America, we need to have a talk. First, we get that the whole multiple personality disorder thing comes with the territory. You know, pluralism and all that. But we need your personalities to work together a bit more. For instance, the racist bully personality, let’s call him “Trumpster” (since we need a name for him and that one just came to mind), needs to chill out. And the “na-na-na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you!” personality needs to get its fingers out of its ears and its head out of its ass. You’re all in the same body…, politic…, so you’re going to need to get along.
Second, yeah, pretty flag, nice camos, love the rousing military music, but, you know, you have neighbors. Those other countries, they keep complaining about how noisy you are. You’re keeping them up at night. Just, you know, turn it down a little. No, “liberty” does not mean pissing on other people’s doorsteps and through their open windows. And that informal national anthem: “We’re the greatest, that’s why you hate us, so eat my plutonium, mother f***ers!” It’s a catchy jingo,* but the rest of the world is tired of hearing it…, and increasingly concerned.
Third, populism, democracy’s demented cousin. Sure, democracy is a great thing. We love it. The Greeks Loved it. The British loved it. Power to the people! But too much of a good thing isn’t all that good. It’s okay to let surgeons perform surgery without getting upset about how elitist it is that the hospital won’t let your drunken Uncle Donald cut into that 230-year-old kid’s chest and poke around a bit. I mean, “let’s give him a chance,” right? What harm can an ego-maniacal ignoramus with no skills, no sense, no filters, and no awareness of his own rather striking array of brightly lit deficiencies do with a scalpel, a patient unconscious on the operating table, and a reckless indifference to anyone else’s welfare or rights possibly do?
Let’s agree that “democracy” doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the least well-informed and least well-reasoned positions on complex issues should prevail as long as there are more idiots than experts in a country. Let’s agree that just because the people with your skin color and religion and sexual orientation have enjoyed centuries of screwing everyone else shouldn’t mean that that’s right and good and should continue unabated. Let’s agree that “freedom of religion” doesn’t mean that no one else is free to practice theirs because you consider their doing so to be an infringement on yours.
Now, you’ve screwed up, big time. You’ve Charlie-Sheened us into a disastrous state of affairs. You didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid; you snorted cubic meters of the raw powder while jerking off with a plastic bag tied over your head. It’s bad. Really bad. But we’ll forgive you for fucking everything up, for placing this nation on the path to self-destruction and infamy, for endangering multitudes of innocent others, for crapping on the Founding Fathers’ graves and spray-painting obscenities on their monuments and calling it a tribute, for sticking a perverted comic book inside the covers of the Constitution and pretending that what you’re reading there is the actual law of the land; we’ll forgive you, if you just help us clean this mess up. Okay?
We know you’re not too bright, and we know you mean well (well, some of you, maybe), and we know, in any case, we’re stuck with you –like the weird, psychopathic, deformed relative locked in the attic that keeps getting out– so, please, just help us clean this mess up, and all is forgiven.
Or, at least, go lock yourself back in the attic, where you belong, and let the sane among us, the rational among us, the responsible among us, the knowledgeable among us, the humane among us, govern, as intelligently, and wisely, and fairly as we can. Because, as you love to say, this isn’t a democracy; it’s a republic, and the reason why it’s a republic is because the Framers of the Constitution strived mightily to prevent toxic stupidity and bigotry such as yours from actually ruling us. Thanks to you, their dream has now been supplanted by everyone’s nightmare.
(*Yes, that was intentional.)
This post is inspired by a recent interaction on Facebook, far too similar to far too many other interactions, in which someone appalled by the fact that human beings are capable of thinking and acting like human beings (or what human beings should be) responds with a spittle-laden string of childish pejoratives, including such timeless gems as “retard.”It is a stock post, to be linked to each time, thus saving me both the time and tedium of actually responding to these creatures.
I prefer to be neither the person who initiates such mindless belligerence, nor the person who responds to it in kind, because both are unappealing and assertively unimpressive. If I respond by, for instance, noting that my detractor appears to be a bit of troglodyte, my detractor is likely to note that while he merely “referenced” the empirically demonstrable fact that I’m a “retard,” I engaged in “typical liberal name calling” in response, which is “pathetic.” (True story.)
