In the Name of Identity - Concerning the arising of the Jesters

By Sander Funneman, Netherlands

This story took place a long time ago or it may even be in the future. Nobody knows exactly which year it was. In any case it was a time of dramatic changes, and it was also the time when the Jesters became more organised and influential. This coming together of the Jesters was causing difficulties for the national and local leadership.

A JesterJust previous to this, very different balances of power had been the order of the day. For instance, at that time ‘being right’ was determined by the function and the position of a person rather than by them being able to present sound arguments or well-grounded reasons. This system caused a desire in all people to be found to be right as well. So legally established titles, such as lawyer, manager, president, public notary and so forth, provided a person with the power to be right, but whether such people were in fact right varied from moment to moment. It was really more a matter of the effect of being right than about actually being right. It was a misleading situation, as the public, sometimes en masse, agreed that so called ‘important people’ were always right, without ever having thought about the matter for themselves. The Jesters, however, changed all this.

The first one who successfully questioned this ‘lifelong identity card of being right’ was the City Jester of Utrecht. Here follows his story, after which nothing would ever be the same again.

It was during one of the hottest summers of the century, one weather record after the other was being broken. The country was in an uproar. The philosophers, sages, senators, judges and politicians had been summoned to the Court to investigate a case involving the City Jester of Utrecht!

The case concerned a very serious matter, certainly measured against the standards of the times. In a popular chat show the Jester had admitted that, during his visits to various cities throughout the country, he had spoken words to this effect: “The so called sages of this country are conceited and confused. They do not even know who they are themselves, so how can they possibly know what they are speaking about? They say things that seem to be important but actually are not, at least not where the essential aspects of life are concerned.”

And hence the Jester had been accused of undermining the State. The parliamentary and extra-parliamentary commissions, under the guidance of the King, had prepared a small castle just outside Utrecht and it was here that the Commission of Truth started their interrogation of the City Jester. Naturally, the Court Jester of the King was not allowed to appear. Two Jesters could not be in the same place at the same time - especially not in any judicial process – this was a matter settled in law, as this double presence was considered to be too deranging to the minds of those attending.

The King opened the trial by addressing the City Jester, “you may speak first”. The Jester immediately turned to the beadle with a request to bring pens and paper. The items were brought in. Behind the large oak tables in the hall seven Scholars were seated, representatives of Science, Art and Culture, the Law, the State, Politics, the Trade Union and the Corporate World. The atmosphere was grim. The Jester was not in the least intimidated but asked the beadles in a most friendly manner, “would you be so kind as to offer each of the seven honoured representatives behind the table a sheet of paper and a pen?”, and the beadles so did. The Jester continued with his instructions, “I should like to invite my prosecutors to answer the following question - why is it so important for each person to have identity?”

He spoke with a great sense of drama, while pointing at the row of name plates in front of the 7 members of the commission, each inscribed with an impressive title. A great tumult started amidst the high representatives but after a commanding signal from the King they quietened. The atmosphere trembled with tension. Reluctantly the seven representatives turned to the task, though not without grumbling. They had the feeling that they themselves were on trial rather than the City Jester of Utrecht.

Eventually the written answers were handed over to the King who read them aloud, one by one.

The first one stated: “A fixed identity serves to prove that you are the person that you say you are.”

The second: “Identity allows us to be a single person, and thus prevents any idea of having the freedom to take on more identities, which would cause considerable difficulties in the economic running of the country.”

The third: “Identity is the consciousness of self, so that no-one will think too much about other people. An ordered society can exist only by the grace of people with an identity number and passport.”

The fourth: “Identity is the anchor point of social status. Without identity property cannot be linked to a person. Without identity money in the bank cannot be accessed, certificates and diplomas are rendered useless.”

The fifth: “Identity makes people prone to abide by the laws of the country. Identity makes it possible to hold people responsible for the consequences of their actions.”

The sixth: “Without identity no-one knows who is who.”

