The Importance of the Jester

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You know that in ancient times, all kings had at their courts a court fool. At some times it probably was true that the fool was a crazy person who had a certain capacity for making inapproprate remarks. It's something about inapproprate remarks that can be very funny.

I remember as a child we used to play a game in which we had cards with topics on them, and the other players would respond with their own cards: Cards Against Humanity. You were given the opptunity to respond with anything you wanted, from your hand. The most extrodinary and lavacious things happened. >The person that would make the most inapproprate remark at the right time could bring the house down. But actually, as time went on, the function of the fool became more sophisticated than that and he became a person who's function was not simply to make jokes and be a funny man, but to remind the monarch of his humanity, so that he would never, never get too stuffy.

Recall the lines in Richard the Second, where the king says:

For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?

That in a way was the function of the fool. The jester is there to remind them of their finitude, their mortality. Monks used to do a similar thing by keeping with themselves a grinning skull. Of course, nowadays this is all founds to be very morbid. We repress death very strongly. THe whole function of the mortician in our culture is to help us pretend death doesn't happen.

There isn't really any institution in society that corresponds with the court fool. There is of course political cartoonists, commentators and the like, but there isn't anyone sitting in the president's office reminding him of his humanity.

We as a society really dislike the idea of anyone telling our social institutions are not alltogether serious. We can't stand it because we are much too insecure. It really is high time the institution of the fool was reintroduced.

The above was adapted from the words of Alan Watts. I recalled these words today, and they struck me as relevant and rather important. How much trouble have we caused ourselves as a society because of how seriously we take ourselves personally, politically, as a nation, as a member of society? If we all just collectively threw our heads back in laughter as the sheer absurdity of it all, I think the world would be a slightly better place.