September 17, 2003

A Light-Hearted Observation on a Weblog Comments Policy

Is a sense of humour right-wing? I think it is. I know the BBC uses right-wing to mean simply bad, but I use it to indicate support for a spontaneous society made by the free economic and personal decisions of its members. Left-wing implies support for a more centrally planned society which seeks to reproduce in the world a vision of what some people think society ought to be like.

Left-wingers see how far the world falls short of their ideal, and are impatient to put it right. They are very political, for they see problems to be solved by collective effort. Right-wingers see opportunities for enjoyment and fulfilment by people of all stations, through social interaction and enjoyment of art or nature. They have time for wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things.

Left-wing humour is heavily loaded to satire, and is but another weapon in the unending fight to make the world conform to their ideal. They see too many problems and injustices to allow time out for light-hearted observation on human follies and absurdities. Most right-wingers also want a better life, but even in the world's present, imperfect state, they find space enough for laughter.

-- Dr. Madsen Pirie, "Laughing all the way to the market"

Via Maria at Crooked Timber, I came across the above post at the new Adam Smith Institute Weblog. I read said post, strongly disagreed with the sentiments expressed therein, and decided to post a comment. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with the following announcement:

*Note* - Comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Now doesn't that smack of left-wing nanny state interference with the free market exchange of ideas?

By the bye, I could explain why I think Dr. Pirie's understanding of society (a "spontaneous" creation made by the "personal decisions" of its members) is very far from that of Smith. But alas, as a left-winger I've little time for "wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 17, 2003 06:32 PM

While my right-wing libertarian side appreciates light humor of all sorts, my left-wing side wishes that anyone advancing the claim that "X-wingers have no sense of humor" be banished herewith to Malebolge.

Posted by: Miriam at September 17, 2003 07:30 PM

Maybe I'm unduly suspicious (or giving the author far too much credit), but it may be a joke, designed to provoke a reaction that demonstrates a thesis that it's not in fact arguing. That's pretty funny (my right-wing friend tells me).

A conversation I had many years ago:

Me: X, you don't have a sense of humor.
X: That's not funny.

Posted by: ogged at September 17, 2003 08:02 PM

I didn't find it terribly surprising. It's not a personal site after all, and they probably want comments to be constructive. I don't mean that they would screen disagreements, but perhaps things like spam, foul language, etc. I'm sure their not moderating for ideological purposes. Of course the best way to find out might be to ask

I also found Dr. Madsen Pirie's post to be a little silly, but on reflection I do find that most of my lefty type friends are ironic or sardonic. They tend not to appreciate a gender specific joke, unless itís about a man, or a cultural joke, unless itís about Christians, or racial joke, unless itís about white men. Of course Iím probably just painting with a broad brush. Iíve simply resorted to self deprecating humor, which seems to work since Iím a Christian white guy. :)

Posted by: Matthew at September 17, 2003 09:02 PM

IMO jokes about chosen traits are not a priori impolite; some gender and culture jokes are about chosen traits - shopaholics, etc. - some not.

I'm not religious, but apparently religion doesn't feel optional to many of the people who have one, so I lay off those jokes too.

I have a five-foot shelf of antebellum Rhetoric, most of which is dull and unreadable, except for the volume of "After-Dinner Stories", which is infuriating and unreadable - it's written for people at the peak of the conservative order speaking to each other, and it's almost entirely vicious jokes about enforced double-standards, and I really can't tell one of the good old 'uns without checking to see if it's like Those.

The best of the old 'uns can be rewritten to apply to chosen traits, e.g. "PHB" or "raver" or whatever.

My lefty filter for humor is based on my grandmother's dictum that a lady never knowingly insults anyone, and a gentlewoman never insults anyone by mistake.

Posted by: clew at September 17, 2003 11:39 PM

Dr. Pirie's idea is not a new one -- last year John Powers of the LA Times (an avowed lefty) wrote an essay comparing the conservative Weekly Standard with the left-liberal Nation and came to this conclusion:

"As gray and unappetizing as homework, The Nation makes you approach it in the same spirit that Democrats might vote for Gray Davis -- where else can you go? In contrast, The Standard woos you by saying, 'We're having big fun over here on the right.'
"And in some undeniable sense that's true. Back in the '60s, the left was the home of humor, iconoclasm, pleasure. But over the last two decades, the joy has gone out of the left -- it now feels hedged in by shibboleths and defeatism -- while the right has been having a gas."


