You wouldn’t expect a sports columnist to write thoughtful and incisive social commentary. Actually, I don’t expect that from most political pundits. But today in my local paper–the Springfield, Massachusetts Sunday Republican–one did. His name is Ron Chimelis. Here’s an excerpt:
If anyone were to ask my opinion on dangers facing the nation, I would find a place on the list for our loss of a sense of humor . . . I find its gradual disappearance sad and also a bit frightening . . . At one time, the ability to laugh a little was as noteworthy as breathing. Nowadays it seems disturbingly out of step in a society on edge, one that constantly fears what our politicians, financial barons or our own neighbors might do to us next. A sense of humor is an outgrowth of optimism, another quality we find in alarmingly short supply. . . I do worry that our seething resentment and hostility, which can be found anywhere from social media to social gatherings, is fracturing us more….
He makes a particular point of the scarcity of political humor, citing this quote from the great satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer: “Today everything just makes me angry–it’s not funny anymore. Things I once thought were funny are scary now.” (This from a man who wrote a song about nuclear war in the 1960s )
Chimelis goes on to note that
…radical groups that have poisoned the world come from all shades and political persuasions. They all had only one thing in common: They had no sense of humor, no self-contained mechanism that let them back off the hate and hostility and resentment for even a brief moment of levity….Losing [a sense of humor] means we have lost something irreplaceable. I find nothing funny about that.
Abbie Hoffman, whatever one may think of his naive ideas about “youth culture” and his misguided celebration of the delights of hallucinogens, was a genuine 1960′s revolutionary who made us laugh. And he laughed at himself. His whole demeanor at the Chicago Eight/Seven conspiracy trial in 1969 was a comedy act.
When I read the blogs I am following, or the Facebook posts of self-styled radicals, or almost any political statement from the left, too much of what I see is impotent anger, hateful rhetoric, tedious academic jargon, self-righteous lectures, or insults aimed at those who disagree. There is, of course, some thoughtful analysis to be found here and there in this political wasteland. But one thing I never see is humor. Or that even rarer commodity, wit. (Exceptions: guerilla graffiti artists like Banksy, and, occasionally, political cartoonists like Ted Rall or Tom Tomorrow. Stephen Colbert used to be wonderful, but celebrity has gone to his head.)
In 1989, Abbie committed suicide. Perhaps he saw what was ahead. Unless socialists revive some of his spirit, start laughing at the opposition and ourselves, we don’t deserve to take over the world.