# Four Questions

A KIND OF INTRODUCTION

I

There are only four questions that this blog will address. They aren’t the only questions, but they’re my questions for now.

I don’t have answers for them. I also don’t have the question part of the question. Call them problems, then. Lacking formulation, they are:

Mathematics
Comedy
The 1960s
Yes/No

I understand if this seems strange.

II

The first is properly a metaphysical question. An early formulation might be: “What is math?” That’s not bad necessarily. But then what answer would you expect to that? “A system of calculation” perhaps.

That doesn’t really solve much, because “What is a system of calculation?” and so on and so forth. But let’s go with that. If it’s a system of calculation, then it needs to be calculating something. This means that it’s a way of understanding and interacting with the world, inasmuch as calculation is a specific way to interact with the world. Further, most people trust that math accurately calculates the world around them. They’re not wrong. Airplanes fly, and we needed math to get them to do that. That’s some serious empirical confirmation.

I assume that we could also have tried to build airplanes with oblation and ritual cannibalism. I also assume that this wouldn’t have worked quite as well. The question has already changed there, though. First it was “What is math?” but now it’s something more like: “What makes math work (physically)?”

You know you know the answer, but its pieces keep falling back down your windpipe. We have our empirical confirmation (transatlantic flights, turbines not run on pixie dust). A common response, which incorporates empiricism neatly, is that math came from comparing objects. After all, most of it comes from ratios in one way or another. We then formalized it into the abstract version we normally use, and that’s that.

And yet it’s precisely from empiricism that the certainty starts to melt away. We know that we don’t “see” the world accurately. And our knowledge derived strictly empirically is often laughably false. See: geocentrism. But mathematical proofs hold perfectly true, platonically so (there’s a reason that geometry is Plato’s go-to example). And they do so abstractly and empirically. If every single other observation we have is faulty (ironically, proven such by math itself, cough cough geocentrism), how could we have derived such a perfect tool? See: Hume.[1].

We can try something else, then: math works differently because it’s just “logic” transposed onto the world. Taken to its extreme, this is Kantian. But even if you want to ignore the categories, you’ve still claimed an innate human characteristic. That’s fine! And it sounds good, and you can apply anything you want to it. But there’s still a problem: how does it connect to the outside world? We have plenty of other systems that “measure” the world in one way or another. Math “works” in a way that your fever-dream utopia doesn’t. Knowledge is culturally conditioned, or influenced, or it springs from inner reason, or [epistemology]; but airplanes fly. Again, Kant, but there are a whole flock of philosophers that deal with this problem: [list titled “I am very well read and also smart and also I fuck real good” here].

This post isn’t about finding the exact question, nor is it about which corpses have said the most insightful thing about math. It’s about the question slowly dissolving and reforming differently. We went from: “What is math?” to “What is calculation?” to “Why does math work?” to “What is the human faculty of logic?” Did we finally get it?

Classic (modern) answer to the above question: logic and the empirical world align because we evolved to interpret the world accurately, i.e. the mammoths would squish those who saw parallel lines meeting. But, a) that’s nuts, and doesn’t explain anything actually and, b) that’s not even how math works. There are parts of this world that are Euclidean, and others that are not, and these don’t even have the same basic axioms (well, postulates, but still).  Further: we can create new systems of math that don’t exist in any coherent sense but which are logically consistent. See: Lobachevsky

I get that evolution is a powerful force, but it would be pretty weird if it selected for 19th century non-Euclidean geometry before whatever we called fire was more than an onomatopoeia. Final version of the question for this section: “Why do woolly mammoths hate the fifth postulate?” And over to you for the weather, Steve.

III

One day I’ll write a post for each of the four questions. When I do that I’ll update this page, so you can skip my rambling and just go to: “Why is math/the1960s/comedy/yesno such a weird thing?” This post is about questioning, and the importance of choosing a question.

