According to Mel Brooks tragedy is when someone cuts them self. Comedy is a person falling down a manhole. In geo-political terms, by that definition, one might view our world situation as tragicomedy. Even as we sink into an abyss we are cutting ourselves into slivers; denominations, tribes, sects, tents. The zeal of orthodoxy seems to me a form of mental illness but what do I know, as one whose allegiance is for inclusion and universality.
Bill Maher quipped that comedy is tragedy plus time. Maybe it will look like comedy in the history books of 2100 (if that year is reachable for the human race) but it certainly feels more like tragedy as we live it out. Call it both. We are doing it to ourselves and falling on our face at the same time.
What is the common denominator of all this religious ferocity and xenophobia? My guess is an inchoate fear as a consequence of accelerated change. Technology has people longing, squirming and confronting the unfamiliar as never before. We have now created congregations of the lost. However social networking has also brought together pockets of kindred spirits clinging on to what passes for identity.
Perhaps we are merely witnessing the last gasp of nationalism and a rush into some sort of spirituality, false or otherwise, looking for a piece of the rock that assures survival, salvation or at least a meaningful moment.
W.C. Fields said it is comedy when a sword bends but not when it breaks. I wouldn’t know. The last duel I engaged in was with rolls of gift wrap when I was a wee lad. It does seem that the bonds of civilization have bent but are not irreparably broken.
While all these skirmishes fill the front page there are signs of optimism that don’t get the ink or even much attention on American screens. Indonesia has more Muslims than Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and 7 other countries in that region put together. A decade ago they were on the verge of an Islamic fundamentalist takeover. They recently had an election in which a secular, pro-democracy, anti-corruption leader ran and won against the party entrenched for a generation.
In India an election was held in which 67% of the 834 million eligible voters went to polls without incident and voted electronically. Are you listening Red States, USA? Prime Minister Modi won a clear victory in opposition to the Congress Party which had similarly held the power for many years.
While attention has all gone to illegals knocking at our Texas border the real story is the zero rate at which Mexicans have entered and departed. From 2005 to 2010 there was no net migration to the U.S. Mexico has enormous energy reserves and they are slowly but surely becoming a middle-class country. Half a million jobs have recently been created soon to make North America the world’s most robust economic trading group.
Aristotle wrote that tragedy is man reaching for the divine. I prefer to think we all have a touch of divinity in us. It is in our nature to seek some form of transcendence. If we fall on our face in the attempt it is still more heroic than tragic.
The human comedy may itself be tragic. What started as a family squabble in 1914 turned into a crime against humanity. In retrospect it seems like an absurd folly…the entire world slipping on a banana peel.