Al Franken is trying (heroically) to recover a lefty sense of humor, but he's almost alone. The rest of the left is too busy wagging admonitory fingers at people who practice offensive speech, or explaining how Dubya is just exactly like Hitler, to pause for a laugh. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh is whooping it up. I think this dramatic difference in habitual tone is a chief reason for the decline of the left in America -- though perhaps I have the causation reversed, perhaps the bitter tone is a result (not a cause) of the decline. . . .

Posted by: Ayjay at September 18, 2003 09:23 AM

"though perhaps I have the causation reversed, perhaps the bitter tone is a result (not a cause) of the decline"

The words "vicious cycle" come to mind. Also "chicken and egg".

Posted by: Eric at September 18, 2003 09:37 AM

I can promise you that the ASI is dead serious about their moderation. I've had one comment banned already -- I pointed out that they'd put some gratuitous France-bashing into a post where it didn't really belong.

If you think that Rush Limbaugh is funnier than "The Daily Show", please wear some sort of badge so that I can more efficiently choose seats on long bus journeys, btw.

Posted by: dsquared at September 18, 2003 10:03 AM

Well, dsqaured, what you might not have noticed was that as a result of your comment, the text that you objected to was pulled, as I agreed with you that it shouldn't have been there. With it pulled, there wasn't really any point in having your comment there. That comment was the only only out of nearly 100 so far that we haven't published. We have a moderation system *not* to stop people from people disagreeing with us, but so that we don't publish libel or comments that are just needlessly offensive (e.g. racism). If you want to disagree with us, that's fine.

Posted by: Alex Singleton at September 18, 2003 01:15 PM

I assume that part of the difficulty is that lefties identify as righty humor specifically the rude & cruel jokes; righties identify as lefty humor specifically the satirical and utopian jokes. The ones any of us tell that don't gore the other's sacred fiberglass cows don't get labelled lefty or righty...

Too obvious to pontificate on, though.

Posted by: clew at September 18, 2003 01:44 PM

Speaking as one who was there, there's nothing more fun than being a nihilistic wrecker. Contemporary version: "Let's make snarky, inaccurate comments about Social Security and the public schools until they disappear!"

Nowadays Rush, P.J. O'Rourke, et al are having all the fun, and I'm not. David Horowitz, though, has always been having fun.

Posted by: zizka at September 18, 2003 01:48 PM

Alex: fair enough. Btw, my latest post on CT revives an old lefty joke about the ASI; that the motto during the Keith Joseph years was "From the edge of lunacy to the edge of policy"

Posted by: dsquared at September 18, 2003 02:15 PM

As a libertarian I can attest to the fact the Libertarian Party meetings, when I used to attend them, were absolutely hilarious.

Not all of the humor, however, was intentional.

Posted by: E. Naeher at September 18, 2003 03:26 PM

As a lefty, I'd love to have dibs on irony. Alas, I think that it would be hard to argue that the great English ironists -- Swift, Pope, Waugh -- are anything but thoroughly Tory.

I imagine that kinds of humor are related more to entitlement than to anything else. Rush Limbaugh was, briefly, funny, back in the eighties -- and he used irony and satire to pinprick the various pomposities of the PC crowd. Now that he has become entitled himself, he is simply boorish. He was never the type to grow into the polished, aristocratic humor of the classical Tory type. He was more the King Log type -- what's funny in the weak is bullying in the strong.

Myself, I think the funniest humorist of the 20th century was P.G. Wodehouse, one of whose books is prefaced by an adoring Alexander Cockburn. Wodehouse's politics were only props for the hijinks of his characters. When one of them claims the name Trotsky in a court of law, he isn't trying to make a political point -- he's trying not to let his aunt know that he's been nabbed for a little matter of wrestling an policeman for his helmet.

I'm leaving out of this a strain of humor going from Mark Twain to Ring Lardner to... well, who exactly? Jonathan Franzen?

Lefties haven't been humorists for a couple of years, because we've felt pretty miserable under Bush (who is, still, the cause of many of my crack-ups -- I can't listen to him make a speech without laughing at least five or six times). But as the reign of Bush starts showing its cracks, I think we will find a lot of lefties laughing, and a lot of Weekly Standard-types waving admonitory fingers.

Posted by: roger at September 27, 2003 12:30 AM