The seventh: “Without identity there would be no identity papers, no passport, no driving license, no purchase-deeds, no insurance, no ownership-papers, no register of population, no union membership, no titles, no honorary degrees; in short, without identity one does not exist.”

The time had come for the Jester to speak again. “It is clear that these seven very learned representatives do not have a common understanding about the importance of identity to the person themselves, although they are unanimous in their opinion about the importance of identity for everything else, except for the person. I do not blame them, but I do have some question about this. Is it important to provide us all with an identity when, so far, the only indisputable argument is that this is of importance for economic reasons? Could it be that a fixed identity would be fixing and suffocating to the development of the essence of the human’s inner lives? Maybe we need to research the matter further?”

All of a sudden the City Jester’s face clouded and he looked worriedly at the seven members of the Commission. Then he suddenly turned to the many public attending the Tribune, and pointing with his left hand at the Commission he spoke in a confidential manner, “is it not strange that they cannot agree about something that each human is deemed to possess, yet they unanimously share the view that I undermine the safety of the State? Therefore is it not strange that I am on trial because I claim that they are confused, and that they do not know who they are, and thus they are incapable of telling us the truth about things that are essential to us as humans, for the opportunity of our lives?”

When the tumult in the Hall had quietened down it was the Commission’s turn to deliver various fiery arguments. None were in favour of the City Jester of Utrecht and the atmosphere in the public gallery began to turn against him. The arguments from the Commission gave most people the impression that the Jester was pleading for a radical abolition of personality, personal style, unique clothing or even of having a mind of one’s own. The Jester became more and more isolated as his words were cleverly twisted. And so it happened that almost no-one could or would testify in favour of the City Jester of Utrecht, who quietly, and seemingly unaffected by it all, sat waiting at the table, holding his pen in front of an empty sheet of paper.

Toward the end of the process he called forth a student of the School for Jesters. This brave young woman was the only person who was prepared to speak as an expert witness in favour of the City Jester’s case. Although two Jesters were not allowed to appear in a lawsuit, the King permitted a student Jester to speak on this occasion. And she pleaded as follows, “Identity is a mystery. Identity does not express itself in the form of our body, our knowledge or our possessions. It has many layers and it changes continuously. It is always sparkling and tasteful and has neither colour nor odour, always fresh and calorie-free, without aftertaste or extraneous flavour. Identity is the substance necessary for all human life on earth. Some people can survive without water for days and without food for months, but there is no-one that can live without identity. Identity is the universal former, transformer and solver and creates the conditions for all fortunate or unfortunate situations in the world. The adhesion of the identity molecules to each other is so strong, that even when we think we have lost every form of identity, others can still recognise and identify us. Not by our body, not by our gender, not by our nationality or our bank account, but sometimes just by the light in our eyes. Identity does not know fixations, like character does. It is a higher form of art within which we model ourselves in the image of our highest endeavour. Identity is ‘work in progress’ and not an end result. It is a process, a plasma, something we ourselves promise we are or will become.”

The City Jester smiled encouragingly at his student and had the plea registered as the sole evidence in his case. Now although this case was lost and the City Jester was sentenced to a lengthy punishment of community service, the changes that had begun could not be held back anymore.

As a final note to this story, we managed to get hold of a pamphlet that the City Jester had distributed in the canteen used by those doing community service. In the pamphlet he laid out his own answer to the question:

Who am I? or, Why is identity important?

  1. Identity is a tool for making our experience conscious.
  2. Identity is the coherent condensation of conscious choices.
  3. Identity is an interface that makes what we have chosen harmonious or not.
  4. Identity is a dynamic translation station of the unknown.
  5. Identity is not something to possess but to use, to change and develop.
  6. Identity is a higher art form.
  7. In what image do we create our identity?
  8. Identity is far more what we will NOT do, to enable what we WILL do.
  9. Identity is the integrity of the many roles we take on each day.
  10. Identity is the way we react to that which is needed and important.
  11. Identity is NOT what we become through time, nationality and religion, school, our friends and parents..., but what we are by how we ourselves respond to all these things.
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