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On Jokes and Insults: A Year Later

Do you remember this post from last year? It was about how jokes stop being funny if they cause people emotional pain. Someone commented on it yesterday, claiming prejudiced jokes reduce violence against the stereotyped group. They also said some awful things about Islam as a religion and the people who practice it.

I just had to respond. Because what. I failed to find evidence supporting their claim re:jokes and violence, but found a study that concluded prejudice jokes can encourage discriminatory behavior in people who already discriminate against the stereotyped group.

Then I got another response. It’s quite long and touches on several disparate points, so I decided to answer it here.

Check the link to read the original post + comments. My response to the latest (and the latest itself) is below. By all means, please feel free to comment with your own thoughts on the matters discussed, because they do not have single, defined answers, nor are they things I claim absolute authority over.

To people who do not have an intimate knowledge of Islam it only appears to be a religion – Islam has religious, legal, political, economic and military components. The religious component is a beard for all the other components. I suppose giving a link here would be futile.

I don’t have an intimate knowledge of Islam, or really any religion, but I have a cursory knowledge of quite a few. Have you ever read Deuteronomy? It’s rife with laws, rules, guidelines, etc for politics, war, and all other parts of life. Would you discredit Christianity and Judaism as religions for such things?

In addition, all Abrahamic religions (which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) stem from the same source. Hence why they are all religions of Abraham.

As for jokes and violence, at the link you pointed me to, there was nothing that said jokes against a group makes one act in violence against that group; in fact: “when we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them.”

A) I never claimed, or even insinuated, the study said anything about violence. B) My original point was that jokes, though intended for humor, can in fact be hurtful, and people should both be aware that there is a line and react appropriately when they cross it. I said nothing about violence.

But he did write something interesting: “there are other social groups that it was once acceptable to discriminate against, but over time we have slowly shifted our views and consider prejudice against them as unjustified. Among these groups are women, racial and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians. These groups suffered historically from discrimination but today, more and more people agree that discriminating against them is immoral and wrong.”

It is a shame the author did not investigate why after more than a century of so-called hateful discriminatory jokes against these groups, that prejudice against them is now considered unjustified. I believe it was jokes that reduced that prejudice, and consequently violent acts against them.

And I’m sure women like Wendy Davis and Anita Sarkeesian have had anything to do with the (slowly) diminishing discrimination against women. Certainly the feminists movements of today and the past have done nothing to raise awareness of sexism and push the country toward greater equality between men and women.

I’m so happy you brought this to my attention. Now when I get cat-called, insulted, belittled, and mocked on a daily basis, for no other reason than me being female, I can rest assured that my pain and anguish serves the greater good. Because by allowing them to make these hurtful jokes, I’m doing my part to decrease discrimination against women!

Yeah. Right.

The purpose of jokes is to stimulate laughter, And laughter is what makes us friendlier to one another: “Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction..” [source]

Something I can agree with! Laughter is awesome, BUT! not when it comes at the expense of another. Causing hurt is kind of the opposite of what a joke is generally meant to do.

How about this: A study from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Liverpool has revealed that laughter increases altruism towards strangers

Well, that’s cool. Though altruism is kind of weird, that’s also an entirely different topic.

However, what jokes are all about is not a topic simple enough to cover in short commentary bursts. It is easy to note from FBI reports that there is an inverse relationship over the past decades between the number of guns and gun violence – that is: it appears the more guns results in less gun violence, although searching the phrase ‘guns reduce violence’ will not bring up any direct links, even though it is true.

Um… tell that to Newtown, CT. And Aurora, CO. And Gabrielle Giffords. Not saying you’re wrong, but without concrete, statistically-significant evidence from a controlled experiment, I really cannot believe more guns = less gun violence. Because you know, correlation does not imply causation, not everything you read on the Internet is true, 87% of statistics are made up, and so on.

