If you recall the Hans Christian Anderson story known as The Emperor’s New Clothes, two weavers promise to fabricate for their rather stupid monarch a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. For some reason, the Emperor thinks this is a great idea and pays handsomely for the one-of-a-kind attire that will allow him to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.
The conniving tailors stitch no fabric and pantomime delivering the “invisible clothes” – which they, of course, can’t see (since there is nothing there) – and the Emporer pretends to be able to see (so that no one realizes just how incredibly stupid he is).
When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his “new clothes” – actually his “birthday suit” – none of the adults dares to remark on the Royal Nakedness. They might be put to death for disagreeing with the Emporer who was “displaying” his new finery. Finally, a confused child blurts out the truth, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Out of the mouth of a babe came wisdom.
But was it right for the mythical child to question the Emperor’s authority? Regrettably, the story doesn’t mention what happened to the honest youth.
And why didn’t the adults question the Emperor’s authority? Simply because they feared punishment. The general public went along with the Voice of Authority, that of their arrogant and ignorant ruler. The story implies that contradicting the official party line could have dire consequences, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Still, opposing authority is a time-honored tradition that has spawned many a great tribe or nation.
Before we go any further, though, what exactly is an authority? Oxford Dictionary defines it as:
“The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; or the confidence resulting from personal expertise.”
Without a doubt, our country was founded by Questioning Authority.
Every year US citizens celebrate our Great Nation’s birthday on the Fourth of July, marked by the signing of our Declaration of Independence. We explode fireworks which represent the “rockets’ red glare” of our American Revolution, when, in 1776, We the People won our freedom from British Authority, that being England’s King George III and his Parliamentary Government.
In the wilds of “New England,” “Old England” ruled by law throughout the Colonial territories. What British King George III said, went. He was a profiteer, with debts to pay from the Seven Years War with the French, so he imposed more and more taxes on the Colonists.
From 1765, the New Americans began to tire of British taxes on sugar and molasses. We weren’t paying up, in fact, due to widespread smuggling. In 1773, greedy, Authoritarian King George III proclaimed a brand new tax on his Colonial subjects: a tax on TEA.
One thing you surely didn’t want to mess with, in those days, was Tea Time. Most Americans today don’t understand that when British types don’t “take” (their term) their afternoon tea with some finger food – around 4 or 5 pm – they get grumpy and completely out of sorts before dinner. The modern-day equivalent of this tax on tea would be to add a $1 tax on a single can of a certain soft drink that rhymes with “Joke”. That would be $6 added to the price of a six-pack. Ouch.
Need I say that news of this new tax lifted quite a few white powdered wigs…on both men and women?
We the Colonists had had enough of British authority. We went beyond Questioning it and Disobeyed it. We overthrew the legal British monarchy completely, and divorced ourselves from Britain, becoming the fledgling One Nation, Indivisible.
Was it right for Us the Colonists to question the British government’s Authority? Do you enjoy the freedoms born of the Questioning of Authority that our patriotic forbearers fought and won for Us the People?
Hopefully, you answered “yes” to both questions.
When is questioning authority sane and justified? When is it inappropriate and even unsafe?
A curious 3-year-old named Heather questioned authority. Her mother had placed a lovely, large bowl of something steamy on the center of the dining table. “Don’t touch!” the mother warned and walked into the kitchen. With mother out of sight, the toddler managed to climb up on the table top and crawl toward the tempting bowl. Good things, like soup, made steam – or so she figured. The caring parent reappeared in the doorway just as her child leaned down, with nose jutting forward suggestively, directly over the Bowl of Tempting Mystery. “Oh Baby!” the alarmed mother exclaimed with urgency in her voice. “Don’t smell the bowl!”
Now, at age three, the only person in the world with more Authority than Mother was Father, and he wasn’t home at the time. Did young Heather question authority at the tender age of 3?
You bet your life she did! As Heather’s mom watched in horror, her beloved daughter swooped down and over the bowl, on hands and knees, closed her eyes, and inhaled deeply.
“Nooooooo!” the alarmed mother cried out as she rushed toward Heather.
A sharp, pungent and indescribably awful smell greeted the child’s tender, young nostrils, followed immediately by a stinging, burning sensation the likes of which she had never experienced, nor even imagined could exist.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” she shrieked uncontrollably, recoiling from the bowl. Tears were streaming down her face and she was hysterical from nostril pain. She ran around the dining table, screaming in pain. After a few turns, Heather began to tire. Her mother lifted her up and carried her to the bathroom, where she forced cold water up the frantic little girl’s nose. That must have been fun.
After the pain had subsided a bit, while her baby was still whimpering, the mother explained what AMMONIA is: great for cleaning, but bad for smelling – poisonous, in fact. She said it was her fault that she had left a mere child alone with the Bowl of Temptation.
The takeaway of this story is, of course, that the authority figure meant no harm, only good. Generally speaking, parents love their children. Yet, children sometimes act capriciously due to their lack of understanding and experience.
Heather questioned authority at age 3 and paid the price in pain, suffering, and having to listen to a lifetime of “I Told You So”s by her mother. Heather won no freedoms through her rebellious action, born of irresistible curiosity and total willfulness.
Fortunately, We the Colonists fared much better. But King George was no concerned parent. He had morphed into a Royal Pain in the Posterior and served principally His own interests. Our forebearers’ pain and suffering TRIUMPHED over tyranny, winning our nation’s independence so that we could grow up, as a nation, and make our own mistakes.
Question Authority? YOU BET, if you are prepared to endure the consequences of your actions. If you go to court to fight a police officer’s traffic citation, you are effectively being skeptical. In that case, a judge or jury will provide the answer to your question: charges dropped or pay the fine.
But also, question the very questioning of authority: what will be the consequences of those actions? This is what conspiracy theorists and critics of governmental policy do on a regular basis because some Authority does not like to be Questioned.
The CIA allegedly assassinates people who ask too many questions about matters of “national security” and other “need to know” matters. Men in black show up in black cars with tools that make a murder look like a suicide.
Another faction reputed to “eliminate” people perceived as threats is the Clinton family. Check out this CBS Las Vegas list of “Clinton associates who died mysteriously.”
Adults need to continue challenging the official version of, basically, everything, demand honest from our leadership, and revoke trust from any government organization that demonstrates deceit or out and out treachery – because we can’t always get a child to do it.