I put math at the top for a reason. “It’s a metaphysical question, and thus dictates absolutely everything under it.” Sure, that’s a good reason. But mostly I did it because it allows me to make a smooth transition.

The most important lesson of mathematics  – and the one that almost no one takes – is the importance of the question itself. [2] Everyone hated word problems in algebra class, but they’re the only real problems on the test. Math is (maybe) nothing but the slippery notation of our logical faculties, which means that you do those word problems every day. Breaking a problem down into knowns and unknowns and solving for the unknowns is basically what we do when we meet something mysterious, whether or not the unknown winds up being an integer. The great misunderstanding about math’s “utility in education” is that this utility has anything to do with computation. Sure – it’s useful to be able to calculate a check, or to verify that the lottery is only 82,750:1 against. Some idiot that failed Algebra 2 thinks it’s 100,000:1, and your yacht will give them a number to think about. I don’t deny the computational value of mathematics when applied to physics, or to [insert here]. But outside of comparing dock costs for Captain’s Playground II, the utility of math as education is entirely nonnumerable.

Even word problems are, properly, cheating, because they’ve already circumscribed the problem for you. Yet working within a paragraph’s confines you can still wind up with a thousand questions (equations), and not a one of those is a non-sequitur. This is critical: It’s easy to dismiss the aside, the obviously unconnected statement, or, taken to its extreme, the artful dodge to a different topic. We’re used to journalists doing this: when confronted with a problem, they focus on a completely different one (see: the motion from “why Trump won” to “what is the republican party”). Or someone introduces a new element (hitherto unknown and yet surprisingly relevant to the point they’re making) and act as though they haven’t. It’s a lot more disturbing when everyone has the same problem in front of them, the exact same information to work with, and the same phrasing of the problem (i.e. calculate [x] in terms of [y] given [z]) but they come up with completely different questions.

Different equations solve for different variables, and different questions get different answers. This is easy to know with word problems: fuck up your variables and you’re going to get the wrong one. But one shouldn’t  be mislead by the analogy into thinking that these aren’t “answers” because they aren’t the ones that the prompt suggests. They absolutely are answers, and they are answers to some question, and they are answers that incorporate the correct information (inasmuch as there hasn’t been a minor error in calculation). Finally, they’re correct answers, inasmuch as they obey mathematical laws (or logical, or political, or [whatever you’re solving for here]). You can do the footwork yourself: starting from their question, with the given data, their conclusion is 100% valid. [3]

The problem here is that “correct” answers persuade. Moreso when they guide you, and good [type of person with a point]s show their work. They lead you to the inevitable. Indeed: Answers deceive the questioner as often or more often than they others, especially because they often won’t show their question but will know it themselves (this goes doubly for clean answers: did you recheck your work after x= 4.337383 or x=4? ). Ironically, this appears to be even more the case with answers that are deemed “mathematical”, see: data journalism.

But one should always ask: what was their question? And was it the important one?

I use important here because the downside of this analogy is that it implies that there are correct and incorrect answers/questions. Importance (which I don’t care to try and define) is a much better heuristic, for reasons. Getting to those reasons is clearly beyond the scope of the current post (and probably blog, period).

IV

We get to see the answers much more often than we get to see the question. There are generally two approaches to dealing with wrong answers.

The first generally agrees on the phrasing of the question (stated, implied, or total lack thereof). But you don’t think that they had all the relevant information, or they calculated wrong, or they phrased it poorly. The only time the question needs to be reformulated is in light of new evidence presented, and even then the “type” of question is normally the same (i.e., not “What is math?” but “What is a system of calculation?”) There are a thousand great blogs and writers that do this.

The second is to deny that they’re asking the right question. In these cases they might have all the relevant data, or not, and they may have calculated correctly, or not. It’s irrelevant, or it’s relevant only insomuch as they didn’t have (read: didn’t pay attention to) the right perspective to incorporate that information.

