Laughing with Miru

There is nothing like humor to discover the signature of a human mind.

Tell me what you find funny, and I will tell you who you are. Okay, I may not be able to fathom the trenches of your soul, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some sense of your political leaning, your raw intelligence and your general attitude towards life.

Interesting as such musings may be when they pertain to adults, things get really fascinating when we look at the humor of children. Every stage of the development of a child corresponds to a particular sense of humor. When my daughter Miru was an infant, so she was in Jean Piaget’s sensorimotor stage, she laughed at our funny faces. I believe that this first humor doesn’t yet distinguish between love and laughter: A gesture of care is laughable. Fun equals funny.

At age two, Miru laughed at unexpected things, developing a sense of Schadenfreude. This humor was not yet depending on grammar or abstract concepts, but directly related to the behavior of others. This corresponds to Piaget’s preoperational stage, that lasts from age 2 to 7. I would like to see a subdivision of this stage, because her humor became much more refined.

She is five years old today and I’ve found out that she really likes what I call deception jokes. In a restaurant celebrating her grandfather’s birthday, I told her that I turn her water into something else, like soda, and wield an imaginary magic wand. When she tastes the water and finds out the liquid hasn’t changed, she laughs out loud, multiple times. At this age, she knows that the world doesn’t always adhere to any and all description, but the fact that descriptions can be wrong, is still funny. There is a wonderful innocence in this particular sense of humor.

I’m looking forward to her next mental leap, into Piaget’s concrete and formal operational stages, and how it translates in yet another kind of humor.

Laughing with Miru was originally published on Meandering home


Meditation on humor

Breathe in. Think of the ridiculousness of life, the absurdity of existence, mortal or otherwise, the laughable preoccupations of breathing animals, the inane schemes devised by homo sapiens to cope with all that, and finally the splendid endeavour to derive from it the source of mere funnyness. We are asking if humor is our best chance of making sense of the world.

Is humor indispensible? Let us first observe humor depends on context. A mere pun or an isolated witty remark is not yet humor. It gets funny against the background of the context, which is alwags a power relation involving an implicit or explicit prohibition of the joke. Humor is a way to free oneself for a moment from a stronger power, because our laughing is beyond its control – and the more they try to impose their control, the funnier it gets.

Famous jokes about communism (coffee without cream rather than without milk because we ran out of milk) expose the system by demonstrating it is susceptible to jokes. It is no longer impenetrable and the ironic jomes about the system are ‘more ultimate’ than the system itself. No Red Book can compete with a good round of jokes.

Smile. I wanted to write a metaphysical account of humor and how the ironic distance allows us to share something universal because it makes visible the inadequacy of the internal rules of what we observe. I decided against it, because I haven’t thought it true. And perhaps is humor the very thing we don’t need a theory of.

Meditation on humor was originally published on Meandering home

A birthday wish

One year ago, for my 38th birthday, all I could wish and hope for was the absence of toothache. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get it. ‘If and only if’, my daily mantra became, ‘my mind is not distracted by that pain in the upper jaw, so very close to the brain, I will do great things’. My life pretty much revolved around this and it contitutes a dent in my biography, so to speak.

I have been working on a job that lacks even a shimmer of meaning when measured by my admittedly high standards (now, that sounds a lot more eloquent than ‘I hate my fucking job’ doesn’t it?) to earn the money for half a dozen dentists to drill, fill, crown, and whatever, my mouth. As of yet, that pain isn’t totally gone and for my 39th I wish, again, the absence of irritation and the ability to focus.

This might sound dramatic but it really isn’t so bad. I know of people whose wife died of cancer or, perhaps worse, suicide (read about our remarkable ‘ice man’ Wim Hof and how he overcame his wife’s suicide), people who have aids and tbc yet refuse to be defeated, athletes with hand nor feet and – I’ll be damned if life is a pissing contest of doom and gloom.

For this new year I wish focus. To me personally, that translates into no more nasty nervous distractions like that toothache, so that I can focus on getting focused. I can focus on doing my regular meditation, eating a healthy diet, taking cold showers, doing physical exercise, you name it. These things both seem to require and produce focus, so what I wish for the new year is a way into this catch-22 vortex.

a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility.

It wil be my fortieth year and I am going to say here that a good way to celebrate such a milestone in a human life is to find a Cause that is ‘bigger than yourself’. By that I don’t mean a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility. It is no trivial task either: I think that now, 129 years after Nietzsche collapsed on the streets of Torino, the specter of nihilism goes around again, and can poison our fragile idea of a shared goal that can claim ultimate meaningfulness. We may stammer our enlightened formula of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and still the nihilist will shrug because the existence of humanity is no ultimate goal. Indeed I think we can speak of practical philosophy as a way of countering this nihilism, or to put it more aggressively, to cut off its oxygen supply.

