A Short Confession on the Morality of Humour

Many of us know that some of the best jokes are at someone else’s expense. So long as there is a balance, and no one person is being laughed at constantly against their will, this is perfectly acceptable.

For example, there was a Viking King named Hastein in the 9th century who wanted to invade Rome and slaughter its citizens. Since he couldn’t get past the walls of Rome, he lay on a stretcher and had his men act as though he was dying. Hastein claimed that he wished to convert to Christianity before his death, and asked that he be baptized inside the Holy Church.

He was baptized, and fifty cloaked men were allowed to attend his funeral as planned. When they were least expecting it, Hastein burst his way out of the coffin and ripped his way through the rabble until they had plundered their way through as much of the city as their numbers would allow. Overcome  with victory, cheering and shouting, it was only at this point that Hastein realised that he’d just ransacked a vague and unknown city called Luna, 250 miles outside of Rome.

Inevitably, this story will not have you crying with laughter, but it illustrates a point: there is humour to be found at someone else’s expense, and what is wrong with that? I do not think such a story would be less funny today- we always enjoy humour at the expense of people who do stupid things. It’s a natural part of our society that we should laugh at each other. So long as this does not amount to bullying, there’s absolutely no reason why we couldn’t allow this.

But there is more than one type of humour: some people prefer darker, satirical humour. I know some friends that can tell some jokes which make me wince, but they find absolutely hilarious. I don’t have a particular problem with it, even if they do scare me on the odd occasion.

What I am really curious about is what are we not allowed to laugh at? Is it immoral to laugh at certain things?

For example, several of my relatives were laughing while attending a female relative’s funeral. You might say this is disrespectful, but I have every reason to believe that celebrating someone’s life can be humorous and respectful. At my own funeral, I am considering having a headstone made in the shape of a giant “Do not disturb” doorhanger, to reflect my own satirical sense of humour and scepticism about life after death. The reason that they were laughing, in this particular instance, was that the vicar who was giving the reading at the grave side gave off the impression, more than once, that he was about to fall into the hole. No one wished this man any ill will, but his seeming inability to maintain his balance and the sheer improbability of a Vicar falling into a grave whilst running a funeral was viewed humorously at the time.

Let’s apply Ultilitarian ethics and ask ourselves: is it immoral to laugh in certain situations? Or is it just socially unwise?

Based purely upon the consequences (the basis of utilitarianism), laughter provides no physical harm to anyone, nor can much be said for the psychological effects. No one likes being laughed at, but humour is one of our greatest strengths as a species, so it makes sense, if A is laughing at B, to tell B not to take the comments seriously. B will have equal chance to laugh at A at some point in the future, and so very little is lost.

It seems to me to be a great strength to be able to laugh at yourself- for what does the bully have if you take that from them? As someone who experienced bullying, I know it’s not always that simple, but it can be applied on a smaller level. Laughter can be cruel, but not reacting in the way that people are expecting will always be to your advantage.

Let’s go back to the funeral; if someone laughs at a funeral, what are the consequences? Perhaps someone will be offended? Well, first and foremost, I think people would feel confused and feel a little embarrassment for the people laughing.

I don’t think we should presume that people would be offended. And if they are, they can have a quiet word with whoever is laughing, and the person will generally stop or excuse themselves out of kindness to the offended person. But ultimately, the question must be asked, does it have a huge impact if someone is offended? I’m not saying it’s nice to be offended, but if you presume you know the exact reason why people are laughing and presume the worst all the time, then you are going out of your way to be offended. Someone may be upset if they make these assumptions, but most of the time, that’s about it.

What about from a Kantian perspective? Are we using anyone as a means to an end? Quite possibly, but equally possibly not- you would have to get inside the head of the person who was laughing to know if they were using another person as a means to an end (laughter). Would laughter still work if all people at funerals laughed (Second formulation of the categorical imperative)? Absolutely- if all people laughed at funerals, the idea of laughter would remain roughly the same.

However, as a disclaimer, I should say I do not advocate laughing at funerals; it would be very socially unwise. All I am saying is it is not necessarily immoral, nor should anyone presume to know what anyone else is thinking. Please do let me know your thoughts in the comments below; it is something I have been thinking about for a while. Should laughter be regarded in the same light as coughing in most social situations? I would not come down definitively on one side, but I am always sceptical of social norms.

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On Anti-Feminism

Feminism is problematic as a term because it is so vague. Vague concepts cannot immediately be dismissed (“Goodness” is also a vague concept), and many concepts inside feminism are vague in nature. For example, the one dimensional concept of male privilege is a vague concept.

