Many times—like most of you—I rant about the incompetence of the politicians and government employees—not as frequently as I used to do it in the past, or at least not in social media. But what makes the situation more infuriating sometimes is the obviousness of the issues or the solutions, yet it seems politicians in power cannot see it or refuse, simply because it’s easier to turn a blind eye on the matter.
And with the elections peeking at the horizon, is that I pondered on understanding this collective phenomenon affecting not only governments but also private companies and other social hierarchies.
I speculated about the potential root causes, wondering if it could be apathy, nepotism, corruption, or any other of the endless list of usual suspects, but I found the answer I was looking for in a work of fiction.
Recently I read a short-story compilation from Hans Christian Andersen containing his most well-known stories, like The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling or The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but also contained a few I’ve not read before. Among those there was one which caught my eye, because it presented a perfect analogy of the issue I was describing.
The Emperor’s New Clothes tells the story of a monarch in a distant land which was exceedingly fond of new clothes, who cared about nothing but being well dressed. One day two swindlers paid the emperor a visit and offered him to weave the most magnificent fabrics of a special cloth which will become invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.
The emperor thought those could be the clothes perfect for him, since it would allow him to discover which of his men were unfit for their post and separate the wise from the fool. So, the emperor paid a large sum of money to the two swindlers who set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms, and they bagged for themselves the requested silks and gold thread.
Every time the emperor sent a trustworthy emissary to supervise the project, returned praising the craftmanship work. So, the emperor went himself, and upon arrival, he found the looms empty. The swindlers rushed to ask the emperor his thoughts about the clothes, and he, like all previous emissaries, questioned himself if he was a fool of unfit for his charge at being incapable of seeing the clothes. So, for not reveal himself as a fool or unfit for his charge in front of his entourage, he also praised the work.
To celebrate his new attire, the emperor paraded through the streets of the city wearing the invisible clothes, until a child dared to ask why the emperor was naked, and the entire town joined the child’s cry.
Fearful, the emperor suspected they were right, but he thought, “This procession has got to go on,” so he walked more proudly than ever…
And taking from this Hans Christian Andersen’s story is how we distill three concepts to explain the ineptitude of the politicians:
- They don’t want to show themselves as unfit for office. Recognizing the existence of issues and even more difficult, recognize the incapability to solve them, puts the public servants under question of the voters. And they don’t want to put in risk their fat paychecks.
- They don’t want to appear as fools before the public. For that reason, almost all politicians are incapable of recognizing their mistakes, and they will keep pushing doomed initiatives just to avoid looking like fools, because “the show must go on.”
- In all hierarchical structures, there is an intrinsic fear of pointing out stupidity. We might have culturally inherited this from our monarchic era, when contradicting the ruler could be punished with death, but we are terrified of voicing our disagreement to our superiors. And this fear exacerbates proportionally, depending on how autocratic the leader of the organization is. Speaking about most third-world countries where politic parties operate like crime organizations, or are still ruled by dictators, the case is lost.
What is sad, is that since April 1837 when the story was first published, it seems like politicians have changed a little, and we keep observing the same behavior since the times of Hans Christian Andersen—at least I hope politicians did change in his natal Denmark.
It is worrisome for me we celebrate living in this age of information technology, but we cannot find out the basic facts to address the issues affecting our society. But all the time I see people fighting on the internet like techno-Neanderthals, supporting their tribe to defend the cause that their emperor is not naked…
But what are your thoughts? Are these the actual causes of government ineptitude?
M. Ch. Landa
PS. If you want to read the full short story, please visit: