Why Laughter Is the Best Medicine for Politics

If you can't poke fun at The Man, chances are you can't do much else either.

A few days ago a White House petition became the first to clear the new, 100,000-signature bar, which was raised in January, that is supposed to trigger an official administration response. It concerns Alexander Dolmatov, a Russian activist who killed himself after Dutch authorities turned down his request for asylum. Whether it will prompt a reply, though, remains an open question.

When the Obama administration launched the We the People petition initiative—which lets anyone start a petition on the White House website—it set the response threshold at 5,000 signatures. In the digital era you can collect that many signatures for a petition to make navel lint the official textile fiber of the United States. So the White House bumped up the threshold to 25,000. Turns out that’s a pretty easy bar to clear, too. Just look at the Death Star petition.

That petition asked the administration to start building a “Star Wars”-like Death Star by 2016. In short order it collected enough signatures to compel an official reply. The White House responded that it (a) “does not support destroying planets,” and (b) opposes wasting money “on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.” (Technically, the Death Star was destroyed by a Jedi apprentice who was aided by The Force, channeling Obi-Wan Kenobi, and firing proton torpedoes from an X-wing starfighter. But let’s not get all “Big Bang Theory” about it.)

There have been many other tongue-in-cheek petitions as well. They have asked, e.g., that the folk-rock group the Mountain Goats be named poet laureate(s) of the U.S.; that the Twinkie industry be nationalized in order to “prevent our nation from losing her sweet creamy center”; and that funding be provided for the “genetic engineering of domestic cat girls.”

True, most of the petitions are serious. Yet it’s encouraging to see so many Americans using We the People to have a bit of fun. Putting out a suggestion box for the public is a nice idea in some ways. After all, not everyone can afford to keep a K Street lobbyist on retainer. But there are some other facets to the project that look a bit less nice.

For one, the Obama administration has been highly selective about the petitions it answers. It has ignored some with far more than the requisite number of signatures, while answering others with far fewer. This suggests We the People is less a noble exercise in plebiscitarian democracy than one more tool the administration can use to get its message out. (Big shock, right?) Nor is the there much chance a petition will change White House policy on any issue of genuine import.

That is because, as a megaphone for public concerns, the site is superfluous. Name an issue today that does not have a half-dozen well-staffed groups devoted to its cause. For those who don’t care to join a group, social media offer another megaphone. Moreover: political parties, campaign advisers, and professional pollsters routinely log the slightest twitches in public opinion. The Obama machine itself has proved particularly adept at micro-targeting. So to the extent the administration takes public feeling into its deliberations, it already has.

Finally, the We the People site can look just a trifle condescending. After all, even today countless Americans who think something should be done about X, Y, or Z take it upon themselves to act. Running to Washington is not everybody’s default solution.

Nevertheless, the farcical petitions have generated some dismay. They are Not Serious, and therefore stupid and worthless and waste the precious time of important government people. Or so say some. This seems an awfully humorless outlook—and there is nothing more dangerous than a lack of humor.

Constant wisecracking can grow old. But say what you will about wiseacres, they don’t go around waging holy wars, wars of conquest, or committing genocide in the name of racial purity. As a general rule, history’s greatest atrocities are committed by people who take themselves and their causes extremely seriously.

Ridicule makes that harder. The level of public mockery of a government, therefore, is probably a pretty good proxy measure of where it sits on the authoritarian scale. If you live in a country where poking fun at the Maximum Leader or joking about The Prophet will get you executed, then you probably live in a country where most of the other liberties a decent society cherishes are lacking as well.

Recent example: Not long ago the editor of a newspaper in Chechnya put a question to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In doing so he made a sarcastic crack about how Chechnya had become “a region of peace and prosperity,” which drew chuckles from the other journalists present. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov promptly shut the paper down.

Such things used to happen all the time in the grim age of Soviet Communism, whose fall was supposed to usher in a brighter day. Instead, it often has simply installed a new generation of humorless tyrants. Little wonder if Alexander Dolmatov gave in to despair. As the great Willy Wonka once put it: “A little nonsense, now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Sevo||

    ..."waste the precious time of important government people."...
    A noble and important goal right there!

  • Aresen||

    In the digital era you can collect that many signatures for a petition to make navel lint the official textile fiber of the United States

    Only 'innies' favor this.

    'Outies' want pubic hair to be the official textile fiber.

  • Tman||

    SPLITTERS!!!

  • ||

    Just another reason to round up the outies. Obviously we can get way more than 25k signatures for that.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    It's like you *want* the navel lint movement to look ridiculous and irrelevant. And don't get me started on the people in the movement who think that the Civil War was really about the South's superior navel lint industry!

