I understand that NPR has a July 4th tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence now going on 30 years. Last year saw among some supporters of President Trump responses reflecting a mental framework of someone who “flees when no one pursueth”
The Declaration was many things that inspired an assortment of feelings among the inhabitants of the American colonies and the England that seemingly held undisputed power of those same colonies.
One of the inspirations achieved by the Declaration of Independence was that of ridicule and mockery of people in power and their supporters who took themselves too seriously.
Those who attempt to keep power by intimidation and force are usually terrorized at the prospect of being ridiculed – disrespected if you will – before a public audience. Such people many times are possessed of self-images that have little bearing on how people really think of them. One objective for such narcissistically inclined individuals is a campaign to establish a domineering political environment that is reinforced by yes-men/women toadies, to preserve an image.
In Ridicule as a Weapon, a White Paper of The Institute of World Politics (2006), Michael Waller relates the following story that demonstrates the power of mockery in the face of seemingly unreasonable behavior driven by a sense of self-righteous power based on violence.
Americans have used ridicule as a potent weapon to cut its enemies down to size
since the Revolutionary War. Ridicule served two wartime purposes: to raise the people’s morale by helping them to laugh at their enemies, and to dent the morale of enemy forces.
Despite their far superior training, discipline, skill and firepower, the British were
unprepared for combat with the colonists. The Americans were guerrilla fighters who had the bad form not to stand in formation on a battlefield and to shoot at enemy officers.
The British handily won the first engagement, the Battle of Lexington in April,
1775, but suffered heavy losses during their march from Concord back to Boston with Americans shooting at them from behind trees and rocks. Bostonians jeered.
Among the many poems and ditties circulating around Boston after the opening shots of the war at Lexington and Concord was this one:
How brave you went out with muskets all bright,
And thought to befrighten the folks with the sight;
But when you got there how they powder’d your pums,
And all the way home how they pepper’d your bums,
And is it not, honies, a comical farce,
To be proud in the face, and be shot in the arse.
Such mockery stung: the British army at the time was the finest, most experienced
and most formidable in the world, its officers and men proud of their history, in their view, of gentlemanly warfighting.
The practically un-trained, mostly un-uniformed, often un-disciplined, frequently uncouth, and generally low-class American riffraff, in British eyes, were no worthy adversary at all.
With fife and drum as important means of battlefield coordination and
communication, British troops ridiculed the Americans with songs like “Yankee Doodle,” whose mocking lyrics the colonists changed and embraced as their own anthem.
That counter-ridicule operation unsettled the Redcoats. One British soldier recorded, “After our rapid successes, we held the Yankees in great contempt, but it was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune.”17
To run when no one pursues is a tell. It reveals the insecurity of a leader who cannot tolerate disagreement, let alone criticism as well as the insecurity of supporters who resort to violence in reaction to public criticism of their leader. I am not speaking strictly of the current Republican crop, but I will quote a much admired Republican President who agreed with me.
To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. – President Theodore Roosevelt
Last night we watched The Last Laugh on Netflix which is about how survivors of The Holocaust talked and reacted (positively and negatively) to humor and humorous attempts by others to cope with an on-going horrible atrocity.
I cannot compare my life to the life of those survivors, but it got me to thinking about the power of ridicule, satire and mockery to resist bullying in all its forms, particularly in these past years of political change.
As a teenager I believed that I was a physical weakling and would be no match in a fist fight with anybody, a bully coming after me or should I choose to pick a fight with someone else as part of the teen macho image making we all went through.
To this day I have long memories and personal grudges against young men who I felt tormented me and whom I felt exploited my reluctance to engage in violence as cowardice. In retrospect over the years, I’d rather have a memory of responding to the challenges with boots and fists – and take the inevitable beating I knew would come – rather than look back upon times when I felt I had no courage to stand up for myself.
At one point, there is a particular memory of someone sitting on my chest and poking me in the face. Feeling helpless, I could only fight with words and discovered – despite my pain and suffering – that my desperate mockery got to him. When he realized that I was mocking him and no amount of fisticuffs could make me stop, he got up and walked away. I have no illusion that he thought he’d lost the fight, but I knew somehow that my resistance had served me well.
I have always had a sense of humour that has in fact served me well in helping me philosophize circumstances that I have no choice but to endure. Such is the power of ridicule, satire and parody.
In many cases our comedians and cartoonists are part of the buttress of resistance to political, physical, emotional and psychological tyranny. Ridicule and mockery as a tool of deterrence as well as response against public outrage ought to be more readily aroused.
In truth whether mocking a vain president for his narcissism, an armed-to-the-hilt 2nd- amendment shopper in a department store, bands of grim and staring marchers waving swastikas, and the always present emotional trigger-happy racists willing to call the cops on anyone who hurts their feelings or raises the insecurity of their own fears and suspicions we would do well to more overtly laugh at antics of those who take themselves way to seriously.
The same national contempt that continues to rise against the junior high school male chauvinism that manifests itself as sexual abuse and harassment is the same national contempt that must rise against the bullies who threaten our own internal stability and who have embarrassed and discredited the nation in the eyes of the global community.
Michael Waller’s Conclusion
Ridicule is a powerful weapon of warfare. It can be a strategic weapon. The
United States must take advantage of it against terrorists, proliferators, and other threats.
Ridicule is vital because:
• It sticks.
• The target can’t refute it.
• It is almost impossible to repress, even if driven underground.
• It spreads on its own and multiplies naturally.
• It gets better with each re-telling.
• It boosts morale at home.
• Our enemy shows far greater intolerance to ridicule than we.
• Ridicule divides the enemy, damages its morale, and makes it less attractive to
supporters and prospective recruits.
• The ridicule-armed warrior need not fix a physical sight on the target. Ridicule
will find its own way to the targeted individual. To the enemy, being ridiculed
means losing respect. It means losing influence. It means losing followers and
repelling potential new backers.
• To the enemy, ridicule can be worse than death. At least many enemies find death
to be a supernatural martyrdom. Ridicule is much worse: destruction without
martyrdom: A fate worse than death. And they have to live with it. Ridicule as a Weapon