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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Socratic Dialogue on the Superiority of the Church of theSubGenius

So let's play "Stacked Assumptions", shall we?

FINE.

First of all, name some things, off the top of your head, that separate man from the common animule.

WELL, HUMANS HAVE SELF-AWARENESS. THEY DEVELOP CULTURES AND SOCIETAL BONDS. THEY ARE AWARE OF THEIR OWN MORTALITY. THEY MAKE AND USE TOOLS... COMPLEX ONES. THEY HAVE LANGUAGE.

Anything else?

PROBABLY.

So what if I told you that, given these basic assumptions, I can prove to you that the Church of the SubGenius, for a variety of reasons, is the superior church of this planet?

PULL THE OTHER ONE.

No, it's true. First of all... what is a joke?

WELL...

How about this: I'll summarize, and you tell me if I'm off-base or not. Okay?

ALRIGHT.

A joke is something that requires the listener to understand many things. The rules and tendencies of his world. The attitudes and prevalences of his people. Historical references. Philosophical references. Even a knowledge of the references of humor itself. For instance, what is the stereotypical "First Joke"?

WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?

Right. And do you know why that is considered the simplest type of joke?

BECAUSE IT'S SO STUPID?

No. And not because it's been told so many times, either. It's the simplest joke in the world because it makes the listener do all the work.

EXPLAIN.

If I ask you why a person is crossing the road, you're going to want more information, right? You'll want to know what the person does for a living, or what kind of neighborhood he or she is in, or what time of day it is. But this is a joke, and one of the rules of a "joke" is that I get to tell the set-up, and then you say "I don't know", and then I tell you the punchline.

THAT'S THE PROCEDURE.

So you don't get to have any additional information about this guy. Let alone the fact that it isn't a person, it's a chicken. Chickens don't do any of the traditional person stuff. So why do we even assume that this chicken would have anything resembling a homo sapien agenda?

BECAUSE IT'S A JOKE. ANIMALS DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS IN A JOKE.

So jokes also involve the suspension of disbelief.

RIGHT. THEY'RE LIKE LITTLE STORIES.

Only with...?

PUNCHLINES?

Right. They aren't necessarily moral lessons, they aren't necessarily rational. They're just unexpected in some way or another. They establish a situation using a combination of story elements, weave an unusual, complex, or emotionally-laden situation (logically known as the "set-up"), and then toss you a curve ball at the last minute. It'd be frightening if it weren't just a collection of phonemes. This, by the way, is why some people don't like jokes.

THEY DON'T LIKE SUPRISES?

Exactly. They don't like not knowing. They don't like being made to play the fool. Anyway, let's get back to the chicken. Whether we like it or not, this old chestnut relies on the premise that the listener has heard enough jokes to be familiar with the convention of unexpectedness that we've just discussed, but hasn't heard THIS ONE yet. So the listener, upon hearing the set-up, begins to try and analyze the joke. And what's the only specific piece of data he or she has?

IT'S A CHICKEN.

Right. And we know all about chickens. They're stupid, they live in barns, they make good eatin. They have chicks, they lay eggs, they cluck and look silly. All this, and far more specific data that the individual listener might have. This all gets pulled from the long-term memory banks and into the "Immediate Use" stack. The listener is getting all geared up for a pun, or a political or cultural reference, or something involving the fact that the joke-teller has bothered to make it a chicken, as opposed to a person. And, because the question sounds to be in the form of a joke, and therefore is assumed to BE a joke, the listener throws away the one answer he really needs.

THE OBVIOUS ONE.

Right. And when the speaker drops the bomb, so to speak, the listener feels completely betrayed. The obvious, logical, correct answer isn't supposed to be the right answer.

SO LAUGHTER IS A RESPONSE OF EMBARASSMENT?

Pretty much. You laugh because you now know what you didn't know before. And because the joke-teller isn't an actual threat to your status. It's like sparring. That's why, when one person tells a joke, everyone else tries to join in. To regain status. If the situation calls for the audience to _not_ join in, it means that the joke-teller has some form of status over the audience. Really good joke-tellers can do this whether the situation is an audience-based one or not.

GET ON WITH IT.

In short, a conversation requires local knowledge. A story requires local knowledge and global information. A joke requires local knowledge, global information, knowledge of human nature and one more thing. Self-awareness.

SELF-AWARENESS. BECAUSE ONE MUST BE AWARE OF ONE'S OWN REACTION TO THE JOKE?

Because if a person isn't being aware of the other person, and of themselves, then they will meet every joke with a "Uh huh." Some people do this. To them, it's just a story. It's just an anecdote. Logic puzzles like "A man is hanging from the ceiling... dead. A puddle of water lies under him. How did he die?" require logical thought. Jokes require not only logical thought, but a willingness to throw away any logical premises that won't help solve the joke and keep any that will.

YOU MAKE JOKES SOUND INCREDIBLY COMPLEX.

You got it. The fact that people can share in something as complex as humor is a fucking miracle of evolution.

BUT SOME PEOPLE HAVE BETTER SENSES OF HUMOR THAT OTHERS. DOES THAT MEAN THEY'RE MORE EVOLVED THAT OTHERS?

Some joke-tellers are knowledgeable of the rules of joke-telling. That doesn't make them more evolved. What makes joke-tellers more evolved is the ability to invent new rules for joke-telling. The guy who invented "Why did the chicken cross the road?", or at least the guy who decided it was a joke, was more evolved. Listeners are actually passive joke-tellers. The listeners who laugh more are usually more evolved.