  • Almanian!||

    Your We The People Petition Site: Come for the lulz! Stay for the "Because Fuck You, That's Why!"

  • Almanian!||

    In Soviet Russia, petition signs YOU!

  • 34lbs||

    Considering the numerous sham elections they hold in Communist regimes like Venezuela.. that is not unlikely.

  • Virginian||

    Venezuela is technically not full Commie yet.

  • Aresen||

    However, it looks like they're going to have a "Great Leader's" corpse to embalm and display in a glass coffin before much longer.

  • Almanian!||

    I just flew in from Base Camp Alpha, and, boy, am I blowing your arms off!!

    /The Unknown Drone Comic

  • Xenocles||

    Only an enemy combatant could refrain from laughing!

  • Almanian!||

    "Ridicule makes that harder"

    That's what SHE said!

    But, seriously, folks - these drone strikes are KILLING me! KILLING! ME! HAHAHAHAHA!

    Try the chicken fingers - I'll be here all week!

    Andrew "Drone" Claymore

  • Almanian!||

    "Constant wisecracking can grow old."

    Man, ain't it the truth! You know what else grows old - MY WIFE! The "Wisecracking Latina"! She hopes that her experience and "Life Story" will help her make better decisions.

    I'D JUST LIKE HER TO MAKE MY DINNER ON TIME ONCE IN AWHILE!!

    HEY, IS THING THING ON??? But seriously folks...

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Spot-on Ian McKellan impression, Alamanian. Bravo.

  • Almanian!||

    Bravo! Is that network still around? Their whole thing was a thing for awhile. Like thie Current TV thing - Al Gore making a deal to sell it to Al Fez Wearer or something - good thing Anderson Cooper's there, cause the Sharif Don't Like It, if ya know what I'm sayin!

    So the other day I walk into the hardware store, and....

  • Sudden||

    My facebook trolling of the day:

    The comment I responded to:
    "Who are these idiots who are opposed to fighting climate change? Do they also oppose gravity and the Pythagorean theorem? Do they just vehemently dislike puppies and flowers, and fist fight babies? "

    My Response:
    "Part 1: Ad hominem/affirming the consequent; Part 2: Fallacy of composition/association fallacy; Part 3: Appeal to motive/strawman. Conclusion: MUST TROLL MOAR HARDERZ!!1!!1!!!"

    Rebuttal to my response:
    "DANG! did i accidentally put up a sign that says "welcome pedantic and humorless lawyers?"

    My response to the rebuttal:
    "Here's the deal Rod: if you put up there that people with a degree of skepticism about the anthropogenic roots of changes in climate (which, to wit, have occurred in far greater swings than that presently witnessed over the Earth's 4.5 billion year existence prior to those insidious fossil fuels) do so because of ignorance of antiquity mathematics and hatred of puppies, it may prevent people from getting jobs as Algebra teachers or adopting rescue dogs. So, the result is that your Neo-McCarthyism is actually denying teh children from being educated and forcing abandoned homeless puppies to be euthanized. Have you no heart? Think of the children and the furry little puppies."

    Making fun of politics is fun. Making fun is teh stupid is m MOAR FUN.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I see your problem. You use Facebook for things other than looking at skanky acquaintances and/or embarrassing your children and wife.

  • Almanian!||

    Feature, not bug

  • Sudden||

    I just like pointing and laughing. And then when people resent the pointing and laughing, I find ways to subtly mock their entire framing of issues by employing TEH LOJIK that.

  • Sudden||

    skwerlz ate the rest of that comment.

  • Almanian!||

    damn, dirty rodents!

  • ||

    You're a fucking lawyer?!?

    (puts Sudden on list that ProL is on)

  • Sudden||

    I'm not. I'm in real estate. I have no reason why this particular former fantasy football colleague of mine has me mistaken for a lawyer, but I think it's his way of insulting me.

    I deal with numbers. Numbers with dollar signs in front of them, not stupid dewey decimal designations like you.

  • ||

    You're a real estate agent?!?

    (puts Sudden on list of people worse than lawyers, where ProL is also listed)

  • Sudden||

    Appraiser. I told you that I deal with numbers with dollar signs, which means I don't actually make numbers with dollar signs, only my clients do and I end up with fuckall.

  • Almanian!||

    You're an appraiser!?

    (puts Sudden on list of people whose awesome careers I'd like to discuss)

  • ||

    Do you use comparable sales as the basis for your appraisal? What is your market?

