F.H. Buckley Gives Lecture at Shimer
On the evening of Tuesday, October 6th, Shimer College welcomed F.H. Buckley of the George Mason University School of Law to the podium for his lecture on The Morality of Laughter. Mr. Buckley is a member of the Shimer College Board of Trustees and is the Executive Director of the Law & Economics Center, Associate Dean, and Foundation Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. His lecture is based in part on his book of the same name, which examines the role of laughter and humor in society.
The central thesis of Mr. Buckley's talk centered around the idea of laughter serving not merely for the purpose of levity, but also as a moral compass. Mr. Buckley theorized that within the context of every joke, "laughter identifies comic vices, things risible in themselves, things we should want to avoid. At the same time, our laughter identifies comic virtues, ways of behaving that shield us from laughter." One sells laughter short when considering it one-dimensional, as a device to solely point out the relationship between two people. When properly examined, the distance between joke-teller and the butt of the joke proves morally instructive.
Mr. Buckley drew from the perspective of Henri Bergson, who characterized laughter as a defense against the "rigidity of body or character"--a fear quite common in our modern era of "planning." Beyond a means of protection, Buckley also finds laughter to be a fluctuating gauge, a way of arriving at an Aristotelian mean between the two poles of insufficient integrity--hypocrisy--and excessive integrity--misanthropy. This sort of ridicule of the misanthrope is often found in the plays of Moliere and the letters of Pascal. As a fourth, and last, category which one would do well to consider, Buckley also suggested that laughter may be viewed in a Nietzschean light. This view holds that happiness is too low an aim. Instead laughter demonstrates a triumph, a transcendence of the common upwards to a higher joy which provides a new way of looking at the world. Even in laughter it appears that Nietzsche sided with his superman. So, when inspecting the dour, humorless, and rational face of our society, "sound policy analysis and artistic criticism can identify the costs and ugliness of machine life, but cannot arrest the progress of the malady. Can anything further be done? As it happens, there is. Buckley answers that we can use an all too underrated form of appraisal to examine the different dimensions of ourselves and our culture. In other words, "we can laugh."
Read the full text of the lecture