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Laughter in the Gulag
Woke people are stupid, and stupid people are funny.
Woke people are funny. They are funny because they are stupid, and stupid people are funny. I insist upon this. If it becomes necessary, and if God grants me the courage, I will insist upon laughter right up until I am in the stocks or whatever modern equivalent these sniveling putzes dream up. When they march me out or lock me up or come for my head, I will laugh.
Recently when I expressed this sentiment online I was rebuked: “Nazis were hilarious until they weren’t.” “Stupid with power is not funny anymore.” I want to take these objections seriously enough to answer them, because I think they express a real and growing anxiety. It is an understandable anxiety for anyone who sees how dark things could get in this country and around the world.
The upshot of the objection is: critical race theory and woke doctrine are no longer any laughing matter. We sniggered at the Leftists while they worked diligently away, and now they have taken over our schools and our government. They are seriously engaged in bringing the country down around our ears. In the process, they are doing terrible harm to us and our children. This is nothing to be scoffed at.
With respect, I think this sentiment misses the point of laughter as a weapon against evil. True, there is a flippant kind of mockery which expresses complacency, and that kind is wholly inappropriate for our moment. We can no longer shrug off the absurdism of a phrase like “health care for trans youth” (meaning chemical castration). Most likely we should have realized that long ago.
And to be fair to The American Mind, I think we have been more earnest than most conservatives in our insistence that these people mean business. “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” said Voltaire—and though he was talking about the Christian church, which he despised, he was right that passionate faith motivates real commitment. So, I will grant: if laughter means dismissal, the time for laughing at the woke is long gone.
But there is another kind of laughter that is not so naïve. St. Thomas More famously said of the devil, “the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked.” I can only assume that those who reject this advice imagine it was written from a comfortable study somewhere in the English countryside. It was not. More wrote his Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation in the Tower of London, where he was awaiting execution. If ever a man knew whereof he spoke, it was More.
One must resist the temptations of fear and despair, wrote More, “not only...always with reasoning” but also with defiant contempt. Saints do not only argue with Satan: “sometimes they laugh him to scorn too.” Martin Luther echoed this sentiment (Tischreden ch. 25), as did C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters, which he wrote to encourage the British people amid the horrors of World War II. None of these men could be accused of taking evil lightly.
On the contrary: there is only one kind of man who can really laugh in the devil’s face, and that is the man who already takes it for granted that the worst people will have their day in this world. And so we earn the right to laugh at our persecutors only when we can proclaim and believe that their day is not the only day, and this world is not the only world.
In other words, the only laughter which can really persist in the face of evil is the echo of another voice, the deep and abiding mirth of “him who sits above and laughs the while” at Satan in his brief rage (Paradise Lost II.731-2). As Lewis pointed out in his preface to Paradise Lost, the poem’s depiction of divine laughter at Satan offends many readers' sensibilities, much as laughter in the face of wokeness offends many well-meaning people now. But Milton’s laughing God is scriptural: “he that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn; the LORD shall mock them” (Psalm 2:4).
All this is easy for me to say, perhaps: I am not currently in the Gulag, and the worst excesses of the woke cultural revolution remain (for now) the stuff of jokes. But that’s as may be. We must each of us pray for strength commensurate with the evils of each day, which are sufficient unto it. Still I do hope that, no matter how bad things get, I will find wokeness funny. For that is the kind of comedy that expresses not complacency but confidence: a confidence that though the devil may rage, we know who will have the last laugh.