Sunday, December 9, 2012

Humor and the Human Condition

Some of the pleasures we seek are clearly and immediately intelligible. We know why we enjoy the holidays, long walks in the woods, the company of friends, and teddy bears. The use of humor is somewhat harder to understand. Why should a joke make us laugh? Is it not embarrassing to laugh aloud in public? Isn't seriousness (after adoration) one of our most highly prized social sensations? 

Freud, the historically renowned intellectual for whom I feel an irrational sense of deep repugnance for, had a bit of a pessimistic perspective on the human condition, one in which we were all fated to lives of unhappiness. Instead of a cigarette and an enthusiastic amount of cocaine, perhaps someone should have given him a joke book. Had Freud unleashed his brain on humor, his jokes would have made George Carlin blush. 

Freud listed out three inescapable sources of suffering: our bodies, the merciless natural forces of the external world, and our volatile relations with other people...

...for which he suggested a few pleasurable remedies: religion, art or aesthetic enjoyment, and love. No doubt his iPod would have had songs like Amazing Graze, Ave Maria, some intense techno music, and Daniel by Elton John. 

I don't think anyone completely understands the power of humor, music, art, or aesthetic enjoyment, but it is a fact that these experiences directly cause us pleasurable sensations, altering the conditions that govern our sensibility so that we become incapable of receiving unpleasurable impulses. 

The effects of humor (laughing and feeling good or uplifted) occur simultaneously, and seem to be intimately connected... the benefit rendered by giggles in the struggle for happiness and in keeping misery at bay is so highly prized as a benefit that people have given it an established place in the economics of their spirit. 

We owe to those artists who make us laugh or otherwise feel good not merely the immediate yield of pleasure, but also a high five for inspiring within us that greatly desired degree of independence from sadness. For one knows that downers will always amplify the negative pressures of reality while uppers aid us in finding refuge in a world that invariably looks best when viewed from better conditions of sensibility. 

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