Another Lesson from the Corona Moment of Humanity

The corona pandemic has ushered in a sense of seriousness in us. We are now becoming serious about our health and hygiene. Our life is overturned and we are feeling that a loss is taking hold over humans everywhere. But as we become serious about life, there is also a danger of some things precious slipping out of our lives. Things like, ability to laugh at our wounds are unique to humans. This ability is the central truth about laughter. A culture that exhibits laughter phobia in several ways is in danger of falling into depressive states in the face of lockdown and global gloom radiating from lethal viral attack. We think that life is serious and laughter has its place but an overdose of it can distract us and prove to be unproductive. This view forgets that laughter has a subversive dimension. We can laugh at the reigning order of things and expose the vulnerability of the prevailing form rationality.

We ban laughter in our classrooms, temples, churches, and mosques. We are serious about learning, worship and prayer and several other things in life. Laughter is viewed as interruptive and even disruptive. This is why we want to moderate laughter. Excessive laughter is thought to be a vice. Virtuous laughter is deemed to stand in the middle of a civilized society. Our children laugh heartily but we, the civilized adults laugh moderately. Laughter has become a troubling eruption that is enjoyed and tolerated in a social company. Only a mad person can laugh alone. We have lost this capacity to laugh alone. Maybe this is why we think laughter is associated with the irrational. Life is a serious affair and it cannot be messed up with doses of laughter. At best laughter is tolerated within its limits. Laughter often becomes a tool in the hands of the powers that be who use laughter to ridicule those who do not fall in line with the so-called normal order of things. Laughter has this power to put to shame and thus put people in place.

The interruptive character of laugher rises out of its spontaneous nature while its disruptive character manifests that laughter is political. Humour and laughter are great rejuvenating tonics but they also have the power to ridicule and interrogate oppressive regimes of power. Laughter has a way of transgressing boundaries. It intrudes on our ordered and intellectualized domains and exposes our false security. This is why Hegel taught us that there is power in laughing at our wounds. It takes courage to laugh at oneself as well as at the tragic side of life. Indeed, it is difficult to laugh at the disaster that we are facing for now. Maybe we are all waiting to have our last laugh after our victory over Covid-19. Laughter thus becomes an expression of the moment of our victory. Maybe our victory over the lethal violence will explode into a peal of unbound laughter. This painful waiting for the coming of the hour of our victory so that we can laugh with pride tells us that we do not much delight in laughter. This is why we have to learn to laugh at life even under this tragic and fear-stricken condition that we are immersed in for now.

The reclaiming of the shrinking space of laughter is not easy. The association of laughter with a disorder that threatens the order of everyday life makes it harder. In fact, we have trapped laughter into a corner of our society. It provides us a temporary release from our overly structured life. Laughter seems to be the other of reason. We enjoy our fall into its irrational but only for a short time. This fact exhibits the strength of laughter and weakness of reason that requires our protection from falling into unreason that laughs. Laughter laughs and mocks at our reason and hence we have to control laughter within tolerable limits. We seem to introduce a morality of laughter. We cannot laugh at our gods, religious and political leaders, etc. Laughter is regarded as a mundane affair and would insult the sacredness of everything that is hierarchically ordered in our society. But this banishing of laughter may produce diminishing returns to our society. Indeed, there is a morality of laughter. It can become a harbinger of calling us back from the life that is truly insulting God, humanity, and nature. This of course is the disciplinary power of laughter that can be also abused.

There is also a transformative power of laughter. It is the subversive or prophetic power of laughter. This power makes us uncomfortable. We have in several ways exiled it from our civilized society. Only a few can laugh this way. Maybe we can think of the coronavirus as laughing at us humans and the world that we have built-in in this prophetic mode. Prophetic laughter of this kind is a bust of divine laughter. It is difficult to join into this thunderous laughter because we can see that our world and the order of things that we had cherished are tumbling down. We have no capacity to laugh at our wounds. We have to wait for the wounds to heal and then we will join in unison with the divine and nature into a contagious burst of laughter.

It indeed requires courage to laugh. If we muster enough courage to laugh at our wounds, it will open ours possibilities of healing or coping with them. The corona moment of humanity impels us to seek this salubrious laughter. We need more and more laughter to cheer us on in this dark gloomy situation. But this laughter cannot be allowed to be a mode of escapism. It has to become a way of facing our vulnerabilities and transitoriness of the world. This is why laughing with the coronavirus may be appropriate so that the war on it does not stop with our victory over it but also considers the fragility of reason, and rationalization of our society. Therefore, let us welcome the tempest of laughter. This does not mean that we can laugh the lethal virus away. That is foolish. Let us make laughter the moment of truth of our life. There is joy in laughter. Let us delight in it.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao