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Sarcasm And Social Acceptability

Sarcasm and socially unacceptable behavior has nearly ruined my life in all normal ways. It has also made it incredibly amusing and funny on a deeper and much more important level.

As every human action boils down to trade, I have to admit that overall my strategy was not at all a rip-off. In fact, it was a wonderful deal, a reasonable trade-off.  I have behaved in such a manner for various reasons which are rather complicated. I would say it is often because of my honesty, good-will, benevolence, deep love for humanity-and of course, my naïve, gullible nature!

It is often said that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”. We also hear “A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility.” I have always wondered whether there could be notions which are so far from the truth. How someone of normal intelligence can seriously hold any of these moralistic, “church sermon” like rationalizations is completely beyond me! Rational inquiries of moral philosophers were confined to politically correct, “mushy” virtues like unconditional love, kindness, compassion and benevolence. Even moral philosophers who took pride in their political incorrectness had confined their rigorous analysis to more worthy virtues like integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride and of course, selfishness. Very few have anything good to say on one of the most feared, despised, sickening, malevolent, humiliating form of doublespeak which makes people flee and shun the light of the day: sarcasm. When even apostles of selfishness like Nathaniel Branden say “Aside from cases of violent coercion, as when someone points a gun at you, you are responsible for your reactions. No one “makes” you become sarcastic”, we should know that the fate of sarcasm is bleak indeed. A bit of iconoclasm is therefore in order.

We might say that sarcasm is a “conversational scapegoat”, and unfairly so. The socially beneficial effects of sarcasm need to be defended hard. Sarcasm goes against the inflicting person, but it helps the truth reach him faster, in ways which are not too obvious. A man faces a painful dilemma when he faces deeply insulting sarcasm. He is compelled to prove his backbone by a tight slap-or he can listen silently, smiling like an imbecile thinking he is being smart & tactful. The sad fact is that it proves that he has neither intelligence nor a backbone, as the one who hurled the insult might know too well that it is true and didn’t expect a slap, precisely for that reason! I remember an instance when I hurled an insult which hits where it hurts the most-family, and the victim listened silently, not out of fear of a more public humiliation, but because he knew it was just another general, categorical statement intended at no one in particular- and because only truth hurts-and because he was a man of immense self esteem. Well crafted sarcasm puts such a person in the position of a mink that walks blindly into a scented trap. If it hurts so much, it can only be because it is true and such sarcasm deserves the highest praise, not condemnation. Given certain narrow assumptions, truth as such should never hurt the innocent. Like happiness, “Truth” should be considered an Aristotelian “chief good”, pursued for its own sake. As scathing sarcasm is often truth, it should be ranked higher.

I have not always loved sarcasm. One of the bitterest experiences in my childhood from which I haven’t got out yet was being hurt by “sarcasm”. I found it so mean, so cruel. I wondered why it was done mercilessly to this innocent child, this little angel who would rather die than hurt a fly! “How could people be so mean? How is it all even possible?” were the most painful, mind numbing questions which tortured me day in and day out. I am yet to find an answer which is even close to being satisfactory. It took me years to understand a hidden insult when I was a child.  I remember that when I was a 9 year old boy, a teacher said something sarcastic and I understood it only a year later. When I fully understood it, it was as if a lightning had struck me and I was unable to move. I stood there staring at my coconut tree. By then, it was too late and I had changed the school and moved to another city and there wasn’t much I could do about it. It was a deeply unsettling feeling then-a feeling of childish helplessness one can neither define nor cure. I am yet to recover.

When my mom decreed that I go to Kindergarten, I said ‘No’. I simply refused. She taught me a much-needed lesson. Off to LKG I went, hushing my sobs. Upshot: It struck me that authority figures who use might to coerce you for your own good are worthy of the deepest suspicion. It was a lesson I would never need again.

I was never ever sarcastic as a child, but I remember turning off people from kindergarten itself. “A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally”, wrote Oscar Wilde. I wasn’t a gentleman-No,not by any stretch of imagination. My memory rarely fails me, but I do not remember where I picked it up from, or whether I was in kindergarten or first standard when I said something to the effect that “School teachers are all duds” in the hearing distance of a teacher. I only remember that she never forgave me for speaking the unspeakable snobbish truth. I always wonder why an otherwise silent person like me was eager to state such truths as it was never to inflict pain, as even the sight of the slightest pain in others would make me feel terrible. What I said was not worth stating as it sounds more like a truism now, and I might even be able to argue why. Sadly, I am still unable to see why it was taken personally when it is  strikingly obvious-so blatantly obvious to anyone in her right senses.

