The United States of Ridicule

Have you noticed there’s a lot of derision shooting around out there in cyberspace and on the airwaves?   With good reason, perhaps. The world has never seemed as loony as it does this year, loony in the fun sense and also in the scary sense. With so much material to work from, the number of shows that specialize in making fun of people has grown, and with it, a danger to our society.

This dawned on me last night as I watched Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal Bus Tour through the heartland, where she and her cohorts managed to find some truly incredible representatives of the electorate, some of whom are delegates to the national conventions. The goal is, of course, to make us laugh at them, to have us shake our heads in disbelief at their quirks and contradictions–and I confess, I do. For example, one young woman from Pennsylvania, an auto mechanic, had this exchange, in which she said she could never vote for Hilary Clinton because

Woman: we don’t need a woman as president—we really don’t–we’re too dramatic!

Interviewer: What if people said that about you—and you’re working on their truck—

Woman: Oh, they do all the time.

Interviewer: Well how does that make your feel?

Woman: I just get over it.

Interviewer: But do you think they’re right?

Woman: I know they’re not and I’ll tell them that.

So the point here is, that she could not see the contradiction, but the real goal of the show was for us to heap scorn upon this young person from the safety of our couches, and bask in self-righteous indignation.   The show offered victims from different ends of the political spectrum, but the constant was, of course, the need to get us to sneer at their eccentricities and blind spots.

I was reminded of a scene from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where a smart guy from Connecticut time travels to the Middle Ages and ends up the Boss. At one point he tries to explain how inflation works to one of the commoners, and he just doesn’t get it. All he can see is that high wages are better than low wages—he can’t get the concept that higher prices negate higher wages. The Boss says, “I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on his part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with him and were of his mind—if you might call it mind.”   The Boss gets more and more frustrated trying to explain it and mad enough to bust a blood vessel—just as we do when we’re confronted with someone of an opposing political view who won’t see it our way, even when we’re unquestionably right.  These mindless ignoramuses, these brainless clods should be–

And here is the danger. This anger, this frustration, this recourse to name calling.  There are so many opportunities now on TV, on youtube, in any number of media forums to ridicule our political opposites, that the temperature is rising all over the country. That’s not what we need right now. What we need is what we’ve always needed:

1) respectful forums where we can voice our opinions

2) open minds that will allow us to really hear what other people are saying and perhaps lead to the adjustment of our own thinking

3) the understanding that there will always be differences of opinions, and that in a democracy you have to find a way to live with the fact that you won’t always have it your way.   That’s the nature of political life.

The way to ensure that all three of these aspects of a healthy commonwealth are in place is to invest in the right kind of education.   We’re not spending enough time in what used to be called “civics”.   To hell with higher math, let’s teach people before they’re old enough to vote how to tell a lie from a truth, to open their minds, and to respect differences of opinions.   This is all part of the Sacrament of the Group and we need to get on it now.


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