    (leaves Sudden on list of people worse than lawyers for the hell of it)

  • Sudden||

    If I tell you anymore, I'll have to kill you(r mortgage application).

    I primarily do residential stuff these days, so yes Sales Comparables is the bread and butter. Looking to get back into primarily commercial side though because I enjoy income analysis much more. I view sales comparison as the spacey tony type of appraisal (look at his house, it's nicer than the others, burn him!) whereas I view income approach analysis as more libertarian friendly since it involves actual math.

  • ||

    How do you select your comparables? And believe me, I am not applying for a mortgage.

    Residential appraisal, like assessments, is basically voodoo.

  • Sudden||

    Residential appraisal, like assessments, is basically voodoo.

    It shouldn't be. It's not exactly a science by any stretch, as there is usually a range of value that a property will fall within and can be argued (there is some subjectivity), but in most markets with ample sales of largely similar features, the range shouldn't be overly wide.

    Comp selection really comes down to three main criteria: location (closer = better, unless there is some adverse site exposure to traffic which you'd want to find a similar comp that features the same), size (mostly based on sf of home, but in rural properties or interestingly latino neighborhoods, site size is relevant in market price differences), and recency (a comp that closed a month ago is a better indicator of the current market than one closed 6 months ago. Once you've got the comps, you apply adjustments (culled through matched pair analysis of otherwise similar comps) to compensate for differences in overall condition, size, amenities, views, etc.

  • ||

    If you can get several comps in the same neighborhood that sold recently with similar square footage and structure type and matching things like they all have pools and they're all the same age of construction, it's not too voodoo-y. But since that's usually really rare, it starts getting voodoo-y really fast.

  • Sudden||

    I'm in SoCal, land of the model match subdivision. It's really not bad down here. Although I've done my share of quirky rural properties along the central coast and even super high end custom homes with ocean views or celebrity neighbors. They pose some challenges, but I'm pretty damn good at what I do. I may not make a killing, but I always take professional pride in my work.

  • ||

    My wife is an appraiser. She wanted my opinion once, so I bought her a dart board and put up various dollar amounts and told her it was just as accurate as the other way she does it.

  • Paul.||

    Appraiser.

    So you're part of the problem with the housing collapse.

    Arrest him!

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Interesting. What sort of mathematical background is required to work in the field? Presumably some understanding of economics is useful, if not required.

  • Sudden||

    LOL, if only. On the residential side, the requirements are a fairly simple and intuitive test, a knowledge of the professional code of standards and ethics, and a couple thousand bucks in barrier-to-entry coursework and licensing fees. Generally, you have to apprentice for a period to gain hours to get upgraded from trainee certification to licensed (more hours to go from licensed to certified res or commercial appraiser). Don't know about other states, but Cali now requires a four year college degree for commercial appraisers. The residential side is pretty much just form filling out, commercial side involves excel proforma financial modeling, cap rates, debt service coverage, etc. Nothing too complicated for most of it (NPV being the most complicated math in it, generally, although some fancy appraisers will do regression analysis on fields of data to extract adjustment factors), but enough to require a functioning brain (thus prohibiting 95% of humanity).

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Huh. I assumed that regression analysis would have been more standard, interesting.

    I hear it's good work and, as you note, it does require some functional numeracy that most of the population lacks. Sadly, I know some folks with undergraduate degrees in Mathematics who got there through the healing power of "plug-and-chug" and don't actually understand what an ODE or a system of equations *is* from a conceptual standpoint.

  • ||

    [shh! I'm hiding!]

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Move over. Make room.

  • crashland||

    I wonder how many different clients get billed for the time he spends fucking around on FB?

    If you send a FB message that is vaguely related to a clients case, do you whack them for the minimum billing increment or do you tack on the entire cost of the Internet connection too? Like in the example message, did every client that owns either a puppy or has a child get billed?

  • Ice Nine||

    He said he isn't a lawyer.

  • crashland||

    Yeah well, I don't trust lawyers to tell the truth.

    Plus he said that, while I was reading and then typing. So I didn't have the benefit of his denial.

  • Sudden||

    He has nonetheless given me excellent ideas for billable hours once I get enough cred to do expert witness testimony.

  • Virginian||

    My last one. Douchebag "liberal" posted:

    ACTUALLY IMPORTANT MESSAGE: The Governor is considering adding some money into the budget (a tiny amount) for Regional Startup Acceleration. It's an amount of money that to most causes means nothing, but to us presents a massive economic opportunity.

