Last week you may have come across a satirical piece published in the New Yorker entitled “L.P.D.: Libertarian Police Department“. It seemed to go down pretty well amongst the New Yorker’s readership and beyond. Apparently it got over thirty thousands ‘likes’ and I saw at least one of the people I know on facebook share it. If you haven’t read it, then pop over now and do so. It will only take a few minutes. I’ll wait here.
Back? Splendid. Yesterday The Atlantic published, not a rebuttal, because The New Yorker piece wasn’t really an argument, but more a response in kind entitled “N.L.P.D.: Non-Libertarian Police Department“. Likewise, have a quick read.
In my opinion, judging it exclusively from a humour perspective, it’s nowhere near as funny as the New Yorker piece. In fact, it’s not really funny at all. Which, for me, says a great deal more about the current tragic state of American policing than it does the author’s abilities. It’s very hard to make brutal realities funny, although the author makes a good effort.
Of course, to enjoy the New Yorker article one must abandon logic and reason, which is no big deal. I’m not entirely averse to comedy that requires one to let go of reality for a while, and there’s no law that says humour must have a kernel of truth (not yet anyway). If you’ve read the New Yorker piece you’ll have realised by now that I’m being rather charitable in my assessment of it because it is clearly intended to be satirical, but I’ve chosen not to judge it that way. Satire is generally defined along the lines of “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues”. Satire, then, addresses something in reality, which of course means that its success as a satirical piece relies on the author’s understanding and knowledge of that something. In this case it relies on the author’s comprehension of the political philosophy known as libertarianism and economics in general, neither of which are particularly simple things to grasp – especially the latter. In light of this and depending on your chosen perspective it was either brave or foolish of the author to attempt to ridicule libertarianism – mostly because of that requirement to have at least a foundational knowledge of economics. He did fail, as no doubt many libertarians have pointed out to him but, hey, at least it was funny. I’ll give him that.
When I first read the New Yorker piece I found myself feeling a little angry and offended. After a while I realised that this was because the convictions that I share with other liberty advocates were being articulately ridiculed. That didn’t feel nice at all and at that moment I was on the brink of covering my ears and eyes and shouting “la la la” at his arguments. I swiftly began to write a new blog post, but then I forced myself to stop and just walk away from the keyboard. I was too emotional. I was feeling instead of thinking and anything I could have written would not have been useful. If the author’s goal was to try to persuade me to adopt his convictions, then ridiculing me was just about the worst thing he could have done. If that wasn’t his aim, then I guess it was to make his opponents feel stupid in order to make him feel smart.
I’m going to digress for a moment. There’s a lesson here for all of us who are interested in making the world a better place. Do we want to just feel smart and superior to others or do we actually want to enlighten others? Ridiculing other people’s convictions or beliefs is a terrible way to go about doing the latter because their minds will close up like clam shells. I’m guilty of it myself, although I’m changing my ways.
Atheists are a group who have developed a bad habit of doing this and it really doesn’t help their cause. I’ve never believed in God and when in my twenties I began to think of myself as an atheist I became quite enthralled by the game of online believer-bashing. It seemed like fun and it made one feel superior, but I realise now that you cannot bring the world up by knocking others down. You see, it’s not because I’m particularly smart than I don’t believe in God, it’s because it just so happens that I wasn’t told by the authority figures in my childhood that God is true. I got lucky, you could say. Sure, I like to believe even if I had been raised as a believer in God that I would have eventually found the courage to accept that there’s an important difference between belief and truth, but I can never know that for certain. I might have done, I might not.
When you demand of someone that they cease to believe in God, to the non-believer it appears as if they are merely asking someone to abandon an imaginary friend, but from the believer’s perspective they’re been asked to walk away from their family, from their loved ones; to step off a ledge and drop onto another ledge that you say is there but they cannot see. Without an understanding of and sympathy for this situation there’s no chance of progress. There’s many an atheist that I think would do well to remember this. End of digression.
Humour can be a useful tool for those attempting to change the world. It’s a good way of reminding us that as human beings we have much in common, we all like to laugh, but it’s best used kindly. It’s really only beliefs and convictions that make us in any significant way different to each other, and those begin life as and very often remain merely a mental inheritance.