Monday, February 28, 2011

Wait, why shouldn't the children call the emperor a "fatty"?

The endless accomodationism rumble has gotten a bit of a shot in the arm lately with a post by Jean Kazez in which she basically comes right out and says that science/religion compatibility should never be discussed in the public square, regardless of tone -- it is just not understandable by the unwashed masses. I hadn't read the post, because, well, I don't really care. The money quote was pretty shocking, but whatever, I'm ever so sick of rehashing this fanciful idea that making an idea more visible somehow makes it less popular.

I had heard that Kazez had also said something within the same thread of posts where she extended the Emperor's New Clothes analogy to try and present the accomodationist position. I finally read the relevant passage when it was quoted over at Metamagician, and I quote it at length here:
The emperor marches along the parade route stark naked [ignore the green underwear in the picture], and the adults ooh and ahh about his finery. One brave girl speaks up and says, naively "The emperor has no clothes!" Good for her! Hurray!


Now we have the sequel: "The Emperor's Gnu Clothes." Other kids were impressed with the brave girl. They started saying the same thing--"The emperor has no clothes! The emperor has no clothes!" Soon just saying he had no clothes lost its appeal. They shouted louder and louder, and called the emperor a fatty and laughed uproariously.

Some of the adults said: "Children. You're right he's naked. The brave girl was perfectly right to say so. But you've gotten carried away. It's time to think this through. Maybe the emperor actually enjoys being naked. Maybe he really doesn't know he's naked, and he can't figure it out when you're yelling at him. Maybe when he looks at you, your clothes look ridiculous to him, too! Control yourselves, think about how you're communicating!"

This made the children very, very angry. They wanted to believe they were just like that first brave girl. They didn't want to see themselves as rude and insulting. So the children went after the adults who had chided them, and called them names, and derided the whole idea of Communicative Restraint and Politeness, which they called crap for short.

Perhaps the analogy is a bit tortured here, but I'm never one to shy away from analogy waterboarding, and in any case I think Kazez makes her point quite clearly with this story.

My question is: What's the problem?

Let's strap this analogy onto The Rack and take a step back here. Who is the emperor? In the original story, the emperor is a pompous dictator who is so full of himself that he is actually taken in by a pair of weavers who fraudulently promise him a set of clothes that are "invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent." He's rich, powerful, and so egotistical that he actually commissions a parade specifically for the point of making all of his subjects look stupid because they can't see his new clothes. Furthermore, at the end of the story, while the emperor is certainly embarrassed, he does not appear to have lost one iota of power. In fact, as the procession goes on, the closing line of the English translation I am looking at states that "his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all." The emperor is so feared and powerful that even after he is revealed in front of all his subjects as being a hopeless fool, he still commands so much power that rich guys continue to go along with the farce.

So now with all of that mind, Kazez wants to, what, make us feel sorry for the emperor that some kids are calling him a "fatty"? Srsly?!? Please, I'll trade places with the emperor any day of the week. I get to have unrestricted power over an entire kingdom, I get noblemen who will publicly play along with whatever absurd fantasy I ask, I get to be rich beyond my wildest dreams... and the only price I pay is I have to put up with some schoolkids snickering at me and calling me a "fatty"? Bring it on!!

And could there be a better analogy to the special deference afforded to religion in American society? This is so familiar... Public policy is all too often shaped by religious dogma; any American politician of any stature has to at least pay lip service to faith (and preferably Christian faith); there's a designated National Day of Prayer; people who profess to be highly religious are automatically presumed to be better, more moral people; criticism of religion in the public square will get you branded as "intolerant," or worse... and then amidst all of this, if a couple of bloggers occasionally make unkind and overly broad sweeping generalizations about Christians, the cry goes out, "ZOMG Christians are being persecuted in America!"

Please, persecute me like a Christian. And mock me like an emperor. That would be awesome.


  1. There's torturing an analogy, and then there's beating a dead horse. This one is weird, since aside from the way it's written, it could almost be an analogy for your position. The way I read it, this quote really stood out:
    "Maybe the emperor actually enjoys being naked. Maybe he really doesn't know he's naked, and he can't figure it out when you're yelling at him. Maybe when he looks at you, your clothes look ridiculous to him, too!"

    That's the best description of the relationship between science and post-modernism I've ever heard.

  2. Yeah, I mean, just all around, the "adults" in Kazez's extension of the story sound like real douchebags to me. :D I guess that makes sense -- the story is somewhat of a Rohrschach for who tends to think like an accomodationist and who tends to think like a gnu.

    In my mind, if you are clearly obviously wrong about something, and you are in a position of even modest power and influence and you are using that position to spread your wrongness -- then all bets are off. Nobody has to be nice to you about your wrongness anymore.