Most of us have probably heard the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s banned by schools these days). The very short version is that a couple of con artists tell the emperor that they can make him a set of clothing that is invisible to people who are stupid and incompetent. The clothes are non-existent, but the emperor himself and everyone around him pretend to admire the new clothes, because they don’t want to admit that they can’t see them. Eventually a little boy sees the emperor, and loudly declares “The emperor is naked!” Everybody, the emperor included, finally realizes that the little boy is right and that they had been tricked.
The reason stories like this stick around in our cultural consciousness for hundreds of years is because they illustrate something profoundly true about the nature of that the. It’s often easier to understand these truths implicitly through a story than to actually articulate them directly. Some psychologists theorize that dramatization of a particular concept is a necessary first step to being able to understand it explicitly.
Probably the most obvious concept of this particular story is that you can get people to pretend to believe something they don’t really believe by manipulating their ego: by shaming those who don’t believe it and/or praising those who do. And this happens a lot in modern society. Think about this the next time you hear somebody pejoratively labeled a “denier” of someone else’s agenda-driven pet theory.
But what I want to focus on here is that this story is an accurate representation of the concept of groupthink. Solomon Asch’s work famously demonstrated that most people would choose an obviously wrong answer to a simple question if everybody else in the group chose the same wrong answer first. You can probably imagine yourself in this situation: the possibility of being the only person who is wrong is a lot more unsettling than that of everyone being wrong. You don’t want to be singled out as the one idiot in the room, so you follow the herd.
The emperor and his advisers and all the townspeople in the story played along with the deception because they didn’t want to be singled out. You can get a lot of people to play along with such a deception, especially if you can get early buy-in from someone of high social standing. Like, say, an emperor.
To follow the Asch experiments further, he found that all that was needed to give the study participant enough confidence to give his true answer instead of the false answer of the rest of the group was for just one other person in the group to give a different answer first.
This truth is illustrated beautifully in the story in the character of the little boy. All the emperor and the advisers and the townspeople needed to drop the whole façade was to hear just one person speak the truth. And it’s not a coincidence that that one person is a child. A child is one who has not yet developed the stifling self-consciousness that starts to dictate much of our behavior around junior high on through the rest of our lives. This incredible freedom from ego might explain in part why the archetypal child is venerated in stories and religious traditions.
If you guessed that I was going to start getting political with this, then you’re right. Suck it up, buttercup! This story strikes me as a perfect parallel to the concept of political correctness. Political correctness is, at its essence, a set of socially accepted lies, which few people actually believe, but to which everybody must pay lip service or else be singled out and publicly shamed.
The shaming in this case mostly comes in the form of character attacks. You’re an evil person, a bigot, etc. Of course, they try to fit in every other angle too. You’re a dumb yokel, you’re uneducated, you’re just mad because you can’t get laid (attacking someone’s sexual self-worth is actually the most effective form of shaming–if it’s plausible), etc.
I hope you’ve noticed the irony in both cases. In the Emperor’s New Clothes, in order to avoid being judged as stupid and incompetent, the people act in a way that is stupid and incompetent. People adhere to norms of political correctness because they want to be perceived as having good character, but in doing so are actually revealing themselves to be morally weak and cowardly. Though to be fair, standing up to the political correctness mafia often results in more tangible consequences than mere social shaming, such as losing your job, getting sued, or getting sucker punched by strangers. But even still, a truly courageous person will be willing to risk such consequences.
Which, at last, brings us to Donald Trump. If you haven’t already surmised, Trump is the little boy. The mainstream media has not been shy about labeling Trump as “childish”. And they’re right, in part. That’s exactly why so many people like him so much. And why the peddlers of lies hate him. He is the one self-assured, defiant little boy willing to speak truths that nobody else in such a high position is, and the whole edifice of lies is crumbling as a result. Haiti and most African nations ARE shitholes. And the emperor is naked.