Always have, no doubt always will. The wretched simulacrum of a fashionable woman was launched, or inflicted on the world about the same time that I started kindergarten, so you would have thought that I would have been one of the first generation of girls to have played with the grotesque thing – but I never felt the appeal, and it probably just wasn’t because Dad was a grad student living on a GI Bill stipend and supporting a wife and two small children at the time. But I had indulgent grandparents – and if I had truly wanted a Barbie doll, I am certain that one would have appeared at Christmas, or among birthday presents. But I never really wanted one, even though many of my friends had Barbies, their endless accoutrements and accessories, the Ken doll and all of Barbie’s friends. The one doll that I envied helplessly and wished that I did have was possessed by the girl my age who lived next door.
Americans – both those born on this soil and those who weren’t but who got here as fast as they could – are natural rebels, stiff-necked, stubborn, and not inclined to bow the knee and truckle to those who think they are our betters. Oh, it might not seem so in these dolorous times; too many of our fellows seem just too ready to be passive, landless serfs with an appetite for crumbs and approving notice from the wanna-be-nobility’s table, and too damned many outright want to be the nobles, or their willing henchmen/women/whatever. But a preponderance of us are not that ready to be pushed into servitude to the State – witness the drubbing at the pools that the voters of Wyoming gave to the presumed princess-heir of the landed house of Cheney yesterday. Losing an election by a 40% margin is not just the voters saying ‘no, thanks’, it’s the voters escorting the candidate to the city limits, brandishing buckets of tar and bales of feathers while snarling, ‘…and don’t come back!’
Ah well – I have long disapproved of political dynasties – the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Murkowskis, the Gores and their similar and lesser-known political ilk. The only political dynasty that was ever any good for America as republic and in the long term was that of John Adams, and that was back in the day when we all were pretty adamant that there would be no patents of nobility issued, tither formally or otherwise in this blessed experiment in citizen governance. For myself, I hated the choice I had between two scions of political dynasties in the 2000 election. What – a choice between two sons of political privilege? I think I held my nose and voted blindly, and can’t remember who for, not that it made much of a difference then or now. Although one of the two has retreated to a relatively quiet life in Texas, and the other has chosen to humiliate himself on the international stage as one of those campaigners for radical actions to oppose climate change, traveling hither and yon at great expense on energy-spewing jets.
Katherine Boyle is a partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and she is a thoughtful writer on many topics. See her post The Case for American Seriousness at Bari Weiss’s substack; also, her posts at her own substack, The Rambler, especially those concerning family, parenting, and technology.
In an interview, she said “The biggest criticism I got from the (American Seriousness) piece, and other times I’ve written about seriousness, is that it doesn’t leave room for frivolity, play or the unseriousness that makes us deeply human. And I empathize with that sentiment, but I don’t think the opposite of seriousness is humor: the opposite of seriousness is irony.”
I agree absolutely that there is no inconsistency between seriousness and humor…quite the contrary, I would say. Concerning Irony, I’m reminded of something C S Lewis wrote. The following is from The Screwtape Letters, a book of advice from a senior devil to his protege about how to do the maximum harm to humans:
But Flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers that inherent it the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.
Irony, I think, is closely related to the Flippancy about which Lewis’s devil wrote. Also related to irony is Sarcasm, concerning which Field Marshal Lord Wavell offered some thoughts:
Explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general’s reputation or influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them (“the privileged irascibility of senior officers,” someone has written), and it is not always resented, sometimes even admired, except by those immediately concerned. But sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven. (emphasis added) In the Peninsula the bitter sarcastic tongue of Craufurd, the brilliant but erratic leader of the Light Division, was much more wounding and feared than the more violent outbursts of Picton, a rough, hot-tempered man.
Wavell defined Sarcasm as “being clever at someone else’s expense.” In his view, sarcasm always offends, and a general (or, presumably, any other officer or individual in a position of authority) should never indulge in it.
I think that in many organizations in America today–perhaps, even, most organizations of any size–fear of Cancellation has reached the point at which easy interaction among people–which includes a certain amount of humor–has been replaced with a kind of fragile pseudo-formality. This is not good for either innovation or productivity, not to mention its toxic impact on individual lives.
What are your thoughts on humor, seriousness, irony, and sarcasm?