Anonymous asked: Good afternoon. I ask the following question because you do not appear to indulge in indifference and I think you have interesting insight. If you don't mind me asking, do you think the gravity of the world and its transgressions necessitates living without levity? I mean, are people who are concerned with the world necessarily brought down by the negative aspects of soceity and by being informed about the world, are we dooming ourselves to worry and weariness?
Actually, I think more miserable the world is, a better sense of humour and lightness we should have. If you are a thinking and caring person, informed of even a small fraction of the terrible things going on everywhere, it is easy to feel trapped by disgust and anger over the disgusting and infuriating things going on.
But we can fight tragedies going on in the world with frivolousness and humour. A joke, when done well, is the best weapon against the ugliness of reality. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a genius demonstrations of this critical ability a joke has. Remember Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin? She expressed exactly what was wrong with a candidate like Palin, something many “serious” people failed to put a finger on. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are incredibly effective as well with regards to this — they reveal what’s wrong with TV journalism and politics through lighthearted and silly jokes. You should consider checking out Snark that explores the long and amazing history of political satire that discusses this at length.
A joke can also exist as a form of resistance. Psychologist Victor Frankl reports in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” that when he was inside Auswitz, his bunkmates told jokes and laughed as a demonstration to the guards that they were not broken even in the face of unbelievable cruelty.
I think levity is also the right attitude towards the world in general, so that we may work towards a world without tragedies. This is something too complicated in my head for me to express clearly at the moment, but to see what I sort of mean by this, check out this great quote by Milan Kundera:
“I’d prefer to die to the sound of childish laughter than to the sound of Chopin’s Funeral March. And let me tell you this: all the evil in the world is in that Funeral March, which is the glorification of death. If there were fewer funeral marches there might be fewer deaths. Understand what I’m trying to say: respect for tragedy is much more dangerous than the thoughtlessness of childish prattle. Do you realize what is the eternal precondition of tragedy? The existence of ideals which are considered more valuable than human life. And what is the precondition of wars? The same thing. They drive you to your death because presumably there is something greater than your life. War can only exist in a world of tragedy; from the beginning of history, man has known only a tragic world and has not been capable of stepping out of it. The age of tragedy can be ended only by the revolt of frivolity. Frivolity is a radical diet for weight-reduction. Things will lose 90 per cent of their meaning and will become light. In such a weightless environment, fanaticism will disappear. War will become impossible.”
I believe that there are morally good jokes (when a joke is told at the expense of oppressors, such as a joke about a corrupt politician or corporations) and morally evil jokes (when a joke is told at the expense of the oppressed, such as a racist, ablist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic etc. joke). I believe that levity, when it exists as an intelligent and deeply empathetic reaction to human condition and suffering, is imperative. It is an effective resistance tool and we should hone it to our advantage, especially when the world seems a terrible place.
So anon, thank you for asking this really cool and stimulating question and I assure you with what little wisdom I have, I don’t think we need to despair — I think we should be proud of our wisdom about the world’s awfulness and gravely laugh as much as we can about (not “at”) it with a clear head.