The Emperor's New Clothes: Introduction
In the classic short story by Hans Christian Anderson, "The Emperor's New Clothes," a vain emperor is sick of wearing the same sorts of clothes and wants something truly new. So two tailors step forward. The fabrics they use to make clothes are so fine and wonderful that they are invisible to anyone that is not enlightened and intelligent. The emperor likes the idea and commissions clothes but is shocked when he realizes that they are invisible to him. It would not do to have a king that was unenlightened so the king, understandably, pretends to see the fabric. He takes off his own clothes and puts on these (invisible) clothes. He strolls out in front of his ministers. But they have been warned that only intelligent people can see the clothes and while they too see nothing, they pretend – they certainly are not going to out themselves as unenlightened. The emperor, despite being a little concerned that he cannot see them, is proud to have such fine clothes and decides to show them off to his subjects. The townspeople have also been tipped off about the special cloth and, like the ministers and the emperor himself, do not want to admit that they are unenlightened. They cheer his new outfit and say nothing to indicate that they see no clothes on the king. But as the king strolls down the street, a little child in the crowd who cares nothing about appearing respectable or enlightened, announces what everyone else is seeing. “Hey, the Emperor has no clothes!” This shout destroys the whole facade. People laugh and everyone realizes that the emperor is in fact walking around stark naked.
That is us. That is Western Culture for the past 100 years or so. We have embraced one obvious and idiotically false thing after another in the name of it being enlightened. We live in this strange moment in time when our society does two things simultaneously:
1-Accepts strange and obviously false things.
2-Claims that these things can only be accepted if you are enlightened and educated enough to see them.
And everyone... on some gut level knows it. No one wants to say it because no one wants to look unenlightened. No one wants to look ignorant. No one wants to look backward.
The point of this book is quite simple. I am willing to be that guy. I am willing to be the kid yelling about the lack of clothing parading through the streets. I will shout to anyone that will hear those areas that I think we all agree are complete bull sh*t in society.
Things that we all accept as true in deference to the powers that be are obviously not true.
But this effort might not be as easy as simply being obnoxious. No one, including yours truly, is immune from falling for ridiculous things if enough people agree on them. Our minds are shaped by the culture we live in and as much as we might like to think that we are able to see clearly when no one else can, the truth is rarely so simple.
The only real way to see the ridiculous nature of your own culture is to step outside of it. But that is not so easy anymore either. I was at a restaurant in Paris a couple years ago and Kanye West's music was playing in the background. I was in Shanghai and people were telling me jokes about American politics. We live global culture. How do you step out of that?
C.S. Lewis was a man who stood outside his culture. And here is what he had to say,
“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. … Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united— united with each other and against earlier and later ages— by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century— the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ … None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” (1)
So... the upshot is this: if you really want to see the foolish aspects of your own culture... if you really want to be the child who can plainly see the nakedness of the authorities of our day.... you have to go outside of our time frame. You have to read old books. Bury yourself in history. Old novels. Old philosophies. Old political screeds. Old biographies. Reading history is good (so long as you are reading about something that is at least 50 years ago). Reading history written long ago is even better. Whatever you might gain from modern scholarship, you lose in your ability to see the naked falsehoods of our own day.
So. In my desire to be that shouting child this is what I have done. I have read old stuff. Old primary sources. Old secondary sources. Some modern histories about old stuff. Old philosophy books. Old theology books. I have done my best to step outside my own century and to live, at least for a while, in the Ancient Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Byzantine Empire, among Medieval Kings and Native American Chiefs. For the past decade, I have tried to make a good part of my life consumed with all things not in the 21st century.
You know how when you go on vacation and you come back home after a week or two away and when you walk in your door you can smell your own house? Not a bad smell but the smell of your wood floors, your plants, your dog, and your candles? But before you left, you smell none of that? This is the effect that I feel sometimes when I look at our modern society. Our society has plenty of good and bad things about it... but they are unique things that we all accept uncritically (without smelling them).
Returning to the story of the emperor... the thing about the kid is not just that he saw that the emperor was naked, nor that he didn't care about looking dumb, it was that he was sort of rude. Most of us probably tend to just look away when someone is doing something dumb but that kid made his voice heard. He called it out. In short, he was sort of rude.
