Wits and Nitwits

Occasionally while on a website I read the comments posted in reply to a presentation on that site. And I am appalled. It matters not whether it is a YouTube video, news item, article on either side of the political divide, or heaven forbid, religion. The language – vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation – is atrocious. Manners have taken a hike. Courtesy, gone. Civilized thoughtful discourse almost extinct.

The most common thought held by the faceless public seems to be to attack everyone, including their heritage, parentage and their character using every kind of vulgarity in the process. Many equate vulgarity with wit when it is the antithesis of it. I suspect they would not even understand that last sentence.

Now, to interrupt myself, I have read some discussion threads that amazed me because of the broad or detailed knowledge of not-so-recent current events being shared. In some cases I learned things done in different administrations which I had been too distracted at the time to become informed about. This is good; this is the Net at its finest. It is also not common.

The gift of wit includes the ability to see things from differing perspectives, to spin them as it were, and play with the presented ideas to the amusement of all. It requires a quickness of mind, without malice or meanness, yet meanness is what I see and hear in many of the exchanges on line.

H.L. Mencken is highly regarded as a man of wit. His quotes can be found and enjoyed on Brainy Quotes. Here is one example: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” This has enough truth, with enough exaggeration and twist to bring a smile to the reader. It is witty. There is no coarseness needed to reveal the author as a person of power. His mind, and the words he chooses reveal that.

A gift similar to wit, but different from it, is a sense of humor. With common sense and a sense of humor a person will have all he needs to make his way in life. The ability to see something amusing at even the most troubling times has carried many people through. To be able to see the ridiculous, the absurd, the pomposities of the self-important is a gift to be treasured. Many of the best comedians are those who see with clear eyes and then tell the public the truth. They are the secular prophets of the day. Humor is a great defense against tyranny. When jokes start coming about something or someone previously held in high regard you can know a change is coming.

Those with no sense of humor, I posit, are easy to deceive. Without the ability to see the twists, the absurd, the funny, they will in their seriousness believe whatever is presented to them as factual. Satire will be received as truth. A play on word or idea is lost to them.
Yet playing with words and ideas is grist for the mill of the humorist, satirist or punster to the delight of the rest of us.

It is fully possible to be witty without four letter words and defamation of character. I submit Will Rogers as another example. “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” This will bring a wry smile to most people, with possible exception of the politicians.

Our words have power, more than generally realized. They reflect our personhood. Therefore, I suspect that the way to improve the public dialog is to begin within, to clean up the dark corners of hatred, insecurity, inadequacy and any other character issues which defile. The educated person who is secure in his own identity does not need to use his assault weaponry of foul, small-minded words. He can, instead, begin to work on his wit.