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Can Humor exist in Objectivism?

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KevinDW78
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It's pretty obvious when reading The Fountainhead that Ayn Rand views humor as a negative thing. Is she refering to all forms or humor or just certain forms of humor such as self-effacing humor? What about sarcasm? I really love humor and love to laugh but I don't feel this is in conflict with my objectivism. Especially since my form of humor is more to laugh at the "silly stuff" in the world around me, i.e. the altruistic nonsense I encounter on a daily basis. Is this petty of me or in any way something that should be "beneath" me? Ayn Rand didn't often use humor, but she does sometimes - and it indeed makes me laugh. For example, "Gordon L. Prescott looked very masculine dressed as a grain elevator." or "Some say, 'consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind.' They got it from a small mind, Emerson."

What say you?

Edited by KevinDW78
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Great topic. Humor, by its very nature, depicts human vice and folly, and therefore depends upon ethics. A rock isn't funny; a person goofing up because of his freely chosen evasions is. Humor is what's wrong, which depends upon knowing right and wrong. What I think Objectivism would object to would be finding humor in the good as opposed to the bad, which is to say, presenting the good as bad and vice-versa, but that mistake would be no worse with humor than without, e.g. plain altruism - the essence of the error is not in the humor but in the underlying reversal of ethics that finding humor in virtue represents. That, I think, is what Objectivism would object to in regards to humor, not humor itself.

It's no accident that great comedies are intimately concerned with questions of ethics. For example, South Park is well-known for dealing with ethical questions. Why? Because depicting unethical behavior is the richest source of humor there is. Far from being nihilistic, humor depends upon knowledge of right and wrong. Without that context, nothing would be funny.

In my view, humor is psychologically necessary and beneficial. When faced with outright irrationality, for instance, sometimes there is simply no response other than to laugh at it.

Edited by Seeker
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Ayn Rand had the following to say about humour in The Art of Fiction:

The Art of Fiction]

Humour is a m etaphysical negation. We regard as funny that which contradicts reality: the incongruous and the grotesque...

... What you find funny depends on what you want to negate. It is proper to laugh at evil... or at the negligible. But to laugh at the good is vicious...

Observe that some people have a good-natured sense of humour, and others a malicious one. Good-natured, charming humour is never directed at a value, but always at the undesirable or negligible, It has the result of confirming values; if you laugh at the contradictory or pretentious, you are in fact confirming the real or valuable...

... In sum, humour is a destructive element. If the humour of a literary work is aimed at the evil or the inconsequential - and if the positive is included - then the humour is benevolent and the work completely proper....

That quote shows a clear support for humour, especially the last part. For the full thing, including examples, read the section on humour in The Art of Fiction.

Edited by DragonMaci
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Yes, Ayn Rand used and clearly enjoyed humor all of the time. She simply understood that humor was a form of attack, and didn't tolerate it when used against the good.

Personally, I've found her sense of humor to be priceless. She once commented on the irony of hippies talking about pollution, saying that they would pollute a river by stepping in it.

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What I think Objectivism would object to would be finding humor in the good as opposed to the bad, which is to say, presenting the good as bad and vice-versa, but that mistake would be no worse with humor than without, e.g. plain altruism - the essence of the error is not in the humor but in the underlying reversal of ethics that finding humor in virtue represents. That, I think, is what Objectivism would object to in regards to humor, not humor itself.

That is correct, as shown in the full version of the section I quoted from. Another objection Rand raised was to humour that makes things (anything) seem bad but has no positives, even if what is made to seem bad really is bad.

Yes, Ayn Rand used and clearly enjoyed humor all of the time. She simply understood that humor was a form of attack, and didn't tolerate it when used against the good.

Personally, I've found her sense of humor to be priceless. She once commented on the irony of hippies talking about pollution, saying that they would pollute a river by stepping in it.

Yes, she did use humour. One of the examples I mentioned that she gave was from Atlas Shrugged. It was a comparision between the humour of James Taggarts and Francisco.

As for her sense of humour, I agree. The humour of her heroes (eg Francisco) was often good and clearly her own sense of humour to at least some extent.

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A major part of 'humor' is that it is a "group thing". Humor is almost always about reaffirming bonds to your "group". With group I mean a group of people sharing your values and/or experiences (not necessarily friends, you can be member of many different groups).