The second interests me more. I have a general preference for extremists and mystics of all stripes, but not necessarily because I agree with them. They tend to be far enough outside to point out that the entire formulation might be off, which is invaluable. That is to say: you’re getting correct answers, but you’re so intent on your calculations that you forgot to ask what the question means.

V

Don’t go barking up Melpomene‘s tree when you need a punchline. It’ll turn out badly for you.

Questions can (obviously) fall into different fields. “Math” went from physics to epistemology to metaphysics pretty quickly. Most others do the same. Mistaking an aesthetic question for a political question is both common and lethal.

Of my four, math is primarily metaphysical. Comedy is aesthetic, or anthropological. The 1960s is political. Yes/No is metaphysical and ethical.

Someone will note that I could just as easily have said “I will be writing about metaphysics/politics/ethics.” That someone will be missing the point.

Specifics focus us. Having “metaphysics” as a problem doesn’t leave you much to start with. Sure, broader questions have more possibilities, but that only sounds good when you don’t think about it. It’s sort of like writing. A blank page has limitless possibilities, and one with writing fewer. If “absolute possibility” is your criteria, you should go to the bulk paper section of Office Max instead of a library.

Specifics reveal aspects of the “broader” question you wouldn’t have really considered. I’ve preferred to use mathematical metaphors, but the only one that seems appropriate to this one is comedy. A stand-up comedian gets on stage and says, “A guy falls down.” This was meant to show how unfunny that would be, but it actually is kind of funny. Whatever. The point is that generally comedians don’t speak in abstracts. We find humor in specificity, which means we value it. Why do we? How the fuck should I know. [4]

What I mean to say about specifics is: well, that right there. The consideration of the specific (“What kind of jokes do the jokers tell?”) brings up the general (“Why do humans like specifics?”). Comedy is one of the best examples I know of this, because of how difficult it is. Poetry is also a great medium for this, but it’s less volatile. Both comedy and poetry are incredibly hard to write, but bad poems are generally just bad poems (and occasionally comedy). Comedy done poorly, or done in such a way as to offend, infuriates people. [5]

Every time a comedian crosses a line, some youtube scholar assures us that “[joke] isn’t funny.” The  first thing to notice is that many people are, in fact, laughing. This is no great observation, but that’s a classic is/ought problem: they’re explaining why [joke] shouldn’t be funny, not the (obviously false) fact that it “isn’t”. The second thing to notice is that none of these are written as positives, i.e.: “What is funny is…” The definition of what humor is has already been assumed, which is strange, because how many times have you met two different people with identical senses of humor?

What (I think) is being assumed is that humor has a moral dimension. This explains why everyone agrees on one positive comedic rule: “Don’t punch down.” It fails to explain why most of our comedy is doing precisely that. As a data point, the classic sitcom is “dumb people doing dumb things.” I get that we don’t recognize “stupid” as an approved victim category, but who has a better life: IQ 130 with matching Stanford diploma, or IQ 90 with a job at Burger World? I know that “everyone is valuable” but Stanford’s value has 5 zeroes and Burger’s is Dickall/hr. We have funny shows with intelligent heroes… in which they’re either: a) total failures (Seinfeld) or, b) generate humor by mocking the weak (House… also kind of Seinfeld).

I don’t mean to only talk about comedy as art. I mean humor, like, shit that makes us laugh. And we laugh mostly at a) people getting hurt, and b) hurting other people. Banana as cruelty, etc.

My point isn’t that humor should be kind or cruel or that we should punch down. My point is merely that it is and we do. There are plenty of counter-examples: puns don’t seem to hurt anyone, for one. But I’m not trying to make a taxonomy of humor here, I’m explaining what humor says about us. It might not be “good”. The general rule against x jokes is that humor applies affirmation. I’m actually kind of fond of that argument, for reasons beyond this essay. Unfortunately, collecting the last three paragraphs, I’d estimate that about 90% of the populace is a straight-up Social Darwinist.

