Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Emperors New Sweater

Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen and inspired by this exchange:

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes and bomb innocent people under the guise of fighting 'terrorism'. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people. Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. One foreign scoundrel, Blair, (who was well known for his lies) who had heard of the Emperor's vanity, decided to take advantage of it. The scoundrel introduced himself at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.

"I am a very good tailor and after many years of research have invented a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. I call it WMD. As a matter of fact WMD is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel's strange story and sent for the court chamberlain, Powell. Powell ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the scoundrel.

"Besides being invisible, your Highness, this WMD will be woven into a sweater in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the man a bag of gold coins in exchange for his promise to begin working on the sweater immediately.

"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you." The scoundrel asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary sweater, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called up Powell, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.

"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."

The chamberlain was welcomed by the scoundrel.

"I've almost finished, but I need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" Powell bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric called WMD that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.

"I can't see anything," he thought. "If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If he admitted that he didn't see anything, he would be discharged from his office.

"What a marvelous fabric, he said then. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The scoundrel rubbed his hands gleefully. He had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.

Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the tailor had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new sweater.

"Yo, Blair. How are you doing?" the Emperor asked. Even as he bowed his head, the scoundrel Blair pretended to be holding large roll of WMD fabric.

"Here it is your Highness, the result of hard labour," the scoundrel said. "I have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.

The farce continued as the scoundrel had foreseen it. Once he had taken the measurements, he began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with the needles an invisible cloth.

"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new sweater." The scoundrel draped the new sweater on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.

"Thanks for the sweater it's awfully thoughtful of you".

Blair replied that "It's a pleasure".

"I know you picked it out yourself. This is a beautiful sweater and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."

"Oh, absolutely", Blair replied.

"Your Majesty," Powell said, "we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit." The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.

"All right," he said. "I will grant the people this privilege." He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. Surrounding the procession was a group of the Imperial Guardsmen, toting weapons in order to shoot any possible troublemakers. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new sweater. Its beautiful!"

"What a marvellous sweater!"

"And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see any WMD for themselves, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the scoundrel had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

"The Emperor is naked," he said.

"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

"The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!" "Where is the WMD?" they asked.

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue on with his procession and his wars under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see that WMD existed was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.

Those in the crowd that day who had shouted out the truth were later detained under the new anti-terrorism legislation. The boy was taken off to the appropriately titled 'Camp X-ray' where he was tortured, and remains detained there without a trial to this day.

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