There was an article in the NYT Opinionator blog that I read today entitled How to Live Without Irony. I posted it to Facebook with an endorsement and one of my friends suggested that he would rather hear what I had to say on the subject. So this is a formulation of my own rejection of the ironic culture of Hipsterdom, which whether we like to admit it or not, has subsumed the rest of our culture.
The article talks about irony as being a self-defense mechanism and a manifestation of risk aversion. This is quite true, and it is for these reasons that we find the truly cancerous nature of it: it precludes the possibility of love.
Love cannot be defensive. Love cannot be averse to risk. Love cannot be ironic, because love requires authenticity. Love requires suffering, because love is oriented toward growth, and there can be no growth without suffering.
We are uncomfortable loving and expressing love, for many reasons. We fear it may not be reciprocated. We fear it makes us weaker. We fear its loss. And so, we armor ourselves against these outcomes, but in doing so, we armor ourselves against love itself.
Love is woundedness. Love cannot be disinterested. Love requires the focused and fused engagement of both intellect and compassion.
The ironic culture says “You can’t hurt me because I don’t care.” It says “Nothing human, so I don’t have to put out an effort.” It says “What matters are impersonal Others, the faceless corporations and governments I criticize, the impersonal ‘planet’ I say needs to be saved, the ‘peoples’ of different cultures I say are being oppressed.” These are as far removed from love as you can get.
There can be no love within the sterile confines of irony.
We say “Love you” instead of “I Love You”
We say “Thanks” instead of “Thank You”
We say “Appreciate it!” instead of “I appreciate You”
This is not mere short hand or convenience, it is the outworking of our fear to express genuinely, to bind ourselves, to commit ourselves. Indeed, the Ironic is the ultimate abdication of commitment, and we undoubtedly live in the least committed society the world has ever seen, with loose ties and fleeting interest dominating our human relationships, our careers, and even our perception of our own Identity.
Thinking does not precede Behavior, and Behavior does not precede Thinking. They are mutually reinforcing. If we behave a certain way over time, we will eventually think that way. If we think a certain way over time, we will eventually behave that way. I fear that we are losing the capacity to feel, to mourn, to yearn authentically enough to carry out the difficult business of love.
We cannot love humanity, only humans. And we can only love humans by extending ourselves for the benefit of their growth. It’s simply something that cannot be done ironically.