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Against April Fool’s Day

Why is there an unofficial holiday in which people lie to each other in the hopes of their lie not being exposed until those who believe the lie are shamed because of their credulity? On the face of it, it is odd and cruel. The limited laughter it produces is not worth the price.

Perhaps April Fool’s Day is a way to train people to be more critical in evaluating truth claims. No one should believe outrageous claims on insufficient evidence. That is true. However, many pranks on the first day of April are not outrageous, but believable. These lies serve no purpose at all, except to embarrass people who believe false things for good reasons. This undermines trust and inflicts unnecessary embarrassment on people who are doing their best to know reality. Further, some outrageous claims end up being true and reasonable, such as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Some April Fool’s reports are so transparently false and entertaining that we know they are jokes. The Eagle’s Cry, the student newspaper of West Anchorage High School, ran an April fool’s edition every year. When I was on staff in 1975, we featured a story reporting that I had joined the ROTC. It featured a photo of me, a long-haired hippie, wearing a faux military hat while saluting to the camera. No ROTC student could sport long hair, and everyone knew it was false. It was an (unjustifiable) dig at the military, but no one believed it. I am not concerned about that kind of thing. Rather, if a spurious truth claim undermines genuine trust in testimony, it is off limits to those who value knowledge (justified truth beliefs).

Basic to human belief systems in general is trust in testimony. We cannot doubt everything consistently nor should we. If person S says P, unless there is reason for suspicion, it is justified to believe that P is true—whatever day it is. Those who believe April fool’s lies have usually committed no epistemic crime. They simply forgot that this day enshrines lying for amusement at other’s expense.

For these reasons, if anyone values truth, knowledge, and trust, she should abandon this culturally-enshrined practice of prevarication. Let April 1 be April’s Truth Day.

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