I see it as a form of effective communication to deliever one's position on a subject.

PS: :P

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I agree that humor is often used to negate or deny the importance of the irrational, etc, but what about the silly things...like, say, laughing at a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. Or maybe chuckling at a baby who has mashed his face into a birthday cake? Why is that humorous?

Edited by Kori
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A major part of 'humor' is that it is a "group thing". Humor is almost always about reaffirming bonds to your "group". With group I mean a group of people sharing your values and/or experiences (not necessarily friends, you can be member of many different groups).

I see it as a form of effective communication to deliever one's position on a subject.

PS: :P

Hmmm, I assume that you're not saying that humor, and by extension value, is subjective - rather, that the choice of focus and emphasis depends upon relevance, which is contextual. But that is true of any work of fiction or non-fiction, not an attribute of humor per se. The best humor, just as the best fiction or non-fiction, deals with the widest abstractions that affect all men. So it isn't really dependent on your group, is it?

Also, just because humor is an effective way to deliver a serious, rational message (that X behavior is wrong) doesn't mean that that's it's only valid purpose - there is also the value, in joyful pleasure, that thinking and laughing brings. Obvious jokes don't work - there has to be some mental processing involved to reach a sudden insight, and that intellectual playfulness, that demand for rationality, and the emotional response of laughter, gives humor value.

I agree that humor is often used to negate or deny the importance of the irrational, etc, but what about the silly things...like, say, laughing at a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. Or maybe chuckling at a baby who has mashed his face into a birthday cake? Why is that humorous?

I think it depends on how you define "humor". Certainly those things are not worthy of ridicule, but if you want to widen the abstraction to also include whatever happens to be mildly amusing or entertaining, or just plain random, then yeah, I guess you could say those things are funny. Personally I wouldn't, and I don't really find those examples funny at all.

On the other hand, joy is joy at existing - so anything that affirms your existence can be a source of laughter. I suppose that if the baby or kitten are in some way an existence-affirming thing for you, then laughing as an expression of joy makes sense.

Edited by Seeker
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I agree that humor is often used to negate or deny the importance of the irrational, etc, but what about the silly things...like, say, laughing at a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. Or maybe chuckling at a baby who has mashed his face into a birthday cake? Why is that humorous?

How about a direct example from youtube or similar? It may help to concertize things.

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Huh? There's plenty of humor in The Fountainhead. Specifically there is, I think, some very funny parody. The Gallant Gallstone, anyone?

I say that because Ellsworth M. Toohey was constantly saying "You must have a sense of humor about things." It was a recurring theme.

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Hmm well to give a recent example of what I personally find humorous was to say, "I like the phrase 'god awful' because god is indeed awful." I got a "rofl" out of my friend for that one. Another example is when someone I know wrote a Mypace blog and expressed his opinion that people need to stop "raping the earth". I now use this phrase on a regular bases to mock environmentalist types in a sarcastic fashion because I find it so absurd.

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I say that because Ellsworth M. Toohey was constantly saying "You must have a sense of humor about things." It was a recurring theme.

Oh, okay. I see what you mean.

Here's the deal: what exactly was it that Toohey expected one to have a sense of humor about? The problem was the object of his humor and not humor as such.

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Ok, here's a couple:

Ah, that has what I like to call the "he thinks he's people" factor. I mean, the panda acted just like you would expect a person to act if startled by a sneeze, right up to the looking at the camera at the end. Of course, it's not a person; it's a panda. That's what makes it funny - because we all know that pandas aren't people, but there is one that just so happens to resemble one. Humor is often found in a discongruity - something that isn't real in an obvious way. This is reality-affirming because when we laugh at something like that, it is as if to say "ah, that isn't real."

The baby thing works in a similar way. I mean, he is a person, just not one that's really developed enough for you to expect him to act that way. Plus, he finds paper ripping to be absolutely hilarious for some reason. Why? Who knows but we laugh because it makes no sense - i.e. again to say "ah, that isn't real." Plus, laughter is just plain infectious.

That's why Toohey's brand of humor is evil: because he expects good and noble people to look at the good and noble things they do and say "that isn't real."