However, the logical reciprocation of this is that the anti-feminist position is a bizarre one.

A friend of mine who is sceptical of feminism explained it to me: the term “Feminism” immediately creates hostility as a gender biased word. Why are feminists so focused on women, when both genders have issues?

My sceptical friend stated that the same issue occurred with Black History Month- there were many people who felt all the races had suffered in World History, so why should it not be World History Month?

Unfortunately this only made me think of Donald Trump and the “All Lives Matter” campaign in America (For those of you who don’t know, the conservative wing of American politics created the “All Lives Matter” campaign in response to the “Black Lives Matter” campaign) and I said so.

Another friend of mine retorted that the All Lives Matter campaign is akin to pouring water on two houses to put out a fire which is only happening in one house. I thought this was a fair statement to make.

My sceptical friend replied that this may be true of the ALM campaign, but cannot be said of Feminism, claiming both the houses were on fire, and feminists only focused on one.

I considered this for some time before I could think of a response.

The replacement analogy I came up with is this one: Feminism aims to bring about men’s rights by the establishment of women’s rights, from which all else flows. Feminism is the fire station with 5 officers who get a call from a house (House A) that’s on fire and a neighbour whose front garden is beginning to catch fire from the same incident (House B), but the neighbour is otherwise unharmed. Feminism says, that in order to solve the problem for the neighbour (in House B), the original problem must be solved first, and subsequently sends 4 officers to the first caller’s house (House A), and 1 officer to the second (House B).

feminism-poster

It is not that they disregard the second caller’s rights, but they have to tackle the problem at source, for the rights of both callers. By empowering women, men’s issues are automatically made potentially solvable.

Most anti-feminists however, are conservative, and so prefer to roast marshmallows on the fire and complain when others try to solve the problem.

Let’s take an example of a reasonably intelligent anti-feminist whom you may or may not have heard of: Lauren Southern. She is an anti-feminist and conservative Canadian woman, whose videos are used by Anti-Feminists worldwide.

You might recognise her more effortlessly by the video of her anti feminist arguments, which surged Facebook under the name “Woman destroys feminism in three minutes.”

This is the video

Lauren Southern “destroys” feminism in three minutes

In the video, Miss Southern states that she is explaining why she is not a feminist, so I wanted to take this opportunity to view this as the Anti-Feminist argument, and ultimately critique it.

The first thing you notice is how Rebel Media (the company who broadcast her speech) dressed her up in bright lighting. She is undeniably pretty in a conventional way, and this has been exaggerated through their use of bright red lipstick.

She starts by stating that feminism is not a synonym for equality, saying: “Why do we not see feminists complaining about the benefits which women have over men”
Well, Miss Southern, the simple fact is that we do: intellectual feminism is actually very outspoken about men’s issues. The list I compiled in the reference section (which is only a small sample of the thousands of feminist articles about men’s issues available online) actually cover almost all of the Men’s issues which are brought up in the video [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she was right on that first point.

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She then goes on to state that it’s a little known fact that 100,000-140,000 men are raped in US prisons annually. What I discovered upon investigation, was that the data she used is very unspecific and Human Rights Watch admitted that this was an anomalous figure compared with the data they’d previously collected [9]. That said there’s no denying the US is the only place in the world where more men are raped than women [10]  but this is entirely due to their prison system, which is a notoriously failed system. However, this seems a pretty null point- criminals are not people we can control. If you’re arguing for a better prison system with more rehabilitation facilities and stopping re-offending, which, being a conservative, I doubt Miss Southern is, I couldn’t be far behind you.

Miss Southern then asks the very important question of why there are almost no Safe Houses, Court Advocacy Programmes, and no subsidised counselling for men, despite men being “almost half of domestic abuse victims.” It is a very good point, and one I have written about in my capacity as a feminist [11]. However, the idea that Feminists are ignoring this issue is ridiculous: Survivors UK, whom I talk about in my article [11] are supported by many feminist groups, and articles online certainly prove this [4].

Then she uses classic marketing techniques, blasting you with statistics so you become confused and disorientated and miss some strangely obvious points: she tells us: Men make up 80% of Suicide Victims, 92% of Workplace deaths, 97% of combat deaths, and 77% of homicide victims.

But let’s slow those figures down for a moment…

It’s true, Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK too, with 76% of Suicide victims here being men [12]. However, the one group working to solve the problem of how fragile masculinity is- and almost all analysts agree, this is what created the problem- are feminists. Not being “manly” enough is an issue which feminists talk about all the time, as well as men being able to express emotions without being compared to a female as though it were a negative thing. If you raise women up to be equal to men, so that their gender is not looked upon as somehow weaker, then this problem solves itself almost immediately. This is a practical application of my fire analogy for feminism.

