one certainly had that effect on me. This mythical kid’s influence has been life-changing. I often wondered about the fate of this outspoken truth-teller in my adult years. After he was hustled home from the public square by his mother and father that day, what happened? Did his parents reward his honesty with a pat on the back or some serious paddling on another part of his anatomy?
It’s not a trivial matter. Let’s pretend for the moment that such an event, involving real life characters, actually occurred. An affirming pat on the back and “thanks, son” could have inspired a life of bold truth-telling. The lad could have grown into a young man with an unshakable commitment to reason and courageous truth-telling. Harsh punishment followed by days of lecturing about the importance of conforming to official pretence would have encouraged a different response and pathway. The young man might well have concluded that self-deception and equivocation would be a far safer approach.
I’ve secretly hoped that the parents wisely encouraged their son’s honesty despite their initial nervous embarrassment. Perhaps I needed that outcome. Over the course of a forty-year plus career, one needs well-anchored mentors with their eyes clearly fixed on the horizon in order to resist dangerous tides. Without them, we are likely to become disoriented and drift. When the clamour of the crowd engulfs us, the voice of wisdom recedes and then we are unable to resist even a self-imposed delusion?
The thought of what might have happened were it not for the kid’s outburst that day is troubling. The emboldened scam artists would have continued to pursue more outrageous cons. The emperor’s insecure advisors would have continued to enable the scam. The Emperor’s vanity would have kept him a captive of an illusion perhaps leading to a descent into a fantastical never-never land. And the enthralled towns folk would have remained obedient prisoners of state-promoted delusions. Meanwhile, the real business of the kingdom would have suffered from neglect leading to further social and economic decline. In short, bold truth- telling averted catastrophe.
So, I shamelessly drew upon this mythical example of uncomplicated, objective truth-telling throughout my consulting career as an analyst and futurist. Ultimately, it’s probably the most important contribution a consultant can bring to organizational analysis, planning, decision-making and strategy development. And there can be any number of occasions when it’s of vital importance. Managers are vulnerable to organizational group think disguised as virtue and myth-making. It was on such occasions that I summoned the spirit of the Emperor’s nemesis.
Candidly, my record was mixed. There were occasions when, still smarting from my last experience as an unwelcome messenger, I relented. Concerns were understated or placed in a lowly footnote. There were certainly times I yielded to the old maxim concerning the need to choose carefully the figurative “hill” that I was prepared to “die” on. And there were times I deferred to the feel good call for team solidarity. 
There were other occasions, however when I deliberately ignored the pressure and the temptation to “tell ‘em what they wanta hear.” I insisted on presenting a “warts and all” analysis and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. Despite its claims to the contrary, there are times management reveals a distinct lack of appetite for harsh truths. And there are times when organizational cultures, corrupted with the virus of political correctness fall prey to dishonesty. Employees are urged to “keep things positive.” My overarching philosophy was a commitment to tough love. Why should those paid the highest salaries and granted the most influence need to be protected from unpleasant realities? They are adults and dare to call themselves leaders. So they should be expected to resist the lure of the latest idol and lead. Sometimes, telling truth to power means overcoming the apprehension of colleagues. On at least one occasion, I recall being encouraged by colleagues to “dampen down” my analysis as management wasn’t prepared for so quite so much reality.
The decline of the court Jester 
The mythical lone boy in the crowd is an archetype of the court Jester, or fool, a role whose importance is vastly underestimated in today’s political establishment. More than sixty years after first hearing the Andersen tale, my desire to “keep it real” hasn’t abated. If anything, my sense of calling as it relates to exposing the deceptions of our time has strengthened. Perhaps it’s a reflection of family history or it’s in my genetic heritage. 
There’s some evidence that in the ninth century, our family served as bards in ancient Ireland. I don’t know if their duties encompassed the provocative duties of court jester, but I’m happy to ponder the possibility. Perhaps that job requirement was encompassed with a footnote at the bottom of the job description, “including other duties as assigned.”
Here’s some background on the ancient role of the European court jester.
An individual court jester in Europe could emerge from a wide range of backgrounds: an erudite but nonconformist university dropout, a monk thrown out of a priory for nun frolics, a jongleur with exceptional verbal or physical dexterity, or the apprentice of a village blacksmith whose fooling amused a passing nobleman. Just as a modern-day television stand-up comedian might begin his career on the pub and club circuit, so a would-be jester could make it big time in court if he was lucky enough to be spotted. In addition, a poet, musician, or scholar could also become a court jester.

