Laughter Will Win Against Totalitarianism
The gray, gloomy days of November have set in, and this year it seems harder than ever to banish them.
I was feeling the oppression of these gray days when a note from a friend landed in my inbox. He made some joke in relation to election voter fraud and suddenly I found myself giggling.
Of course, voter fraud in and of itself is not funny. But it struck me that the ability to laugh about it and other difficulties in this dismal year may be one of our saving graces. It may be another form of simple homespun, civil disobedience in which everyone may freely engage.
This point was further driven home when another friend shared a few memes circulating on the internet. These memes parody the now common sight of Donald Trump’s tweets being contradicted by messages from Big Tech, such as the following:
Poking fun at the self-anointed fact checkers on social media, these memes use historical quotes and commonsense statements to bring humor to the tragic situation of censorship. A few examples include:
— Alessandro Strumia (@AlessandroStru4) November 12, 2020
— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) November 15, 2020
— Edward Dutton (@jollyheretic) November 16, 2020
Such memes play into conventional wisdom that the “left can’t meme,” meaning they no longer have a functional sense of humor. Humor, Spectator Australia notes, was once the domain of the left. But as leftism became synonymous with “being offended by everything,” the right became the only political side which could still see the funny side of life.
Evidence of this development is seen in Stephen Colbert’s post-election monologue. Colbert is allegedly a comedian, but there was little to laugh at in a presentation in which he dressed in black and broke into tears over what he called Trump’s fascist tendencies in contesting the election results.
So why the switch? Why is it that, despite the triumphs those on the left are achieving, not only in political office, but also in censorship of opposing views, they seem unable to laugh or take a joke?
The late journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge sheds some light on that question in his essay, “America Needs a Punch.” He declares that humor “is normally distasteful to those set in authority over us.” “When the governed laugh,” he continues, “the governors cannot but have an uneasy feeling that they may well be laughing at them.”
Thus, the measure of a free society, Muggeridge explains, is the extent “to which it permits ridicule.” The less laughter there is, the more totalitarian the society has become.
In drawing this connection, Muggeridge encourages us to embrace humor as it is “our most potent weapon” in the fight for freedom:
The ultimate safeguard is perhaps not atomic weapons, larger and better bases, louder radio stations, but more fools. The foolishness of man, Blake wrote, is the wisdom of God; and it may well be that those who seek to suppress or limit laughter are more dangerous than all the subversive conspiracies which the F.B.I. ever has or ever will uncover. Laughter, in fact, is the most effective of all subversive conspiracies, and it operates on our side.
Numerous difficulties and even subversive conspiracies are staring us in the face right now, many so daunting that it seems useless to even question them. Yet when we find ourselves in that attitude, we need to start laughing and looking for the humor in the absurdity of it all.
So laugh and have fun when the healthy must wear masks, in spite of research showing they do little to prevent the spread of disease.
Laugh at the hypocrisies of elite leaders who say commoners can’t gather for the holidays, but who then attend expensive parties with their own friends.
Laugh at your own holiday gathering, even if it’s just with the few members of your own household, or the friends you chat with on Zoom if you’re alone. Share jokes and play games and just be silly.
“A merry heart,” after all, “doeth good like a medicine.” Spreading a bit of that medicine around may do a world of good for a nation that’s suffering from a lack of freedom.
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