Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools.  German woodcut, 1549

Ship of Fools. German woodcut, 1549

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to learn that this is my second post of this title in two years.

“The ship of fools is an allegory that has long been a fixture in Western literature and art. The allegory depicts a vessel populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious passengers aboard a ship without a pilot, and seemingly ignorant of their own direction.“Wikipedia

The Wikipedia entry documents the origin of this image in a method that Renaissance people developed to rid themselves of their mentally challenged fellows.  As Michel Foucault put it in Madness and Civilization, “they were put on a ship and entrusted to mariners because folly, water, and sea, as everyone then ‘knew’, had an affinity for each other.”

OK, I gotta say it – don’t you wish we could send all members of the Federal government off on a Carnival cruise and hope the engine stalls at sea?

“Ship of Fools” has been a recurrent image in literature, art, and music for 500 years.  Somehow it’s comforting to to know that folly and madness are nothing new, even – or perhaps especially – at the helm of the Ship of State.

7 thoughts on “Ship of Fools

  1. Morgan, I know you and I have very different political views, but you nailed this one. Send them all out to sea and they will either learn to work together or die trying. Either way it will be a victory for the rest of us.


    • I may have told this story before – or more than once, but during the years my family lived in Europe (ages 15-17 for me), I’d notice that some of the European or Mediterranean nations would occasionally hold a “vote of no confidence,” and if it passed, the entire government would be replaced. We used to feel so super – didn’t have crude elections like that in the good old U.S. of A! Now, sadly enough, I find myself wishing we had a provision like that – to replace them all with a new slate and start fresh!

      The other thing the French population would do periodically was hold national one day strikes. Sometimes we didn’t understand what it was about, but when it happened, we’d all stay home – the trains and public transportation, the mail, and many offices would be closed. It’s a nice fantasy to imagine “we the people” being able to return the favor…

      Oh well.


    • The whole question of what is sanity and what is not is fascinating and dicey. For some Native American cultures, beings who were “touched” were holy. Jung said that in the rural town where he grew up, there were individuals he later realized were schizophrenic who were tolerated. People would say, “Oh yes, Uncle Otto is very original.”

      When I was studying psych, one teacher explained that the origin of the DSM was tests done for the army between the world wars. Something approaching 10% of troops suffered shell shock in WWI. By determining the right criteria and screening, it was reduced to 2%-3% in WWII.

      This research led to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual which defines sanity in our culture – based on those attributes that make a good combat soldier! Or, I would add, a good corporate citizen.

      “What is madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance” – Theodore Roethke.

      Now Roethke clearly wasn’t talking about the Hannibal Lecktors of the world, but he makes a point.


  2. As I am fairly new to blogging, I’ve quickly discovered that the blogosphere is a mirror image of real life on this planet – fraught with scams, advertisements, “follows” who are only trolling for someone to follow them, and an extreme majority of blogs that are not remotely interesting to me. At last, I’ve stumbled on one that makes sense, is of interest, and I feel is worth my investment of time to follow. Thank you. One comment regarding our splendid government – as we are in what? day six of shut down (and would they not have the decency to remain shut down??), a friend of mine suggested we pray for our government leaders. I responded that I am much less inclined to pray for them than to insist we fire their asses. What would happen to you or I if we walked off the job and refused to do what we are employed to do?? Our elected morons have long forgotten who employs them. Ship of Fools indeed!! Any rate, great site and i will be following. Peace, Bob


    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for visiting and thanks for the follow – a favor I was happy to return.

      As you said, not the government, but I think it’s a good time for everyone who can, in whatever way works for them, to pray for the nation and the world while they are at it. While our “leaders” dither, for instance, some reports say we’ve got about 10 years before we hit the “point of no return” on climate change:

      From the time I was a teenager, during the Vietnam era, whatever administration happened to be in power has tried to equate love of country and love of its government. Total BS.

      For a time, almost 50 years ago, people drove around with bumper stickers saying, “America: Love it or leave it.” Not long after, a reply bumper sticker appeared. “America: Change it or lose it.”

      The more things change…


      • Right on. I served 20 years in the Air Force, but gradually became uncomfortable with the expectation to blindly sing “Hail to the Chief” and wave the red, white, and blue with never a murmor of discontent. I have a long list of grievances in our historical and current social, religious, and political climate. You might find a couple pieces of interest under “Patrotism” category – short reads, but angry pieces. Thanks for you work and taking time to communicate with me. Peace, Bob


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