Satire as public discourse in religion
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Satire is often construed as little more than an entertaining form of mockery, of which political and religious satire are only topical instances. However, trends in contemporary satire suggest that it can operate as a sui generis mode of rational discourse. I argue that recent satire often trades in undermining the exchange of coercive ideas, that in doing so it exhibits specific social/political commitments, and that it suggests ways of diminishing the harmfulness of abusive speech through practices of reading or hearing such discourse which do not permit violent ends. This argument proceeds along the following steps: First, satire’s rational function is to undermine the strength of reasons through repeating and embellishing their irrational use. Employing arguments of JL Austin and Robert Brandom, I describe satire as a way of interrupting the giving and asking for reasons by supposing expressed beliefs to have unrealistic intentions, and thus employing them toward unlikely ends. Second, political and religious satire exhibits at least two identifiable commitments which are central to classical social contract theory: that political power should be subject to the collective consent of the governed, and that those in power should not cause harm to the governed. Third, especially within liberal democratic contexts, satire can function to undermine the abuse of power by employing such coercive speech towards socially just ends. Undermining harmful speech implies an ontological consequence that one is denied the social role of perpetrator. This consequence is suggestive for the view that human identity is significantly rooted in public discursive performances; that is, satire exhibits strategies both for diminishing the effectiveness of harmful speech and creating for the perpetrator a new public role. The approach to theorizing from recent satirical trends has consequences which evoke explicitly theological themes of justice and reconciliation.