One theme to which I often return here is the ill fit between some of my sincere political commitments, on the one hand, and some of what I take to be the even deeper features of my personality on the other. I've had to deal over the years with a tremendous amount of psychological dissonance arising from the fact that, although in my actual earnest commitments I am a fairly standard-model progressive (the fat-cat bankers are bad, imperialist wars are bad, racial and class injustice of all sorts are bad), in my sense of humor I am an arch-conservative. While I do not want to endorse any general theory of the nature of humor, Hobbes's account --that humor is in its essence cruel-- seems to me to correctly describe at least a great deal of humor, and this is the kind of humor moreover that I prefer. It is scoffing, contemptuous, misanthropic... and it makes me laugh.
What passes for progressive humor, by contrast, seldom makes me laugh at all. I gather that here I am largely alone, that this is something people who share my political commitments do not generally experience as a problem. I see signs at demonstrations, or political memes making the rounds on Facebook, and they are supposed to be funny, and my progressive friends love them. But these memes seem to me to be doing exactly the opposite of what humor at its best does: they are serving to strengthen group solidarity, whereas the best humor, the purest humor, says fuck the group; fuck the lot of you, in fact.
Even the postmodern ironic strain of progressive humor that seems to be flourishing so much in the Internet age, such as Feminist Hulk, does not seem funny to me. If the Hulk were saying things even more awful than a giant, green, hypermacho, testosterone-engorged mutant male might ordinarily be expected to say: now that would be funny. But to subject him to a mash-up where he riffs on Judith Butler or something like that simply cannot have the same sort of comical effect. Take, by contrast, another familiar Internet mash-up: the Nietzsche Family Circus. Here we have a subversion of the innocent by the transgressive, and this cannot but be more successful than the Hulk-Judith Butler contrast, which takes us from the monstrous to the righteous. Righteousness isn't funny. In-group affirmation of shared righteousness is downright tedious.
If progressives tend, as conservatives often accuse, towards being snide, elite, and contemptuous, I suspect that this is because snide, contemptuous, and elitist humor is the only kind that progressives have available to them that is really funny. It is hilarious to watch some yokel Republican congressman making a fool of himself going on about his religious faith. Take this for example:
Now I have said that this sort of thing is good fodder for humor. But notice, it is Rep. Franks who is doing all the work here. He is making a proper fool of himself, and it is natural and fitting to take delight in that. But still, such delight cannot itself be called progressive humor, since in order to experience it a progressive has to suspend his or her ordinary political commitments, and move into this morally problematic aesthetic mode of perception that I have identified as my own most favorite, and that conservatives, perhaps rightly, see as a sign of 'liberal' hypocrisy.
Part of me wants to say that this deep dissonance is irrelevant, that any psychologically balanced, mature individual should be able to navigate a way between different social registers, at some of which delighting in other people's idiocy and, yes, suffering, is alright, and at others of which the only concern is to alleviate suffering and to challenge idiocy. Another part of me worries that this dissonance reveals that I am in fact an arch-conservative, and that everything else is relatively superficial, most likely a late-coming calque added on to help me fit in in the social circles in which I run. After all, never do I feel more myself than when I am laughing at something I think is truly funny, and contrary to the Scholastic philosophers I do not think that risibility is only a property quarto modo of human beings: I believe it pertains to the human essence.
Either way, I think there is an important philosophical question here about the way the political and the aesthetic (for gelastics is a branch of aesthetics) intersect. It's a question that seems to be of no interest at all to my progressive friends, whom I often hear earnestly hoping out loud that people will someday no longer say (or even think?) nasty, unfair, demeaning things about other people. I doubt this is even cognitively possible, but maybe there's just something wrong with the way my brain works.
Ordinarily I don't care much for the feedback I get here. But this time I am inviting it. I want to know whether anyone else has thought about this problem, and if so whether there are any suggestions as to how to resolve it.