Statues in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada
A fine sense of humour is one of the defining characteristics of highly evolved, civilized human beings. Cartoonists have these characteristics in spades, yet often pay dearly for honest insight and depiction of people and situations that entertain us.
Danish cartoonists depicting Mohammed resulted in deaths of other unrelated people around the world: twelve people at Charlie Hebdo were murdered by terrorists; cartoonist Bill Leak was hounded to death by the Australian Human Rights Commission for his penetratingly honest depiction of Indigenous; and now we have Walkley Award winning Mark Knight being globally pilloried by the rich, powerful and emotional, who have chosen to read racism and sexism into a cartoon on the bad sportsmanship of a privileged champion.
Knight’s cartoon didn’t raise hackles in Australia until taken up by the US and other international media. Australians generally still have enough of the larrikin in them to enjoy the joke and call out a bad sport as it is. Unlike the USA partisan tennis audience, Williams’ behaviour on our patch would more likely be heckled and booed. She would have been urged to get on with it.
Caricature and satire are of critical importance to good cartooning, requiring exceptional draughtsmanship, wit and deep humanity. Cartoonists dare us to see what is true and use humour to do so. What’s to be offended about?
By contrast, so called “progressivism” springs from emotion or magical, wishful thinking that has a feel good air about it. The progressive follows a false and seductive “feel good” doctrine that has no means of weighing costs to some people against benefits to others. No reality. No limiting principles. Creeping totalitarianism is on full display in the outrage industry.
Social media has become a powerful force for promoting moral outrage and tribalistic sentiment. As such the pursuit of prevailing progressive themes through social media provides a form of therapy for the faithless. They can feel good about bolstering a cause, about asserting power over others, about passing damning judgement, regardless of how damaging the cause may be to individuals or the broader community, or how much they distort reality and values.
Caution about pursuing the “progressive” outrage line can be found in at least two historical factors at personal and tribal level. Jordan Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life, details a story of his personal friend who, over many years, passionately pursued various worthy environmental causes under threat of catastrophe. Overcome with powerlessness and exhaustion, the friend ultimately destroyed himself, showing it is much better to focus on the positive while taking action on real issues.
The second caution is the creeping totalitarianism of the outrage industry that, whipped up through social media without any basis in reality, inherently apes Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Social media enthusiasts whose education has failed them, may not be aware of the tens of millions of innocent people who were killed and the many more sent to country re-education camps as a consequence of the tribalistic totalitarianism of China’s Cultural Revolution. No alternative voice was allowed regardless of reality. Sound familiar? Often this is the case today, when those with an alternative position are accused of being racists, homophobic, sexist, Nazis or worse. Reality is disallowed under post-truth conditions as truth speakers are “de-platformed”.
Pursuing “progressive” causes can be the most regressive thing a person can do for themselves and their community.
Truth and reason
Progressive calls tend to be couched in moral terms of the prevailing “faith”. Dissenters or deniers (think global warming) are “outside the church” of tribally accepted norms and are to be denounced, publicly and with vigour, reminiscent of the stocks of old. Any progress in law, such as Habeas Corpus or right to self-defence, is obliterated in childish demonization of the person rather than a rational discussion of issues. Furthermore, anyone remotely associated with the target (family, associate or business) can unwittingly be sucked into the maelstrom of malevolence, self-interest, self-indulgence and threats of violence and death. Truth and reason go out the back door.
Yet truth is the only thing that can be built upon for a better present and satisfying future. Emotion, magical, wishful thinking and tribalism won’t do it, regardless of how self-satisfying (elating even) that tribalist action for a cause may have on a person.
As articulated in my book Becoming, truth requires courage, a seemingly vanishing attribute. A general lack of backbone is evident when US university students need comfort puppies to deal with day-to-day realities (Trump won the election) that offend their sensitivities. Root cause may be found in parenting and professionals who, for a couple of generations, have sought to protect children from reality, spare their hurt feelings and make a life-long career for themselves in the process. Note the exponential growth in experts, bureaucrats and blamed parents.
Pride of sensitivity
Becoming also focuses on pride of sensitivity as limiting good decision making. In particular, pride of sensitivity is pre-eminent in the outrage industry, making it virtually impossible to hold a rational conversation on any topic with someone who is always offended. In effect, the pride of sensitivity is a highly emotional function intended to limit free speech, for which it has proved quite successful. Visiting speakers of alternative positions and their audiences are bullied, harassed and threatened, as are the venues in which they speak. In a climate of intense political correctness, ordinary people are constantly on notice as to whether what they say, do, or intend, will offend another, resulting in the heavy hand of the law, or worse the maelstrom of social media.
The outcome is that parties fail to mature, fail to deal with realities they block from penetrating their wall of safe, if false, beliefs. Ultimately, the precious fail to contribute meaningfully to dialogue or life. Pride of sensitivity is the humourless predisposition of people who badly need to lighten up, deal with reality however painful, and give themselves and everyone else a break.
A sense of humour
From my origin in a large dysfunctional family I learned that incisive black humour provided lightness amongst darkness in dire life experiences. Difficulties were not ignored or glossed over; just not perennially fertilised. Offence given soon passed; grudges were not held for long; and each of us learned to suck it up and get on with it as should have Serena Williams.
In no way were we as privileged and feted as Serena, though we could teach her a lesson or two – in gratitude, rather than offence; and how to laugh at yourself when a cartoonist like Mark Knight has created images so accurately depicting your behaviour. Especially when it is the truth!