The same inverse relationship can be seen in the proliferation of porn and the reduction in rapes and violence against women. However, in this case “porn reduces rape” does seem to bring up direct, cogent search results. In the case of gun violence there is so much emotional and political noise that getting to actual studies is difficult.

Uh, okay.

So when I wrote that jokes reduce violence, it is the result of 6 decades of reading about jokes – that jokes are a social lubricant, that ‘humor defuses anger’ (google that last phrase and you’ll get better results – sometimes it’s just the way one turns a phrase that helps get better search results).

I never disagreed that humor can certainly defuse anger, but that is a drastically different conclusion than saying jokes built off prejudices reduce violence against the stereotyped group. Regardless, much of the discrimination women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and others face is not in the form of violence. It’s hateful remarks that hurt to the core. They make you feel like you’re less than a person, less deserving of respect and decency just because you’re female, or gay, or Latino, or an ESL learner, or whatever else.

Stereotype jokes can be funny. They can also be offensive, and sometimes that’s part of what makes them funny. But they can also be hurtful. That’s when they cross the line. They lose the humor, and no longer defuse anger. Instead, they generate it. They generate anger and pain in those they mock.

And that is not funny. At all.

Not finding something on the Internet is not probative evidence of anything.

what do we have here

Oh. Thank you for that. I really had no idea.

Challenges

Life isn’t a series of tidy little silos, with everything tucked away into their respective containers. It’s a messy, interconnected web of chain reactions, constantly shifting, changing, and growing. Writing spans all of it, especially when fictional characters are involved.

It’s so easy to say, problems with writing can be solved by practice and persistence, but reading and writing won’t always work. When they don’t, your writing problem may not be a writing problem. It may be a you problem.

In other words, you’re the protag in the middle of your novel, trying to take down the antag (IE become a better writer) without having vanquished your inner demons yet. You’re stuck in Act 2, and won’t get past it until you sort out what’s holding you back.

For me, that challenge is relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or familial. I’ve always been alone, have never had that one close friend I’ve known for years, and don’t trust anyone. Consequently, most of my characters lack the human interactions that makes them truly human. I don’t intentionally leave them out, I just forget about them.

Learning from films and novels will grant a very different understanding when compared to experience. Right now, my experience pushes me toward independent, self-sufficient characters who prefer isolation and question the motives of everyone they meet. This isn’t a bad thing until every character has such a personality.

I can’t go back in time to change my childhood and give me a life-long best friend, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start learning now. And who knows–maybe writing through this challenge will help me break my own social isolation.

What kind of deep-rooted challenges do you face, in writing, art, or anything else? Or have you already overcome it?

Something New and Shiny!

It’s called Escapist Society, and it’s run by my alter-ego Laina Garnett!

Escapist Society is a blog based on storytelling as a means to temporarily escape from the stresses of reality. In other words, stories help us relax, regardless of the medium.

As the name suggests, ES is meant to be a group effort. Guest posts and reader submissions are welcomed and encouraged! The only requirement is that you must either tell a story or discuss one, of any genre.

So head over, check it out, and help the little blog grow!

Strange Things!!

Things seem to have really blown up around here! And by “things” I mean just this one post. So let me explain…

A well-meaning person took a liking to my post and decided to share it on a completely unrelated forum. This is all well and good, actually great because yaaay blog traffic! However, this person was a bit mislead on attribution. In most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to share blog posts and articles you enjoy, as long as you attribute the post to its original author. The easiest was to do this is to say “This post was written by X person at Y website” and include a link back to the original post. Even better is if you include only part of the post and say “Read the rest here: [link to original post].”

I think most bloggers would agree, that’s generally the best way to go about it. If you’re not sure if what you’re doing is okay, ask the author. Better safe than the enemy of someone you admire, right?

In unrelated news, you may notice some minor shifts and changes around here. I’m working on getting a side project up and running, and that’s affecting some other things as well. I’ll have it sorted soon and will have something new and shiny to show for it!