…Or not (?). Comedy is as fragile as poetry, and if it were simple affirmation of the theme, then it wouldn’t be so fragile. You can’t just lay out a punchline. It has to be established properly, and the specifics are incredibly important. These can be implied, as in a reference, or explicit, but you can’t just do without or else your joke isn’t funny. So what is being affirmed?

“Why don’t you just write about [field]?” Because I need to build a context.

But that’s not all. It sounds strictly utilitarian when I say that specifics are good for finding parts of generals, and I’m not interested in comedy as a pedagogical tool. I’m interested in comedy itself:  why we laugh at what we laugh at is probably the most jarring thing about people I know. This is obvious, but we never meet with abstracts and fields (“ethics”, “metaphysics”). We meet with concrete instances that are essentially their nodes. A specific is more than a good case study: it’s the only time you have skin in the game.

A: “Here’s my crystalline vision of human behavior.”
B: “Does it explain dick jokes?”
A: “No.”
B:”Then it’s wrong.”

Put another way, let’s examine the argument above.

A: “Comedy represents a moral compass.”
The World: 100% kind great loving father goodman, donates to charity, lets homeless men crash on the couch, and once nursed a doe back to health; laughs his ass off when a stranger breaks their vertebra.

If he’s 100% kindgoodman, then whatever he’s affirming can’t be as simple as moral action, or “the pain of strangers.” I made a joke above, about the Tay Bridge Disaster as an example of “bad poetry as comedy”. Here’s the rest of McGonagall’s life, from wiki:

McGonagall constantly struggled with money and earned money by selling his poems in the streets, or reciting them in halls, theatres and public houses. […]  In 1880, he sailed to London to seek his fortune, and in 1887 to New York. In both instances, he returned unsuccessful.

He found lucrative work performing his poetry at a local circus. He read his poems while the crowd was permitted to pelt him with eggs, flour, herrings, potatoes and stale bread. For this, he received fifteen shillings a night.

[…]

He died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

Hilarious! [6]

But what are we affirming?

VI

That’s a problem for the “humor as moral arbiter” position. It’s also a problem for nearly every theory of humor I know. And puns are a problem for the “humor as cruelty” thing. So I don’t really know. “Humor’s weird, man.” You can quote me on that.

But this post isn’t about what the questions are, it’s about questioning. And I know a bigger problem on that front. It’s that questioning in a certain way is taboo.

I anticipate that talking about math is only going to piss off a very small percentage of the internet (and a relatively smaller percent of the general populace). Picking at humor will piss off a much larger percentage. 70% chance of rain, 100% chance I’ll be getting a nasty email about how [unacceptable joke] is completely different from making fun of dummies, dummy. That will be avoiding the problem of humor, and showing us the problem of questioning it. I wasn’t asking “why aren’t racist jokes funny? hint hint I have this great one”, I was asking, “If humor is simply an act of affirming something (cruel or not), why is it so hard to write a good joke?” If it was as simple as “here’s a thing we agree with, now laugh”, then [agreeable sentiment] would be uproarious. Hell, not even Stormfront just finds “[slur]” hilarious on its own. They need a context. It’s a fucking gross context, sure, but that doesn’t remove its role as context.

Even the above caveat is sure to misinterpreted. That bigger problem isn’t specific to comedy, but comedy certainly reveals it. When I was in the hoary realm of math, it was a lot easier to assume that mistakes in questions were naive or accidental or whatever. As we move closer to ground level specifics, it gets dicier. By which I mean: I was leaving out intentional obfuscation and misunderstanding.

VII

I want to be clear here that I’m not trying to cry “censorship!” Censorship is negative, both in the sense of “bad” and also in the sense of”it negates something put out there.” I’m worried about the positive: intentionally putting forth a question with a desired end, a leading question. Answers persuade, and most of all they persuade the person asking. When someone opines about “why x isn’t funny” that’s putting a positive forth (implicit question: “Is x funny?” article: “No”). But there’s a deeper question being left behind, namely, what humor actually is (or something like that), and why you think it has a moral component. You know humor is important, otherwise you wouldn’t flip out over x jokes. But as long as you assume the answer while glossing the question, there’s not going to be a way to communicate.

