Re: Laughing

From: Jon Gilbert (
Date: Sat 30 Nov 2002 - 21:52:54 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: Laughing"

    >Hello all,
    >I am new to the meme world and still don't understand a lot about it. I
    >read the Selfish gene book for Dawkins not so long ago and that is where I
    >got the idea. I read couple of books after that about memes and I must
    >admit it seems very appealing and interesting concept to me.
    >As we all know, laughing is only human thing as well as memes (some argue
    >that animals do possess memes, but I haven't bought that totally yet). I am
    >wondering how did we aquire that. Does it have something thing to do with
    >memes or not really? The correlation is there, it is just hard to imagine
    >how it came about. Did it have some survival advantagous to us or not
    >necesserly. On the other hand it is hard to reconcile it with the fact that
    >kids at very young age do laugh which suggest that it could be biological
    >thing rather than memetic thing.
    >Could any of you guys speculate in this or recommend specific readings
    >about it?

    Laughing, or adding :-)'s, is one way that a person can modify the amount of validity with which they are endorsing a statement and/or with which they expect the listener or reader to accept it. Now, depending on the meme, the amount of validity given to it can affect its reception. If I tell a joke and imbue it with the most serious level of validity, as if the statement were the Word of God, then everyone might reject the meme because it seemed inappropriate to accept a ridiculous statement as valid that was uttered with utmost validity, because to do so would be to deem appropriate the speaker's misuse of tone, which would be to give the speaker free reign over ones' internal reactions -- a step towards allowing oneself to be persuaded away from reason.

    On the other hand, if I speak the Word of God as if it were a joke, and I say it to a congregation of believers, then I had best have a horse drooling at the back door, right? I mean, making fun of the sacred tenets of *any* meme-construct to those most hard-wired into it is tantamount to suicide in many cases. Just try walking into an airport and telling bomb jokes, or walking into a liquor store in South East L.A. and start telling nigger jokes. Even when the crowd is less volatile, it's easy to get ex-communicated from a group for making fun of the meme-set itself. Like try going into a bar and making fun of people who drink, telling jokes about how stupid they are and how they waste their lives. Or going on a meme-discussion list and saying, "Hey did you hear the one about the meme-discussion-list-serv folks?" Hahahahahaha. Ahem. The point is, laughter is a whole 'nother thing when you're the only one laughing. Then it can be much less than pleasurable.

    Laughter and levity in general can allow the free flow of memes, like mayonaise aids the flow of an otherwise dry turkey sandwich. A human watches Friends and the laugh track eases their reception of its inanity. In this way, the dominant meme-giver, the hegemon, dictates what is funny and what is not funny, thus controlling the meme-flow. Notice in circles of people how if the "leader of the pack" doesn't laugh at the joke, nobody else laughs; I'm reminded of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas: " ".

    The most important thing about laughter is that people want to laugh, primarily, as a group. When a meme is inherently funny, then it is more likely to spread because people enjoy laughing together. But once they get tired of it, it gets old, and there is no lasting value. It spreads like wildfire but then the fire burns out. On the other hand, memes that allow people to laugh at others, have more staying power; the meme-set of the "popular girl at school" who makes fun of everybody because her appearance matches the socially-constructed image of the "hot girl", this meme-set will never disappear because it enables those who are able to validly wield it to laugh amongst themselves at all those who are not able to validly wield it yet try with such futility. Not to mention everything else it enables because of the complementary memes that we're all implanted with from birth. Then there develop counter-memes to the dominant sets, which enable the formation of groups which laugh at the dominant meme. Either way, it's the same meme-structure fractally bubbling into different socio-structures and relating them against each other.

    In more aboriginal cultures I think humor takes on a more constructive role, as people laugh at their failures to survive in order to cope with harsh environments and enjoy simple lifestyles. This kind of humor seems often deeper and more meaningful to the post-modern mind, jaded as it is in a sort of incontinence, calloused from all the laugh-tracks and Jim Carrey movies. But I think a return to this more balanced state is a short flick of the TV's "on off" switch away.

    In order to fight against the pull of the hegemonic meme-structures and default counter-positions it is necessary to engage in some kind of philosophical dialogue about the meta-meme and be able to attain a level of separation, as an actor from a role. Then the role can be played with subtle mimicry of the other roles and subtle subversions of the meme-set. In this way anyone can avoid the pitfalls of taking themselves or their role in life too seriously, or at least, from appearing to do so... :-)

    JS Gilbert

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