The recruiting of jesters was tremendously informal and meritocratic, perhaps indicating greater mobility and fluidity in past society than is often supposed.
Court Jesters in Russia were accorded an essential freedom according to this account. 
A man with the right qualifications might be found anywhere: in Russia “they were generally selected from among the older and uglier of the serf-servants, and the older the fool or she-fool was, the droller they were supposed and expected to be. The fool had the right to sit at table with his master, and say whatever came into his head.”3
That was then, this is now, and I can’t help but wonder where all the jesters have gone.  I’m talking about those dedicated and courageous enough to expose deception, fakery and dangerous royal illusions. Some readers are likely to counter that they are alive and well in the media and entertainment sectors and in opposition party politics. That too is an illusion.

You see, the fourth estate was declawed and neutered decades ago.4 Yes, a few brave comics risk their careers and program sponsors and skewer the powers that be. But Hollywood is suspect, largely because of its willingness to serve as a propaganda machine.5 What about political opposition parties? It’s not uncommon today to find more commonalities than differences in policy positions between the two main political parties that take turns governing Canada and the US. Critics in the US note that for decades until now at least, voting Democrat or Republican made little difference in terms of foreign policy. In this regard, establishment Democrats and the GOP blend into a single political entity, a Neocon-inspired “war party.”6
Today the role of genuinely critiquing the Emperor or the political establishment largely falls to a brave few independent analysts and independent and citizen journalists in the alternative media. And it’s limited to only those who aren’t afraid of offending Twitter, YouTube or its advertisers. Their courage notwithstanding, the risk of digital censorship, hangs like a sword over their heads.7
The emperor lives
As I’ve said, the more memorable fables are timeless. One hundred and eighty one years after it was published, Andersen’s tale can be easily applied to our current social-political context. It seems that our society is in the midst of a dangerous descent into a valley of dark untruth.  Author Ralph Keyes’s 2004 book, The Post Truth Era described the trajectory of our drift more than a decade ago. He described an era characterized by dishonesty and deception. He goes farther and warns of the risks inherent in this path.
Post truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It erodes the foundation of truth that underlies any healthy civilization. When enough of us people peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality, Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth. 
Keye’s continues: We are perilously close to that point.8 