It was not just that I was not sarcastic. Worse, I never understood words which meant something totally opposed to what was being said. When I was in second standard, a day, as usual, children wanted to go out and play and make merry instead of learning Math. Our Mathematics teacher was ingenious. She found a way to put an end to this nuisance at once by announcing: “All the ones who prefer games to my class can feel free to line up in front of my class.” I sprung up from my chair and cheerfully walked out of the class. After waiting for a while for others to follow, I walked down the stairs and ended up staring at my first standard teacher who stood far away, as I was still not over my deep crush over her. I wondered how she miraculously appeared there when I was going through a deep depression under the misconception that she left the School and the job. As usual, I wondered whether my suffering was unnecessary. There was of course, a reason why I easily fell for her. As the law of causality indicates, nothing happens without a reason. In a parents teachers meeting, she hugged me and said that I am such a quiet child. It filled me with a gooey feeling, and with a smug smile on my face, I thought how naive I was to believe that she was unaware of my existence. Coming back to the incident: I stood there staring, losing all presence of mind. All I remember is a piece of fog in front of my eyes and a warm feeling that it all reminded me of a previous experience which I could hardly recall. Soon a boy came to call me back to the classroom. What followed was unspeakable. All I remember is someone sneering: “He had gone all the way down to the ground floor”.  I was put through a hell worse than which I ever went through-before and after. How such a sweet deal could be proposed having a cunning, calculating purpose in her dark heart to completely trap him was totally beyond this six year old! They were all so mean and bullied this straight forward, simple minded child so much. In hindsight, it looks like it was not really a smart thing to take her words literally, but then I know it only in hindsight.

It got worse after primary school. My class teacher in 5th standard once addressed me affectionately and I liked it as by then I had a crush on her too. I am not sure she liked me though, as it was to her I said that teachers in that School were not good enough in comparison to my previous School, which I reminded, was more reputed! I understood that she hated it as much only when a year later she alluded to it to my mom in a parent’s teacher meeting. Well, what happened in that parent teachers meeting goes as follows: She had just given my mother the progress card which was splendid and a proud unprecedented smile appeared on my face. She said I don’t talk much and added: “How could other children even like him when nothing good ever comes out of him when he talks at all?” The smile on my face disappeared and it suddenly struck me what lay coiled inside her mind like a poisonous snake. It hurt my little heart so much! Not that I cried, but still…A crush crushed to smithereens as of my socially unacceptable behavior!

My mother intuitively grasped that I had a crush on her. I never talked of her, but she could see through me, and read what lied hidden inside my evil mind when a bulb lit on my face when she talked of my class teacher. But that was the end of my childhood crush. My mother smacked me firmly and admonished me for shooting off whatever that comes to my mind. Not that I have followed her advice till now! My only satisfaction is that I have always told truth to power. Like Murray Rothbard! Like the child in the story who cried out that the emperor is naked!

I was often scolded for my socially unacceptable behavior. But, like Galileo, this child wouldn’t bow his knee to the cult of political correctness or norms of social respectability even in the face of extreme adversity and harsh punishment. My integrity was frightening.

I can’t even see why it could be wrong to say what one means and mean what one says. It is only that I can work out a much more coherent explanation and rationalization for all that truisms now, but as you know that is not the point. I wonder why they are all so vengeful! I have always liked older women who write-and they were always older. All my crushes threw my love on my face! How could they? What did I do?

I strongly believe that people who feel strong intellectual criticism is a sign of intolerance, and open force and fraud a mark of tolerance should get out of intellectual professions and actually do the dishes or clean the sewers of the powers-that-be, instead of creating a structure of rationalizations for power lust.

