Emperor Has No Clothes

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The Emperor Has No Clothes is an expression based on a short story by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen titled "The Emperor's New Clothes."

In the story (a short read), an Emperor is fooled into not wearing any clothes. The weavers tell him that his clothes are made of fabric that is invisible to people "unusually stupid" or unfit to be emperor. Because of this, the Emperor does not want to admit he cannot see his own clothes. He proceeds to walk through the town. Everyone can see he is naked, but everyone pretends to be able to see his clothes because no one wants to be the first one to challenge the Emperor. The more people pretend to be able to see his clothes, the more the Emperor is convinced that they can. The lie is broken when a young child says "he hasn't anything on."

In the story, the first person to challenge the emperor is the young child who is not sensitive to social expectations. This is an example of the Einstellung Effect because the person who least understands of social signaling is the first to say the truth.

This is also an example of a [[Collective Action Problem|collective action problem]. Everyone would like to defy the bad norm and speak truth to power, however, no one wants to be the first one to do so, because acting alone would cause social repercussions.

A story that demonstrates a similar collective action problem is "The Demand for Applause" from The Gulag Archipelago. In the story, a tribute to Stalin is called for, and everyone stands up to applause. No one dares be the first one to stop clapping, so everyone continues to clap even as their hands start to hurt. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as finally one person stopped clapping, because it was an excuse for them to stop too. The man who stopped clapping, the director of the paper factory, was readily punished by the Soviet government.