WHY?

Because their brains operate so well that they can make connections in their brains that other can't. It's like what Rev. Stang calls a "Self-Amusing Personality". If you can find something funny or interesting or amusing or exciting or pleasurable because you decided it was so, you're one up on the people who have to have their amusement handed to them on a plate.

OH, I GET IT. HUMOR SEEMS TO BE THE MOST DIFFICULT PROCESS OF ALL PROCESSES.

And the process involving the greatest degree of self-awareness. Which, as we established, is one of the basic examples of the separation in evolution between man and animal.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER ONES?

Cultures and societal bonds have to exist before jokes can be made about them. Language must be shared, otherwise, obviously, the joke can't be told.

WHAT ABOUT SILENT MOVIE HUMOR ... PRATFALLS AND SUCH?

Even a pratfall is only funny if there is some sort of evidence, as it occurs, that no one was hurt. Otherwise it isn't laughing with someone, it's laughing at someone. That's a less evolved form of humor, because it's closer to the "fight-or-flee" defense reactions that it is to mental connection.

We'll see if we can't cover the others as we discuss religion.

WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?

Well, alright. What is religion?

GO ON.

Religion is a way to make the universe make sense. It's a way to explain death. It's a way to explain the shortcomings and injustices of the universe, and of our society. It gives solace. It gives justification. It's a comfort against the "fight-or-flee" reaction.

OH, THAT AGAIN. SO RELIGION IS A TOOL?

It's the most complex tool on the planet. We use it, not on a car or a tree, but on our own minds. We have at least five senses constantly taking all this information, and to function amongst all the other humans, we have to organize the information, and apply it to other information in certain patterns. And so on, and so on. Religion is, among other things, a form of psychological shorthand. It's easy answers to tough questions.

THIS IS BESIDES ANY OF THOSE THINGS THAT MIGHT HAVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

That's not religion. That's history.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH HUMOR, OR WITH THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS?

Well, some might say that humor is a sort of passive religion. It's a set of shared assumptions and agreements we have about the world. I tell a joke, you laugh. I bless you, you kiss my cross. Religion and humor are both ways people keep from killing themselves and others. They're both ways people improve the world without having to do anything.

YOU DON'T SOUND VERY POSITIVE ABOUT EITHER ONE.

I don't have to sound positive about them. I just have to be positive _in_ them. The medium is not the message.

SO THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS IS A FUNNY RELIGION?

Yes, but that's not the point. (The Church of the SubGenius is an _intentionally_ funny religion, but that isn't the point, either.) All religions, to function, must utilize all those aforementioned shared assumptions and information of its flock. Just like a comedian can't tell jokes to people from a society without humor.

As they say, the best jokes are the ones that make you think. That doesn't mean they have to be morality plays. That means they have to give you something. Obviously, some people (the more evolved) will get more from more jokes, but it helps if the joke is a good joke. Good jokes are jokes with, as they say, "new spins on old themes." "Old themes" is another way to say "established shared assumptions and knowledge", or "society". "New spins" is another way to say "inspiration for revelation". What does "The inspiration for revelations on society" sound like?

A SERMON.

Good. So a religion that utilizes humor as a basic tenet of not only its own liturgy, but of the original liturgy demanded of its followers, would be...?

A RELIGION CONNECTED TO THE HIGHEST FORM OF INTERACTIVE EVOLUTION.

Religion is way to establish universal truths. Humor is a way to make sure they're true. Combine them, and what you have is a religion that is constantly changing, constantly insisting on facts, and later discarding them for no less significant a reason than that something better has come along.

SOUNDS PRETTY EPHEMERAL.

Well, yes and no. The Church of the SubGenius has changed every day, every second, since it was formed. But it's still around. Some people don't think "Bob" exists. They say it's just a joke. Some people don't think Jesus exists. They say it's just a religious myth. What's the difference? The difference is that a joke isn't "serious". But we've already established that all "seriousness" is is a way to deny the importance of humor. Avoiding humor is a self-defense method against a higher life-form. It's easier to defend one's beliefs if all humor is avoided. There may be a reason that the phrases "bring to light" and "make light of" are so similar.

OR MAYBE NOT.

Or maybe not. Anyway, do you see, then, that the Church of the SubGenius is the best religion on the planet?

WELL, SINCE HUMOR IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF SELF-AWARENESS, AND RELIGION IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF SELF-DELUSION, A RELIGION THAT COULD COMBINE THE TWO WOULD SEEM TO BE THE BEST BET FOR ENLIGHTENMENT... FOR THE PEOPLE WHO CAN HANDLE IT. THERE SEEM TO BE A LOT OF PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET WHO WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT, THOUGH.

Tough shit for them. Any other questions?

WHY _DID_ THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?

Why, to get to the other side, of course.

7 comments:

Rev. Ivan Stang said...

I AGREE WITH THIS POST

Doktor Dark said...

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The Bishop said...

FINALLY somebody gets it!

Now as soon as we figure out what "it" IS, we'll be in fine fettle!

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Rev. T. Monkey said...

What's a chicken?

Pk Levine said...

I was sad that this lacked attribution, so I wanted to point out that it was written by "The Grand Clavister" (or just "Clavis" to most of us) back in the day on alt.religion.subgenius. If I recall correctly, it was partially inspired as a response to the "Zonpower" idiots who were peddling their "Neo-Tech" all over our newsgroup.

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