In junior high, I had one real friend, and many overt enemies. Since then, I’ve at least managed to claw my way up to mediocrity.”, writes Bryan Caplan. My situation was not much different. It was only that my only “real friend” turned into a real enemy capable of throwing me out of school. He was so hurt by my inappropriate laughter-so much so that he wanted to get me the boot. He was a smart boy with a mean, mean sense of humor, but I was happy with it as long as I was not at the receiving end- and as virtually no one else there struck me as even remotely intelligent. He knew my dark secret: Our Math teacher was a really sweet person. I don’t give a damn whether he considered me like his son or not, but I remember that he was the epitome of incompetence and irresponsibility. I wrote a bitter, acerbic anonymous letter replete with hidden insults, and posted it-from a post box near my home, of course. I had strong, valid reasons to believe that our Math teacher knew it. One day when we both were together, he stared at us deeply from his classroom. It looked like a coal furnace was burning inside his eyes and it frightened us so much. We knew that something was awry, and we didn’t know what, though I had a creepy suspicion that it was just that. I kept silence, as he was by no means a good guy-far from it. He came near us when we both were solving a problem in Quadratic Equations, and carefully watched our handwriting. I tried not to notice but I had little control over my ice cold, trembling fingers. Strangely, as it happens, he felt trapped in a situation in which he couldn’t do anything to me. He once looked at my answer paper evaluated by another teacher and screamed: “No. He certainly doesn’t deserve this much. He has skipped too many steps. He must have copied it all.” I will be, however, the last person to claim that I was a maverick who always skipped all steps and broke free from all precedents and traditions. Something held him back from persecuting me too much, though.

Things got worse when I wrote a satiric essay on him in my Christmas Exam answer paper. The essay was much too complimentary-Complimentary to the point that it became a deadly insult. The child I laughed at found it to be the right opportunity and reported it to our English teacher. I had never seen her as happy as she despised my Math teacher even more. She said that I am not at all a good boy, my lamb-like appearance notwithstanding.  “It is juvenile to write anonymous letters to teachers”, she scolded me. She added that I should have written a letter to the Management instead of wasting my time childishly. I later heard from my brother that she couldn’t ever forget me as she had to burn my answer paper with no traces remaining. I can only say that I am relieved that life in Junior High came to an end without them kicking me out for such unspeakable mischief.

When I was tortured by cruel sarcasm, I vowed that I will beat them at their own game some day. Time has proven that justice is unrelenting. If you can stand my immodesty, my promise has stood the test of time.

Given my horrible reputation, it is not easy to see whether I mean something or not. However, the unpleasant fact remains that I mean much of what I say, if not all. Occasionally I would state something seemingly obvious and I would have said it tongue in cheek knowing that it is all pap. It is possible for me to state something which sounds completely ridiculous and I would have meant each and every word of it.  A lady I knew five years back noticed me rejecting a person this way: “I have excommunicated you for taking such a cowardly, apathetic attitude towards corporal punishment, which is the sickest act one can ever perform-bullying someone half your size. You have no place on my wall. Go back to your torture chamber and empty the remaining cup of coffee with Hitler, Stalin and Mao. You can curry favors with conservatives and rascals of other persuasions, not with me. You are out of my list in a few seconds.” She found it bizarre. I told her that I meant it and her reply was that” I am not sure you understood. I know that you really meant it. It is the fact that you meant it makes it so bizarre! You have no right whatsoever to pass such judgments on others”. I never understood why beating up an innocent child is noble and denouncing such a person evil. Yet, they are all convinced that they are angels, and I am a monster!

Till my late teens, I was always at the receiving end of cruel sarcasm, when I was smashed back and forth by all, from the schoolyard bully to the Principal. Many think that my present fascination for sarcasm could be construed as an instance of “Show me a bully and I will show you a victim” phenomenon. It would be unfair. The truth of the matter can at best be expressed by these words of André Gide: “Men’s finest works bear the persistent marks of pain.”

It all changed after mid-teens, as on Yahoo Chat, I came across a 13 year old girl who lived where I went to Engineering college. She talked like a philosopher and always complained of her father whose idea of amusement was teaching her Calculus and Co-Ordinate geometry. Her twelve year old brother admitted that he also loves philosophy. In our first conversation, I argued with all my power and passion that happiness can only be achieved through being perfectly logical and rational-which means: with the right philosophical premises which are conducive to the survival of man qua man. She asked: “Are you logical and rational?” I nodded cheerfully: “Yes, most emphatically”. “Now, are you happy?”I was foxed, as in my teens, I was anything, but happy.

