Happy April Fool’s Day: The Real Joke Happens The Rest Of The Year

Posted on April 1, 2009

0


So, this is April Fool’s Day. And what have you done? Another year over. A new one just begun. 

As far as I can tell, there is no genuine consensus on the origin of April’s annual day of pranks. Even so, there is a dominant theme that runs through many of the educated guesses I’ve come across. More often than not, the original April Fool seems to be a person who does not act in accord with some massive top-down shift in the world order — like a substantial shift in the calendar — and continues to act in accord with the previous world order as she or he understands it. They are fools because they have failed to — or refuse to– act in accord with the new world order.

So, on this reading, the holiday is essentially about about humiliating and ostracizing a person who is not “in-the-know” and who is not even necessarily gullible. It is, in other words, a kind of celebration of group-think and one can even imagine the day being invented by some community leaders to hasten the adoption of the new calendar / new world order. From this perspective, however, one could easily argue, it is those who are “in-the-know” who are the truly gullible because it is they who have accepted a wholesale re-ordering of the world as they know it simply because the Pope (and the parish priest) said so. The fool, from this perspective, is no fool at all because he is not changing his judgments, his beliefs, his practices for the sole reason that some community leader has said so. 

In modern times, it seems the most notable and often talked about April Fool’s pranks involve media outlets, media personalities, and other opinion leaders in the community who leverage their de facto authority to dupe the very people whose trust they normally inculcate. For me, this seems to me to be a bit like “bully-day”– that is, a day when bullies really get to beat the snot out of the weak and they are meant to take it like good sports. The rest of the year these opinion leaders demand trust and even resent critical responses to their stories and, yet, on this day, people are fools because they accept the stories they are told. I suppose it is possible this represents an effort on the part of opinion leaders to remind us that they can’t always be trusted but it seems to me that it is more about people with de facto authority spitting in the eye of the people who trust them and publicly mocking them for it as well. The real April Fool’s joke is that people mostly accept what they are told by their opinion leaders all the other days of the year.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I can’t help but reflect on the G20 summit in London, the protests, and the recent efforts by our opinion leaders to address the world financial crisis. Over the past few months, a story has emerged about the best way to deal with the financial crisis (bail-outs, stimulus / deficit spending) and it has been more or less crafted by a fairly small group of officially recognized opinion leaders who stand to benefit the most from these efforts. In response, a counter-story has evolved which is as influenced by opinion leaders as the first. One of these accounts may be the best or neither may be the best. The only question that really matters : how do we figure out the best solution to this problem.

The real lesson to be drawn from April Fool’s day, I think, is that a person should not blindly accept the opinions of our leaders (whether they wear pin strips or not) and that each of us must exercise our own judgment independently. In some instances, a person may end up playing the fool because those “in-the-know” are wrong and sometimes a person may end up playing the fool because he or she is in fact wrong. There are no guarantees. Even so, the best hope that we have for arriving at the best solutions to our challenges and problems is if each of exercise our judgments independently, aim for the best answer, and allow for a convergence of judgment rather than letting opinion leaders of whatever stripe manufacture our consent. 

A very merry April Fool’s Day.  And a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear.

For more of my social and political commentary, click here.