Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rage, Or The Comic's Paradox

I am no expert but my guess is that comedy began with democracy. When everyone is allowed to claim to know how to live, every one of us with his own different claim must both tolerate everyone else and believe everyone else is wrong. We know we wear masks, and we have the strongest urge to rip the masks off others when we think we can get away with it, and that is what comedy does. The more the performers rage at each other the more we laugh.

Our rage comes from losing foundations in life that we don't clearly understand. We don't understand because our thought about them comes from outside, from rewards and punishments in our lives with other people. When the foundation crumbles, it is to those other people and we look. We identify them, and ourselves as one of them, and we want to destroy those who are against us.

We all wear masks, but we wear them in two fundamentally different ways, corresponding to which side of democratic life we emphasize in our own lives. We are relativists, or anti-relativists, liberals or conservatives.

Relativists say we must go on pretending no one knows which kind of life is better or worse. Only this makes democracy work. It would be better if people could reason with each other, talk calmly, find out what really is better and worse, but who has time and anyway how many of us are smart enough?

Anti-relativists say that each person chooses to live in democracy only to make their lives better under the practical shelter it provides, not because everything short of killing done in public is right. There is no relativism in private life. There are no liberals when it comes to decisions whether to live or die, be happy or sad. We know what we want and when we don't we know we should look for it.

The relativist are liberals. They want everyone to keep on their masks. The anti -relativists are conservatives. They want to rip them all off.

The conservative does not accept the demand the relativist makes of him that he care about people he doesn't care about, like those he doesn't like. That is not him. He identifies himself otherwise. He rages all the more at the entire class of people who demand he care about people and things he doesn't care about, who demand that he lie to himself about himself. He knows the truth is that he too has been educated to wear a mask, and he just cannot bear to be reminded of it.

The relativist demands that all behaviors be showed equal respect. They rage at the slightest deviation. They must never meet with a break in the public show of democratic good will, because the persons they identify themselves as being, people uncritical of others, can't allow themselves be critical of others - of the dissenters - and not go out of their minds.

Public debate rages over which side, the relativist or anti-relativist, conservative or liberal, is best. Meanwhile behind the scenes politicians quietly make sure everything they do furthers the interests of those who fund them, who fund politicians on both sides. These sponsors are neither relativist nor anti-relativist, neither liberal nor conservative. For them, both government and private life are important. They are not democratic, and don't suffer from any confusion about how to reconcile public life with private. They want maximum use of the government to get maximum profit in their own private lives. They are oligarchs, in fact.

The drama behind the scenes of comedy turns out to be not so funny.