Boys of her class, she said, drops pens on the ground just to look up her skirt. Once I kept on talking to her till early morning. She asked me to wait as she had to change her clothes. “Half done” she told me. “Tops off or shorts off?” “Look, we are flirting. I am not in to this.” “I am sorry”, I said. “It is Okay. By the way, tops off” was her reply. We both were frightened in a way we never ever was, as she reminded me, “There can be no sin worse than flirting”. We asked each other: “We weren’t really flirting, right?”

She was leagues ahead of kids of my age in intelligence and maturity though she found no point in being the smartest among all those dumb people. Our sarcastic attacks and power games got so cruel that after years, I had to show her the way out of my list and life. By then, both of us had honed our skills in hurling hidden insults to the largest extent possible. I still think of her with deep affection uncharacteristic of me, as she was the only person I have known who had impressed me with her intelligence. In that aspect, I have nothing but contempt for almost all others I have ever known, whether village idiots or academic economists. She was, however, someone who would never ever forget an insult or injury. Once you mess with her, all you can do is to wait and see her nibble you to death. I am still not over her, and probably will never ever be!

It is not altogether true that I am purposefully sarcastic. I most certainly am not!  I was shocked speechless when one Economist on the Social Networking monster Facebook asked: “Do you even know how insulting you are? I think I know the answer. You do, but you don’t even care!” I am really surprised to hear that I am insulting. Not even once in my life did I say anything vulgar or obscene. Not even once did I use an inappropriate word. The harshest word one could hear from me is “Stupid”. I once told my evil Ex-boss this when I was harangued in an unjustified manner on my attitude towards him and others, on which he of course, doesn’t “rely on”.As an overture to a noble deed in a disease threat phase of mine, he bent forward and said in hand-waiving dismissal with shock and disbelief written large on his face “I do not rely on it, but your attitude towards me and others is really bad-Shockingly bad!” He added: “You are amused! You do not know. It hurts. Four letter words and all are the simplest and do not mean a thing”. I stood there confused and bewildered not knowing what it all means. And again: “I review all your posts before publishing it-not because of the theory and facts-but because God only knows in what mood you are writing it”. He would smuggle in unwarranted statements like “You’re amused, but it looks like it is stupidity! With this kind of attitude, all your knowledge and rationality will come to a naught!” when all I would have done is to walk through a wrong road absentmindedly at a phase when it is understandable. As I can remember, amused was a word I had never used to him before-except once, and it was on my sarcastic emails to him harshly criticizing his writings. I wondered why he repeats it again and again as if to allude to to my mails.

He would remind me that the problem is within me, not anyone else though the most he could say was that I mistreat people through my deep ominous silence when they mercilessly exploit my innocence. Even if it is true that I look down upon others, which I don’t, how on earth is it wrong when one is not supposed to “rely on it”? I kept wondering what exactly is meant by my “attitude problem”, if it meant anything at all. I was only beginning to understand that it was his secret shame he would dare not state openly: “Please, I’m hurt!” . He used to rub it in : “I am not threatened by disagreement. I don’t mind being proven wrong. You are way too young to threaten me.”

Soon I came to know that he was guilty of many shameful misdeeds, including embezzlement and financial exploitation-and that for his purposes, he has used even his dirty old…. When I mercilessly exposed his true, ugly face, he expressed his dismay and displeasure: “I am really surprised that of all the people, it comes from you! With all your intellectual ammunition, you can’t even see that I am innocent! What I am worried about is not me, but your future!” Oh, is this old man threatening to destroy my career?  A wide grin appeared on my face-as, if he really believed his words, he should have expected me to slap his face hard long before. Haha, I am supposed to see the fact that he is an angel after all the attempts to financially manipulate and outsmart me for months! I was also supposed to invest in relationships: which is another way of saying that I should “invest” in a relationship with him, “or else”.  After all his deliberate evasion and lies for a long period on the legitimate questions on my pay and fake documents he threw on my lap, and conning me to deal with the old, washed up guttersnipe at home when inappropriate. In between I heard him scream: “Go to the job market and see!”. God, he shows no mercy! He has no compassion for my poor nerves. I was really appalled when he tried to outsmart me even after I found out the unmistakable truth, and to indirectly petty-bribe me after seeing all evidence that I didn’t care for money much.