The question becomes, of course: Why are we assuming certain things about humor? I actually think I have an answer to that question.

VIII

On the list of four problems, the 1960s almost certainly sticks out as comically specific. And it is: I thought about how funny that would look when I wrote it, because humor is specific.

So, yes, the 1960s is a joke, but it’s also deadly serious, because politics. If I had to define “politics”, it would be where the abstract and the concrete circle jerk until everyone is filthy. This sets us all on edge, not least because we can’t escape it: we’re circlejerking forever. You can be as abstract as you want, but you don’t get to duck out of the specifics of your time. And our time is dominated by the intellectual trends (and subsequent actions) that came out of the 1960s. The ’60s didn’t invent any of it, but they managed to perfect it. And by “it” I mostly mean modernity.

But this has a converse: If I being in this time means I can’t escape the ’60s, then the ’60s also doesn’t get to escape time. Woodstock wasn’t Act V, the chants didn’t hang beautiful in the air, and the vanguard didn’t march on Olympus to protest Chronos himself. Intellectuals these days love to talk about the dialectic and historicism and blah, so it’s weird when they fetishize things actually in time as though they were static. “The Black Power movement was monumental!” but Eldridge Cleaver died a conservative Mormon. “The Yippies were the image of youthful freedom,” and Jerry Rubin went Patrick Bateman. “It was the first time that we made music to stick it to the man,” thus Jefferson Airplane became Starship. I mean this as kindly as possible: if you think that those transitions were just accidents, unrelated to any previous phenomena, then you’re a fucking idiot.

“Things contain their opposites”, says a dialectician. But that’s already assuming that the ’60s were “radical” in some way that held its opposite (Reagan). It could just as easily be the case that exactly the same current carried the ’60s and the ’80s straight through to us, and that we haven’t seen the opposite yet. Sure, hippies and yuppies smell different, but the olfactory gland isn’t the only one. Set it in motion. Stop asking leading questions.

IX

This isn’t supposed to be a political piece, so I’m about to cut myself off. But one thing does need to be established. Despite all claims to mysticism and “eastern oneness”, the ’60s (read: modernity) might go down as among the most uniquely dualistic eras in human history. This is not as obvious as it first appears.

The longest lasting political innovation of the ’60s will not prove to be Civil Rights (started in the ’50s), or Vietnam (ended in the ’70s), or [Boomer pride point here]. It will be the phrase “the personal is political.” This was not unique to that era (read: ours), but it was perfected in it. It is the establishment of political stance as a totalizing force, i.e. an identity. Each and every attribute of yours is interpreted (by you or others) as a part of a particular political stance. It can conform to this by choice willingly or be made to, but it’s deemed political irrespective of your opinion of that. This is not good or bad, it’s simply the state of affairs.

Politics has always been in-group and out-group (citation needed), but it has not always meant “everything.” This “everything” forces identity to become a much stronger force than it once was, and that isn’t narrowly political. Any “attribute” is to be accepted or rejected as conforming to that political stance, and failure means (at best) guilt and self-loathing. It also means that attacks on “politics” (now broadly interpreted) are necessarily interpreted as personal attacks. How could it be otherwise? The personal is political, i.e. you. Conservatives love to mock virtue signalling, but it’s not only obvious why this happened, it’s a survival mechanism. I don’t mean merely socially (it is that), but also psychologically: it protects against decompensation. Besides, conservatives do this all the time, see: [gif of conservative with guns here]. “She’s just happy to show her political rights.” Is that why she’s shooting a picture of the current president?

When I call this view dualistic, I really mean Manichaean. If you ask someone whether they are good or bad, most people will say good. Which means that if You -capital-y are your politics, and that You is Good, then Bad must be outside of that. And since your politics merged with everything else in your personality, everything outside of that becomes [ ]. Identity becomes, well, modern identity.[7] (If there is a single footnote to read before responding to this, make it that one.)