Yeah, that is a part of what she said about humour in The Art of Fiction.

Yep!

Oh, also I think that this doesn't have to be in the debate section. I see a question about Objectivism, not an argument being made against Objectivism. What do you think, Kevin?

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Oh, also I think that this doesn't have to be in the debate section. I see a question about Objectivism, not an argument being made against Objectivism. What do you think, Kevin?

I had the same thought.

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Humor is more complex than Rand explained. Some humor, undoubtedly, is destructive. But not all of it. Some is, so to speak, entirely neutral morally speaking. Specifically I'm thinking of word play or puns. Consider the following:

Three brothers set up a cattle ranch and ask their father to name it. He names it "Focus," explaining "Because that's where the sun's rays meet." (the ply is on the phrase "where the sons raise meat.")

Granted it's not terribly funny, but I don't see that it's destructive.

Some humor involves absurdity. For example, once on a hot day a friend told me "You know, we should figure out how to pack this heat and export it to Siberia." He said it as a joke, and I found it very funny. I don't see it as destructive, either.

Exaggeration, when done extravagantly, can also be funny. Like the tired old joke of asking the waiter, if the food's taking to long to arrive, "Do you need any help slaughtering the cow?"

And so on.

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Humor is more complex than Rand explained.

I hope you are not saying that because of my quote because I cut out pages from what she said.

Three brothers set up a cattle ranch and ask their father to name it. He names it "Focus," explaining "Because that's where the sun's rays meet." (the ply is on the phrase "where the sons raise meat.")

Granted it's not terribly funny, but I don't see that it's destructive.

It isn't at all funny.

Some humor involves absurdity. For example, once on a hot day a friend told me "You know, we should figure out how to pack this heat and export it to Siberia." He said it as a joke, and I found it very funny. I don't see it as destructive, either.

It is destructive; destructive of the unreal, silly, and irrational idea of packing up heat and exporting it.

Exaggeration, when done extravagantly, can also be funny. Like the tired old joke of asking the waiter, if the food's taking to long to arrive, "Do you need any help slaughtering the cow?"

Again this is destructive; destructive of being too slow for the customer's liking.

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Oh, also I think that this doesn't have to be in the debate section. I see a question about Objectivism, not an argument being made against Objectivism. What do you think, Kevin?

I'd say the above posts from D'Kian and DragonMaci shows how this IS a debatable topic.

QUOTE

Exaggeration, when done extravagantly, can also be funny. Like the tired old joke of asking the waiter, if the food's taking to long to arrive, "Do you need any help slaughtering the cow?"

Again this is destructive; destructive of being too slow for the customer's liking.

BUT - couldn't this be considered to be ""directed at the undesirable" which would, by Rand's definition, be ok?

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Great topic. Humor, by its very nature, depicts human vice and folly, and therefore depends upon ethics. A rock isn't funny; a person goofing up because of his freely chosen evasions is. Humor is what's wrong, which depends upon knowing right and wrong. What I think Objectivism would object to would be finding humor in the good as opposed to the bad, which is to say, presenting the good as bad and vice-versa, but that mistake would be no worse with humor than without, e.g. plain altruism - the essence of the error is not in the humor but in the underlying reversal of ethics that finding humor in virtue represents. That, I think, is what Objectivism would object to in regards to humor, not humor itself.

It's no accident that great comedies are intimately concerned with questions of ethics. For example, South Park is well-known for dealing with ethical questions. Why? Because depicting unethical behavior is the richest source of humor there is. Far from being nihilistic, humor depends upon knowledge of right and wrong. Without that context, nothing would be funny.

In my view, humor is psychologically necessary and beneficial. When faced with outright irrationality, for instance, sometimes there is simply no response other than to laugh at it.

Oh, and this whole time I just thought it was humour was a lack of seriousness.

Anyways, does humor exist in Objectivism? Depends on who is moderating the forums. :P

Edited by Mammon
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It is destructive; destructive of the unreal, silly, and irrational idea of packing up heat and exporting it.

No, it isn't. My friend did not propose the idea seriously. The mere absurdity of the notion is what makes it funny.