Fourteen years later, this analysis is about as sobering and prescient as it comes.
There are other parallels between Andersen’s fable and our current post-truth society. Most, if not all of the key characters are present. We live in an era of irrepressible political con men (some masking as PR consultants) keen to exploit the baser instincts of those governing us. Spineless political operatives and bureaucracy-dwelling yes-men and women are legend. We have our share of vain emperors and empresses (called Prime Minister, President or Chancellor) intent on imposing their reified delusion on their unsuspecting subjects. And, the sheeple remain every bit as suggestible to the imaginings of their emperor as those in the fable, if not more so. What about courageous truth tellers? Until recently, I was doubtful that there were any suitable representatives of this figure. But I’ve changed my mind on that score in the last year.
A version of the Andersen fable is playing out in real time in Canuckaland (Canada) under the reign of Emperor/Prime Minister Selfieous. I imagine a scene in 2015 when the PM was outfitted with his metaphoric political attire following his electoral victory. Picture a small group from the PM’s inner circle including two of his key advisors and his tailor assembled in a room at 24 Sussex Drive for the occasion.
The room is abuzz with excitement. PM Selfieous commissioned his two key advisors (“Bee” and “Tee”) to search out a reliable supplier of Prime Ministerial political attire. Bee and Tee have returned from their mission with a rack of suits and a rack of casual attire for the PM’s consideration.
Now, it’s time for an unveiling. The PM’s tailor rolls a rack of rather expensive looking suits and casual wear into the room. The PM is clearly excited as he strongly believes that 21st century politics is 95% optics and 5% policy substance. “The stage” may have been the thing in Shakespeare’s day; today it’s the costume. 
PM Selfeous: Whoaa …so what have you got to show me?
Advisor Tee:  Well, Prime Minister… Hmmm…“Prime Minister”… that sounds good doesn’t it…
I think you’re going to be very impressed with what we have to show you. We are going to present the very latest in PM attire styled exclusively for you by the House of Rothschild. It’s crafted from their Soros Globalist line of Neoliberal Identity Politics.
PM Selfeous: Alright…. tell me more.
Advisor Bee: These items are made from a high performance synthetic fabrics indistinguishable from older natural fabrics. House of Rothschild clothing is stylish, highly functional and extremely durable.
PM Selfeous: I see, but what what do you mean by, uh… “highly functional”?
Advisor Tee: Well PM… on the one hand these fabrics are capable of repelling even the strongest political critique coming from opponents…
Advisor Bee:  ….and when it comes to deflecting controversy, let’s say, at the risk of sounding old school, they are seriously “teflon-like”… you will be nearly bullet proof. 
PM Selfeous: I like the sound of that.
Advisor Tee: … and, as you can see, these fabrics are also very eye-catching, in part because of their reflective sheen. So this makes them highly conducive to virtue-signalling and dog whistle communication with select special interest groups… like your feminists, Islamists, LGBT++ activists, and aboriginal constituents, for example. 
These fabrics also are highly resistant to any charges of employing doublespeak that may be levelled at you by dissenters. 
PM Selfeous: Really?…that’s amazing. Give me a few minutes. I’m going to try some of these  on.
Advisor Tee: Sure. Let’s let our tailor do her work.
Advisor Bee: The applications vary with the particular constituents of course, but ultimately this kind of political apparel confers a high degree of moral superiority with a social justice vibe. Any Evangelical Christians and traditionalists challenging our progressive programs will  come off sounding positively primordial by comparison. This means that they can be easily be discounted and quickly side-lined in any political debate.
PM Selfeous: Admiring himself in the mirror. This is uh, uh…almost too good to be true. Are you sure?
Advisor Tee: You can bank on it PM…the manufacturer tells us that this is the most advanced political attire on the planet. The fabric has only been made available to a very select clientele. And, in a country like this, this clothing will be comfortable irrespective of the political climate rain, snow or sunshine.
PM Selfeous: I’m impressed.
Advisor Tee: There’s one more surprise feature. If you look closely, you can see the jackets and pants have breakaway panels, allowing for super quick wardrobe changes.
So, let’s say you’re meeting with a group of manufacturers at 10:00 am and then rushing to a meeting with your multicultural advisory committee at 12:00 noon. You can easily change from bespoke suit to casual pants and jacket in a matter of seconds. You’ll be every bit as much of a quick change artist as  theatre performers and Hollywood actors.
PM Selfeous: Anything else?
Advisor Bee: Let’s just say that you will be Canada’s first PM to wear a fully weaponized political wardrobe.
PM Selfeous That’s fantastic. Good work Tee and Bee. I’m going to get our tailor to do some adjustments on some of suits so we can have them ready to wear next week.
And, let’s have my media advisor set up my calendar of public appearances so I can uh… test drive these babies. I don’t know if you thought about it, but this wardrobe is going to complement our Sunny Ways theme very nicely.
Advisor Bee: Consider it done, Prime Minister.
PM Selfeous: Thanks… job well done.
Two weeks later, PM Selfeous proudly showcases his corps of new MPs with a triumphant Sunny Ways-themed walk to Parliament Hill. It’s a glorious day and he is looking resplendent in his Identity Politics power suit selected for the occasion.  
In subsequent weeks and months, the PM and his photogenic family are celebrated in a variety of glossy magazine puff pieces. It’s magical. Mesmerized fans bask in the reflected splendor of their beloved leader’s fame. His Liberal backers and political advisors ponder the dizzying possibility of securing a lock on power. From the vantage point of PM’s office on the Hill, the political landscape in Canuckaland never looked better.
1 The Emperor’s New Clothes, a translation by jean hersholt, The Hans Christian Andersen Centre,
2 The Emperor’s New Clothes, Wikipedia,
3 Fooling around the world: The history of the jester, Fools are everywhere, Beatrice K. Otto,
4 The CIA and the Media: 50 facts the world needs to know, 21st Century wire, September 10, 2015,
5 Why Hollywood war propaganda like ‘American Sniper’ is so effective, Carey Wedler, Anti-Media, January 26, 2015,
6 The war party marches on. Chuck Baldwin, Russia Insider, The Daily Coin, October 30, 2017, 

7 Censorship archives, 21st century wife, (January 13, 2018 to December 14, 2010,
8 The Post-Truth Era: Honesty and Deception in contemporary life, Ralph Keyes, Saint Martin’s Press, 2004, Amazon,
 To be continued….(c) Futurescapes21C, 2018. All rights reserved 

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