Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions. But our contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche.
I propose that irony is very important to understanding the Web. It is not, however, necessarily the predominant ethos; it is merely the most alluring for certain types of people. Me, for example.
Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something — more often than not, a hazardous something. Fundamentalists are never ironists; dictators are never ironists; people who move things in the political landscape, regardless of the sides they choose, are never ironists.
This is one reason to despise politics: it causes irony to evaporate, and people become very serious about things that actually have no personal significance for them. Much of what is said and “done” on the Web has no significance, yet people take it very seriously because it impinges on their idea of what humanity is. If anything has real significance to a person, that person should be doing it first, in person; then maybe they should talk about it in person; then maybe they could blog about it; and the last thing they should do is vote for some idiot in Washington to do it for them. Yet 98% of politics is people non-ironically discussing what other people should do, and how best to make them do it without actually having any personal relationship with them. This is corruption and ruin of the soul.
Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind.
Yes, I agree that real living requires a certain focus and seriousness, despite the absurdity of worrying about outcomes. I would like to cultivate more focus and less anxiety in living, while retaining an ironic attitude toward uncontrollable circumstances. In particular, I think it is important to be serious with those who are confused and disturbed by irony.
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.
This point was also made by Temple Grandin in regard to autistic people. Directness is necessary; ambiguity is anathema.
Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values.
Yet, denying the power of ambiguity and absurdity leads to full-time anxiety. This article is actually about moving away from “hipsterism,” that postmodernist sensibility that regards all culture as contingent and absurd. Culture is not necessarily absurd, but neither is it sacred. Idolizing culture is an overuse of focus that results in false values. False values and excessive anxiety lead nowadays to problems such as colleges attempting to protect students from “bad” ideas. In the past, colleges desperately tried to protect conservatives from uncomfortable ideas, but now they desperately try to protect identity groups such as women, gays, blacks, hispanics, etc. As always, ideas only have bad consequences for people who fetishize them.