Recent events in the world have shaken people to their core, sparked mass protests, broken up families, and truly tested the allegiances of many people throughout the world. These bleak times have hardly left any room for humor to be present in the day to day lives of many people, and while there are plenty of comedians out there trying to make people laugh, there are only so many times one person can laugh at Alec Baldwin impersonating the rather orange President of the United States. It seems as though the world is moving ever so slowly towards the Platonic view of humor, one which is based on malice and misfortune, which in turn, must be avoided (Plato, 10-13), as no one is willing to laugh about the fact that families are being torn apart by a ban on immigration for nationals of seven middle-eastern countries. In his dialogue Plato states, through Socrates, that “to feel delight instead of pain when we see or friends in misfortune – that is wrong” (Plato, 12) and it is clear, especially now, that laughing at the misfortunes of others, even though they are not your own is simply something that should not be occurring, given the severity of those misfortunes.
This idea can be furthered by examining the theory of humor that is given by the ever-cheerful Thomas Hobbes. The author of Leviathan outlines his theory of humor by saying that laughter comes from when someone compares themselves to another, and realize that the other persons situation in life is a lot worse than theirs (Hobbes, 19) which does not make humor seem that great. It seems as though Hobbes would agree that humor is some sort of expression of relief upon realizing that there are people in a worse situation than they themselves are, almost a sort of coping mechanism for dealing with the sorrow and the suffering rampant throughout the world. Luckily Hobbes does provide an alternative, for finding humor in the suffering of others signifies inaction and acceptance. Rather than simply comparing ourselves to those less fortunate than themselves Hobbes states that “for of great minds, one of the proper works is, to help and free others from scorn, and compare themselves only with the most able” (Hobbes,19).
The alternative proposed by Hobbes is one which fits rather nicely with certain Jesuit ideals. In the reading from former Superior General Kolvenbach, he cites a Father Ignacio Ellacuria who said that Christian Universities must “be a voice for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to promote and legitimate their rights” (Kolvenbach, 30). Rather than laugh at these people as the Hobbesian theory would say people would, the Jesuits would have people recognize these differences, and assists those less fortunate than themselves, rather than laugh at their situation. While laughter may be a coping mechanism, it is not one which produces any sort of change. Upon hearing of the retaliation by Iran against the ban on its citizens entering the United States, I will be honest I laughed, because in all honesty, what American citizen was rushing to visit Iran in the first place, it’s not exactly a prime vacation destination. What my laughter was, however, was a Hobbesian coping mechanism, rather than realizing that there were more than likely American citizens with family back in Iran, who will now no longer be able to see them, or that these were the actions of nations more than likely gearing themselves towards some sort of larger conflict, I laughed it off. Rather than embrace the Jesuit ideal of being “men and women for others” (Kolvenbach, 30) I was a man for myself, I did not rush to protest the injustices being committed and understand that “that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor” (King, 2), but rather I used humor to distance and shelter myself from the harsh reality that is slowly unfolding in front of me.
It is clear that throughout history the opinions and uses of humor as literary devices, and just as parts of one’s everyday life has changed drastically. Dr. King knew that humor had its place in the world, and knew how to employ it to benefit his own movement. Others did not see humor as all that important, and some, like Plato, saw it as such a danger to the state that they wanted it barred from appearing in certain works. Regardless of the opinions and theories held by people and scholars throughout time, it is clear that humor, in one form or another, is an integral part of the human experience, and one that will not be vanishing any time soon.