Friday, 12 January 2018


I may be going out on a bit of a limb with this post but I have a genuine question. Why do so many people laugh so much these days? I mean they laugh constantly at things that are not funny. And they laugh loudly too. Let me say before I go any further that I am whole-heartedly in favour of laughter when it is genuine but so much today seems forced and artificial and indicates, to me at least, the emptiness of the person laughing, an emptiness that he is trying to cover up. Loud, noisy laughter used to be thought vulgar because it was seen as attention-seeking and self-displaying, but I think it reveals a hollow vessel too.

Unnecessary laughter says "Look at me. I'm a nice person. I'm friendly. You have nothing to fear from me. I'm safe and good." Am I being cynical? I don't think so. I think laughter has become one of the ways we try to inject some kind of meaning into a world which has none. Humour is one of our most direct experiences so naturally we have to corrupt it and bend it to our own egos but this is abusing real laughter and merriment. It is using them to promote ourselves, on the one hand, and to compensate for spiritual emptiness, on the other. It is shallow and selfish.

Goodness, aren't I going too far with this? Isn't this a perfectly innocent and natural human reaction to life? No, because everything in the modern world shows our disconnection from God, and this excessive laughter is a significant indication of that. It is not so innocent after all, not so natural, and that's the problem. Perhaps we now use laughter as we use sex to inject some kind of life into our dead souls. The corruption of the best is the worst.

Down with fake laughter and those who use it to draw attention to themselves!


David Balfour said...

I hadn't really though about it until now butt I suppose you are on to something. Certainly I would add the caveat that whilst what you say may he broadly true there are peoplr who exhibit the 'nervous laugh' and these people are often nervous (obviously), insecure and anxious - not really surprising given the world we live in really and its confusing and mixed messages about what they are, should be and what the world is about (or more accurately not about and its trivial distractions).

Personally, my personality is one that likes other people and enjoys being playful with others. This sometimes has meant that (particularly when I was a decade or so younger) my style of interaction would be to seek out humour and have 'riffing' spontaneous conversations with others including lots of laughter. But I find that as I get older I grow more and more tired of that sort of thing because I generally find that whilst light-hearted 'banter' can be energising and refreshing, usually, the participants I would have these conversations with are apparently unable to stop or to more to a more serious conversation (which as will not suprise you, I value a lot). It is this evasiveness of any and all serious conversation that I find even more frustrating and disappointing than the laughter used to hide from something deeper and more substantial. You are right though, the laughter is a smoke screen and a way to hide from the important things in life; because if you treat life as an endlessly trivial sit-com you can keep running away from finding out things you do not wish to acknowledge about the world and about yourself!

William Wildblood said...

You've made a very good point, David, one which was lurking at the back of my mind when I wrote this post but never made it to the front. Yes, it's the constant banter and inability to be serious that is so widespread nowadays. Everything is made trivial and many people seem to have no desire to move beyond that. As i say, I'm not against laughter at all (though I usually prefer a smile!) but it's the fakeness of it I'm talking about here.

The nervous laugh is quite a different thing. I understand that as a fair response to anxiety, and would not condemn it at all.

ted said...

Peter Kreeft says: “Life is neither a tragedy nor a comedy but a tragicomedy. If we do not both laugh and cry at life, we do not understand it.”

William Wildblood said...

True enough. I suppose the question really is why do so many people refuse to look for depth in life.

Anonymous said...

The false laughter goes along with the life of excessive materialist consumption and hedonism that is the natural outcome of people who believe that there is no transcendent reality. It is a way of coping with their unchallenged, unexamined view of 'the futility of existence'. There is an assumption that the secular, materialist view of a meaningless universe is correct, and that short-term (until death) personal happiness is the greatest good that can be achieved. This ‘knowledge’ underlies their whole existence. This is painful to think about. Laughter is a coping strategy that avoids the ‘truth’ as they see it, that death is the end, and life is ultimately meaningless, and that in the years ahead they will watch everything that they love wither and die. People do not necessarily articulate it like this, or at all, but at bottom it is why many of them are miserable. They have a deep, unsatisfied craving for the divine, and they don't know where to find it. They have been told that the religions are full of charlatans, and that their priests are all corrupt, liars, weak, or all three. In fact, if you said to the average person in the West, "you have a deep and unsatisfied craving for the divine", they would look at you as if you were mad, and probably dangerous, such is the strength of the assumption of a materialist universe, even though they are, in fact, looking for just that very thing.

Until people are deprogrammed from the wicked materialist lie that they have been force fed, then, and only then, will they be reassured.

When I hear the loud, fake laugh, I see a troubled soul, who is doing its best to cope because deep down, way deeper than it may consciously know, it believes in nothing and is very frightened indeed. To stop laughing, to think, to examine, then to realise their 'truth', is to admit the terror, and give way to a terrible weeping that may never end.

Bruce Charlton said...

Another related matter is aggressive laughter - often when a gang is intimidating the peope around, this will be done by loud 'joking' and laughter. Or sadism is expressed (this is often depicted in movis) by making jokes or quips as you torture or kill someone else.

There are so many, such frequent, examples of bad laughter, that we could not regard laughter as intrinsically 'a good thing' but rather a neutral thing - its value depending entirely on the context and motivations.

And I would endorse David's comment - The unrelenting facetiousness of the English, perhaps especially the upper classes, is a thing which has plagued me for decades. It was almost absent from my childhood - where my relatives were mostly respectable working class people.

Anonymous said...

"The unrelenting facetiousness of the English, perhaps especially the upper classes, is a thing which has plagued me for decades."

This reminded me of something I read somewhere many years ago - in a novel? - a magazine? - a newspaper? - can't remember the source, but I can quote it now. It was a description of the laughter of the landed gentry, and it struck me as genuinely funny. It still does. I wonder if you will like it,

"A whinnying bray you can hear five fields away".

William Wildblood said...

Anoymous and Bruce, this is one of those occasions when the comments have more insight than the post!

JMSmith said...

I had a professor who was a compulsive laugher. He was a very run-of-the-mill professor and a very ordinary college. I later learned that his father had been a world-famous economist. Since then I've thought there must have been a connection between my old professor's compulsive laughter and his sense that he was a relative failure. I have no idea if his father shunned him once he realized that his son was not on his level, but this would have exacerbated the problem.

This may throw some light on the ubiquitous mad laughter that you are noting here. At the risk of some amateur psychology, mad laughter is an expression of pain in an unbearable reality.

Mad laughter is trying to "hype" a depressing situation in much the same way as advertising "hypes" lackluster products. Or we might compare it to the desperate hostess rushing around and trying to save a very dull party.

William Wildblood said...

Another good observation. A picture that seems to be emerging is that excessive laughter and frivolity illustrate an inner emptiness and sense that there is no meaning in life so to be pitied as much as condemned.