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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ideology and Humor

The liberal press was laughing at the seriousness with which the conservative media took a journalist's sarcastic inquiry as to whether Senator Hegel, nominee for Secretary of Defense, ever spoke before Friends of Hamas and the Junior League of Hezbollah. Without checking whether such organizations even exist (they do not!), the rumor shot round conservative talking heads and internet sites of a new concern about Hegel taking money from foreign terrorist organizations.

A New York times article and a Huff News analyst indicated that this is why Republicans are so behind in using the internet. But a commentator on this article proffered that their real problem was not technical but "epistemological." These folks simply cannot recognize humor.  And I think he is right.

Remember Colbert and President Bush's perplexity at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

But then I don't think it's a Republican or Democratic, nor a Liberal or Conservative matter.  GK Chesterton and William Buckley were great conservative humorists. And I sure know a number of people on the Left who take themselves too seriously. I think it is a matter of a fundamental attitude towards human life and existence.

I remembered the Danish minister and philosopher S├Áren Kierkegaard had a lot to say about humor and human existence.  And in googling him I found British Philosopher John Lippit and his wonderful treatment of humor in a series of four papers. He first considers humor as incongruity following Kant and Schopenhauer; then as superiority following Hobbes; then following Freud as psychic release.  While all these provide some insight into humor, none or all of them do not really provide a verifiable theory. So he drops the quest for theory and, in his fourth paper, deals with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard to consider humor and its affiliates irony, sarcasm, ridicule as existential phenomena.

K and N have decidedly different vocabulary and belief systems.  Just notice their different takes on "Christianity," "morality," and "religious." Yet as Lippit indicates, both see irony and humor as positive expressions of human existence. Both see in humor "expressions of the limitations of human possibility" and the "limits of all human objects of desire" (Lippit). Both would see humor not as a divergence (mere entertainment), but more as an existential attitude to all things human including oneself and even one's beliefs.

K speaks the language of the leap of faith through the contradictory situation of finding enjoyment in the suffering of limitations. N speaks the language of never giving up the critique and the search for a higher human condition (Ubermensch) which is more a dimension than a state of being; and I think should be translated "transcendence" rather than indicating some man of steel or the Kurzweilian Singularity. K speaks of a place and time of rest in God, but without certainty and even without ever giving up search or contradiction. His God seems very close to the Ubermensch, i.e. transcendence achieved here and now through faith, not belief.  In other words: the mystery of the Incarnation: the sacred not beyond, but in the secular; spirit not separate from, but of matter.

The ideologue, Hoffer's "True Believer," whether left, center, or right, whether liberal or conservative, whether Democrat or Republican cannot distinguish, must less relativize, his beliefs through faith or transcendence. The ideologue has one path and cannot envision another, one doctrine and cannot understand another, one language, one god, one absolute. Lacking imagination, he cannot laugh at himself, his products, his nation, his world. He can laugh at others to whom he feels superior as long as it does not include himself or his kind. He confuses ridicule which is mean and damning with humor which is jovial and redemptive.  

More to come on the humorist.

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