Satire and Cynicism

The editorial page of The Sunday Times has columns by Shobhaa De, Jug Suraiya and Bachi Karkaria, often by all three of them (out of a total of 6 columns). These columns are satirical at best and merely sarcastic at worst. What does so much satire (and sarcasm) on the editorial page (titled ‘All That Matters’) of a widely read newspaper reveal about today’s culture?

The purpose of satire is to ridicule, discredit or expose vices or folly by means of wit and/or sarcasm. Satire is unserious by nature. It deals with concrete details and not with abstract ideas; with effects and not their causes; with the incidental and not the essential. It appeals to emotional evaluation and not to reasoned argument. It has nothing positive to offer.

So much satire reveals that a lot is wrong in the world. There is no dearth of events that can be ridiculed. But more importantly it reveals the cynicism that has set in. It reveals a culture that recognizes that a lot is wrong, fails to identify the causes and believes that any attempts to identify them are futile.

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5 Responses

  1. I am not sure whether satire is wrong per se. I guess it can be a valid device when writing in polemic style, if and insofar it is supported by or based upon reasoned argument, and directed against evil. I believe that satire works as a kind of reductio ad absurdum, showing the absurdity of a position by presenting its meaning in a _concrete and essentialized_ form.

    Furthermore, I don’t believe that satire needs to be emotionalistic by nature. Bringing forth an argument with passion or emotional appeal is not the same as an argument _from_ passion or an appeal _to_ emotion. Therefore, I would not condemn satire per se, but only such kind of satire that makes fun of and therefore negates the good.

  2. I agree that satire can be a valid device if accompanied by reasoned argument. But by itself satire is not an argument. It evaluates the concrete (as opposed to logical) consequences of an idea. The reductio ad absurdum part which requires induction is left to the reader. Why would a person decide to use satire in place of a rational argument (assuming he has one) if he does not intend to appeal to emotional evaluation of whatever he wishes to ridicule?
    Take “Animal Farm” for instance (the best satire I have read). It shows that socialism can have bad consequences. It does not show that socialism can only have bad consequences.
    The columns I mentioned are always satirical or sarcastic. Even if satire were a valid way of arguing against something, I would hold that someone who only writes satire is deeply cynical.

  3. I responded on my pro-life libertarianism post. One thing I might say, though, is that satire, if done correctly, can use reason alongside of emotion. However, must satirists are, indeed, worthless.

  4. I think satire should not be on an editorial page, but it has a real place in the humor section. Logical argument and rational appeal are necessary for argument, although people will always be moved by emotional reasoning. Also, I would totally separate satire from sarcasm. The former has a strategy and techniques, and the latter is mere snarkiness.

  5. “but it has a real place in the humor section”
    Should a news paper have a humor section? I am not sure it should.

    “I would totally separate satire from sarcasm”
    Agreed. There are unfortunately too many pretenders.

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