Far be it from me to knowingly engage in such “typical liberal name calling” (as opposed to the more respectable conservative preference for calling those they disagree with “retards,” of something similar, over and over again, in this case always in all caps…). Instead, I offer this one word response: Really?
It’s telling what you focus on most about my posts: their length. Not their content, but their length. Those long posts, that discuss economics, history, law, demography, and numerous other lenses that are relevant to the political and social issues discussed on these threads, err by having any substance, by failing to be shallow expressions of blind and reactionary bigotry.
To you, economics is irrelevant to economic arguments, history irrelevant to historical ones, an understanding of how law works irrelevant to an argument about legality, reality irrelevant in general. The realization that good public policy isn’t defined by legality but that we must continue to refine legality in service to good public policy is completely beyond your grasp. The notion that one must use their minds to understand their world is completely foreign to you. The possibility that your arbitrary and unconsidered beliefs could possibly be anything but the absolute truth is as beyond your reach as it has been to Inquisitors and Jihadists, who share with you the same destructive modality of blind ideological certainty, expressed more in terms of hatred than of hope, more antagonistic toward humanity than constructively in its service. That’s what defines you.
You often assure me that I wasted my time, that there’s no way I could ever change your minds. Of course I know that: Changing the minds of the mindless is beyond the reach of the best formed arguments; appealing to human decency a joke to those steeped in the toxin of belligerence and bigotry. But juxtaposing what reason in service to humanity looks like with what you represent is a lesson for any others who are not as far gone as yourselves. These threads are read by an unknown number of silent lurkers, who have the chance to choose to be reasonable and decent human beings.
So, my spittle-spattering spokespeople for the far-right rejection of reason and civility, of concern for humanity, may you enjoy the elongated reach of your pre-human limbs to all the more effectively pat yourselves on the back for such wit and wisdom. Such simian sophistication deserves only praise, and certainly a treat from one another as mutual trainers, for it far surpasses the prowess of, say, single celled invertebrates. And, truly, how much higher do any of us expect you to aim at this point?
(Thanks to Andy Lewis for posting this Daily Show clip on my facebook page.)
This brilliantly funny, and wonderfully “equal opportunity” satirical skewering of columnist Froma Harrop, plays on a seemingly almost universal failure to make the distinction between humanity and civility. Before I discuss that in more detail, check it out:The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c Civil Disservice www.thedailyshow.com Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook
Harrop clearly was, by most definitions, “uncivil” in her representation of Tea Partiers as “economic terrorists,” but she may not have been unreasonable in her assessment. And while it is uncivil to use such language, if it is used well, as a vehicle to oppose irrationality and bigotry, then it may not only be consistent with a commitment to humanity, but actually mandated by it. (There is a related but not identical discussion in The Basic Political Ideological Grid, in which both the form and substance of discourse combine to define where it falls in an ideological grid, or space.)
(A quick disclaimer: I am not arguing that it was used well in this case, or that it really was a productive use of “uncivil” language. I remain unconvinced one way or the other in this particular instance.)
“Humanity” means applying the best analyses to the most reliable information in service to human welfare, without prejudice, and with passion and commitment. “Civility” means being polite and non-incendiary while doing so. Both are generally worth striving for, but the former is far more important than the latter, and occasionally the former is served by breaching the latter. Harrop’s principal mistake was in presenting herself as an advocate, and presiding over an organization dedicated to advocacy of the latter when in reality she is an advocate of the former and not particularly committed to the latter.
She made several other classic, interrelated mistakes as well: A lack of wit, of humor, and of humility. She wasn’t nimble enough to recognize the inconsistency between her official commitment to “civility,” and her marginal breach of it at the same time. She wasn’t gracious enough to see the humor in that inconsistency. And she wasn’t wise and humble enough to admit that it is a complex and subtle world in which we live, and that striving for these ideals is not the same as attaining them.
