Opinion: No laughing matter?


Nobody likes to be mocked. In fact, it might be at the bottom of the list of things that we adore. Since we all universally dislike it so much, one might think that we’d stop doing it to each other. The problem is that taunting remains a near surefire way to get a reaction, even to knock someone off their center. Through these many years of human civilization, we’ve learned a lot about how to get others to do as we please. To make fun, as the insidious little couplet goes, may be enjoyable for the provoker but is most assuredly not for the target. And it appears that being laughed at is very different than laughing.

Why do we care so much? To mock is simply to ridicule our attire, attributes, ideas, or preciously held possessions. Does it really matter what someone else thinks? Mocking the truth doesn’t make it any less the truth. Mocking us doesn’t make us any less us. But if we are mocked, the weak in our social group may shun us, afraid to confront that the mocking might then be directed at them.

Shame and humiliation are powerful, if overused, tools to control behavior. Perhaps they should be. Still, what is their proper limitation? When does mocking become bullying? When are we not allowed to imagine a different, at least different from the prevailing opinion, truth without risking real harm at the hands of a powerful government, or academy, or business? Is it our moral obligation to resist the bully or to protect our families, and ourselves, from the harm of ridicule, or worse? Is greatness borne from resisting the mob or from acquiescence to it? Is there virtue in contrarianism? Is there virtue in subjecting one’s beliefs to the scrutiny of the majority?