Sometimes serious, rational ideas are the target of destructive humor. Goddard's notions on the use of rockets for space travel, for example, the Wrights' idea of flight, Brunnell's Great Eastern, etc. But those were serious ideas to begin with. Not absurd, silly notions.

Again this is destructive; destructive of being too slow for the customer's liking.

Again, no. It's an absurd exaggeration. Restaurants do some final processing of meats, sometimes, before preparing them (like cutting a stake into strips, splitting a chicken breast, or even grinding their own burgers), but nothing like the long, complex processing chain that runs from slaughterhouse to the packing plant to the local distributor.

Or consider ridiculous situations. Once when having dinner with friends one of them ordered "a nice, hot soup." He didn't say what kind. The waitress took his order, then returned about two minutes later to ask what soup he wanted. That struck me as very funny. Or the time I asked for a glass of water without ice, and got a glass full of ice without water. What would you call such incidents? They're accidental, not carried out with a purpose in mind.

Some people find misspellings hilarious, especially if it turns one word into a different one. For example during a discussion about law someone refers to "the state's penile code." Misspronunciations also work.

Jokes are mostly destructive. Consider this example:

Jack's sitting at the bar, drink in hand, looking sad and misserable. Joe, his friend, asks him what's wrong.

"My wife ran away with my best friend," Jack says.

"What are you talking about?" asks Joe. "I'm your best friend."

Jacks smiles slightly and says, "Not anymore."

And lots of others like it, where some person, institution, business, company, etc etc takes it in the chin.

But jokes are one aspect of humor, not the entirety of it. If nothing else, there's wit.

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I love humour, it kept me sane in the years before I found Objectivism, and I agree with the definition of humour outlined in this thread so far. One part of AS which made me laugh was the scene with Lee Hunsacker, former president of the Twentieth Century Motor Company.

"My family once belonged to the New York Four Hundred. My grandfather was a member of the national legislature. It's not my fault my father couldn't afford to give me a car of my own, when he sent me to school. All the other boys had cars."

He believes people are all 'bastards' and no one ever gave him a chance even though he had privileged upbringing and great opportunities. When you compare this to his claim a little later that his 'friends' who own a little stationary store and live modestly had it easy, it's funny.

"Oh hell!" he said suddenly, remembering something. He rushed to the stove, lifted the lid off the pot and went through the motions of stirring the stew, hatefully, paying no attention to his performance.

He believes he is worthy of such respect and admiration when he's obviously a moron who can't even do basic tasks well. And the image of him hatefully stirring stew is just absurd!

"And she goes out shopping and asks me to watch her damn stew for her ... Do you know what she did today?" He leaned confidently across the table, pointing at the dishes in the sink. "She went to market and left all the breakfast dishes there and said she'd do them later. I know she expected me to do them. Well, I'll fool her. I'll leave them just where they are."

Despite his boasts about his past and his greatness he is petty, small-minded and mean, if I was Dagny I would have been on the floor laughing when he said this!

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Some of the difficulty with this issue arises because not everything we laugh at is necessarily humorous, as with the giggling child in the first sample video. Sometimes we laugh because something is simply unexpected or startling . . . the laughing may be a relief reaction because the thing that startled us turned out to be harmless or even beneficial. Surprises aren't always nice.

The destructive humor Ayn Rand talks about may be more accurately named "satire", "lampoonery" (or those may just be stronger versions of the same thing). Or, worse, "mockery".

If you want to get a good feel for what A.R. considered good humor vs. bad humor, then look at *what* the various characters in her books choose to mock. The good characters are frequently mocking and humorous. John Galt in particular makes an outright joke at Ragnar Danneskjold's expense during their breakfast together, in response to another joke by Ragnar: "I have defied the law of gravitation." "You always do that. In what particular form this time?" What are they mocking? Risk, danger. Francisco makes some very funny wisecracks when people are being snobbish, rude, or imposing on him. He's mocking their improper behavior.

Now look at Toohey. What does *he* mock? Romance, earnestness, commitment . . . anything of deep or serious importance to *anyone*.

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My friend did not propose the idea seriously. The mere absurdity of the notion is what makes it funny.

But that's precisely what we've said humor is - to say that x is absurd and to laugh at it. To say that humor is destructive is only to say that is necessarily declares something to be absurd. It's the same thing. Does that make sense?

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