Foolishness

March 31, 1995|By STEPHEN VICCHIO

Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain't that a big enough majority in any town?

0$ Mark Twain, ''Huckleberry Finn''

T.S. Eliot thought that April was the cruelest month. He said it has something to do with lilacs being bred out of the dead land and memory mixing with desire, but I think the real reason is April Fool's Day. For 364 days a year most of us make perfectly good fools our ourselves without anyone paying us the least bit of attention: We religiously watch OJ. and think that Mike Tyson was a political prisoner. We watch daytime talk shows incessantly and read our horoscopes daily. Some of us deny the existence of the Holocaust, and then on All Fools Day we devise tricks to be played on the particularly gullible among us.

The origins of April Fool's Day are obscure. It might derive from the March 25 feast of the Hilaria, a day of rejoicing and merriment in the Cybele-Attis cult. It is also not immediately obvious why the French call the fooled person a poisson d'avril, an April fish, while the Scots call the victim an April gowk (a cognate of cuckoo.)

What is becoming more apparent is that April Fool's Day should be the feast day for homo sapiens as a whole. There is enough foolishness going around that almost all of us have a stake in marking the first of April as a special day. We ought to snip this day each year from the cloth of time, the way we celebrate the Fourth of July, or in the manner that some of us leave flowers pressed in the pages of family bibles. It should be a day of recognition that many of us in this life are on fools' errands.

The major problem with real foolishness, of course, is that we can't see it in our ourselves. It is about as difficult as looking at one's own ears. It is much easier to find foolishness in others, particularly those in high places. Fools in high places are like people at the top of a mountain; everything looks small to them, and, without them knowing it, they look small to the rest of us.

I used to think it was purely accidental that the beginning of baseball season comes so close to All Fools Day. Now I'm not sure. Certainly both sides of the baseball dispute have many fools in high places. I don't think they realize how small they look to the rest of us.

Among the great western European monarchies there must have been a sense that foolishness regularly found its place at the side of the king and queen. I think that is why they had court jesters, a kind of palpable reminder of the capacity and the danger of royal foolishness. The baseball owners could use a court jester, too, and the players could have a designated jester -- but just in the American League. Indeed, next year we should have opening day on All Fools Day. The stands will be packed, and everyone will be thinking the day has been named after the other guy. The owners could market little jester dolls. They will sell millions of them.

Members of Congress are earnestly debating whether they any longer need a chaplain. Some might say it is foolish to dismiss the power of prayer, though it is clear that what they really need is a court jester. They could get him to explain how we are going to balance the budget; that way both sides could avoid the political fall-out.

Aristotle thought that there is a foolish corner even in the heart of the sage. He believed the difference between the wise person and a fool in this: The foolishness of the fool is known to the world, but hidden from himself, while the follies of the sage are known to himself and hidden from the world.

Aristotle was called many things in his life. Un poisson d'avril was not one of them.

Stephen Vicchio foolishly teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.