The homicide figures for the US state the male victims make up 77.4% to be exact, the highest number of which were black males. Despite being half of the US population, only 14.7% of women carried out these homicides [13] meaning the vast vast majority was male on male. Now I put it to you: how much of this might not have occurred had society not geared these men towards hostility, competition, and manliness, which so often becomes violence? And had not told us that violence towards men was somehow ever so slightly more acceptable? A society that does these things, and I will quite deliberately use cliché here, is a society that needs feminism. We cannot control criminals, but we can control and influence societal aspects which may result in violent crimes.

The figure for workplace deaths is actually 97% male here in the UK, but this is all down to biases in the industry of construction (which is where most workplace deaths occur) against women- many spokesmen say women would not be capable of gaining respect or trust in our construction industry [14]. Therefore, given the fact that this male issue flows directly from the anti-female bias in the industry, who is going to argue that feminism does not solve the issue for men, as much as it does for a generation of women who may want to be involved in the construction industry?

What about the issue of combat deaths in the US military? Well, from 1994 until 2012, women were banned from serving in ground combat units inside the US military. This might explain why the male casualty figures were so high. But it was a group of feminists arguing on the grounds of their Fifth Amendment rights to be treated equally to men, who challenged the Pentagon and finally got the rule reversed. [15] But it seems bizarre to argue that too many military casualties are male, and then, in the same video to complain, as Miss Southern does, that “I can get a government or military job more easily than men, just to fill a quota.” You can either complain that the ratio of male military deaths is too high, and support a quota aimed to solve this problem, or you can complain that quota’s exist which may show a bias towards women, but it seems counterproductive to moan about both positions. What two more contradictory positions could she possibly take on this issue?

As she goes on in the video after her blur of statistics, she says “Yet feminists continue to place this blanket judgement that all men are privileged.”

Tampons

I had a very long debate with my cousin (also a male feminist) on use of the term “Privileged”, so it occurs to me to be (ironically) a blanket judgement to say that “feminists continue to place a blanket judgement.” We simply don’t: one of the most remarkable things about the left, and what highlights their strengths in my mind, is how often small discrepancies can spark massive debates.

Privilege has both positive and negative consequences, and so is not a simple concept. A celebrity may be undeniably privileged in that they get special greeting and celebrity discounts in stores, but they will also find that they are unable to have a private life and are judged (both in the media and private conversations) purely upon people’s first impressions of them, resulting in social paranoia. But who would deny that a privilege exists for that class we deem as “celebrity”? On a smaller scale, this is how male privilege is working to be destructive for everyone involved. It is a privilege, but nonetheless a huge disadvantage to both genders. This is what I mean by privilege, as we refer to it, only being one dimensional due to it’s subsequent repercussions.

After this, she lists the benefits which she has over men. For example,  she is more likely to gain custody of children in a divorce case: Absolutely, but as many people have pointed out using National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG stats) [16] so much of this is due to the fact that the mother can claim to have spent more time on the child (as they do on average) because men, on a subliminal level, wrongly feel that they would be useless at childcare. Why is this? Because paternal emotions are crushed by the pressure to be “manly”, fulfiling our roles as the privileged man in society. Male privilege only works in the first dimension.

Once again, she brings up safe houses,  but I feel it is important to emphasise that she is merely repeating herself and the answers are all the same: in the end, the one dimensional nature of male privilege explains why women have far more safe houses than men. Men do not call out for help, because of societal pressures to fulfil that privilege, and subsequently, the demand is not visible.

This is where she brings up quotas, saying “I can get a government or military job, more easily than men, just to fill a quota” and, since she repeated herself, I will do so too: How can someone seriously say that they care that men make up 92% of workplace deaths and 97% of military deaths, whilst simultaneously whining about quotas?

The quotas are designed to solve this problem. Anyone who complains about both of these positions is either a hypocritical fool, or a deceptive attention seeker. Take your pick.

Personally I think she is roasting marshmallows on the fires of social inequality.

The she states “If feminism were a movement for equality, you would see feminists rioting about the 140,000 men raped.” Notice that she chose the figure from the highest end of the 100,000- 140,000 scale.