It’s more insidious than “humor is political, etc.” Manichaeanism means: we attach all things good to ourselves, and call that our politics. Anything coded as “good” is thus good (must be good) in every way, because personal=political=everything in every way. In concreto: humor is coded “good”, thus it’s a part of the “us” and not the “them”. We don’t forbid our political enemies sorrow (or when we do it’s much less common) for this reason. Sorrow is coded: “neutral-bad”, and so accepted as universal (it isn’t part of our unique good). But we do get to determine what is and is not “funny”, because we are good, and so good things pertain to us (morally, etc.). Note that almost all culture war (read: politics) takes place over things determined explicitly “good” by society, not ones bad or neutral. Each side is staking its claim and, duh, they conflict. Everyone wants “humor” on their side. This seems stupidly obvious, but apparently is not: we could also culture war over negative things, like who gets to claim “losing a child.” Why don’t we?

You can tell these by their arguments about what [thing] is not (read: the definition is obvious, because it is good and we are good), and people freak the fuck out when you try to ascertain what it is. Things that are bad or neutral are defined by what they are (normally “a bad thing” because they are for the bad).  Thus, things defined by aren’t: art, love, religion, possessions, sports, humor, education, victims, not-being-racist. Things defined by are: mental disorders, apologies, (hilariously) politics, lawyers, death, failure, and [this is actually really hard to think of]. [8]

X

I didn’t choose the adjective “Manichaean” simply because it’s  a great word and makes me sound smart. Manichaeanism was (I guess technically still is) an early gnostic form of Christianity.

Gnosticism was varied and other etcs., but one thing generally holds true. It was sharply dualistic, with “the world” (matter, sex, w/e) being a creation of and subsequent furthering of evil. Against this was the self in some form, generally tied to knowledge (hence gnostic), but always tied to some form of inherent purity.

All action was ritual for the self, normally “getting your beliefs right.” The world is damned – ignore and censure it. The self and all of its pure attributes should be focused on. But critically, this “self” couldn’t be defined by worldly terms – it stood outside and against it, pure by being pure, good without a defining sense of good. This is narcissism, which is clinically not obsession with the self but the desperate attempt to hide a lack of one, to maintain a projection of identity (whether of purity, politics, whatever). Gnostics didn’t engage with the world, because the purity of the self had to be confirmed (by like-minded people). Narcissism is inactive, the creation and maintenance of beliefs and identity based on “who you are” rather than what you do.

Coincidentally, narcissitic personality disorder is the fastest-rising pathology. The question  of the ’60s becomes the fundamental question for politics in modernity.

XI

Which takes us to the final problem: Yes/No.

I mock the hippies and their modern offspring, and I’ll talk (at length) about politics, but this blog is not about politics. Similarly, I love Lasch and Kohut and TLP, and I’ll reference them, but this blog is not about narcissism.

All of this is an outgrowth of nihilism. And for that, we simply have: Yes/No.

It will be noticed after I write more that these topics will hardly ever come up explicitly. This is by design, I suppose. I’m not going to say that “this blog is about setting up the question,” because, a) it’s not, and b) the moment I start writing about anything else someone is going to ask me why I abandoned the [point?].

But: this blog is largely about setting up the questions. And it’s mostly about that final question.

Yes/No. It won’t be phrased like that again, but it’s the only real phrasing. Make your choice, but you can’t make one without knowing what the question is.

XII

I think a person’s questions tell us more than their answers. That sounds like the kind of trite wisdom you’d find written on a tritewisdomwriting (perhaps a fortune cookie?). I accept that 100% and move on.

Questions tell me what the answer means, sure. I’ve spent ~5500 words on that being important. But there’s another reason: Questions are living and answers are dead.

A: “The obvious solution to this incredibly complex problem is …”
B: “Well, thanks for clearing that up? That’s [adjective].”

