Between Irony and Sincerity

Image credit: Forbes

“We are living [sic] in a fast world”, says any person with some amount of awareness these days. Yet at the same time, it is also a boring world.

The world appears to be accelerating towards some end in sight. I’m not speaking of an end in a religious term here; rather I’m talking from the perspective of a person who assumes that history moves in different epochs and eras. Meaning that the movement of history culminates into something. An abstracted “something” that one can only assume. What this something is, whether or not it exists, I shall remain agnostic and assert no knowledge nor assumptions of what this culmination shall be.

Could it be that the Abrahamic Rapture looms ahead? With one nation united under God waiting for the sky to split and deliver us to our final judgement?

Or could Marx’s analysis of our economic consumption bring down the capitalist order and we shall finally achieve a communist utopia he had longed for?

Or maybe, it’s the dystopic Huxleyian end of history in which Nietzsche had predicted men would become nothing more but an automaton that survives only on consumption? Leaving only men as a husk of their former selves with no will nor power whatsoever?

I do not know, nor make any assumptions whatsoever. My only point of focus is to look at the here and now.

These assumptions and theories happen due to only one simple reason: we are a pattern-seeking creature. It is in our nature — if such things exist — to trace these patterns, like how we trace the stars in the evening nights. The chaotic and disorderly stellar shapes were then tamed under the human desire for clarity. We impose meaning on the (apparently) meaningless. And the pattern I wish to elaborate more in this essay is the pattern of human thoughts and how one places themselves amidst this pattern. Specifically, the condition that we live in today.

Revolutions — be it political, scientific, industrial, or cultural — occur like heartbeats; they constantly pump after one after one another at a steady tempo. Yet the gap between one revolution and another is paced much faster now than ever. The status quo is constantly disturbed and challenged without leaving any space to breathe. The ruthless Hegelian dialectics moves faster.

The heart of history is beating furiously. Hegel’s tyranny has become obvious: man has become an object of history instead of history being the object of man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTdWQAKzESA

Consider how computers were first introduced to our newly modernized world. I believe that the sight of an old computer would elicit some feeling of strangeness — or rather an alienated detachment — towards the mass millennial population today. It’s massive, it’s loud, it’s slow, and it’s primitive. One could not fathom how one could survive on such a massive and outdated invention. Especially if one compares to its direct ancestor: the smartphone.

The smartphone is a peculiar device; it symbolically represents the technological culmination of this era and also the split of one epoch into another. Not many of us are reliant on desktop computers these days. It used to be the tool that we use to organize our lives, work, socialize, gather information, process financial transactions, sell and buy, and even masturbate. All of those responsibilities were shifted to smartphones. It is a form of revolution that dictated the condition we live in.

To elaborate, the smartphone revolution (along with improvements on the Internet technologies) drags along other revolutions with it. Online dating has changed the way we commit to a relationship. Online markets have disrupted traditional retail markets. Ebooks and audiobooks have replaced printed books just as Netflix has replaced TV and cinema. Fuck it, there’s even an app called Blinkist that summarizes books for you. Imagine being lazy enough to have books trimmed down for you. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, 4chan and blogs have redefined news and information. And when the news is redefined, so does politics and our political affinities; more eccentric ideologies — whether it’s from the left or right — now have the platform to espouse their fringe ideas. Those from the fringes of the accepted societal norms have now found their voice.

With vast information at our disposal, we now have the privilege of knowing more. Yet it’s getting harder to keep up with understanding things. Human networks are expanded, yet connections only remain in the realm of abstractions.

We live in a society where this tool has become the nexus of all life. And it brings one to beg the question: “what is my place in the world?”

It’s getting harder and harder to anchor ourselves in this (post) modern world. Narratives and culture change rapidly. The utopian idea of building a mystified “better place” has intensified and declined at the same rate; all with their abstract conception of a paradise that exists somewhere in the future. Call it the Kingdom of God, call it the worker’s paradise, the minimal state, the anarchist communes, the ethnostate, the liberal order. One ideal ends and it gets replaced by another in an instant. And we want the answers fast.

It doesn’t just terrify us to live in a world where things move so quickly — it also nauseates us. And one of the approaches to this rapid shift is to not approach it in the first place: through irony.

In the context of my essay, being ironic implies adopting a stance that’s detached and indifferent towards the world and its happenings. The contradiction between a person’s desire for clarity and the historical anarchy of the world has caused such a person to live in a world that they can’t find a place to home. The person then becomes aware of this absurd relationship between the introspective (self) and the retrospective (world).

The man fumbles in and out. His past is forgotten, his future is unimaginable, and his present situation remains uncertain. How then, is it possible for such a man to stay grounded in the universe where the tides of time constantly shove him around? From one group after another, one belief after another, one herd after another, one lie after another, the man grows fed up with all the disillusions and false sense of security. All the -isms that he subscribed to end in the same conclusion-that of regret and disappointment.

For the ironic mindset, the idea of winning the absurd struggle between his individual mind and the vicious tides of time and history is to deny the former by not playing the game in the first place. Yes, the word ‘game’ is apt here because that’s what it appears to be ironic.