Feminists don’t riot, and it’s shameful that she makes out that people who riot represent feminism. In addition to this, Feminists write articles about Gender equality all the time. The conservative groups that Lauren Southern belongs to and her broadcasting company “Rebel Media” (I’ve never quite understood the concept of a conservative rebel- is this not an oxymoron?) simply ignore this, with their heads in the sandbox.

“You would see them questioning the fact that a woman gets less than half the sentence a man does, for the exact same crime” she goes on. Miss Southern brings up this once again, and once again, only has piety to spit out. All it takes is a quick google search. Many people I know will say “I never saw a feminist argue for men’s issues”- but how many intellectual feminists do you actually know? Your friend who claims to be a feminist may not bring up men’s issues often. Many Conservatives claim to be Christians, but I have never seen any of the conservatives I know personally quote large passages from the bible- does it therefore follow that Christian’s do not know any scripture? No- because, in any culture you have to look for the intellectuals who create the theory.

“I believe that I should prove that I’m worthy of a job, rather than having it given to me to fill a quota”- again, you can’t complain about Quotas while complaining about high male mortality rates in the workplace, but leaving this aside, this dramatically misrepresents quotas. These days, we do not have five people applying for a job. There is more often a minimum of twenty, and often qualified females. What the quota says is, if we have ten men and ten women applying for the same job, the women should be given special consideration to solve the long term problem of inequality. It does not grant one woman an automatic right to a job.

Survivors_Slide_01

Equally, if it is felt that one of the men is exceptionally suited for the job, quotas are delayed and reorganised. Even if only the women are seriously considered, they still have to compete against each other. In the unlikely situation that Miss Southern implies, that a woman should take the job because she is the only woman applying, a question would surely have to be asked : why are so few women applying for this job? Gender roles and one dimensional male privilege must inevitably play a part.

Miss Lauren Southern is engaged in an art of deception, believing that white privilege is a “dangerous myth” and that we shouldn’t allow mass immigration because immigrants are so culturally different from us and we didn’t simply let masses of communists into the West during the Cold War. (We did, by the way: West German leader Willy Brandt deliberately supported the mass of people who managed to smuggle their way past the Berlin Wall into West German territory. It was part of a policy called ‘Otspolitik’ and was a real turning point in the Cold War)

Her interviews are half baked and full of cutscenes, conveniently placed before an opponent’s reply. In one video, she speaks to a woman who works with Rapecrisis organisations and the woman tells her that just under ½ of all rape cases go unreported. Miss Southern then asks how they knew that cases had gone unreported, and was met by the response that people “ring in [to the rapecrisis centres] for help.” Then Miss Southern states: “So they are reported!” and there is an immediate cutscene. What is easy to miss when you are watching the video, but obvious when you read the transcript, is that the interviewee was talking about reporting to the police, whereas Lauren Southern deceptively made out that her interviewee was describing reporting to a crisis centre. A night and day difference.

The anti-feminist position is extremely old, and may be broadly described as the position that the conservatives have always held on this issue. The new age anti feminists are particularly intelligent, but mostly interested in saying what they say purely for effect. The people who listen to them and agree with them are the real concern: the half-truths of anti-feminism could have real negative impact on our society in the coming years, when the empowerment of women could solve so many of the problems we face on a worldwide scale. Empowerment does not mean domination, as Lauren Southern might read that phrase: it means bringing women into a state where the real benefits of femininity can be implemented as the development of ideas and policies in our society.

This is what it means to want equality.

This is what it means to be a feminist.

References

[1] http://feministing.com/2011/04/07/sexual-assault-of-men-in-the-military/
[2] http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/stop-justifying-prison-rape/
[3] http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/male-rape-epidemic/
[4] http://www.thefeministwire.com/2013/03/feminist-anxiety-about-domestic-violence-against-men/
[5] http://www.ifeminists.com/introduction/editorials/2002/0423a.html
[6] http://www.hystericalfeminisms.com/male-circumcision-is-a-feminist-issue-too/
[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-day/why-boys-are-failing-in-a_b_884262.html (author writes for Feminstcurrent)
[8] http://belle-jar.com/2013/08/24/men-feminism-mental-health/
[9] [https://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/prison/report7.html]
[10] [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/21/us-more-men-raped-than-women]
[11] [https://thecognitivesociety.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/the-side-of-feminism-no-one-is-talking-about/]
[12] [https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/suicide/]
[13] [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635092]
[14] [http://www.inside-man.co.uk/2015/03/03/97-employees-die-work-men-2009-2014-figures/ ]
[15] [http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-society/women-military-research-roundup]
[16] [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-meyer/dispelling-the-myth-of-ge_b_1617115.html]