So, what sort of goal could be ‘bigger than myself’? And should it be a whole lot bigger or is it enough when it’s just a little bit bigger? Could it be something like ensuring permanence of human culture on this blue planet (permaculture) or helping this human species and its successors to colonize the rest of our solar system and ultimately escape before the sun gobbles up the earth (elonmuskism)? Or are these ideas too big, so that ‘being a part of it’ is no meaningful concept, like it is not meaningful for an atom to be part of an acorn as much as it is meaningful for the acorn to be part of the oak. Perhaps I should ponder ideas that provide both myself and the greater whatever-it-is-we-are-in-it-all-together with the optimal amount of meaning, where optimal is something like the greatest leverage?

Above, I wrote I wish focus. In the last two paragraphs I lost that focus in an attempt to ‘flow’ writingly to someplace beautiful. To repeat it for a world in which the beast of nihilism has been slain (shouldn’t we slay it every night in our dreams lest we cease to be human?): Focus translates into our better cooperation on the rapidly aggravating problems humanity faces. More serious grown-up work that adresses inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, illiteracy, diseases, religious fanaticism, species extinction, habitat destruction, and here we go again – focusing on one thing that is only meaningfully bigger than yourself is not easy. But I have an entire year.

A birthday wish was originally published on Meandering home


Hiermee richt ik me nog eens vol goede moed aan de niet existente species der lezers van dit blog. De auteur is onderweg in het ‘buitenland’. Hier zullen onregelmatig anecdotes en lukrake commentaren over de wereldondergang verschijnen, zoals jullie, absente lezers, dat tenslotte gewend zijn. Want de wereldondergang wordt weer verkondigd door allerlei mensen met mentale zwaktes, ze kruipen bij het instorten van de banken en het stijgen van de olieprijs verwachtingsvol uit hun holen en prediken de apocalypse, nog in ons leven, bitte schön, alsof ze de uiteindelijke hegemonie van dove over alle andere zepen verkondigen. Ja ze kunnen het bewijzen ook.

Maar dat is hier niet aan de orde. De auteur schrijft over zijn avonturen on the road op een ander blog, Daar vindt de lezer een rammelig internationaal Engels dat allerlei anecdotes tracht aan den man te brengen, zoals het hoogtepunt van een verblijf in Vilnius: een boef gevangen samen met een Jesusfreak.

Ik wilde nog de groeten doen aan mijn tante uit Waddinxveen. <– dat is een bepaald type humor.

Een nieuw Ebay-verhaal

Vandaag had ik veel bezoek van kopers die dingen van ebay hebben opgehaald. Allemaal aardige en correcte mensen, de één kwam voor een tafel en een broodrooster, de ander voor een plantje met pot, een derde nam een schoenenrekje mee. Toen tegen de middag weer de bel ging, verwachtte ik dus een koper, en zwaaide de deur met een joviaal gebaar open. In het trappenhuis stond een politieagente in uniform, en die zij “HABEN SIE SACHEN INS INTERNET VERKAUFT?” Ik werd een paar decimenter kleiner en stamelde “ja”. De agente moest lachen en vervolgde “Ich habe den Reiskocher ersteigert”. Opgelucht liet ik de agente in mijn woonkamer en legde haar uit hoe de reistkoker werkt. Nou, dat was wel even schrikken!

nog eens honderden miljarden dollars

Iedere nationale chef-econoom zou aan zijn achtjarig zoontje of dochtertje moeten uitleggen wat er precies aan de hand is met de wereldwijde geldmarkt. Hij of zij zou het tenminste moeten proberen.

“Je hebt het vele geld, die 700 miljard die de Amerikaanse centrale bank nu van haar reserves gebruikt om kredieten op te kopen en de investment banks weer gezond te maken.”

– O.

“En je hebt het gewone geld, dat de regering uitgeeft aan allerlei extra’s zoals sociale voorzieningen, milieu, gezondheidszorg, veiligheid, …”

– O.

“En het is hetzelfde geld, maar het is toch ook weer ander geld, want het vele geld kun je niet met het gewone geld verwisselen, maar het is toch hetzelfde geld.”

– O.

“En het vele geld moet eerst het systeem ‘geld’ gezond maken voordat het weinige geld weer geldt maar toch is het hetzelfde geld.”

– O.

“Dat is toch niet zo ingewikkeld?”