Kris an’ Murphy: The Last Laugh

bogus health claims for laughterKris: “Wow. That Brexit vote really whipped up a sandstorm, didn’t it, Murphy?”

Murphy: “You could say that, Kris. And I’m reading that most of the ‘Leave’ voters had no clue what they were voting for.”

Kris: “Like, major stock market crashes.”

Murphy: “And the pound sterling taking a beating.”

Kris: “Yeah! The pound is more like an ounce now!”

Murphy: ” …mmmmmfrrmmph.”

Kris: “Aw c’mon, Murphy! Lighten up! I haven’t heard you have a good laugh in weeks!

Murphy: “As if there’s anything to laugh about, these days.”

Kris: “Right. Who the hell do you think you are? Socrates? That’s wine on the table, buddy, not hemlock. You and I both know that we’re reinventing the same wheel that the 5th century BCE Athenian democrats created.”

Murphy: “Namely, mob rule driven by demagogues. With half-educated goons trying to play Pericles, in togas six sizes too large. And be careful letting them get the idea that you’re an ‘expert’, or the goblet of hemlock will be sitting in front of you.”

Kris: “So don’t get mad about it! That only brings you down. Laugh at them! Poke fun at them! Build yourself up! Build your immune system up! Make yourself healthy so you can take on the big jobs. You have heard that that’s what laughter does for you, hm?”

Murphy: “Yes I have. And I’ve been thinking about it. You know, of course …”

Kris: “… ‘that the grinning and the baring of the teeth, in most animals, is a signal of deadly intent, not of mirth’. I’ve heard it before from you, a thousand times. And for the thousandth time, we are not chimpanzees. We’re humans. We’re different.”

Murphy: “By a whole whopping 1% of our DNA. I tell you, Kris, someday, probably someday soon, somebody’s going to prove that you can be a monkey’s uncle. Speaking of sandstorms. But yes, in the case of laughter, you’re right. Laughter, I’m reading, has taken the tools of the individual threat display, and turned them into a social signaling device.”

Kris: “Which one would expect for a social species.”

Murphy: “A highly social species. Maybe even as highly social as ants. Or maybe not. But, I digress. The smart money on this is saying that laughter evolved to send members of the group the message that situation X is to be considered play, not serious combat. So everyone in the group can relax, no one’s going to die or get maimed over this. At least, not intentionally, fellow football players. OK?”

Kris: “Hence the immune system boost, correct?”

Murphy: “Correct, as I read it. Over time, roles of laughter increased in number and complexity, and even with two different control centers in the brain responsible for it. But always with the same general mission: to identify situation X as ‘play’, not combat. Honestly … or, perhaps, not so honestly.”

Kris: “Hm?”

Murphy: “Honestly, when everybody’s on the same page about the situation, when the laughter’s about making everybody in the group feel that they belong, and everybody accepts this of their own free will. Not so honestly, when the laughter’s about imposing the group’s definition of ‘play’ on those who do not agree with that definition, and stand to suffer from it, but acquiesce lest the situation turn from ‘play’ to ‘fight’, with the victim usually underprepared and at risk of real, immediate, physical harm.”

Kris: “So it’s not like all laughter is innocuous.”

Murphy: “Certainly not. Sometimes, it’s a deadly weapon. Which still confers that immune system boost you’re so proud of on its perpetrators. You see where this is going, don’t you?”

Kris: “Tell me.”

Murphy: “Laughter, in all its forms, is an in-group designator. Get the joke, you’re in. Don’t get the joke, you’re out. Get offended by the joke, you’re way out. Get demonized because you’re offended by the joke, you’re a bomb target. Or an AR-15 target. So how do you define your in-group?”

Kris: “Friends. Family; some of them, anyway. The university community. Except the administrators, of course, who the hell knows what devil spawned them …”

Murphy: “Your town. Your country. Your sex. Your race.”

Kris: “Wait, what? Are you telling me my well-being is racist?!?

Murphy: “If that’s how you define your in-group … if that’s how Britain’s ‘Leave’ campaigners, who are doing all the laughing now, define their in-group … yes.”

Kris: “Holy …”

Murphy: “You were asking me why I wasn’t doing much laughing lately. And, begging your pardon, on this evidence, I’m not about to start.”

Kris: “But, your immune system! Your health!!

Murphy: “What fucking good is my health if I’m using it to abuse my neighbor?!? I’m just going to have to find another way.”

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