A sense of humour is the only divine quality of man. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
As part of the regular
The evolutionary origins
For evolutionary biologists , one of the most curious searches is what make us human? An obvious answer is that human animal is the only species which is capable of laughter. Even the closest family members of homo sapiens do not have anything called laughter. How and under which evolutionary requirements human animal developed this capacity for laugh? We have a lot of studies and results available here. Usually there are three types of theories proposed from the evolutionary angle. According to the Superiority Theory , loudest laughs were cries of triumph . As per Relief Theory , laughter is a way of signalling that danger had passed. Finally as per Ambivalence theory , laughter erupts as a means of escape from contradictory emotions. To put it in another way , when we smile we stretch out corners of our mouth and show our teeth. Unlike other animals where showing teeth can be threatening , in case of humans it becomes a genuine warm smile signalling relaxed social conditions and a feeling that there is nothing to worry about.
According to Chris Knight, as compared to monkeys and apes , human beings belong to a much egalitarian society where face to face interaction and mutual respect are essential requirements. The ability to smile becomes a key point of this transition and laughter which signal a relief from a dominating alpha male (as we see in ape families) became a marker for our departure from the dominating nature of primate families.
The uses of laughter
What were the main uses of laughter in early hunter-gatherer societies? The answer to this question is also a pointer to the many uses of humour and laughter in our society too. In hunter gatherer societies , laughter was one of the means to establish order and to prevent anyone dominating the group. Laughter was also effectively used to make someone understand their fault and force them to fall in line. Knight describes an interesting example of usage of laughter among Mbendjele people of Republic of Congo. Among them , if a woman is upset with her husband , she goes and sits with other women and start talking about her husband’s behaviour. In such situations, the woman can expect all support from other women and they collectively start insulting the man. They will also adopt beating him( with cooking utensils ) but the main weapon is laughter. A senior woman may start by imitating the man and soon others will join and a collective laughter follows. Finally, the man will also be forced to join and he gets the message that he cannot get away with any outrageous act. Laughter does the calming and reconciliation job here.
Now think of the numerous situations we face when a smile does the redeeming act. I am sure that everyone would be happy to work with a boss who can share a joke
“ Comedians are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world “.
A good smile shortens the distance between two individuals and power equations get redefined. The politics of humour is an
Let’s laugh and be human
Humour can be extremely political and as we all know it can be the best way to convey the harshest truth. For the same reason, humour and
On account of it’s extraordinary power to move people and bare unpleasant truths, humour is often at the receiving end. A cartoon may carry more lethal power than an essay of thousands of words. Look at the way internet trolls are engaging the politics now. Whether in life or in politics or in our continuous engagement with each other , humour and a capacity to laugh is an absolute necessity. There is no better way to end this post than with a quote from Charlie Chaplin who gifted us unforgettable laughter through his movies.
“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
Let nothing hold us back from laughing at life