Here’s what she could have said to John Oliver: Civility isn’t an absolute value that supersedes all others. To take extreme examples, if a genocide is occurring, I am not bound by the rules of civility to refuse to participate in an effort to stop it by any means necessary, including physical violence directed against the perpetrators. If my country is being invaded by conquerors, I am not bound by the rules of civility not to defend myself against them. Clearly, there are some times, at least at the extremes, when acting “civilly” isn’t necessarily the course of action recommended by a commitment to humanity. This is a lesson that Neville Chamberlain, and all who were counting on his commitment to civility, learned the hard way.
Political discourse and action that is non-violent should never be met with violence, but irrational, self-destructive, or hateful non-violent political movements might reasonably be met with strong non-violent language in service to humanity, even if such language is “uncivil.” If a racist organization preaches racism, I am more concerned with stopping that ideology in its tracks than in avoiding offending those who are preaching that odious doctrine. If I can shame them or their followers, or humiliate them with a forceful articulation of why their ideology is odious, even using metaphors and imagery that might be considered “uncivil,” I would feel very well justified in doing so.
Obviously, Tea Partiers and others in their ideological vicinity would argue that their ideology bears no resemblance to such odious ideologies as racism, and so my analogy is moot. But therein lies the crux of the matter, for I disagree with them, and either of us might be right in our assessment. If I am right, in both my assertion that incivility can sometimes be required by a commitment to reason in service to universal goodwill, and in my assertion that extreme Tea Party ideology (not necessarily all moderate variations of it) is comparable to other odious ideologies of human history, then strong language might be justified, whereas if I am wrong on either of those points then it is not.
We gain by striving to be reasonable people of goodwill, and by encouraging one another to be reasonable people of goodwill, not by being self-righteous about it, or pretending that “we” (whoever “we” might be in the particular context) have gotten it perfectly right while others have gotten it perfectly wrong. The difficulties and challenges of a multitude of human beings with a multitude of ideologies pursuing a multitude of interests are not going to be swept away by any panacea. But the effort can be improved by advocating for certain values, and practicing certain disciplines.
Civility is among these disciplines, but, I would argue, clearly not chief among them. No one who is in reality primarily committed to humanity should claim to be primarily committed to civility, because the two are not identical, and people who confuse them will look, as Harrop did in this interview, foolish when the two are at odds and they choose the one they actually care more about. (As an aside, and in fairness, it looks like the editing of this piece, which was intended as comedy rather than as journalism, was designed to make her look like even more foolish than she may actually have been.)
The lesson is, I think, that such language should be resorted to minimalistically and with restraint, both to avoid error and to preserve its effectiveness. It is not that every “uncivil” utterance is an offense against humanity, but rather that too many uncivil utterances certainly are, and, in any case, make those that aren’t less powerful by diluting them in a flood of similar sounding noise (see Godwin’s Law, Revisited).
I’ve been sleeping on the floor in the hallway outside the kitchen for the past week, on a pile of blankets that do not add up to a mattress. My almost-eight-year-old daughter, Scheherazade (whose nickname is pronounced “sheh-DAY”), joined me one night, and fared far better than me, which is a testament to the greater resilience of an almost-eight-year-old than an almost-fifty-two-year-old (our birthdays are a day apart, or, more precisely, one day less than 44 years apart).
The reason for this unenthusiastic return to something similar to the childhood wonders of camping out under blanket tents held up by encyclopedias (from the days when encyclopedias were big fat books rather than skinny little disks) was not nostalgia, nor a fight with my wife, but rather a new puppy named Buttercup. Buttercup is a rescue puppy from Texas, apparently brought up to Colorado in a great puppy drive, perhaps with puppyboys on stick horses rounding them up as they made the treacherous trek northward to their new ranches…. Or maybe they were transported in some modern vehicle that imposes less of a burden on the puppies themselves. Probably something more like the latter.
The puppy loves us, and we love her. She loves us so much that she can’t stand to be parted from us for the night, and we can’t stand to let her roam free in the more comfortable portions of the house where I would prefer to sleep but we’d all prefer for her not to…, you know, do what puppies do. My wife is even more adamant than Schede or me that Buttercup not be allowed to turn our house into a puppified den of odors and stains, though I think her love of the puppy is softening her fear of the inevitable gradual contamination of our indoor (and backyard) environment.
