06. Laughing at Oneself: On the New Social Character

Jarno Hietalahti


This paper examines certain practices of humour, especially self-ridicule, as a kind of social pathology, drawing on the work of Erich Fromm. The paper starts with the observation that laughing at oneself is typically considered to be a positive trait. In general, self-ridicule reveals that the joker does not consider him- or herself to occupy a high ground, to be above ridicule. This kind of affirmative attitude towards laughing at oneself is also present in many philosophers’ thinking. Morally, it is stated, it is better to laugh at oneself than at others. The paper challenges some of these general ideas. Not every kind of self-ridiculing is positive. Laughing at oneself can eventually be problematic in relation to recognizing oneself and others (this is not unrelated to the forms of pathology discussed by Honneth as pathologies of legal and moral freedom – they provide a protected ‘leave’ from the social world, which is important, but can turn pathological if it turns into an obstacle to ordinary participation in the social world. The same goes for excessive self-irony as a form of distancing oneself not only from the social world, but from one’s own orientation in life). The critique is based on Erich Fromm’s social philosophy, especially contemporary versions of Fromm’s notion of ‘social character.’

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20919/sspt.25.2015.30


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