Wednesday, March 16, 2005

On Laughing At People for Being Different

I ran across this passage by GKC while reading Hugh Kenner's book, Paradox in Chesterton:

"All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes: they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy.

"Quite equally spiritual and subtle is the idea at the back of laughing at foreigners. It concerns the almost torturing truth of a thing being like oneself and yet not like oneself. Nobody laughs at what is entirely foreign; nobody laughs at a palm tree. But it is funny to see the familiar image of God disguised behind the black beard of a Frenchman or the black face of a negro." (Sheed & Ward, 1947)

"Laughing at foreigners." Gentle GKC would never try to offend anyone, but how many PC police would thrash him for saying such a thing today! It doesn't matter that it's true. We celebrate diversity; we don't laugh at it. Chesterton, of course, wouldn't have seen anything offensive about laughing at someone because they're different, just as there's no record of him taking offense at people snickering at his lumbering and awkward ways. Such laughing can go too far, of course, but if done with charity (a mark always present in GK), there's nothing wrong with it.

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