I threw the following tweet into the digital abyss the other day, and watched it flutter downward, ever downward, reminding me of one of those maple tree whirligig things.
Anyhow, this is what I said.
Those who cannot respond to examples of cultural madness with laughter are in the process of going mad themselves.
There are two basic kinds of disaster movies. The first is when you are dealing with a row of volcanoes down the main thoroughfare of your city, and an underpaid director of the sewers, with an attractive assistant, is responsible for putting a cork in them all, lest we all perish. Or something along those lines.
The other kind of disaster movie is when the driving energy of the disaster is human all the way through, all too human. We call this kind of movie a farce.
All right. There is kind of a third sort, where an attempt at hybridization is made — where an omnicompetent villain assumes the role of the volcano row, or the giant asteroid, or the three tsunamis, or whatever.
Now the besetting sin of conservatives is that of believing they are in the third kind of disaster movie instead of being where they actually are, which is in the second kind.
I am reminded of the definition given to the word idiot by the lexicographer Ambrose Bierce.
“Idiot – A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.”
Conservatives tend to mind their own business, wanting to bring up their own kids, do their own thing. When it begins to dawn on them that High Folly is now running the show, the usual response is either anger or fear. With this as motivation, they launch into a life of activism. But both motivations are easily incorporated by the adversary, and used to their advantage. Anger and fear cede far too much authority to the foe — whenever we think we are up against Marx, but it turns out to be the Marx Brothers.
And so here it is. There is a certain kind of laughter that is the only effective serious response.
That said, let me answer one particular objection. In the particulars, I do not think that human damnation is funny. In a similar way, I do not think corruption of great republics funny. I don’t call it a laugh riot when that great poverty machine called socialism is unleashed on the people.
But educated people (with drivers’ licenses) defending socialism is funny. This is because, in another sense, human pride and self-importance are always funny. And it is that pride and self-importance that build the prison in which the tragedies occur. If you want to break open that prison, you have to be up for mocking the jailers. Cowering before the jailers leaves them alone, and showering them with angry abuse just makes their walls that much thicker.
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision” (Psalm 2:4).
From Elijah taunting the priests of Baal to Jesus roasting the Pharisees, and from Jesus roasting the Pharisees to Luther backhanding the papacy, we see the potency of righteous ridicule. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the “humorist” is a trifler in these deadly serious affairs of ours. He might be the only one taking the threat as seriously as it deserves, and it may be that he is the only one offering an effective counterpunch.