And, being the chivalrous lover of puppies and children that I am, I am the family member elected by unanimous mutual spontaneous consensus among the other two human-language-speaking members (as I seem always to be in such circumstances), and possibly by the one non-human-language-speaking member as well, to sleep on a pile of blankets in a narrow hallway outside the toddler gates containing our lonely little puppy in her linoleum tiled kitchen.My wife Lolis, Buttercup, myself, and Scheherazade
It’s a happy duty to perform, uncomfortable sleep and morning aches not withstanding. There’s something about a furry little critter wanting and needing your attention that more than off-sets the minor inconveniences involved. And I firmly believe that every child should have a pet, preferably a dog (and certainly something more than a goldfish or a gerbil). It’s a chance to learn to love, and to care about others, in ways that children aren’t likely to learn in their relationship with parents they know are there to protect and nurture them. In other words, nothing is more humanizing than having someone who depends on you, and whom you love enough to ensure that they always can.
I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the human-pet relationship (because, of course, I’m a little bit intrigued by most everything). In some ways, it resembles slavery, with the animal being the property of the “owner,” and the owner lording it over the animal (“NO! SIT! COME!”). There was a time in my youth when I tended to consider it immoral for this reason.
But I have since come to see the world in a more nuanced light, and recognize that this is a type of relationship that has evolved over millenia, like many other symbiotic relationships in nature, and offers many mutual advantages to the species and creatures involved. Those animals, even wild ones confined to zoos, arguably have a pretty good deal, at least if the zoo is a particularly good one. It’s nice to be able to bask in the sun without worrying about predators, and to enjoy a meal that you can rely on. Of course, as to wild animals in captivity, a strong counterargument can be made as well, that their lives have simply been reduced in quality for our benefit, that they live most fully in the wild, predators and all.
But domestic and domesticated animals fall into a different category altogether: Their existence as species, as we currently know them, is a function of their having been domesticated. Dogs, in fact (according to what I believe is the most well-respected modern theory), domesticated themselves, by hanging around pre-historic human garbage dumps. In a sense, then, they made the overture, that humans accepted, to form an interspecies partnership, one which both sides seem to enjoy and benefit from.
I know that I’m benefiting from this one. Buttercup is a sweet and lovable little bundle of warm puppydom, a bouncing, slipping and sliding, shoelace pouncing, tail-wagging, hand-chewing source of joy and laughter. And I know that by adopting her into our family I owe her a happy and healthy life, to the fullest extent of my ability to provide it. It’s a small price to pay for such a rich source of the one thing there’s just never enough of.
I have no commentary to add to this, other than that already made in posts such as Response to a Right-Wing Myth, More Dialogue With Libertarians, Dialogue With A Libertarian, and A Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread. It’s just too irresistable to ridicule the ridiculous, and no one does it better than Jon Stewart.
Though it’s no longer timely, this spoof of Glenn Beck (who spoofs himself better than anyone else ever could) is one of my all time favorites:
There was a wonderful little work of whimsy that went viral when the internet was still young, purporting to be a college admission application essay, in which the author (actually a high school student, though not actually a college admission essay) mentioned, among other things, that he engaged in full-contact origami to blow off steam (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blbyol3.htm). Earlier today, in my ongoing quest to populate the Colorado Confluence Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colorado-Confluence/151536731532344) with a blend of interests that represent the particular mood and spirit of this blog, I “liked” the “Full-Contact Origami” page created, obviously, in honor of the aforementioned humorous romp.
I didn’t “like” it just in tribute to the creativity and humor of the essay, but also because I think the image represents something akin to what I am doing here: Folding and fashioning, not just with some appendage but with the entirety of my being, something from the fabric of consciousness which permeates us. Colorado Confluence is engaged in a kind of “full-contact origami,” striving to form fluttering figurines of thought both fantastical and functional, stretching minds in simultaneously edifying and useful ways.
If we consider our individual and shared existence an on-going enterprise of some kind, and our cocktails of conceptualization, complete with their blends of rhetoric and passions and projects, to be its perpetual product, then we can ask ourselves whether this cocktail or that might benefit from a pinch more humor, or a dash more reason, or another jigger of imagination. Perhaps in the heavy drinking of casual debate, we need to learn to go lighter on the rot-gut of dogma, and heavier on the sweet liqueur of humility. And perhaps even in the more staid environments of professional hobnobbing, we need to garnish our oh-so-serious martinis with a few more olives of whimsy.
