HUMINT: Satire as Philosophy

Satire: a manner of writing that mixes a critical attitude with wit and humor in an effort to improve mankind and human institutions.

the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics.

originally the philosophy of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics; believing the worst of human nature and motives.

HUMINT: Political theater in the form of satire makes introducing taboo subjects relatively easy. Good satire has real power. Introducing a subject in the form of a joke is like adding a giggly escape hatch for all of a conversation’s participants. But comedic reprieves from responsibility only work for those willing or able to retreat from tough subjects. John Stewart and Steven Colbert are perfect examples of America’s finest satirists. These men herd public opinion with satire as if they were cowboys driving livestock across the mid-western prairie. These two brilliant comedians make Americans laugh about subjects that we would otherwise prefer to avoid. Even if we don’t need a humorous back door to the tough subjects in America, we still want a comedic escape hatch. Indeed, we’re willing to pay for it as though it were as important as our prescription drugs...

Unlike American society, some societies need a scocio-political escape hatch just to think straight. Anonymity (using an alias and IP Address masking software) combined with satirical ambiguity is particularly useful in societies where spreading controversy can get you executed. An Iranian dissident for example, might be able to speak his or her mind -- pseudo freely -- encrypted by satire -- to avoid a few years in jail, avoid a public beating, or avoid execution. Unfortunately, the fascist authoritarians ruling Iran with an iron fist today are not known for their sense of humor. But that’s them… not us… que sera sera.

Living in a society like America or Europe, where controversy is embraced, satire is an indelible art. Comedians are masters of controversy and Americans love comedians. But how does it work? Who protects a comedian’s right to joke and the audience’s right to laugh? We all do… To be sure, citizens afforded the requisite security to be controversial by their government and their society is a rare phenomenon. When juxtaposed against the violent and mostly authoritarian history of humankind, living with a little uncomfortable controversy every once in a while has become very comfortable indeed.

What changed? Who is responsible for our modern freedoms? We all are! Our role in society is a function of what we collectively believe or have the capacity to believe… Our social identity evolved through iterations of victory in our wars, curing our diseases, feeding our hungry children and learning from our dissenters --- be they satirists, philosophers or cynics.

Let’s not give to much credit to the suffering of our ancestors. Humanity is not made better through suffering. Humanity is made better by outwitting the causes of suffering. There is no humility in defeat. There is only humility in a willingness to change in order to succeed, eventually. Case in point: Americans respect each other’s inalienable rights because our intellectual DNA constantly informs us of the inherent danger of NOT respecting each others inalienable rights. To that end, satire has played a major role in helping Americans understand who we are.

For context, consider the satirical approach to feminism taken by the renowned philosopher Plato [1]. In ancient Greece, Plato introduced the idea of women’s participation in democratic government as if it were a satirical joke. His thoughts about women leading men were comedic, but prophetic. To what extent Plato thought women could or should lead society is debatable, but that’s not the issue. Given the status of women in ancient Greece, could Plato have introduced the idea of women’s rights without a satirical façade? Could any Athenian have protected Plato from an angry mob if he didn’t add a humorous escape hatch to the notion of Athenian women as equals or as leaders?

Nowadays, it’s taken for granted that the political ideas of American women deserve the attention afforded to all American citizens in every public forum. Ask any American and they’ll tell you about America’s implicit and explicit gender rules. What does Plato’s story teach us? The lesson is; Plato introduced the idea of feminism imperfectly and the subject has morphed into something else; a new feminist philosophy about gender and leadership. We know Plato’s philosophy did not spread without controversy or consequence. Consciously intended or not, Plato’s concepts on the subject were encrypted by satire. Satirical encryption may have saved his life… His satirical expression may have help create and thus save our American lives. It was Athenian society and Plato’s willingness to express his philosophy that contributed to the creation of our American democracy. America’s Founding Fathers knew Greek history.

As they did, we know too, ancient Athens was a bloody place in Plato’s day. Freedom and her companion, Justice [2], were talked about at great length in ancient Athens by men like Plato. But what ancient Athenians practiced wouldn’t look much like freedom or justice to modern Americans. That fact cannot diminish the socio-political trajectory ancient democracy established. It was their ancient mental model that helped develop the mental models of America’s Founding Fathers. If and when Americans are inclined to look for their philosophical ancestry, they’re bound to discover something about themselves. Regardless of what our emotion may tell us about the ancients and their ways, basic human freedoms are both subjectively and objectively defined in American law.

That said; is there a logical limit to freedom or justice? Are Americans a free people? Yes, we certainly are! Can Americans challenge their authority figures in public? Yes, we do! What about controversial opinions and American national security? Is it safe to disagree satirically, philosophically, or cynically on issues related to the security of the United States? Of course it is safe to do so! Whether or not it is healthy to be cynical about American leadership is another subject. The fact remains, U.S. National Security is represented by a highly educated cadre of career professionals who embody personal responsibility and sustain the American Republic with military strength, rational analysis and perpetual readiness.

My respect and admiration for this generation of American men and women leading the United States today cannot be overstated. Likewise, my ambition for them to succeed cannot be overstated. My success is inextricably linked to theirs, as is all Americans’ success. Their failure would be my failure… Failure is an unnecessary and unacceptable outcome and could only occur in the realm of ideas. History has shown that our freedom is our strength. History has shown what Americans can do. History suggests what Americans will do.

Are American officials perfect? No! Do they make mistakes? Yes! Are American officials approachable in the context of correcting the mistakes they’ve made? Yes, they are! These truisms exist whether or not American citizens agree or disagree with U.S. policy. Even the most obtuse critics of American foreign policy argue that American officials are doing what they believe is necessary to protect the United States and our allies abroad. That’s a good thing! American officials should be trying to protect American interests. In many instances, American interests coincide with the world’s interests, but that’s not the crux of most American disagreement, argument and debate. The core disagreements between Americans are over methods to achieve those interests, whatever those interests may be.

Are American citizens (or anyone else for that mater) obliged to treat their disagreements with American foreign or domestic policy issues as a joke, presented in satirical form, providing themselves and the United States Government a comedic escape hatch? No they are not! Are American citizens obliged to sue the United States government for every mistake one of its representatives makes? No, what a waste of time and tax! Are problems in society too big to fix without a utopian myth and a charismatic leader to chase? No, not at all!

In practical terms, however you decide to express yourself, look to others for advice, look for solutions and look for happiness. Keep your expectations realistic and optimistic. Realize, not all rules benefit society. Realize some members of society will refuse to follow the rules. Challenge the rules you think hurt more people than they help. Think about what rules people break and why. Challenge authority. Challenge cynics. Cynicism is as much an illusion as utopia and the charismatic leaders who claim utopia exists if only we were all perfect... None of us are perfect. Use historical analogy. Use your imagination. Use satire when it suits the subject matter, but know that satire stylistically distorts the material it conveys. Satire is the art of bending our familiar rules of implicit and explicit communication. Realize that success embraces communities that exercise their freedom to learn, speak and assemble. And finally --- Be proud of your ideology. Describe it accurately no matter how seductive it appears to be. Whatever you believe, if you only represent your philosophy as satire, it will forever remain the joke you’ve made it to be.


Plato as a Proto-Feminist --- EXCERPT: Of course, we cannot be absolutely certain of Plato’s views… such knowledge would be impossible without interviewing the philosopher himself. But, through careful analyses of his writings, we can certainly glean out ideas which paint him as a proto-feminist.

[2] The image is of blind justice with its pixel color inverted, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert in the upper right corner and the Parthenon sits in the lower right corner. Inverting the image of justice is my satire. The meaning remains but the overall seriousness of the statue is limited by manipulating the image’s color. Stewart and Colbert are brilliant satirists. While they are funny, the direction they are going with their satire deserves to be challenged. The Parthenon in the lower right corner represents the Athenian Empire, Athenian Democracy and Plato’s world. That era deeply influences Americans today even if most of us don’t realize it.

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