The Emperor’s New Clothes

Being blessed with my first grandchild earlier this year was probably the impetus that caused me to start thinking about fables and stories I’d like to read to my grandson when he’s a little older. Most of those old childhood tales had a moral to teach. I was reminded of one of my favorites, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. This is the story about the vain king who commissions two unscrupulous tailors to make him an exquisite suit of clothes. The tailors tell him they’re going to make a most miraculous suit out of fabric that is invisible to those who are unsuited to their jobs or are just plain stupid. They go through the motions of sewing this beautiful suit with this “invisible” fabric. When finished, they pretend to dress the king in the elaborate costume. The king can’t see the suit but of course, he’s never going to admit it because he doesn’t want to be thought of as unfit or stupid. The same goes for all his subjects. As the king proudly parades his naked body through the streets, he’s met with “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s”, everyone pretending they can see and approve of the king’s new clothes since none of his subjects wants to be thought of as unsophisticated or even stupid. That is, until a small child who doesn’t understand the implications of his actions, blurts out the obvious, “But the king isn’t wearing anything at all!” The wisdom of this story certainly went way over my head when I first heard it as a child. But now that I’m adult, thinking on this simple tale again made me realize that something very similar is happening in our society today. I see it coming to pass on a macro level now. Many segments of society today are acting exactly like that king and his worried subjects by denying reality, too afraid of what others will think of them to step up and say, “But this isn’t correct!” This is happening in many segments of life today.

Let me ask you a simple question, some of you may be too young to remember, but do you remember when it was a compliment to be called discriminating? The opposite of that was accepting anything regardless of its true value. We’ve lived through the decades where “discrimination” was the key word and an impediment to progress, now the new touchstone is “Diversity.” That’s wonderful, especially since this a positive word, not a negative. But I’m here to caution that there is a downside too. Accepting anything even if the results of acceptance are detrimental is not always prudent.

Our educational system, at least in the US, has decided it’s acceptable to teach two areas of morality though morality usually is a taboo in academic settings. These are: don’t hurt others (bullying) and don’t look down on others that are different (diversity). Who made the decision to accept these two morals in our school system but exclude others is a good question, nevertheless they have been institutionalized. Anti-bullying has been specified to include emotional bullying in addition to physical bullying. No problem there except that my computer spell check doesn’t think it’s a valid word yet, but it will catch up. The other moral, diversity, is taken to mean accepting differences in behavior or appearance is natural and proper. And this concept has been extended to mean we have the duty to allow all behaviors that do not specifically hurt others. Again, that’s wonderful but can you see the downside? Here’s where the Emperor’s clothes make an appearance.

Accepting without questioning is the Emperor’s clothes study coming to life. If society tells us, warns us that it’s inappropriate to question the advisability of any new mores in society, like the Emperor’s new clothing style, we stifle rather than expand the growth and evolution of society. What comes to mind is the plight of a fellow sociologist, Mark Reginus. Dr Reginus did what all sociologists are taught to do, question and explore the consequences of societal actions. His problem was he chose to explore the outcomes of a diversity issue. That’s an unwritten rule among social scientists, you don’t question any issue that’s connected with diversity, especially not the current hot topic of homosexual behavior. Reginus thought it appropriate to wonder what were the consequences of Gay and Lesbian adoptions. He soon found that was forbidden especially if he were to uncover any possible negative consequences. Colleagues from around the country were alarmed, questioning his professionalism. He almost lost his position until cooler minds finally prevailed. He was forced to realize “Diversity” is sacred in social science. Most all activities are acceptable in the name of “Diversity,” except questioning diversity itself. Like the Emperor’s Clothes, just leave it alone, the Emperor (the powers that be) has decreed. Such an attitude, in my opinion, is an impediment to science research.

Where I personally draw the line is advocating or not discouraging an activity that is hurtful. Single parent families provide a good example of what I’m talking about. We know the long term outcomes for most children of single parents are clearly toxic. The findings are clear, children of single parents are 20 times more likely to be in prison than the average child and many times more likely to drop out of high school, I needn’t go on. The problem is to question one’s right to expose children to a life of extreme trials is to deny diversity. We’re told to celebrate diversity. Clearly here diversity (a deviation from the two parent family) is not the best course. Sociologists know better but do little to suggest alternatives and solutions. But as the ancient Proverb (16:25) says, “There is a way that seems right to a man; but in the end it leads to destruction” (destruction of society in this instance); our society could very easily warn of the usual deleterious results of single parenting, do whatever possible to discourage it and take positive actions to alleviate the negative consequences. (And throwing money at the problem is not a solution. That merely disguises the problem and does little to eliminate future issues.) Can’t we tell the truth, Single parenting, as we know it today, is often destructive to our way of life and then do everything humanly possible to caution against it. Unfortunately the laws now do the opposite. I have friends and acquaintances, men and women, who tell me they are forced to live as single parents to get the welfare stipend they need to survive. Why not conceive of laws that encourage families to live together with the benefit of decreased crime and an increased work force that’s better educated? I can think of many constructive options here, but they’d all be dismissed because they would discourage diversity. To applaud a single parenting life style in an inner city setting as just another life style is not diversity, it’s foolishness.

We have the ability to innovate. We’ve proved that with our revision in terminology. Once we called this life style “Out of wedlock,” but some felt that was intimating that society was forcing adults to choose marriage as the preferred life style. That of course limits diversity even though the traditional life style provides outcomes that are far more desirable for children.

Unfortunately, at this point in life style evolution diversity appears to be more important than preferred outcome. In deference to our sensitivity to discrimination and diversity, “Out of wedlock” became “single mother” then in consideration to gender bias we now call them “single parents.” We’ve done a great job in innovating what we call this family style, why can’t we innovate preferred outcomes instead? The reason is simple, whatever we do, some group is going to feel slighted. In our climate, avoiding hurt feelings now is of primary consideration, the victims, little children and adolescents, are of lesser concern.

Our society has made strides in teaching that automatically concluding being different need not be looked upon with suspicion and innovating is rejuvenating. Now we need to stress that there is an immense difference between diversity and preferential outcome. In seeking cures for the victims, we can’t be afraid of hurt feelings. We aren’t afraid to call someone a liar if he persists in misleading the community, for instance. Realize there is a big difference between accepting for you an experimental life style and promoting that life style without real evidence that the new life style leads to long term improvement or at least acceptable outcomes. The Emperor’s subjects in the fable demonstrated that fear, fear of what others think of us and fear, fear of what the powers that be will do to us, is the motive for accepting what we know to be inferior. We’re all working for a better society but accepting what we know deep down is not constructive and may not be an improvement in the long term is not a scrupulous path. Let’s be sure the new emperor’s clothes are as durable, as warm and as fashionable as the ones we are being urged to cast aside.