The next day I went to office full of suspicion, agony and confusion. I was delighted to see documents related to popularizing an essay contest on Ayn Rand’s novels in India. Yes, my favorite novelist-philosopher. The great woman who taught me to think. I also saw a pamphlet on the political party of an Economist friend of mine. I knew that the funding from Ayn Rand Institute stopped in 2009.  I wondered who foots the bill for all this squandering. Or is this all to make this innocent boy happy-to grease his pure little palms? A direct bribe would have been more honest, and much more effective.  Soon I got a phone call which was unprecedented. I heard an uncharacteristically friendly voice from the other side, and a laugh. I was flattered. All this after I had shouted last day that I wanted to kick some people out of my life. He understood who all I meant. If he can grovel in front of me after I have even insulted his, but then, I digress! I wondered:  “Barun, I saw all these documents when I reached office today. It knocks me off a bit. I am, shall I say, a bit too happy. What is it all about?”  He was slightly embarrassed: “Oh, It is nothing. I sent that Pamphlet on his political party only because you both are friends.” How sweet! I chuckled. It is well and good to howl and yelp, but please do not forget to wag your tail! I would really appreciate that!

Should I construe all this as an investment in a relationship with me to advance his career? But, then I had heard of old-fashioned artificial constructs like dignity, honor, self-respect and ‘holding ones head high’.  He has paid with his honor to let others see how honor operates in him. I am not supposed to kill his self-respect-not even his pretense at it, as even that is lacking. I wondered whether he even has a backbone.

When I finally decided to leave my job, I had to shout on the phone: “Send my experience  certificate and cheque to my room!” He stammered: “Send whom to your room? I will, but what is the big deal about it?” I could not help wondering what exactly he meant . Good god, eccentric as this boy might be, he can no longer appreciate advancing ones career this way! One can not be so ruthlessly practical! Later I heard from everyone in the office that he expressed astonishment over the fact that I was missing in the office. He is quite shrewd! He now expects me and others to believe that he knows not why I decided to leave or even that I have left. A colleague told me that to her, he expressed his astonishment in the fact that everyone ditched him in his bad time! Sounds melodramatic, but still sweet. Sickeningly sweet. I do not think it to be a cheap trick to ‘get ones way’. We had a good laugh.

A few days after I left my job, I got a call from our accountant. He claimed that the organization owes me some money and I deserve to get it good and hard. They will even see to it that I get every penny of it. I knew that this was coming. I said that it is not at all true. Perhaps a mistake? Y’know, these are days when people can’t even add two and two. But, he was persistent. He even spoke my language-Malayalam. How can this poor, impoverished Ex-think tank employee even resist the temptation of a few tens of thousands of bucks! I went to see things for myself, drooling. I even took my bag. When I looked into the sheet, I was fooled for a while. I thought of the expensive luxuries I could buy for myself with glee. Then I noticed the depressing fact that the biggest payment made to me was missing from that piece of paper. I was not at all flattered. In fact, I was disappointed. Not too complimentary to me, I must say!

Sometimes there are more to words than it seems. When your employer tells you “You are doing this to me as I will stand it as of my financial self interest”, he is placing himself in a position of severe competitive disadvantage. If someone chooses to put himself in such a humiliating position, it stands to reason that something more is involved, and that he fears something more than normal financial self interest-and that it is a fear so paralyzing. All the talk on financial self interest act, then, as a red herring which prevents others from seeing the truth.

I never forget a single wrong word or gesture which later helps me see the truth- the whole picture and I will never forgive or forget it if my harsh judgment is proven right. If I can send that person to hell pressing a button, I will press the button hard with the largest grin one can see on anyone’s face. Like Murray Rothbard, William Lloyd Garrison and Leonard E Read, I think all libertarians should be such heartless button pushers. What makes me too happy is that all the ones who thought that I am a nice guy worth using and taking advantage of after my mid teens have finally ended up in grave trouble, humiliated, with a sick feeling in their stomach: “Geez, it will take some doing”, when I still look at the whole thing confused, wondering what happened and how such evil can even exist.

