When America Sneezes

As the 19th century Prussian diplomat von Metternich famously said: “When America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold.” Hence, when a “chaos caucus” or “Taliban-20” emerges in Washington, the consequences and implications of such a phenomenon are not limited to the United States. Rather, the consequences and implications of such a phenomenon wield a global scale and scope. 

All in all, while there is a tragic element to recent developments and events in the United States, there is also humor in virtually everything if we have the eye and the perceptiveness which would enable us to decipher and find such humor. Although the manner in which the process of choosing a speaker converged and fell onto the shoulders of such comical characters is a cause for concern, there is also an element of humor in how the political process of a major power like the United States could converge and fall onto the shoulders of such characters. 

As Sigmund Freud argued, jokes and humorous situations usually have three parties involved. For one, there is the subject of the joke. Second, there is the one telling the joke. And third, there is the party who receives the joke. The fundamental difference between the one telling the joke and the party which receives the joke is the removal of inhibitions on the part of the one telling the joke, and the pleasure and laughter that is elicited by the third party who receives the joke because of the removal of inhibitions by the party who is telling the joke. 

As Freud argued, pleasure “arises from the lifting of inhibitions.” The basic interaction or relationship that goes on between the one telling the joke and the ones who are receiving the joke is when the latter “take the producing person’s psychical state into consideration, put ourselves into it and try to understand it by comparing it with our own.” Freud added: “It is these processes of empathy and comparison that result in the economy in expenditure which we discharge by laughing.” 

Freud also argued that the interaction, relationship, and the laughter and pleasure that emerges as a result of the interplay between the party telling the joke on one hand and the party receiving the joke on the other hand occurs “at the cost of the economy in indignation.” Because of the psychical state of the one who is telling the joke and engaging in the humor, laughter and pleasure takes the place of anger and indignation. Without the psychical state and the removal of inhibitions, anger and indignation would have taken the place of laughter and pleasure. 

Thus, while there is a tragic element embedded in the political and social phenomena of recent times, there is an element of humor embedded in these phenomena as well. Arguably, both the tragedy and the humor are encapsulated in a poem by D.H. Lawrence titled “How Beastly the Bourgeois Is”:

How beastly the bourgeois is

especially the male of the species–

Presentable, eminently presentable–

shall I make you a present of him?

Isn’t he handsome?  Isn’t he healthy?  Isn’t he a fine specimen?

Doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?

Isn’t it God’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day

after partridges, or a little rubber ball?

wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the


Oh, but wait!

Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another

   man’s need,

let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life

  face him with a new demand on his understanding

and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.

Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.

Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new

   demand on his intelligence,

a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is

especially the male of the species–

Nicely groomed, like a mushroom

standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable–

and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life

sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life

   than his own.

And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long.

Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside

just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow

under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings

rather nasty–

How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp


what a pity they can’t all be kicked over

like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly

into the soil of England.

Perhaps it is no wonder that with such allusions and passions, Lawrence was subject to a kind of censorship that ultimately could not be contained. 

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