Donald Trump 's son (Don Jr.) was on the TV show, The View, the other day and Meagan McCain confronted him about the lack of civility his father has shown. There was a part of me that appreciated what she was saying. I started thinking that, yeah, it would be nice if everyone acted with honor and if political debates were pleasant things where friends took turns gently trying to change each other minds. But then I thought about it. That is the sort of debate only makes sense when the issues that divide the two sides are small. You debate small things (sports, favorite movies, etc) with a smile on your face and without breaking up friendships. But what about life and death issues? If you were on a plane and a crazed terrorist was trying to storm the cockpit, you would not cheerfully seek to convince him that this was not the best course of action. You would tackle him.The more something matters, the less civility matters.
You are never going to show that the emperor has no clothes if you politely look away. It takes a certain level of confrontation. I would argue that the American left has understood this for many years prior to Donald Trump's election. I remember being a kid and hearing conservatives complain that liberals were not playing fair. The democrats didn't just disagree with Reagan.... Reagan was a "racist murderer." They didn't just disagree with GW Bush, "Bush was a lying idiot" who could be likened to "Hitler." Even as recent as Trump's SCOTUS pick, the democrats didn't just argue against Kavanaugh's judicial rulings, they accused him of gang raping women while in high school. They do this because when the stakes of an argument are big enough, you do not give a damn about civility. Trump, for better or worse, is in many ways simply a republican reaction to something the democrats have embraced for decades.
My Christian friends will ask at this point, shouldn't good Christians have a certain sense of cheerful civility to our manner? Short answer is, no. You want to appeal to scripture? To scripture we go,
"So [Jesus] made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables." (John 2:15)
Jesus rarely responded dispassionately when the poor were being abused, God was being rejected, or hypocrisy was being exercised. Instead he appears to respond with the same sort of anger that a father might have if a man was trying to abuse his child. The right sort of anger. Christians should not be focused on civility. Our job is to focus on love for God and love for our fellow man.
And we live in a moment when no small issues are at stake. Abortion is a horror. 50 million dead. Babies being butchered every day. Socialism is a horror. Poverty for a whole nation. Starvation. Religious oppression is a horror. People seeking to tax churches out of existence. Seeking to put pastors in jail for hate speech.We stand at a moment in history when the issues are not really just issues..... they are monumental moral and ethical questions that will shape our nation. Anyone that can cheerfully discuss the butchering of babies or the imprisonment of pastors doesn't really care about babies or freedom. Sometimes you need to be angry. If you are in a match with a fighter, you need to figure out how to fight or you lose. As Andrew Brietbart said, “Walk toward the fire. Don’t worry about what they call you. All those things are said against you because they want to stop you in your tracks. But if you keep going, you’re sending a message to people who are rooting for you, who are agreeing with you. The message is that they can do it, too.”
Will that result in both sides yelling at each other? Maybe...so maybe we need some fake civility to try to tamp down the yelling and or whipping with cords. But civility is not an end in itself. When one side abandons it, the other side should not stick to it as though civility was the goal. At best, civility is a tool but sometimes tables need to be overturned. And sometimes, emperors walking down the street wearing no clothes need to be laughed at.
Leadership requires unreasonableness. George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
In short, only the snot nosed uneducated kid in the street yelling at random politicians can make a difference in this world folks.
Now... if anyone "enlightened" reviews this book, we can count on what they will say. Exactly what the tailors would say to anyone that didn't see the fabric. He is simply not enlightened. He is a backward. Uneducated. Not looking at the best science. The latest study. The academic consensus. That boy, they will say, cannot see the clothes because he is a backward little boy. He is a "fundamentalist," "uneducated," and "simplistic." The book is "poorly researched." I could argue against all of this, laying out my academic bone fides and discussing the endless hours of research put into this book but that would do nothing to change their opinion because I cannot see the emperor's new clothes and therefore I must not be enlightened. It is really that simple.
But the truth is I don't think these condemnations will work. The things I am pointing out are obvious. They are plain for anyone to see. They just need pointing out.
And that is in many ways the real problem. People can see the nonsense. It is obvious and many joke about it in hushed tones around trusted friends. The intelligentsia all say the emperor has clothes. In reality, everyone can see the emperor is naked. But to say something is rude. And it is dangerous. Laughing at the king usually gets you killed. We are risking being thought hateful. We are risking being thought uneducated. We are risking being caught in the internet bleep storm, getting doxxed, and having our lives destroyed. And so, we all nod when the scholars tell us that the emperor has new clothes.
[Read Chapter 1 - Everything you were taught about race is a lie]