    Me:Because the government has done such a great job picking winners and losers. I often enjoy going to 6th Street Marketplace and then down to the Performing Arts Center for a show. (local government "investments" which crashed and burned)

    Him: I could argue with you about that, but it's not a government program, it's a grant to a private program that has national partners.

    Me: It's a grant from the treasury, yes?

    Him: Yes it is. Very, very small one. If you're saying the government has been bad at "picking winners" and therefore shouldn't give grants, I don't even know enough to argue with that. There have been some stinkers and some winners, and since I live in a world funded by Venture Capital that seems normal and healthy to me.

    I do know, however, this grant will be extremely productively used. And that the House and Senate all supported putting it in the budget itself, but then fucking forgot , so now McDonnell has to decide whether to add it as a line-item. He would have the legislatures support to do it, but he just has to DO it. Tomorrow.

  • Virginian||

    Me:It's normal and healthy for people to risk their money in new ventures. It is absolutely wrong for politicians to take money from people without their consent and give it to their cronies. Which is what will happen with this. Just like Solyandra, or Curt Schilling's video game company.

    Him: Well, in THIS instance it will definitely not be going to any cronies, but I understand your viewpoint. It's hard to argue that cronyism exists in politics, given that it's how the entire world works.

    Edited, don't want to get down the Solyndra rabbit hole.

    Me: Well yeah considering it destroys any credibility your position has.

  • Atanarjuat||

    That's actually a pretty reasonable response, especially considering “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Apparently Upton Sinclair said that.

  • Atanarjuat||

    I mean for some idiot on the Book of Faces arguing for more government, that was a surprisingly reasonable response. Of course in reality the program will eventually turn into crony-directed money-funneling.

  • SugarFree||

    Stop doing things so stupid that the only response is mockery, and maybe we'll stop mocking you.

  • Almanian!||

    I know, right? Like this "NASA" thing - we're gonna put a man on the moon?! Hah! We can't even get the trains to run on time, but we're gonna put a man on the MOON!

    Hey, Congress! How about we get my social security check here every week, and we'll leave the space walks to the Martians, OK?!

  • crashland||

    Going to the moon only cost $170B (2005 dollars).

    We pissed over $800B on the stimulus. Were you stimulated?

    Going to the moon was a better investment. At least we got our rocks off

  • Almanian!||

    That stimulus is the shiver up my leg that keeps giving. It's wonderful that our Dear Leader used the stimulus to create The Comedy Corps, because it's kept a lot of comedians like me off the unemployment line.

    Ladiees and gentlemen - I see we have some of our troops here. There they are - back there! Stand up! Come on - let's give 'em a hand, that's right! Thank you for your service!!

    Speaking of service, you hear about Obama's latest plan to keep Liberal Arts undergrads gainfully employed - yeah, it's called AN INCREASE IN THE MINIMUM WAGE! Right? HAHAHAHAHA! You want fries with that? HAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • ||

    Does the Comedy Corps get a nifty colored ring & a fun oath to say whilst recharging said ring?

    If so, I am interested.

  • ||

    Probably not though.

  • SugarFree||

    Yeah, probably not. But could stop being as mean.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    "We"?! Speak for yourself, slaver.

  • SugarFree||

    Can you be serious even for a little while? Jeez.

  • Almanian!||

    srsly

  • ||

    Well you can't be serious all the time.

  • Sudden||

    Do you change your handle when you're not?

  • SugarFree||

    Who do you think is posting as "Poopy McTurdBalls"? I mean, I figured it out right away.

  • Sudden||

    I always figured that was one of Warty's chained in the basement sex slaves during the one hour fapping/internet access he grants them each month.

    I stand corrected.

  • ||

    He gives them a full hour of fapping time? I need to go renegotiate my benefits...

  • Sudden||

    That's what he gets for letting Jimmy Hoffa's son Jack unionize his sex slaves.

  • T o n y||

    Running to Washington is not everybody’s default solution.

    Try building a death star without the resources (only) governments have at their disposal.

    In libertopia, are we forbidden death stars? Like, totally forbidden because of the expense and the fact that no private actor could build one? No public education, no death star, right? Libertarians won't let us have anything nice. =(

  • crashland||

    Like we'd want Citizen Barry to have a death star. He already rains down death from above with his pet drones.

  • T o n y||

    Which is somehow worse than raining much more death from manned vehicles.

  • Paul.||

    Nope, it's exactly the same thing.

  • Calidissident||

    For some reason, Tony's under the impression that libertarians would support Obama's strikes if he used jet fighters instead of drones

  • Sudden||

    Like you could resist the lethal appeal of someone name Maverick of Iceman?

