Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The
classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down
the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it?
It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand,
but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the
metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman.
Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its
value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what
you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it
seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine.
[To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at
yourself [is] monstrous . . . . The worst evil that you can do, psychologically,
is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.
Humor is not an unconditional virtue; its moral character depends on its
object. To laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a
hideous vice. Too often, humor is used as the camouflage of moral cowardice.