As a teenager, I delighted in making fun of the music of Alanis Morissette, particularly her rather naive view of irony. For a variety of reasons that have to do with personal background and temperament, I am a student of irony and someone who finds my life grimly and humorously ironic in many circumstances. As is occasionally my fashion, I would like to talk about some of those ironies today, in keeping with my habit of writing about that which is directly relevant to my life and close to me. In particular, I would like to comment on two ironies that I am puzzling over right now, in the hope that they will be at least mildly amusing to others.
In the early 1700’s, one of my ancestors was transported to America in lieu of execution for participating in an anti-monarchical revolt in Germany (against the Elector of Hanover, also known as King George I of England). His grandson fought for the Americans in the American Revolution and evened the family record against the House of Hanover to 1-1, a respectable tally for a revolutionary. This story became a great deal funnier, and more ironic, as I reflect on my own transportation from Thailand. Despite my generally nonviolent tendencies, my own egalitarian roots run deep, and clearly these strong and obvious tendencies to be hostile to hierarchies and mistrustful of elites, no matter where they are or where I am, marks a noticeable and potentially dangerous aspect of my personality and character, despite my general friendliness and propriety as a person.
As it happens, a friend of mine purchased me a book in ethnohistory for a feast gift, a wise choice given my interest in ethnogenesis as well as history and my own tendency to devour books like Sara Crewe. As it happens, among the eleven nations of North America, I belong to Greater Appalachia, the largely egalitarian Scot-Irish domain of the Appalachian Mountains and their western extensions. This is what historian Colin Woodard has to say about the political culture of Greater Appalachia: “Proud, independent, and disturbingly violent, the Borderlanders of Greater Appalachia have remained a volatile insurgent force within North American society to the present day.” I know quite a few people who would say similar things about me, with some justice, even if I am not a particularly violent person. For good or for ill, I tend to be rather an insurgent by nature, or at least viewed by others as such, given my congenital hostility to elites and their corrupt ways.
Nor does the irony stop there. As it happens, this feast I have been doing my part to help a friend of mine escape unwanted attention from a woman who keeps on trying to ask for rides to be close and keeps looking to sit nearby and share Bibles and hymnals. Obviously, it is more than a little ironic for me to be in the position of buffering and protecting someone from unwanted interest and attention and intimacy, but my loyalty to friends is great, and even in my own life I generally do my best (however well or poorly that is) in keeping a sense of distance from those who do not want anything to do with me, even if that is not always recognized. It is still ironic to be on the other side of such a situation and to remain polite and friendly even while helping to serve as a buffer for others.
Why is my life so full of such irony? For one, I suppose I tend to be at least somewhat more aware of irony than other people are. I happen to believe that life in general is ironic for many people, but I also believe that most people are highly inattentive or unappreciative of the ironies that are present in their lives, while for me it is a source of great enjoyment and amusement, as well as plenty of thinking and pondering and rumination. Irony helps us to appreciate nuance, to not think of ourselves as better or more consistent in our behavior than others, and to recognize (even if sometimes painfully) how we look and appear to others despite our own opinions and thoughts about ourselves. All of this makes us better people, for while the pain and awkwardness is temporary, the moral growth is often enduring. And shouldn’t that be what we are about anyway, rather than for mere convenience and the avoidance of discomfort or self-recognition?