Both the Romans (Pliny the Elder) and the Greeks (Alcaeus) famously intoned “In vino veritas” (“Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια” in Greek; “symposium,” by the way, being Greek for “drinking party”), but perhaps we should emphasize “in humor, truth” as well. When George Carlin, for instance, said that “some people see a glass that’s half empty, and others see a glass that’s half full, but I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be,” he struck upon a brilliant and timeless insight humorously stated: Things are what they are, regardless of how optimistically or pessimistically we choose to view them.
Once, when posting on Colorado Pols, a fellow poster “took the piss out of me” (as the Brits like to say) by posting a link to one of the many ”Most Interesting Man in the World” pages (http://www.eatmedaily.com/2009/06/dos-equis-ad-campaign-the-most-interesting-man-in-the-world-video/), and asking facetiously if he had stumbled upon my profile page, quoting the following excerpts:
The police often question him just because they find him interesting. His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body. His blood smells like cologne. He’s been known to cure narcolepsy just by walking into a room. His organ donation card also lists his beard. He’s a lover, not a fighter, but he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas.
His reputation is expanding faster than the universe. He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself.
His charm is so contagious, vaccines have been created for it. Years ago, he built a city out of blocks. Today, over six hundred thousand people live and work there. He is the only man to ever ace a Rorschach test. Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear. Alien abductors have asked him to probe them. If he were to give you directions, you’d never get lost, and you’d arrive at least 5 minutes early. His legend precedes him, the way lightning precedes thunder.
His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number. He never says something tastes like chicken. Not even chicken.
He is, quite simply, “the most interesting man in the world.”
Few insults have ever made me laugh harder, or feel more appreciated (though from the context that was clearly not the intent).
Maybe if we strive harder to be the most interesting people and most interesting society in the world, we’ll laugh as hard, and appreciate ourselves as much. Here’s to folding reality with all the dexterity our consciousness can muster, into the most edifying forms imaginable, laughing all the while.
The following is a cumulative list, to which I will add as the inspiration strikes, of all wise, witty, or worthless phrases and slogans that come to mind from time to time. One or two of them, I suspect, are inadvertently plagiarized –and some are “advertent” variations on existing sayings– but, as Pete Seeger once said in concert with Arlo Guthrie, “all culture is plagiarism, so if the next song sounds a bit like the last, you know why….”):
All culture is plagiarism, so if this saying sounds a bit like the last, you know why…. ;)
The next page of the story is always a page-turn away.
The difference between a scholar and an ideologue is that a scholar seeks out the truth while an ideologue is certain he is already in possession of it.
Powerpoint is generally used neither to supplement nor complement what is being said, but rather only to distract from what is being said.
Politics is the art of convincing others that you are not a politician.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with being cleared for take-off.
It’s not who you know that counts, but rather what you know about them.
Those who are certain are almost certainly wrong.
Humility is wisdom.
Liberty is a collective enterprise.
Beans and beer is not an aphrodisiac.
The genius of the many is a captive giant, whose freedom is the ends and the means of all other things.
Let our disputes be increasingly defined by the limits of our reason rather than by the extent of our bigotry.
We’re all in this story together: Let’s write it well.
There’s only one political ideology to which any of us should adhere, that of striving to be rational and humane people.
The ultimate goal of all politics should be to lift one another up rather than knock one another down.
We are facing a fire-breathing dragon of blind ideology.
I’m stuck in the mud on the road less traveled, hauling a cartload of rare intangible wares.
Little is accomplished without imagination, yet time and again those who exist to challenge a stagnant status quo fail by clinging to a stagnant status quo of their own.
We all need to do more to take responsibility for our OWN failings, and less to convince ourselves that the world’s woes are defined by everyone else’s.
There’s something about American political discourse that’s like trying to piss with the wind in a sandstorm.
American political discourse has become a Monty Python skit with an American accent.
People who manage to pull you down to their level win the argument, despite the fact that they permanently reside there and you’re just visiting.