The failure in forming the patterns on the stars had led us to only find faults in the stars. Everything has turned out to be nothing more than abstractions. And abstractions are nothing more but mind games.

The ironic denies his longing for meaning and justice through resignation in sacrifice for clarity and contentment. Everything that is happening, happened, and will happen is seen as nothing more than mere games. Politics, morality, and culture have become nothing more than another form of entertainment. This explains his affinity towards’ ironic ’ meme ideologies or his support of fringe individuals. An expert in the art of being disillusioned, the ironic can now see through everything (or at least that’s what the ironic deludes himself to). Cynicism and apathy reign supreme.

But when one can see through everything, what is then to be seen other than nothing? And what’s the difference then, between the ironic and the blind? Death and suffering, specifically others’ death, will turn out to be nothing more than mere abstractions to those blinded by irony. In an illogical world, the only logical thing to do is to enjoy the ride within the safety and comfort of their homes.

“No person is true. It’s all just one big joke on me. God is a comedian. “

With that said, murder then can’t be justified nor scrutinized. Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Let us then, crown King Nihil.

On the flip side, it is also possible for one to take the completely opposite direction, yet equally disastrous. One could also take a sincere leap of faith in which one absolute truth becomes the only sole direction where an individual can direct their lives.

Abstractions are materialized into individual human phenomena. The sincere man has found an ideal to dedicate himself to. He has found a ground to confidently step his foot into. The ideas had become a solid floor for him to confidently make his stride towards the end. He sees no end in himself if he fully commits to an ideal. His path towards immortality is an achievable goal if only he dedicates all of his might and energy towards the ideal. He believes that it is possible for his name to echo in the pages of history. That is the immortality he wishes to lay claim to.

The fact of whether or not his’ absolute ideals’ are true or false matters not to him. The only thing that matters for those who are possessed with ideals is whether or not he could direct his will somewhere and ‘make history’.

The ideals could be anything from religious, political, sexual, economical or social. Ideals come in flavours and as the pages of history turn, more ideas are born. If he fails to direct himself towards his ideal or the ideal itself has been doubted beyond any conviction for the sincere, he would not hesitate to exchange his former ideal into another form of ideal. Another ‘truer’ position to waste his life. Yet his zeal remains the same.

Take for example delirium of the nationalists George Orwell portrayed in his essay, Notes on Nationalism:

He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack — all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognized for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of conduct.

In other parts of the essay, he noticed a certain denial of responsibility and truth due to their sincere mania. And when there is no truth other than what he believes, human lives are then categorized between typical ‘us vs them’ mindset. No lives, no effort are of value unless it’s for the good of the ideal. And the end justifies the means. Murder, then, is legitimate.

“Nothing matters other than my sacred vision. One for all and all for one. A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Theory must be translated into action at all cost. “

The sincere man, in his effort to realize his abstractions, has become an abstraction himself.

It is clear now that the options produce more or less the same outcome: denial of individual lives. But perhaps, it is unfair for me to merely emphasise the destructive qualities of both the ironic and the sincere. Alas, a human being does not think and act in a black and white manner.

A middle ground could exist.

In the former assertion, it is believed that individuals are condemned in an uncertain world where the people are dictated by the changes in history; thus the history of the world dictates human lives. In the latter, humanity’s longing for order and clarity convinces him to implement their idea of order; in other words, humanity dictates history.

In some sense, both assertions are true to some extent. But what then, are the boundaries between an excess of irony and sincerity? I propose that the moral objective of our time is to constantly review this struggle between both irony and sincerity, and take a middle stance between two extremes. It means that our values should be left open to debate. No ideas shall remain free from iconoclasm and blasphemy. And in that vein, it is my hope that through one foot in irony and another in sincerity, we can achieve true solidarity in these trying times.

But this does not imply neutrality nor absolute pacifism. To remain silent in a time where one needs to speak up will turn the silence into a lie. To name things as what they are and refusing to make a pile of dung smell like flowers is one of our duties in this modern world. For that, one needs to have one foot in irony to see through the facade and lies.

You may wonder then what makes things right or wrong throughout the ages. And my response is only this: pain. To acknowledge it in ourselves and in others implies is to empathise. Empathy, not sympathy, leads us to the genuine feeling of love and solidarity. And true solidarity between individuals can not be exchanged without sincerity.

The options now lay bare upon us:

  1. To be lost in irony
  2. To be blinded by sincerity
  3. Or to acknowledge the dual nature of our reality

And the dual nature here are our longing for objectivity and the world’s disorderliness. And I believe the best outcome comes from embracing both facts and not denying one or the other.

So love hard and think critically. Find the right reasons to laugh and cry in this world. Human selfishness — despite existing in each of our hearts — must then remain objective towards the matter of suffering.

After all, a determined heart shall make its way through the end.

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Fayyadh Jaafar

Fayyadh Jaafar

79 Followers

Business writer at The Malaysian Reserve. I write other things here too, you know.