The Emperor's New Clothes: A Revised Version
by Dylan Evans
Suddenly, from within the crowd, came the high-pitched voice of a child. “Look! He's got no clothes on! The emperor is naked!”
All eyes turned towards the child, and then to the parents, whose faces had gone red with shame. The father grabbed the child by the ear and pulled very hard, while the mother clapped her hand over the child's mouth and looked apologetically at those around her. One by one, the people in the crowd turned their faces away, back towards the emperor's procession, and resumed cheering.
The parents hurried away with the naughty child, and as soon as they were home they sat him down at the kitchen table for a serious talk.
“Of course he's naked, you stupid child!” exclaimed the father in disgust. “Everyone can see that!”
“But why were they all cheering then?” asked the child, his eyes wide with confusion. “Why was everyone complimenting the emperor on his wonderful new suit?”
“Because the emperor and all his courtiers said that he was wearing a new suit,” replied the mother. “The emperor paid that French fashion designer a lot of money. The fashion designer said that it would seem invisible only if you had no sense of beauty.”
“But that's not true!” whined the child.
“Of course it's not true,” shouted the father. “For heaven's sake, are you really so stupid? Haven't we taught you anything?”
“But if it's not true,” pleaded the child, “why do people say it?”
“Don't you know anything about the way society works?” demanded the father. "Lies make the world go round. Lies are the foundation of all human dignity, all social decency, all civilisation. Do you want us to go back to being savages? Because that's what will happen if we stoop to telling the sordid truth.”
“Sshh,” said the mother, placing a calming hand on the father's shoulder. “Don't be too harsh with the child. Maybe he is autistic after all. Remember what the school psychologist said last year? Maybe we should get him tested again.”
“Yes,” said the father, “I'm sorry.” He looked down at the child, whose face was still contorted into a horrible expression of puzzlement. He smiled, and the child's face began to relax. “Go to your room,” he said in a lower, softer tone of voice.”
The child went out of the kitchen, leaving the mother and father alone with each other. The mother looked sad.
“I thought we had brought him up properly!” she sighed, her eyes downcast.
“We did,” said the father. “We shouldn't blame ourselves. But it's like the psychologist said. Some children just never get it. They never mature enough to understand the value of lying. It's a biological condition, a genetic disease.”
“What shall we do?” asked the mother.
“We'll probably have to send him to a special school,” said the father. “It'll be tough for him. You know how long it takes him to adjust to new places.”
“Okay,” said the mother. "But let's not tell him. Not yet, anyway. No need to shatter his precious illusions right away.”
“Quite,” said the father, and they embraced. g
Dylan Evans is the author of several popular science books, including Emotion: The Science of Sentiment (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Placebo: The Belief Effect (HarperCollins, 2003). After receiving his PhD in Philosophy from the London School of Economics, he did postdoctoral research in philosophy at King’s College London and in robotics at the University of Bath before moving to the University of the West of England where he is currently Senior Lecturer in Intelligent Autonomous Systems. He writes regularly for Guardian and the Evening Standard, makes frequent appearances on radio and television, and often gives talks at festivals of science and literature. In 2001 he was voted one of the twenty best young writers in Britain by the Independent on Sunday, and was recently described by the Guardian as "Alain de Botton in a lab coat." He also does occasional performances as a DJ at literary events such as the Hay Festival of Literature and the Orange Prize for Fiction.
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