“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”
― Terry Pratchett, Diggers
Having a sense of humour is basically human (with the exception of the laughing hyena in the lower animal realm). Besides, the phrase “humorous human” is a case of alliteration and alliteration is a literary device used by wordsmiths to add an element of humour to a written piece. With acquaintances and friends in light moments and relaxed conversations, humorous punch lines and stories are common, in fact, even anticipated. More than being a homo socius (social being) and a homo loquens (talking being), homo sapiens sapiens is also a homo ridens (laughing being)—whether s/he is a homo or a hetero, it doesn´t matter. We want to crack jokes without necessarily appearing like crackpots. We want others to tell funny stories regardless of whether they are true or almost true (but not quite in many instances).
In an intensely fired up discussion which is almost a heated debate between protagonists in a formal meeting, an amusing line or two shot from the mouth of a witty guy could diffuse the tense atmosphere without the risk of being viewed by the others as a nuisance. However, too much joke unleashed in a supposedly serious undertaking will not only be a bullshit to spoil the event but will also drive sensible people furious towards the assholes that have turned the meeting into a stupid circus. To distinguish between a good and a bad sense of humour is therefore necessary and doing so takes one´s sensitivity of the people around and the sort of particular event s/he finds her/himself as well. In this sense, it is not always the case that what is humorous to me is likewise automatically humorous to other people and vice versa.
Humour also varies in degrees. On the one hand, there are those so-called slapsticks that are generally appealing to children and to those who remain childish despite their ages. On the other hand, there are satires which are the more sophisticated type of humour that appeals more to more mature people. A slapstick story particularly intended to tickle a child´s amusement may in some instance likewise tickle the shallow sense of humour of an adult. In this case, what finally becomes humorous is not the story itself but the immaturity of the adult. However, a satire that unexplainably tickles a child is not humorous but shocking. Why? Is it because the child miraculously got the punch of the satire? No. What is shocking is, the child is therefore not a child. And so what then is so humorous in this particular situation? Nothing, except the crazy idea that a child is assumed to be able to appreciate a satire which is one heck of a bullshit.
But seriously—if we could just be serious at least for a while—the sensibility of humour depends not only on one´s level of maturity but also relative to one´s cultural climate, geographical location and degree of intelligence. Again, one´s sensitivity of these factors is crucial. Even within a common geographical scope are a variety of cultural apparatuses and much more specific are the diverse levels of individual intelligence in a cultural frame of reference.
On a wider social scale, government and religion are two popular targets of humorous remarks, banters and tales. In a freer society with a more genuinely democratic government, even offensively critical quips draw popular raves and create a wildfire surge. People´s imaginations are triggered and more humorous comments issue out of them. A similar scenario is also true in relation to religion. Countless humorous anecdotes on certain idiosyncratic beliefs, practices and personalities circulate around and fascinate people to come up with their own versions of the stories.
However, in a more restrictive social condition of a country controlled by an authoritarian government (as in North Korea), humorous remarks and stories critical of government could mean stiff penalties ranging from incarceration to execution when the perpetrators are caught. That is terrifying enough. A similar situation could also be true in the case of making fun of certain issues seen in the ways of a conservative and dogmatic religion whose harshest punishment slapped on a pernicious offender is eternal hell-fire. Terrifying? No way. That is rather hilarious. In the 21st century, only idiots get scared of religious conditions as it is likewise idiotic to make fun of Kim Jung-Un while in North Korea. Cross the border first and broadcast your stories in Seoul.
Now let´s get serious once again (for the second time) and take the issue of the humorous human more philosophically (as if philosophy is always serious). The basic question is: Does humour make us human? Or, would it be more sensible to say that we have a sense of humour because we are human? In the latter consideration, it is fundamentally assumed that only humans are possessors of a sense of humour; no other living organism on planet Earth is so endowed . Like the “categorical imperative” which in Kant´s ethical theorizing is deemed inherent in humanity under normal circumstances, there seems to be a “humorous imperative” innate in us as human beings. We are therefore a “gifted” species whose normal life is made more exhilarating, exciting, challenging and pleasurable as we regularly spice it with humour. In other words, we are humorous basically because we are human. Humour naturally flows from our humanity and any control system of social or political origin aimed to hinder the free channel to openly express our sense of humour is a blatant infringement of the very essence of our humanity. We are humorous because we are human.
But doesn´t it also make sense to say that humour makes us human? In a lot of ways, yes. And what I mean here is, openly expressed humour that emanates from me and releases out of my being an energy of creativity that affirms my humanity not from the point of view of another person but from my very own point of view. My humanity—and anybody´s humanity for that matter—is on a progressive trail. Consciousness is in constant evolution. We as human beings are not finished products. We are our own “works of art” as we create ourselves moment by moment with the aim of becoming more and more human. Humour plays a tremendously vital role in this very process. In this sense, humour constantly maintains our humanity and hence makes us more human.
On a lighter note, even the very theories themselves advanced to explain the emergence of humanity on planet Earth is of humorous stuff. From the evolutionary side, it is the seed of humour spontaneously developing in the “mind” of our ancestral ape that led to the breaking away of the first human species from the animal world. From the creation side, even the deity´s act to create human beings was an expression of his sense of humour as he has endowed them with the same propensity to be humorous and make the world a colossal carnival.
Sounds apocryphal or perhaps even heretical? Ah, whatever.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 6 February 2014