  • Calidissident||

    Goose was always my favorite of the pilots. Sucks what happened to him

  • Calidissident||

    *I know Goose wasn't a pilot, bad word choice, but he was my favorite character

  • Almanian!||

    Pfft - he was no pilot - he was a CO pilot. And he got what he deserved for goint prematurely bald.

    *does that weird Val Kilmer teeth chomp thing*

  • Hugh Akston||

    Tony would ride your tail anytime, CD.

  • Calidissident||

    *Shudders

  • Sevo||

    Calidissident| 2.13.13 @ 7:33PM |#
    "For some reason, Tony's under the impression that libertarians would support Obama's strikes if he used jet fighters instead of drones"

    Doubt it. Shithead is probably not real clear on the difference.
    This is someone not only stupid, but proud of being so and willfully continuing to be so.
    Fighters, drones? Shithead doesn't care. Shithead supports Obozo!

  • T o n y||

    So why refer to drones specifically? Drones are simply a far more surgical instrument than past methods of fighting the WoT. I'd like to think you're expressing a consistently pacifist position, but it's clear you're just sticking your hands in the grab back of Obama criticisms and picking one out.

    If you want no war on this earth, god bless you. If you want less war rather than more, as in you acknowledge reality, you should support drones over the alternative.

  • Paul.||

    Try building a death star without the resources (only) governments have at their disposal.

    What a stimulus package!

  • Almanian!||

    ONLY government could do that. ONLY. Government.

  • Calidissident||

    The hilarious thing is if this was anyone other Tony posting this, I would have regarded this as quality satire of a liberal argument rather than an actual liberal argument.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Sockpuppets shouldn't attempt humor, sarcastic or otherwise.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    Tony Tits and Sudden (sorry Sudden) reminded me of this gem on FB yesterday:

    "Government is the only entity that is willing to fund the kind of pie in the sky projects that drag technology into the future much faster then private companies are willing to do these days. No one thinks about 10, 20 years from now, CEOs are too focused on the next year or quarter so that they can please their stockholders"

  • Virginian||

    I always challenge them on this. "OK, we'll take turns. You name things the government invented, I'll name things private citizens invented, and we'll see who runs out first." It usually goes something like this

    Progtard: The Internet!
    Me: Airplanes.
    Progtard:.....the Internet!
    Me: You already said that.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tony,

    Try building a death star without the resources (only) governments have at their disposal.


    We have to remind the mentally-challenged Tony that governments don't have resources of their own, just those that they take from the productive, and if the productive does not want Death Stars, then there will be NO Death Stars! Just like there was no Missile Defence System.

    In libertopia, are we forbidden death stars?


    What's with this "we" business, Kimosabe? You may be forbidden Death Stars by your mummy, because you don't show enough responsibility.

  • T o n y||

    So your answer is yes, we are totally forbidden "big" things that only the pooling of resources can accomplish, like a defense apparatus, infrastructure, and things like basic scientific research. Because of your superior principles, we get live like Medieval barterers, only without the roads. Why don't more people sign on to your ethics?

  • ||

    Libertarians wouldn't have built the pyramids, either, because they wouldn't own slaves.

    I'm glad those ancient Egyptians were sensible about the social contract and worshiping the pharaoh as the true descendant of the sun god Ra.

  • Virginian||

    That doesn't bother progtards. They always see themselves as the planners. Other people will do as they're told.

  • ||

    Tony said:

    In libertopia, are we forbidden death stars? Like, totally forbidden because of the expense and the fact that no private actor could build one?

    I always thought that government is the only reason we don't have super powerful corporations with death stars already.

  • ||

    Governments don't have resources at their disposal.....that is, until they decide to make our resources at their disposal.

  • T o n y||

    We wouldn't have them without government there to protect them and maintain a stable society, so it's kind of a wash.

  • RenkBooo||

    Sounds like some pretty crazy smack to me dude. Wow.

    www.Anon-Tools.da.bz

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Ridicule makes that harder. The level of public mockery of a government, therefore, is probably a pretty good proxy measure of where it sits on the authoritarian scale.

    If lese majeste is wrong, I don't want to be right.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "The White House responded that it (a) “does not support destroying planets,” and (b) opposes wasting money “on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.”

    And the ability to destroy a planet, or even a whole system, is insignificant next to the power of the Forward.

  • CD31 antibody||

    Thank you for this well informed article.

  • homme nike air max 90||

    So the White House bumped up the threshold to 25,000. Turns www.shoxinfr.com/nike-shox-oz-c-6.html out that’s a pretty easy bar to clear, too. Just look at the Death Star petition.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement