In the current climate of severe polarization, self-flattering bias, and the currently dying climate, it’s hard to maintain a sense of calm and equilibrium. Half the population fears the rise of a reactionary regime heralding the end of American civilization, while the other half believes in a full conspiracy of elite suppression and manipulation of their opportunities and very thoughts. In this caustic environment, what can people do to hold onto hope or joy? How can we learn to laugh and love again?
As your resident fundamentally unserious blogger and relentlessly unfunny humorist, I have some tips.
First, it’s important to keep matters in historical perspective. This is not the worst period in American history—it’s the third worst. The Great Depression was worse, mostly. The Civil War was way, way worse. Are we in a Civil War? No, so stop complaining. Ask yourself: could we be heading toward nuclear war? Yes, so why would you bring that up? Geez, I’m trying to cheer everyone up here.
Second, watch weird things on YouTube. Do you like cats? There are hilarious cat videos, I’m told by a friend who isn’t me. In fact, I recently calculated that 35% of YouTube is nothing but hilarious cat videos. The remainder is movie trailers (15%), commentaries about movie trailers (19%), Jimmy Fallon sketches (10%), James Cordon sketches (11%), Saturday Night Live sketches (2%), dog videos (3%), and random stuff (5%). The point is: dogs are not very funny.
But the random stuff includes odd videos that are hugely popular in places like Bangladeshland and Peruzilaguay; watching them will make you wonder why you find anything interesting at all. An hour-long performance of street drummers interspersed with butt-focused dancing? It’s all the rage in Madagascabar! A funny ad from a furniture rental company about a dad interviewing his daughter’s boyfriend? It’s only funny in Indiapalstan! Can you even believe these places exist? You must send me money!
Third, some philosophical speculation on the ephemerality of life and the tragedy of human suffering isn’t out of order. As Americans, we’re used to being hopeful and even confident about the future; we’re not used to thinking that we live in decaying society headed by a Russian matryoshka doll (he only gets smaller the more you uncover). Yet people throughout the world have struggled with fear and powerlessness their entire lives. Something must keep them going—some sense of grim determination and gallows humor must serve them well. As the saying goes: what doesn’t kill you makes you crippled, unless it kills you later. Keep that in mind, and you’ll never be too depressed, because you can’t get further depressed than that.
Fourth, read this book about how we can leave Earth as soon as possible.
Fifth, and finally, I have a tip that’s not really enjoyable in any way. It’s this: try to lead a life that’s true and right, regardless of what’s swirling around you. Don’t get caught up in anger and bitterness; don’t stoop to hate or lose faith because your enemies have done so, and want desperately for you to join them. C.S. Lewis wrote one of the best explorations of the nature of banal evil—the nature of careless, sarcastic, beguiling evil—in the Screwtape Letters, a satiric set of instructive letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. Corruption, according to this imp, is not a case of twisted ugliness; it’s a case of slow and careful poisoning:
- “All extremes…are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent…. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.” [Letter VII]
The nature of social destruction is mutual hatred and spiraling resentment, and everyone who participates has responsibility for the storm. In other words, if you allow yourself to be poisoned, then you’ll find yourself poisoning others, too—and that is definitely not funny at all.