The Self-Levity Rule ~ BitterSweetLife

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Self-Levity Rule

I have decided that a sense of whimsy, of ironic humor, is essential in this crazy-lovely world. Especially in fights. There’s no denying that we tend to take ourselves far too seriously, and this becomes clear when we get stirred up. By way of remedy, a cultivated understanding that I’m not the Grand Poobah of the known universe goes a long way toward mental health. It also helps in making friends. This principle, the Self-Levity Rule, as I call it, is essential for not coming off as a jerk—but it also provides for a lot of good fun.

For one thing, it allows you to talk up your hoops game around the water cooler with ridiculous bravado. The idea is that you are winking as you speak, even though no one actually sees your eye move. And then later, if you really do back up your smack… but why point out the obvious? The Self-Levity Rule has a many-faceted beauty.

Recently I’ve been considering this issue as it pertains to online conversations. My initial point, that we take ourselves far too seriously, emerges with disconcerting speed in e-debates. First the fight is about ideas. Then it evolves into an ironic arrangement where the contestants criticize everything except the ideas. So and so is philosophically misguided because he uses run-on sentences. The other guy is a moron because he hasn’t read my favorite books. And so on and so forth. It’s the playground “taunt” ethic dragged online.

Arguments can be fun, but they can also be inflammable, which is why I won’t enter a fight where straw men are involved. People start gesturing and accusing so fast they spit on themselves, and then the flames just swallow up the whole reason we were fighting in the first place. A battle to demonstrate the superiority of certain ideas becomes a war to establish the elitism of certain people.

If you want to take a stab at someone, you need to take aim at their pronouncements, something they actually said. If I laugh at you, it should be for your stated position, not because of a crayon drawing I made of you and stuck on the refrigerator. Caricature artists should not be allowed to engage in fist fights—unless they’ve developed the habit of caricaturing themselves.

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Oneway said...

Sho nuff. The straw man seems to become my enemy all too often. But is levity the solution? There are moments for it; it adds a bumper layer to debates. But, it seems that some situations call for unbridled passion that betray one's seriousness. In these cases, jocularity employed would be playing it safe and passing up your shot.

Thanks for bringing this up, I need a new "e-debate" approach.

LifeMoments said...

Just came from reading your blog,
have not much to say, just wish you well.

Ariel said...

"it seems that some situations call for unbridled passion that betray one's seriousness. In these cases, jocularity employed would be playing it safe and passing up your shot."

You're right, and I tend toward passionate argumentation myself. "Jocularity" can never be a substitute for making a crucial assertion, but "self-levity" can help us stay humble as we do so. Maybe I need to write a follow-up, clarifying that levity does not preclude seriousness.

See C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, others... Sometimes we need to smile, then stick a dagger in the opposing argument's heart.

Andrew Simone said...

I am with you Ariel. The contrast is almost bittersweet, no?


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife