Why We Laugh

I’ve been reading that laughter is a means of communication. It’s an infectious behavior that manifests in social groups particularly but not exclusively in party settings. It’s understandable I guess as a stress reliever given the social pressures we all endure. What we laugh at though is often, more than likely really, about disparaging someone.

Humor may be self-deprecating or gentle teasing but a good laugh generally requires a victim and the focus of derision will often be someone seen as holding a position of superiority, a boss perhaps, or someone seen as feigning dignity. So, it’s a status thing. Put-downs level the playing field psychologically, distill our insecurities and are great sources of raucous laughter shared with friends.
Certain comedic routines feed the same need. There are comedians who play the dunce card; who display an incompetence or obliviousness that makes us all feel better about ourselves.

In any case it appears that humor tends to focus on subjects who are clearly inferior to us, a true doofus or two who allow us the illusion we are good and well-functioning individuals, at least for a little while. Which, I guess, is reason enough for a little fun-poking, realizing, of course, each of us is likely to be the recipient of the poking at some point.

Status

I’ve been contemplating, lately, the mystery of how exactly certain people gain status these days. Apparently material wealth is a significant factor, but one must wonder what else is required for one to attain pre-eminence. I get that prehistoric cave dwellers and school yard children look up to those larger and stronger than average, maybe quicker-witted as well but the rule doesn’t seem to follow for today’s notables. Observing those in the public eye these days has me wondering how so many of modest abilities and unexceptional skills could have gained attention except through happenstance, luck or inheritance.

At any rate, once realized, status holders seem reluctant to relinquish the attention. The tendency seems to be to remain in the spotlight by what ever means available. Conspicuous display of wealth through ostentatious consumption is an age-old tactic meant to ensure special recognition: it was a traditional status move by the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast in their Potlach ceremonies and such behavior is easy to observe in today’s affluent culture.

The problem now is, so many are affluent that it’s pretty difficult to attract much attention through wastefully excessive behavior. Some have upped the ante by exercising conspicuous outrage: offering incendiary commentary that demonizes groups and individuals which is then readily picked up by the media always interested, as they are, in feeding controversy.

Such self-serving mean spiritedness, one would think, should provide short-lived attention but the opposite seems to be the case. I guess too many of us are comfortable viewing reality as melodrama.

Our Primitive Brain

I’ve been reading about parallels between biological evolution and cultural progression over the years. Biologically humankind has evolved over the millennia to produce, over thousands of generations, a fitter specimen, better able to sustain and thrive in a sometimes hostile natural world.

Similarly, I’m led to understand, ideas arise, catch on for their beauty and usefulness, spread from brain to brain and sometimes mutate into more useful variations. These ‘memes’ will evolve to become part of our common knowledge and humankind’s cultural sophistication grows accordingly.

Problems occur when our biological selves which are pretty much now what they were 50,000 years ago must reconcile our primitive brains with a rapidly evolving culture. Our essentially tribal inclinations tend to interfere with our ability to assimilate the pluralism our intellects assure us is a reasonable way to coexist in our culturally shrinking world, which, I guess, somewhat explains the populism rampant in today’s politics.

It’s one thing, though, to understand all of this, something else to have to live through it.

Natural Selection

I’ve been reading that evolutionary progress will proceed through natural selection. Generational changes to an organism, occurring as the demands of existential pressures require, upgrade survival abilities; which suggests, I guess, that those beings that evolve with the fittest genetic make-up will be the ones that thrive and reproduce, passing on their fitness to their offspring. But I’m led to understand, the system isn’t fool proof; occasionally a glitch in the system will cause unfavorable genetic mutations to be passed on which results in less than desirable progeny.

One does have to wonder sometimes at the actions and decisions some people choose; maybe it’s the ‘choice gene’ that has mutated or perhaps it’s missing altogether in those folks who seem to proceed through life in a more or less spontaneous and thoughtless manner. These unfortunates may find themselves making bad life choices that result in a failure to mate and reproduce or prematurely exit existence, which I suppose, is how nature cleans up the gene pool.

 

 

Superior Intelligence

I’ve been reading that there is evidence to suggest that the world is getting smarter, that world-wide, IQ scores have been steadily rising at a rate much faster than an evolving humanity can explain, which doesn’t necessarily mean, I guess, that a person of average intelligence one hundred years ago, transported by time machine to the present would be borderline retarded by our standards. But the presumption is our great grandparents would be sorely lacking in the intellectual flexibility we’ve become adapted to in recent generations to deal with the complexities of technological advancements not to mention the inter-connectedness communications with the world-at-large has impressed upon us. It appears our existence, the intellectual world we occupy, is larger and multi-faceted in ways unimaginable in the world of the 1920’s.

One wonders, though, if living in a smaller reality back then, restricted even to a limited geographical existence, you know, knowing less, didn’t have its advantages in terms of less anxiety, stress, working longer days and weeks making for less time to contemplate, anticipate all of the potential evils one might imagine. Living as they did through the devastation of WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic, did a naïve faith make it possible for them to realize a peace we will never again be able to grasp?

We’re healthier, wealthier and longer-lived than our great-grandparents could have ever hoped to be, but I have to wonder if our increased awareness makes us happier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me, Myself and I

I’ve been thinking about my Self lately; mostly about how to reconcile the beauty and freedom of selflessness with the necessity of maintaining a healthy self-image to deal with the pressures of everyday reality. Looking to both positions seems kind of contradictory.  On the one hand, releasing attachment to the self opens awareness to full realization of the here and know in all its complexity. And, although not all one experiences is of a positive nature, un-attachment makes it possible to maintain perspective, to reach a reasonable understanding, without creating a “story line” in which “I” am the protagonist.