My colleagues never knew that I took copies of every document I had signed from the office photocopier the moment I signed them. No one could have imagined that I stayed 13 hours a day in the office shortly before I left the job not to finish my work, but to sift through the documents when all have left. I think, at least now, someone is supposed to wonder what I meant by the sweetest Birthday Greeting ever written: “This boy doesn’t merely hope that there must be justice somewhere in the world, somehow to be delivered.”, when he was under the blissful delusion that I exhibited a helpless complaisance about being used. After all, God will not be mocked!

I understood the deep depths of depravity to which most had fallen only when doctors said I have oral cancer. Yes, doctors said that this saint who has never smoked, never used any tobacco product, never tasted alcohol, never had sex, hasn’t crossed his twenties or even exposed himself to sun excessively is going to die-and die painfully. In a despicable act of insensitivity, doctors had written off my prospects for a longer life. One mediocre writer I had kicked out on grounds that she is a “rascal” not worthy of my friendship sent me a sweet message: “Rest In Peace!”. An objectivist friend wanted to prove that he is more of an objectivist than me by asking me to record my voice as much as possible.  My establishment libertarian employer sent his loyal dog to ask me to finish his newsletter as soon as possible, and never stopped the work related e-mails even after I asked him to, while fighting pain.

Someone was even more myopic to be convinced that I will soon be taken straight to the graveyard and she would better be mean and nice at the same time, as the petty embezzlement party of her spouse won’t ever be known and grocery spending in the neighborhood is in for a much needed shot in the arm. If someone half his age kicks ones spouse like a rat, even if the insults hurled are in a dignified, philosophical manner, she would usually recognizes the “victim” as her husband. It is only understandable when she wants such a person dead, irrespective of the utterly despicable acts of her spouse-as somewhere deep down, it hurts that she had also scurried for a crumb, drooling, tongue out in eager anticipation, thirsting for more. Her intuitive moral sense might even tell her that her spouse should be dragged down in front of her and slapped hard across his face. Mild punishment, but still…. I never understood how some could be so cheap to hold grudges for nothing at such a point! It looks like I should use my words carefully!

When I got the biopsy report, it was just an inflammation. I smiled. It was a happy smile and it came from the bottom of my heart. I am glad to be alive and going strong, to see all these contemptible wretches running for their life from the truth, shamelessly covering their faces in blind denial. Ha, the selective blindness of two-bit whores. See, compassion and mercy are none among this kid’s vices, and vices there are many!

I have noticed that when I hurl horrible insults, others don’t even understand that these are insults. It happened often with my co-workers.  I used to feel sorry and state it in a manner which is even more clear, but they won’t understand even then. They frustrated me so much! I haven’t seen such near complete imbecility even in my High School, which had the worst reputation not just in my city, but also in my primitive village where the whole neighborhood thinks that you are in a dead heat with Albert Einstein if you graduate from Junior High. I have reasons to believe that the IQ levels of all ranked way below their body temperatures-and no, I haven’t adjusted it for chilling cold Delhi winters. I know that stupidity is largely innate. One is of course, entitled to be stupid. I can easily grant as much. But, for the life of me, I can’t even begin to understand why one is entitled to abuse that privilege to the hilt!

Certainly, this is one reason I prefer a dowdy old hag who understands my insults to a pretty young girl who can’t tell Satire from Sartre, to make another general categorical statement not intended at anyone in particular. More than common honesty and common decency, I prefer common sense. One should at least cringe in shame. With age, comes wisdom-and humility! Given my kindness and compassion, the last thing I want is to hurt another person’s sentiments. Sometimes I feel, I should have laughed at their faces or at least slapped, but it all goes unrewarded. Does truth hurt as much?

I am really appalled by my own socially unacceptable behavior! Where does discretion fit into all this-or tactfulness-or norms of civilized discourse-or common decency? Hopefully, before it is too late, reality will be my most punitive teacher and teach me the much-needed lesson that all this helps a long way when it comes to things one shouldn’t speak, or even think!

Few like being given a realistic assessment of their worth! I never knew that sarcastic comments can evoke so passionate a reaction in others. I can’t even begin to communicate how pleased I am to know that truth hurts. It is as if a button has been pressed and they have suddenly turned helpless and neurotic.

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