What comes next? “So what are you going to do about that?”

XIII

I like nouns ok, I like adjectives ok. I write, so I suppose I have to. But I prefer verbs. I should be clear: that’s not an aesthetic statement. That’s an ethical one. If I have a metaphysical stance on anything, and certainly on anything moral, it’s this: Verb when possible.

Yes and No are particles, but one of those comes with a verb and the other comes with adjectives and nouns.

“So why are you a writer?”

I’m not. I write.

That may not be a difference for you, but you also don’t think math is a problem.

Footnotes

1. It’s a weird fact that Hume brings up this problem, and his followers (normally) tend to so blatantly ignore it. I’m not really sure what to do with that) ^

2. I don’t know if this is, in fact, the most important lesson to take from math – I doubt it, actually – but bold claims are better. ^

3.  I have a strong suspicion that this triplicate nature of an answer ([a] are answers, [b] ability to show the question, [c] that question uses the relevant information) is essentially the reason for each and every bad exchange between interlocuters of good faith. Of course most debate is in bad faith, the reason for which is always x where x = the most common bias of your outgroup. When you have no stake in the fight, lack of (b) is almost always the bad faith (i.e. refusal or inability to show the question that they found an answer to). ^

4. Before someone points out that that’s the opposite of mathematics, no, wrong. Math is ratios, i.e. specifics compared. Fuck off with your nonsense. ^

5. This also works for poetry, actually. Think about any famous diss in a poem, and 9/10 it’s going to either be humorous. The 1/10 it’ll be way, way too cold to be humorous. ^

6. Of course I edited that to be sadder than it is. Don’t trust block quotes. ^

7. I want to be careful here to dispel four easy notions.
a) I’m not talking about the danger of “greater polarization.” That’s happening, but it’s not the primary concern. The English Civil War was pretty damned polarized, so simple “polarization” is neither recent nor symptomatic of modernity. I’m concerned first with the individual here, and what a politics like this does to them, and then how that feeds back into it. I suppose that’s “psychological”, but categories blur and blend when everything becomes politics and I’m not set on what I think is happening here.
b) I don’t mean “identity” as shorthand for “identity politics”, which is normally shorthand for racial or sexual politics. I mean identity in a much broader sense, almost all of it adjectives and nouns: smart, good, strong, weak, kind, mean, etc.; art, books, education, and, yes, humor.
c) It may have started with the left, and it may even be more prevalent there, but it’s nonpartisan at this point. If I use more left examples, I’m just more familiar with them.
d) I’m not sure where culture war ends and “politics” begins for precisely this reason. People love to sneer over voting for cultural issues, but it makes a lot more sense when you see it as all entirely intertwined. Yes, I understand the distinction between material objectives and cultural ones, but that’s for another day. ^

8. Note that this isn’t partisan, i.e. the “left” won’t necessarily think of religion as a good. An easy test is then whether they define it by limits or without (i.e. is, isn’t). See: atheists on what “religion” “is”.
Also, this isn’t meant to be a hard rule, so don’t send me snippets and articles defining [good] as [positive]. It’s just a trend to pay attention to (mostly in yourself). ^

top image: Michelangelo’s The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

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## 2 thoughts on “Four Questions”

1. pablo says:

Yo, this is an evo-psych response so it might not be helpful given the more general bent of your interrogation. But might be useful:
I read somewhere that laughter (which might not be the same as humour) could be a signalling thing: You see something potentially dangerous (friend falling) but when you realize it isn’t dangerous (its some random guy in a video), you laugh to signal to those around you that there is no danger. Also explains why we laugh more when at these videos when we’re physically watching them with friends VS alone.
How to explain puns? Could be a hijacking of this pathway – a pun is inoffensive, but its also surprising (meaning of a phrase gets recast). Surprising shit in pre-modern times was likely to be potentially dangerous, so it could be that puns are a way of triggering that reaction of “oh, potential danger – nvm just a pun”.

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