Tyranny’s sense of humour

Every now and then I’m struck by a realisation, not of what I want to do, but of what I’ve been doing unconsciously. I watched the Twitter sparring between Nassim Taleb and Jordan Peterson a few weeks ago. I’ll spare you the salient information and mention only an insignificant observation: one of the people pouring scorn on Jordan Peterson mocked him for a use of images and words which emphasise his seriousness and importance. The gist being that someone who takes himself so seriously shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Ding. The above reminded me of a passage from Steven Erikson’s Reaper’s Gale: “After all, tyranny has no sense of humour… the deadliest weapon against them was derisive laughter, and they knew it.” Bong. This in turn brought images of Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Russia to mind. Places where humour directed at the regime was met with swift and severe retribution. Boom. Finally, I recalled the words of the late, great Alan Rickman: “I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously.”

See, what I had caught myself doing was accumulating heuristics which help me to sniff out when to trust and when not to trust a person. And it seems to me that remaining sceptical of someone who is unable to laugh at themselves is eminently sensible. Because humour, if anything, is nothing more than a well-manifested sense of humility. A recognition that the things we think matter don’t matter half as much in the end.