My wife and I have been having an ongoing argument about how bad — or good — a role irony and to a lesser extent cynicism play in our culture. She thinks ironic mocking and winking is bad because it erodes our allegiances to the important and permanent things. I take a kinder view to ironic detachment and, at times, cynicism because the most earnest people in American politics and culture tend to be wrong on the important issues. It’s the PC crowd which hates irony because it undermines their attempts to foster a goody-goody enthusiasm for the causes they choose and the arguments they want. Dissenters and mockers are not welcome. In my view, without cynicism and irony, these guys would win the culture war and America would be run by politically correct brown shirts from Up With People who’d beat — albeit with nerf bats (they’d probably call them “happy sticks”) — anyone who wanted to spend the day on the couch drinking beer. “Turn that frown upside down, mister!”
Anyway, this argument went by the wayside after September 11 because, for once, there was something to be truly and legitimately earnest about. But reading that execrable Courtland Milloy column reminded me of this argument. He writes:
Peta Lindsay is one of those people who gives me hope that all is not lost in America. It’s not just that she refuses to be duped by the Bush administration. Even more inspiring is her ability, at age 18, to help others understand just how much manipulation, hypocrisy and dishonesty has gone into making war with Iraq appear necessary.
Lindsay, a freshman at Howard University, is national student coordinator for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, an international coalition of antiwar groups. The organization was formed Sept. 14, 2001, to challenge the warmongering and the racial and religious profiling that emerged after 9/11. Lindsay, who was a 17-year-old senior at the District’s School Without Walls at the time, joined the next day.
Now, in a world without cynicism, skepticism or irony we’d have to take this text at face value. Those who pointed out, for example, that the amount of racial and religious profiling taking place in the 72 hours after September 11, was hardly the sort of thing to arouse an “international coalition’s” ire — unless of course that “international coalition” was actually cynically exploiting the tragedy for its own purposes — would be ridiculed as “meanies” by the sincere forces of anti-irony. Those of us who noticed that ANSWER is nothing more than a potemkin storefront for a loose cabal of America-hating Stalinists and weirdos, would be poo-pooed by those demanding niceness from everyone. And those of us who suggested that Courtland Milloy is a sucker of world-historic proportions for writing this drivel without a scintilla of skepticism would be beat about the head and neck with happy sticks.