The Smoking Duck Blog

On Sarcasm


In this blog post, I argue that sarcasm as a form of humor comes within a feeling of superiority. It is a passive act that renders a human falsely satisfied with their reaction to an event or an idea. Yet this reaction (sarcasm) is merely a lazy counter-argument that doesn’t help improve the overall outcome of the interaction.

A form of humor

Sarcasm is undoubtedly a strong form of humor. I myself often find it really funny and engaging. Yet we can’t think critically about sarcasm without investigating the triggers of humor _ the funny effect _ in it.

A feeling of superiority

Several theories have been developed to explain humor and its origins. Such theories include “The Superiority Theory”. It was thought by Descartes and Thomas Hobbes that laughing comes from a feeling of superiority over other people or over ourselves in a former state or a situation. We all know how this goes. Every joke has a certain direction. And it’s common to think of the person who is making the joke as of a superior intellect over the other person who is considered the butt of the joke.

In that regard, I think that when a person makes a sarcastic comment about another person’s opinion or a decision, they subconsciously think of themselves as the more understanding, the smarter party. It even gets worse when the other person “the butt” gets defensive or refuses the sarcastic comment. Then the sarcist will just exploit the idea that “the butt” is simply not smart or open-minded enough to be accepting of sarcasm. Which further widens the gap between the two of them. Limiting the chances of a reasonable discussion over the decision to reach a better outcome.

A false feeling of positivity

Another theory suggests that humor is an act of release. One simply seeks to make fun of a situation to release the pressure that situation imposes. This makes itself visible in some jokes that have a building that is often confusing and then the comedian delivers the line which releases the tension built from the previous lines and therefore triggering laughter.

It seems reasonable to think of some of the sarcasm as a form of release reaction to a stressful situation that one can not simply change. Your boss makes a bad decision. Yet that boss doesn’t like to be told that they’re wrong. Therefore you can’t change the bad decision. You don’t want to be passive and just remain silent. So you make fun of the decision. Or even you make fun of your boss.

When you make fun of your boss, it feels like a positive action. You did something. You came up with a sarcastic response. But the fact is, that your sarcastic response hasn’t changed the outcome of the situation. The bad decision still holds. It may even make things worse if your boss hears of the sarcastic comment. Trying to reason about a better decision afterward will be more difficult since that boss will probably take it personally.

When you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense. If you seek to change someone’s mind, how would you do that by making fun of them? Doing so would only make it more difficult. But again, it’s easier just to be sarcastic about it. Changing someone’s mind is often very hard to do.

An exaggeration

Another theory suggests that humor is a result of incongruity. Some jokes depend on contradiction and surprise. It’s often that sarcastic people will exaggerate some facts to make their sarcastic comments funny. This exaggeration triggers contradiction or the feeling that this doesn’t make sense at all. It’s very easy to make children laugh this way. Comments like “I’m hungry I can eat a whole TV” will often trigger laughter in children. This obviously becomes less funny as we grow old. As we get older, we need smarter representations of incongruity.

It seems to me that sarcasm however funny it may be yields no improvement. As we discussed it may be considered a lazy reaction that fools people into thinking that they are making a change.

I personally think that if one intends to improve a certain decision made by another person, one should seek to reason them into changing their mind. The act of making fun of others -which is currently considered by many as a civil right- only widens the gap between the two individuals with opposing opinions.

It’s often argued that as long as sarcasm is pointed towards an idea, not a person then it’s clean and constructive. You would often hear the phrase “We’re just making a joke!” or “It’s nothing personal. I respect you. It’s your ideas that I’m making fun of. Not you!". I personally think that this a misconception.

My ideas are a representation of me, my thoughts, my thinking process. If you’re making fun of my idea, then you’re making fun of the product of my thinking process. You’re making fun of me. It’s always personal.

I would much rather have to reason about a counter-argument for a decision that I’ve made than to endure meaningless yet very funny comments about how ridiculous my decision is.