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Defining Irony
By: James Claire
Irony; the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite.

The biggest irony of our times must truly be, being taught the most serious of truths by the funniest comedian in the world. Sadly, in the nearly 80 years since, we still aren’t listening.
In 1940, the world’s silent era phenomena, Charlie Chaplin created a talking movie, ‘The Great Dictator’. In the movie, the final speech by star of the film, had relevance at the time, but even more today.

It took a man of comedy, to write a speech that serves as a sad reminder that we never seem to learn from history, pain or our own mistakes.

“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another,” Chaplin says.

“In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

In 1940 he may have thought that there was room for everyone, but in 1940 the world population stood at just 2.3 billion, today we have tripled that number and crowd every space available as we fast approach a population of eight billion.

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed,” Chaplin explains. “We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

Could Chaplin have been more like Nostradamus in his words? Greed has stained the past decade like few before it, except perhaps the 80s and 90s, and we have the Internet, yet we hibernate indoors behind screens and laptops and have friends online but never actually meet them.

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost,” Chaplin continues. “The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.”

We are indeed closer today than we have ever been geographically. We travel further, more often and with greater freedom, yet we do little to stop the misery of others in distant lands as civil wars rage, coups go unabated and we tolerate militia and guerillas who take lands that are not theirs at the cost of human life. Where is our goodness, where is our unity when we go about our lives as this occurs on another part of the same planet?

Perhaps it is life’s irony that it took a funny man so long ago to so correctly foresee the world in which we would live today.

While he was funny, his words are not. Science and progress once seen as bringing about the happiness of man, sadly has not. Complicated it? Yes it has, but where lay the happiness for billions of us who starve, live in fear, live in destitution and in need as others of us stuff our pockets with greed?

Typical of our own stupidity, we forget yesterday and forge quicker forward to a so-called brighter tomorrow. We wash away the past that we do not want to remember and move forward blindly hoping tomorrow will be better.

We have people looking to the stars, scientists trying to figure out if there are aliens on distant worlds, but perhaps we should assign scientists to look backward also into our written history for the truth and way forward. Perhaps the occasional slap in the face with a old manuscript is what we need to see that as much as we think we have changed, we have not.

Jessamyn West captured the thought more clearly when she stated, “A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself.”