Thursday, August 11, 2016

No Laughing Matter: A Rare Entry About Politics

Today’s blog entry is going to be directly anti-Donald Trump.  Insight Outside In is intended to be educational, informational, and a medium to share my own experiences in mental health.  For the most part, I try to keep politics off the blog.  My goal is not to alienate anyone, but I’ve had something circling in my brain that’s been bothering me about recent political events.  A number of things I have found problematic, I have been able to identify and address either in my own processing, or discuss within my own circle of friends and family.  I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until earlier today.  I was browsing a social media site, and came across a series of tweets by a gentleman named Jason P. Steed, an attorney from Dallas, Tx.  I am, with permission, sharing them here with you.  I am sharing them all together in sentence form instead of the series of 140 character posts of the cited content.  Content is unchanged, except for where changes in punctuation serve to convert the text from a series of tweets to paragraph form.
“I wrote my PhD dissertation on the social function of humor (in literature & film) and here's the thing about ‘just joking.’  You're never ‘just joking.’ Nobody is ever ‘just joking.’ Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).  To say humor is social act is to say it is always in social context; we don't joke alone. Humor is a way we relate/interact with others.  Which is to say, humor is a way we construct identity - who we are in relation to others. We use humor to form groups and to find our individual place in or out of those groups. In short, joking/humor is one tool by which we assimilate or alienate.  IOW (In other words), we use humor to bring people into - or keep them out of - our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it's for.
Consequently, how we use humor is tied up with ethics - who do we embrace, who do we shun, and how/why?  And the assimilating/alienating function of humor works not only only people but also on *ideas.* This is important.  This is why, e.g., racist "jokes" are bad. Not just because they serve to alienate certain people, but also because they serve to assimilate the idea of racism (the idea of alienating people based on their race). And so we come to Trump.  A racist joke sends a message to the in-group that racism is acceptable. (If you don't find it acceptable, you're in the out-group.)  The racist joke teller might say ‘just joking’ - but this is a *defense* to the out-group. He doesn't have to say this to the in-group.  This is why we're never ‘just joking.’ To the in-group, no defense of the joke is needed; the idea conveyed is accepted/acceptable.  So, when Trump jokes about assassination or armed revolt, he's asking the in-group to assimilate/accept that idea. That's what jokes do.  And when he says ‘just joking,’ that's a defense offered to the out-group who was never meant to assimilate the idea in the first place.
Indeed, circling back to the start, the joke *itself* is a way to define in-group and out-group, through assimilation & alienation.  If you're willing to accept "just joking" as defense, you're willing to enter in-group where idea conveyed by the joke is acceptable.  IOW, if ‘just joking’ excuses racist jokes, then in-group has accepted idea of racism as part of being in-group.  Same goes for ‘jokes' about armed revolt or assassinating Hillary Clinton. They cannot be accepted as ‘just joking.’  
Now, a big caveat: humor (like all language) is complicated and always a matter of interpretation. For example, we might have racist humor that is, in fact, designed to alienate (rather than assimilate) the idea of racism. (Think satire or parody.)
But I think it's pretty clear Trump was not engaging in some complex satirical form of humor. He was "just joking." In the worst sense.  Bottom line: don't accept ‘just joking’ as excuse for what Trump said today. The in-group for that joke should be tiny. Like his hands.”

Mr. Steed very eloquently stated what I have been feeling: the jokes are designed to make us who disagree feel like outsiders.  This is always unsettling.  Human beings are pack animals.  We need to belong.  Regardless of what a person’s specific opinion is, they are likely to feel strongly about it and confident in their belief.  
We look to leaders to guide us.  They are in a position to be role models.  Whether it’s a teacher, religious leader, a coach, a celebrity or a politician, people are listening.  I am all about personal responsibility.  If a role model advocates my causing harm to someone else, it is still up to me to know right from wrong, and not hurt another person.  But not everybody is going to think or feel the same way I do.  We trust our leaders not to steer us in the wrong direction.  This is responsibility that we give to them.  I feel this responsibility as someone who blogs about mental health.  I do my best to give accurate information, and state wherever appropriate ways for someone to be safe.
Getting back to Mr. Trump: stating that he was joking when he called for harm to come to another presidential candidate, or their hypothetical Supreme Court nominee, is reckless.  He has assumed a leadership role by accepting his party’s nomination, and is soliciting your vote and mine.  I believe he has betrayed us.  Saying he was just joking is how he goes about denying any responsibility for what may come of his words.  Whichever way a person may, in his opinion, misinterpret his joking has the potential to cause harm.  If a person takes him seriously, another human being’s life is endangered.  For the rest of us who don’t see the humor, we are the outsiders.  This is not a position I am second-guessing whatsoever.  I am perfectly happy not to be supporting him.  But at a deeper level, calling it a joke is designed to discount our feelings and experience, and therefore, our basic humanity.  I don’t want IOI to turn into a political blog, nor will I allow it.  But especially after reading the words of Mr. Steed, I felt compelled to share them with you, and say something.  
As I wrote in an earlier entry about media saturation, I encourage you to take care of yourself, and monitor your own exposure.  I get to where it’s too much, and I have to change the radio, or turn off the TV.  No matter your political affiliation,

Be well.

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