MY COLLINS dictionary defines the word ‘fool’ as: 1) A person who lacks sense or judgement. 2) A person who is made to appear ridiculous. 3) An idiot or imbecile. 4) A professional jester living in a royal or noble household.
Any or all of categories 1, 2 and 3 can realistically apply to the majority of politicians, who are supposed to represent their constituents and make decisions with their country’s best interests at heart. It is the fourth category that I’m interested in, because herein lies a fool whose role was of major importance and much more than simply providing amusement.
History is replete with examples of people close to those in power who were classed as fools. There is a rich bedrock of monarchs and rulers who kept these people by their side as arbiters of truth and wisdom. They were seen as messengers from the Almighty and were revered by those who kept them. Among the best-known was William Somer, Henry VIII’s much-loved constant companion. He features in a 1545 painting at Hampton Court Palace of Henry and his family, indicating his importance in royal life. (Somer is in the arch on the right, with a monkey on his shoulder.)
Why werefoolsconsidered so important that kings would want them as their intimates? The typical picture we have is of a jester with colourful costume who pranced around providing entertainment. There is much more to it than that. Those who became close to royals were ‘natural fools’; today we would describe them as having learning disabilities. But why would such people have such an exalted and valued position with those in power? Politics has always been about factionalism and intrigue, not to mention betrayal, disloyalty and treason. Those in power have always been at threat from those who wanted to usurp them. A ‘fool’was totally loyal to his master and would speak out without fear or favour in that master’s best interests.
‘Natural fools’ were recognised as special beings. Their directness, lack of guile, complete lack of ambition, sense of humour and special talent for seeing and indeed saying the unthinkable, at a time when the same words spoken by anyone else could result in the loss of their head, was much valued by royalty. Believed to be closer to God and closer to the truth than other people, they were seen as soothsayers, founts of wisdom and loyal trusted companions in a sea of sycophancy, obfuscation and deceit. ‘As please your Grace,’ said William Somer, ‘you have so many frauditers, so many conveyers and so many deceivers to get up your money, that they get all to themselves.’ We would understand this as ‘auditors, surveyors and receivers’ which was Somer’s way of telling his King that he was being exploited by those around him.
If these ‘fools’were simply people with learning difficulties, what are their modern equivalents and how do we see them today? I’m reminded of Rain Man, the film in which Dustin Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic savant. Raymond is sensitive, fearful and incapable of looking after himself, but possesses a brilliance with numbers superior to modern computers. Whilst Raymond may not be a direct comparison to ‘fools’gone by, he possibly had much in common with them. I once employed a gentle, sensitive, humorous soul who was totally naive about world affairs and incapable of looking after himself. Like Raymond, he had a phenomenal memory and could remember every number-plate in the factory car park and to whom it belonged. There were more than 100 cars. Where does this magical talent or insight come from? And does it give us an inkling as to what the human brain/spirit/psyche is capable of becoming? If this is the case, then the drive to combine Artificial Intelligence with humanity in the form of transhumanism is redundant, not only in its evil intent, but in the possibility of humanity’s own natural development. Perhaps, as that brilliant and humane historian Neil Oliver says, ‘We are not a finished piece – we are a work in progress’.
It seems to me that the court jester would be infinitely preferable to the fools in charge at present.