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October 5th, 2018
Humor provides a very important function, beyond entertainment, for human relationships. The comedy within a group of any size of people provides a unique perspective that can register an important metric about the group’s mentality and health.
In the age of Kings, the court Jester walked a difficult path of providing entertainment by pushing boundaries without going so far as to piss off the king to such a degree that the jester would lose his job and potentially his life – the most extreme form of censorship.
When the mental tone of a group starts to veer towards a composition that historically looks like totalitarianism, it’s the journalists, along with the comedians who are the target of censorship first. But we need not look at such a large scale of people to see the effect and need of humor within a human group.
Just as the jester pushed the boundaries in the court, most humor is an attempt to push some kind of boundary. The most tempting question might be to try and ask what exactly this boundary is, but any answer is far less informative than the more obvious answer to the question of which direction is the boundary moving? Comedy is often an attempt to push this boundary out, to expand the circle of conversation. One function of humor may simply be to arouse a good feeling while we introduce a difficult or unpleasant subject to the realities of language. This good feeling evoked by humor may be incredibly important for the very reason that the difficult or unpleasant subject would never enter the world of conversation otherwise. This expanding and inclusionist function of comedy may very well be one of the most important mechanisms we have for hauling problems into a light where we can see them clearly enough to try and solve them.
When the boundary of conversation is moving in the other direction, comedy, like journalists, functions like a canary in a coalmine. If comedians are being shunned, censored, or worse, we can be fairly certain that the scope and breadth of conversation for that group of people is getting smaller. Suddenly issues that were in the conversation that might have been solved, begin to be erased from the public sphere, perhaps because some larger, overarching answer to problems claims to have been found.
While these ponderings about comedy appear geared to large populations, the same ideas may apply very well to much smaller groups, right down the the smallest group of just two people. We might ask how much is available for conversation when humor is not a possibility between two people. Humor might not be present between two people, but it’s more important to see if humor is simply not possible. If humor becomes less possible between two people than it’s probably a fairly reliable sign that something deep has gone sour. After all humor is generally a hallmark of good friendships.
Comedy may even have something fundamental to say about a single individual’s mind and if it is set on expanding to a more generous context or not:
It’s simply impossible to make fun of someone who is going to genuinely laugh along with you.
Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to make fun of wannabe dictators.
Their shrinking minds are so easily… trumped.
This episode references Episode 163: What the fool believes.
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