Why comedy matters: Understanding the art that will redeem human civilization.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

“Have you filled out your ObamaCare paperwork, punk?”

I’ve been on a tear about comedy lately, and it were well to be more explicit about what I mean.

The issue is this:

1. Conservatives are aware that they are losing the so-called culture war, and that their loss is at least partly the result of their failure to capture the attention of voters by means of the popular media — which are now all firmly under the intellectual control of de facto Marxists.

2. Conservatives hope to regain electoral relevance by producing, promoting or at least underwriting popular art.

3. The only art that will do that job is comedy. This is not a matter of taste but of practical politics: What conservatives need is not art that will make their own hearts swell, but works of the mind that will move voters away from the Welfare State and toward Middle Class self-reliance. Comedy as it is discussed here is the only kind of art that makes people better as individuals, thus it is the only art that will achieve the objectives conservatives seek.

Comedy is distinguished from tragedy. As with many other terms, I wish I had some other word I could swap in for dismabiguatory purposes.

By comedy I do not mean:

• Farce — funny faces, goofy stunts, fart gags

• Stand-up comedy — which is very often tragedy with jokes

• Satire — which is always tragedy with jokes

• Serial/situation comedy — which generally has no story arc at all

The terms comedy and tragedy are simply ways of understanding the arc of a story. In a comedy, the hero wins. In a tragedy, he loses. In a comedy, the hero triumphs by deploying his mind against malign fates. In a tragedy, malign fates overwhelm the hero. In a comedy, the hero eats the bear. In a tragedy, the bear eats the hero.

As further disambiguation, digest this chart:

Comedy Tragedy
Action moves from worse to better better to worse
Action is driven by protagonist other forces
Action is caused by protagonist’s choices villain/chance/fates/gods
Outcome is determined by protagonist’s actions other forces
Philosophical message is libertarian, individualist, egoistic authoritarian, collectivist, anegoistic
Ending is happy sad
Audience leaves feeling inspired, uplifted depresssed, down-trodden

Note that a story is not a comedy simply because you have someone to root for. War movies are tragedies, overall, as are super-hero movies. In crime and action dramas, the antagonistic forces, whatever they are, are generally well-treated and the classical liberal institutions conservatives allegedly support are often bested by vengeance and retribution, which those classical liberal institutions exist to eliminate. And, of course, many stories we are apt to label as comedies are simply celebrations of vice.

The word celebration matters, this for two reasons: Second, simply to partake of art is a celebration, dessert after dinner as it were. But first, the story is itself a celebration of the values of the artist and his patrons. Every story presents its own worldview, its own representation of how the world works. The events of the story, and its outcome, will be self-consistent to that worldview, and the ending will be the artist’s assertion about how the world should work. Every work of art expresses the artist’s values, and every celebration of a work of art is a celebration of those values.

Do you think that any amount of explosively violent collateral damage to the lives and property of innocent parties is acceptable, so long at the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end? If not, you might rethink your enthusiasm for action, super-hero and war movies.

Do you think any kind of vengeance or self-destruction is appropriate when a yearning love is frustrated? If not, you might want to listen more carefully to the lyrics of the songs you ingest by the dozens every day. Mostly, they’re about how you definitely do not want your spouse or children to behave.

Do you think ideas like the rules of evidence and due process of law are just for suckers? Do you want for the police to treat you the way every movie and TV cop celebrated by conservatives behaves — “No trial, no forms to file.” If not, you might give a thought to the values you lament are not being transmitted to voters. If Dirty Harry or Ironman is the moral ideal, what would the world be like if everyone behaved that way?

The art that conservatives celebrate is too often tragedy by the standards presented here: It presents a malign view of the universe in which the only hope for the little guy is the big guy who breaks all the rules of civil society in the service of a putatively higher ideal. This is just Nietzscheanism with a fig-leaf of morality over it: The big guy never turns on the little guy, provided he is grateful and obsequious.

Is that what you’re aiming for, a civilization based on a comic book? If it is, here’s some good news: This is exactly where the Marxists are already taking you. The little guy will be quite a bit smaller than you foresee, but there will be no end to his obsequiousness — at least until your back is turned.

What should conservatives want from art — not as their own personal violence-porn but as the messaging tool that will wean voters away from the Welfare State?


In the comedic plot, the little guy becomes a bigger guy over time by deploying his own mind to solve his own problems. You know, like real life in places less than fully-dominated by Marxist big guys. This is Middle Class self-reliance in action, and by telling that same story over and over again — as we have done for all of human civilization — we teach individual people how to make their own lives better.

Comedy is the art that makes people better — more independent, more self-reliant, better prepared to take on the next challenge, happier.

Tragedy is the art that makes people worse — more dependent, less self-reliant, more helpless, sadder.

Which kind of art will produce the kind of citizens — and the kind of civilization — conservatives want to see?

Which kind will produce more de facto Marxists?

If your goal is to see more free people freely pursuing their own goals on their own initiative, the art you should be underwriting is comedy. As a matter of taste, you might reconsider your own predilection for tragedy; it’s not good for you; it’s not good for civilization; it’s not good for anyone. But as a matter of political strategy, the only art that will achieve the goals that conservatives, classical liberals and libertarians seek is comedy.

No one else is telling you this. That’s why you should be talking — and listening carefully — to me.

Connecting the dots to redeem human civilization – while there is still time…

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