Jester Minute

In medieval court culture, the court jester had a rather unique – and dangerous – space carved out.  The jester provided entertainment and distraction for the ruler and those privileged to the company of the ruler.  While we think of jesters mainly as pratfall artists and masters of physical comedy or talents such as juggling, these caricatures are undoubtedly narrow and unfair.  There was also the understanding that, because of the jester’s role as master of the absurd, the jester could get away with actually speaking truth to power.  In the guise of foolishness, wisdom could be spoken.  While jesters could face punishment for this, it was also an unwritten part of their job description.  In an environment where one’s counselors, family, friends – everyone – would be inclined never to cross words with a ruler, the jester was expected to provide a tactful but honest assessment of people and situations – including the ruler and their decisions.

So I find it humorous that Britain’s best known comedian (or best known here?) – Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean and Black Adder fame – is leveling a very serious assessment of the risky road of censure his country is jogging down.  It’s a warning that we would do well to pay attention to here as well.
Although the United States enjoys a much more rigorous understanding and practice of freedom of speech, that understanding has and will continue to be challenged, generally under the sympathetic guise of preventing people from hurting other people’s feelings.  We need to recognize that no matter how sympathetic the individual case may be, freedom of speech is a benefit that benefits everyone, whereas censorship laws inherently benefit only certain people.  I pray that we’ll never have to lobby to regain freedom of speech because it has been compromised legislatively or judicially as it has in Great Britain.  We might find that even lobbying for such a reinstatement will be one of the first types of speech to be outlawed.

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