People who pull you down to their level have the home court advantage.
Somehow, we’ve managed to become the laggard of the free world….
Success is the continuing realization and implementation of human consciousness for the material and spiritual benefit of both self and others.
If President Obama is proof that race is no longer any impediment to success, does Frederick Douglas prove that slavery wasn’t either?
The welfare of all depends on the welfare of each.
I believe in a God who is rational enough to be amused by people who are irrational enough to believe in Him.It’s discouraging when, in the midst of a Quixotic life, you realize that the windmill is kicking your ass.
Hatred and violence (implicit or explicit) are particularly virulent pathologies, because they are too often opposed by being replicated..Many people are offended by many things, but nothing offends more people more certainly than the truth.
“Bathtub” is a palindrome with a speech impediment…
It takes a village to fix a village.
The world does not reduce to the caricatures on which you rely, but it does suffer from the caricature that you choose to be.
“Hash tag” is a game in which participants run around blowing the smoke of a combustible opiate in one another’s face.
While a healthy polity speaks with many voices and enjoys a varied diet of multiple perspectives, if it consumes too much processed news chock-full of artificial ingredients, it is likely to suffer from chronic flatulence.
The reduction of the world to a small set of competing caricatures of reality, with one’s own being right and holy and the others being terrible abominations, is one of the most pernicious and persistent of all human follies.
The range of your vision is impaired by the location of your head.
Those who can’t prevail on substance focus on form, patting themselves on the back for saying nothing in few words rather than much in many.
Our lives are the dancing tips of an eternal blaze, casting sparks into the dark unknown of what is yet to be.
Like a monkey hammering away at the keyboard for all eternity, mindless probability occasionally comes to my aid….
You’re not raining on my parade; you’re pissing into the wind. Completely different outcome.
Knowing that we don’t know is relief from the burden of false certainties, both lightening our load and spreading wings of humble wisdom on which to soar.
What could possibly be more inauthentic than proving my authenticity by pretending to be someone other than who I am?
Mathematics is god’s own soliloquy echoing within our minds.
The real political divide is between those more committed to Simianism and those more committed to Sentience.
Trump makes America great again in the same way that long, rumbling farts make the air fresh again.
You didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid; you snorted cubic meters of the raw powder while jerking off with a plastic bag tied over your head.
First, a preface: The title phrase was said to me in a recent exchange on another blog, in the typical context of denying that an obviously antagonistic comment couched as a joke was in fact antagonistic. I don’t want to exaggerate it, or imply that I’m holding a grudge: The individual in question may be a very nice and likeable person, all in all. But the phrase has always struck me as being disingenuous, and disingenuous in an instructive way, so I decided to write a post about it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that almost anytime anyone says “it was just a joke,” they’re wrong. The purpose of saying it is to discredit someone who was offended by the “joke,” and whether taking offense was justified or not, the fact that the statement giving offense was couched as a joke tells us nothing. There are many kinds of jokes that few would deny are offensive: racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes, to name a few. So there is nothing about something being a joke which implies that it can’t be offensive.
There are many things the jokester can say that are perfectly legitimate (if not always perfectly kind), such as “I really didn’t mean to offend you,” or “I think you misinterpeted what I’m saying,” or “at least I was trying to insult you in an entertaining way,” or “get used to being the butt of my jokes.” But “it was just a joke” means “I won’t even acknowledge your right to be offended,” and is at least as often used to try to compound an essentially intentional offense as to express sincere and innocent surprise that anyone could have been offended.
It’s the fact that it’s such a common phrase, so normal, so ubiquitous, and so representative of a prevailing attitude, that I find striking. We don’t engage in discourse so much as we engage in verbal and emotional warfare. We don’t seek to learn together, to edify one another, to challenge one another and grow in response to it, so much as we try to smite our enemies and fortify our positions. The title phrase is a verbal military maneuver, a way of check-mating an opponent, saying, “I not only just discredited you in an insulting manner disguised as humor, but if you try to parry, the fact that you do so is the basis for further insult and delegitimation.”
