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.

The Cancel Culture

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the public individuals who have been fading from view, have virtually disappeared from the cultural narrative in recent months (or years). Some of these folks have found themselves in disfavor for a variety of reasons: perceived racial bias, sexual improprieties, sometimes simply political incorrectness or holding views found to be inappropriate by the more sensitive of our cultural judges.

I can think of a particularly clever and insightful comedian, a creative radio personality, a talented dramatic actor and several pols who suffer the sins of behaving badly in a moral or ethical sense. There appears to be a particularly virulent group of vigilantes sifting through the pasts of those deemed suspicious seeking condemning information. I suppose condemnation may be in order in some particularly egregious cases even though the perpetrator may have contributed to the public good most of his/her life.

It all makes me think back, wonder if there’s anything there, in my past, that might be brought up, maybe by a disgruntled neighbor or former friend, that I might find embarrassing were it to be revealed.

And, of course, there is.

A Chosen Leader

I’ve been reading about how mass movements are started, what exactly is required for people to unite in a collective opposition to the status quo. Such a phenomenon is often brought about, I guess, by economic insecurities and perceived loss of status which sometimes results in a breakdown of the social order. A lot of frustrated people find themselves treading water without a worthwhile goal to swim toward.

What these folks want, I suppose, is hope for a better future. They seek a leader who can spin a believable narrative promising improvement; someone to thumb his/her nose at the established ways, one who has little regard for prevailing institutions, one defiant in word and deed.

Usually such an individual emerges in response to the cries of the disenfranchised. Sometimes, though, a talented ambitious man may insight the masses through coercion and false narrative to rise up against their own best interests, to champion change for the sake of change, fed by the energy of their common opposition to perceived injustices and identification with their chosen leader. They rally for their side to win at all costs, but in so doing threaten in their vehemence the integrity of the institution allowing them the free expression they exercise.

An unsettling scenario, it seems to me.

Upon Reflection

I’ve been reading about the history of the mirror: how the idea of ‘reflection’ took on new meaning over time.

Humankind has, of course, been aware of the reflected image since pre-historic man first gazed into a still pond. The dangers of such a discovery became apparent in Greek mythology when Narcissus, realizing his beauty, became obsessed with his reflection, fell into despair his love of self could never be requited, killed himself and was reborn as a flower (curious but fitting, I suppose).

By the Renaissance pretty much everyone had access to mirrors. It didn’t turn all Italians narcissistic but the focus on personal appearance brought about by the availability of the reflected image profoundly affected the way people everywhere thought about themselves. Gazing into a mirror makes the gazer aware of his (or her) unique oneness. Social relationships become more complex. The individual, aware of her (or his) physical attributes easily assumed an expectation of relative worth beyond the status assigned by other means such as social rank, wealth or useful contribution to society. Visual presentation: grooming habits, manner of dress hair styling became increasingly significant and for some cultures border(ed) on the ridiculous.

I must admit to remembering preening in my teen years. Now I purposely avoid mirrors whenever possible. But, as my physical appearance has become less photogenic I find my psychological well-being not as dependent on visual presentation. One of the advantages of ageing, I guess.

Queen of America

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to have a national identity: how we might imagine some sort of consensual, some unifying set of shared values in our diverse population, an identity, we might imagine, manifesting itself in the actions of our chosen leaders, our elected representatives who we see putting into motion actions we consider important to maintaining our moral visions. Of course, as the political winds blow, half of us will be upbeat knowing our chosen leaders are heading the country in the right direction while the other half will passionately believe the opposite.

This conundrum has me thinking about the British. The Royal Family, having a centuries old heritage, provides a national identity for a pretty fair number of British citizens judging from the crowds one sees in photographs of various state rites and national observances. No longer wielding political sway the Royals serve as a unifying symbol for a population whose politics has produced the divisive likes of Margret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

So, maybe we need a King or a Queen, someone to focus on in these days of extreme partisan division, some apolitical demi-god (or goddess) who represents the values our diverse population can agree upon, someone to reign over our national holidays as a symbol of unity.

Personally I can’t think of anyone who might adequately fill the bill but I’m open to suggestion.

Beauty in Death

I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.

Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.

What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.

An Existential Dilemma

I’ve been reading that some people never grow up. I guess many of us live life one distraction after another, placating ourselves with momentary satisfactions while never achieving a meaningful grasp of what it means to be part of a whole pluralistic social structure. But then, coming to grips with existence is an ongoing dilemma for most of us I guess., egged on as we are into confronting the play-ground bully that is reality.

I’m thinking one explanation for our arrested development, at least in part, is a coddled existence: we take for granted not only basic needs but creature comforts that give us a sense of affluence and well-being to the extent that we question how it can be people are homeless and food insecure even though we are informed on a daily basis of human suffering throughout the world.

Well, it’s something to think about for those of us who have tended toward a little Peter Panishness on occasion. Reflection is never a bad thing.

Fact or Fiction?

I found myself, the other day, unavoidably engaged, once again, in a conversation with a close acquaintance whose conspiratorial perspectives have expanded beyond a ‘deep state’ cabal controlling the mainstream media to revisionist history (deep sigh).

I granted him that a narrative account of historical events is vulnerable to the biases of the narrator and that specifics of time and place (within limits) and the underlying motives of the actors might be considered. After all, I went on, nothing is written in stone; new knowledge arises and accounts change, but the scholarship and peer reviews of generations of researchers has a legitimacy that defies any idea of ‘deep state’ agenda. I allowed that when it comes to narrative accounts hard facts and pure fictions will be reasonably seen as not so hard and not so pure. The sources of one’s information, though, must be determined to be free of deliberate distortion. Intuitively imagining the truth of unsupported premises really must be seen for what it is.

There’s a difference, after all, between questioning the accuracy of generally accepted accounts and undermining those accounts based on intuition, dubious sources and unsupported premises.

 

 

Unfamiliar Territory

The unsettling events of recent months that have brought us to what we are led to believe is a ‘new normal’ have provided me glimpses into unfamiliar territory. It’s not, of course, that the basic lay of the land or its population of warm-blooded inhabitants are any different than they were last year, but I find myself drifting into uncharted psychological waters.

The restrictions that we have necessarily imposed upon ourselves, cautions about travel and social gatherings, seem to have spawned new realizations, subtle perspectives: not exactly epiphanies, I suppose, but unfamiliar mental states I find to be quite interesting and pleasant. These brief insights have led me to the thought that I have lived most of my life in a limited world, a fairly tightly bounded universe.

Well, while I find it unlikely I will have any great experiential happenings in my foreseeable future I do find these occasional brief glimpses into the unknown refreshing.

A Theme Park for the Disenfranchised

I’ve been reading about the disenchantment with and removal, these days, of monuments to past figures of note whose behaviors, in retrospect, are being found wanting. The issue has me in mind of a trip I took to Eastern Europe awhile ago.

After the fall of the Soviet Union a massive effort to remove the statuary of the Communist elite, found in most every village, led to the creation of a ‘theme park’ near Vilnius in Lithuania. Large scale sculptures of Lenin, Stalin and lesser known figures were situated in a park-like setting with walking paths inviting public viewing. As I strolled along the shaded garden-like pathways, admiring the formidable statuary and thinking of the evils these men perpetrated against the captive populations, I became aware of barbed wire fencing encircling the park. Upon closer examination I found an ersatz moat and ‘guard towers’ as well: a not so subtle reminder, I suppose, of the years of oppression suffered during the Russian occupation.

I wonder if a similar theme park might be erected to house, in remembrance, statuary of our own forbearers who’s racist and anti-Semitic behaviors reasonably deserve a stern admonishment at the very least.