On the other hand, I am led to believe that without a healthy, confident self I probably won’t fare too well out in the world, socially speaking. The meek may inherit the earth, so it’s said, but in the meantime one should expect some serious bullying.  I suppose, maybe, like much else, the problem may just be a matter of degree. Perhaps the self is nothing more than the subject of the perceptions, emotions and thoughts we experience rather than the independently existent entity that leads to narcissism and tunnel vision.

As nice as it would be, intellectually (and emotionally, too), to be absolutely sure one direction is better than the other, I guess I must be content with attempting to balance the ideas. It just goes to show, I suppose, living an examined life takes some work.

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Big and Beautiful

I happened to catch a fragment, the other day while surfing, of an item about a TED talk given by a woman extolling strength of character as a means of dealing with her obesity. Well, what she actually said was that she was fat, but, she said, that descriptive carries no more weight than being female or, as she declared she was, a belly dancer. This woman, whose name I didn’t catch, was quite attractive in her own way and clearly defiant in the face of contemporary attitudes regarding female body types.

I must say I found her perspective quite refreshing. I hurried off to tell my friends at the spa about this remarkable woman. As it turned out the ladies at the spa, while enjoying the information really didn’t need a moral boost. They feel just fine, they told me, being who they are in their largeness. They then pointed out to me ‘svelte’ when it comes to preferred body type is quite the exception historically. Royalty throughout the ages has often been characterized by largeness of countenance and as far as popularity goes consider the ladies in Peter Paul Rubens paintings.

Well, there’s no doubt they have a point, but in this day and age, with all of the medical caveats directed at maintaining extreme largeness, being too Rubenesque, unless lost at sea, might not be a wise lifestyle to assume.

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Equal Opportunity for All?

Mini-Max came by the other day. He was in quite a good mood, elated really. He was happy in the realization the country had come to its senses and mandated the conservative agenda, which he said was quite apparent judging by the results of the last round of elections.

Now, he said, perhaps the government would relinquish its excessive regulation on private enterprise so that ambitious Americans would be free to reap the rewards of their hard work, increasing capital and jobs to the benefit of all. Reduced taxation would encourage business expansion creating even more jobs which would remove the need for social well-fare which, in turn, would result in a significant reduction in the national debt.

I thought about this for a while before I asked Max how he accounted for the increasing discrepancy in wealth distribution. It seemed to me, I told him, that the ‘job creators’ were fighting a livable wage requiring their employees to rely more and more on the safety net to get by and their increased profit taking was creating a stagnant income, that perhaps there was a greed factor inherent in human nature that might require a bit of government oversight.

Well, Max pretty much ignored my criticisms. He said the public saw the light to the right and we were without doubt headed in the right direction- equality of opportunity for all.

Max was riding pretty high and it would have been a shame to burst his bubble. I really should have suggested, though, that we’re a long way from equality in this country and there are quite a few things standing in the way of equal opportunity like unequal educational opportunities, racial prejudices, gender bias, not to mention a disinclination to assign credibility of any sort to inanimates such as myself.

I guess we’ll all continue to nurture our innate philosophical leanings and, as with religious beliefs, be fairly unresponsive to opposing views. I think though we all need to start seeing the grays.

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Who Are We?

Celestial Steven was waxing idealistic recently about the tenuous existence of humankind.  He said, that, early on-that is way, way back in time-cooperation among advanced sentient beings was primary.  An individual’s survival depended upon interaction with others.  On an individual level everyone was equal.

Problems, he said, began when the individual started identifying with a particular group; with group identification came conflict with others.  The whole process has continued to grow and fester into the sectarian, racial, and religious conflicts (not to mention the divisive social class distinctions brought about by economic inequities) we now experience.

So, Celestial Steven said, if we could re-establish the one on one or establish an egalitarian collective everything would be peachy.

Mini-Max, being an unapologetic pragmatic conservative, took immediate exception to this idea.  He said it is only human nature to desire the security of association with one’s own kind.  The social security and economic stability of such alliances brings about fair competition between groups resulting in innovation and invention that lead to affluence and raise everyone’s quality of life.

So, I guess what it comes down to is racing blindly toward self-destruction as we fall deeper into our tribal differences in the interests of more for us or waking up, over-coming our jealousy and fear of the other and moving toward a more egalitarian world.

Well, I think collectivity may be the way to go but I would hate having to give up my playhouse.

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Age of Aquarius

My friend Astrid and I were planning to get together recently when she called to say she couldn’t leave the house.

Astrid is a strong believer in the efficacy of the Astral Plane as an indicator of future events.  She had just found out Saturn was entering her seventh house signaling Saturday, our planned meeting day, an inauspicious time to socialize.  Better, she said, not to tempt fate.

I thought about this for a while.  It all sounded pretty new-agie to me, but I decided to give Astrid the benefit of the doubt and found my birth chart on-line.

As you might imagine determining the exact time and date of my extrusion wasn’t easy.  The year was printed on the bottom of my left shoe; I consulted my keeper as to purchase date, estimated delivery time and took into account the slight flaw on my shoulder as an indicator of a rush job probably done shortly before the end of workday.

Anyway, my chart indicated among other things the moon was in Aquarius just passing into my eighth house.  What this suggested was my head was full of original ideas but that I would have the tendency to be selfish and blunt.

Being the skeptic I am I called Pearl.  We went out and had quite a good time.  I thought I was quite a pleasant companion until Pearl told me she hadn’t noticed the smear on my shoulder before.  I responded by telling her she wasn’t exactly Miss America herself.

Pearl just shrugged off the comment but it definitely got me thinking:  I wonder what will happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars?  Will peace guide the planets and love steer the stars?

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