The speaker may win the battle by doing so, but we all lose the war, because ”the good fight” is against mutual antagonism, and against ideological entrenchment. Next time someone says “it was just a joke,” tell them the joke’s on them.
(I have also noticed a slightly different use of the phrase, or some variation of it: To insulate a snide or ideological remark not directed at anyone in particular from criticism. So, one FB commenter who voiced appreciation for a post saying we should leave warning labels off dangerous items in order to weed out the “stupid” people by saying that it would be “natural selection” at work, responded to my comment that such uses of the concept of natural selection have long been reviled by declaiming, “it was said in jest…good grief.” In other words, as long as it was said in jest, no matter how much also in earnest, it is insulated from any criticism on the basis of the substance of what has been said. I’ve discussed other methods of insulating one’s ideological declarations from criticism in other essays as well: e.g., Un-Jamming the Signal and Scholarship v. Ideology.)
I admit it: I lose my sense of humor in the heat of political discourse, all the time. Ironically, in most other spheres of life, I’m known for being a bit of a cut-up. If you ask my seven-year-old daughter to describe her dad with one word, she’d probably say “funny” (of course, seven-year-olds are “an easy room”). But political discourse makes me mad, and sad, and often sick-to-my-stomach.
On SquareState, a progressive blog dominated by blind ideologues I briefly (and wishfully) tried to promote as an alternative to the unfortunately currently alternativeless Colorado Pols (unfortunately, because Jason Bain, the driving force behind Pols, and probably his anonymous partners as well, are arrogant pricks), I was savaged for cross-posting ”Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Why Our Tea Party Future Will Be The Left’s Fault“ by people on the left who, faithful mirror images of their counterparts on the right, believe that compromise is evil, extremism is good, and demanding from their party what would ensure their party’s long-term demise is their civic duty; my candidacy, hair-cut, and preference in pizza toppings all brought in as arguments to prove why I am both wrong and evil (okay, only my candidacy, but the other two might as well have been for all the relevance of some of the responses). To my immense discredit, I don’t just disregard, or laugh off, these absurd Glenn-Becks-of-the-left, but instead engage them, respond to their nonsense, and, by doing so, let them drag me down into the gutter along with them.
But the truth is, despite all that is at stake, and the consequential significance of current political and ideological trends, there’s no denying that a nation in which one of the most reported on U.S. senatorial candidates starts a campaign ad with “I am not a witch,” and in which the Tea Party Nation in early October cited Campbell’s new halal soups as proof that Shari’a law is infiltrating the United States, is a knee-slappingly funny nation…, though tragically so.
The November 1 issue of Time Magazine includes an excellent article on Jon Stewart and Stephen Cobert, two Comedy Central political satirists who compete with, and highlight, the hilarious reality of modern American political discourse. Cobert, for instance, took Tea Party Nation’s absurdity to the next step, suggesting (in character) that it’s no coincidence that bananas are crescent shaped. Stewart’s “cruelly accurate” parodies of Glenn Beck are hysterical, because they’re true (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-18-2010/conservative-libertarian).
The article discusses the difficult line Stewart and Cobert tread between comedy and commentary, remaining funny while remaining incisive and relevant. The article also discusses the competition these satirists face from current American political reality, the latter often being more absurd than anything they can invent. Stewart can often just play an authentic newsclip and make a face to receive raucus laughter in response, the joke having already been made for him.
The combination of humor and sincerity, of recognizing absurdity and shining a spotlight on it, so that we can, hopefully, laugh our way to sanity and moderation, may be the most significant contribution to raising the quality of American public discourse that exists today. Cobert’s reference to “truthiness,” the belief that what one feels in their gut is more important than objective reality, draws attention to a real, and tragic, absurdity dominating a broad swath of public discourse. It isn’t just humor; it’s an attempt to interject profound rationality into a profoundly irrational national dialogue.
Let’s all take a deep breath, laugh at ourselves, and scrub the humor of the tragedy, recommitting to being reasonable, and light-hearted, people of goodwill, doing the best we can. We don’t need to privilege the paranoid ravings of a Glenn Beck (or his blogosphere counterparts on the left), or the incredible ingnorance of a Christine O’Donnell. We just need to laugh at ourselves, and then build on the humility that that engenders.