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Humor Hurts People

Fallible Ideas doesn't have a lot of jokes because jokes don't have a lot of clarity.

Humor is bad for communication. It means more misunderstandings, more miscommunications.

Talking is hard enough without adding vague non-literal humor. Especially talking about difficult topics like parenting and philosophy.

People like humor because it helps them avoid sticking their neck out. It lets them deny they meant what they said. "I was just joking". "You don't get it". etc. By being less clear about what one is saying, it's easier to deny one ever said it (in case it gets criticized). Humor helps people avoid meaningful critical discussion.

Humor seems to work well when:

  • people don't care about communication
  • people want to be mean, enforce social conformity, or torment outsiders and "aspies"
  • people are all stereotypical enough (in the relevant ways they interact about) to understand each other with very little communication
  • people act like they understand what's going on, rather than admit ignorance or bring up a problem

Using lots of humor keeps people away who don't get it. It alienates those who are different. It's a subtle, indirect way to be intolerant.

Using emoji and all other non-verbal communication works similarly. It makes it harder for anyone who doesn't already "get it" to participate. It communicates less clearly. It's primarily about social vibrations and social calibration, rather than objective ideas.

This is not the only possible use of humor (and emoji, and facial expressions, and so on), but it's the most common one. It's the #1 purpose they serve in society. They help enforce social rules and make things harder on "misfits".


Humor is routinely used in really mean ways. And then many people side with the bullies. Most people are happy to be apologists for bullies if the bully is funny. They will make excuses for a bully like: "oh, it was just a joke" or "oh, i wasn't siding with him, i just thought it was funny".


You might think some of the problems with jokes only apply to in-jokes, and recognize that in-jokes do the stuff I'm talking about.

All jokes are in-jokes. The only difference is how big a group is in on it. Is it an in-joke for a whole culture, a large group, or just a small clique?


Elliot Temple on February 4, 2016

Comments (8)

Very good post.

You say Fallible ideas doesn't have a lot of jokes. That implies it has some. Why does Fallible Ideas have some jokes? Were those jokes made by accident, in ignorance of your criticism to jokes? Or were those jokes criticism to your criticism?

What do you mean by "aspies"? I know where you come from in regards to mental illness because you like Thomas Szazs. I know the term is commonly used by people diagnosed with mild autism that like to identify with the diagnosis. I also know you consider many of the traits that lead people to be diagnosed with mild autism positive. I have had some hints of what you mean, because I know you some, yet I am still left in doubt. I am not quite sure what your exact position is on the matter. I also do not know why you decided to mention "aspies" more specifically and not any other type of outsider. It's because you identify more with the problem personally or it concerns you more in general?

A new reader will not know. The inverted commas do not make the nature of your disagreement in using the term in a straightforward manner.

Communicating with inverted commas is not very helpful either and it's often a social game. It's to communicate with the group in the know.

Any communication where you get away with being vague or leave others guessing and you are not explaining yourself is not helpful.

I disagree that the use of facial expressions or simple emoticons can be criticized together with the use of humor. It seems a different topic than humor.

Verbal communication is not infallible or easy. Emotions contain knowledge we do not know how to express as effectively otherwise. We can read if a person is sincere or not more easily by their expression.

Emoticons can be vague, though.

When I said "interesting" in a comment a while ago, people assumed sarcasm and hostility because they are used with the term being used in that manner.

If I had said it this way:

Interesting :)

Would it have made it better or worse? Is it a sincere smile or a sarcastic grin?

Anonymous at 2:51 AM on February 5, 2016 | #4831
> If I had said it this way:
>
> Interesting :)
>
> Would it have made it better or worse? Is it a sincere smile or a sarcastic grin?

That would have been *confusing* because

http://curi.us/506#c4751

> interesting. you're cleverly evading answering the question.

evasion is *bad*, not something to smile about.


> The inverted commas do not make the nature of your disagreement in using the term in a straightforward manner.

Quote makes are not supposed to communicate anything special. Merely that it's not my words. It's a *quote* of what other people say.

Whether I wanted to explain more, or how much to explain, was a separate choice from using quote marks.

> I also do not know why you decided to mention "aspies" more specifically and not any other type of outsider.

"Aspies" and "autism" are a *common* issue, an *important* issue, and a *well-known* example that lots of readers will be familiar with.

And if you don't get a joke, people might call you "aspies" but not generally, say, "paranoid schizophrenic".

And the topic was social conformity and "aspies" pretty much *consists of* lacking some social conformity.

> I disagree that the use of facial expressions or simple emoticons can be criticized together with the use of humor.

I said emoji, not "simple emoticons". Those are more complex and less clear.

If you stick to ":)" and ":(" it's pretty similar to writing "*smile*" and "*frown*". It's almost explicit. And those are more widely known than the word "epistemology".

Facial expressions and other non-verbal communication is similar to humor in general in that:

- it less clear than words
- it's often used by people who don't want to think clearly about the idea they have
- it's often used by people who don't want to clearly say the idea they have, but rather want to keep their meaning deniable
- it's only understood by people in the right in-group (which may large, e.g. including 99% of adults in a culture)

> You say Fallible ideas doesn't have a lot of jokes. That implies it has some. Why does Fallible Ideas have some jokes? Were those jokes made by accident, in ignorance of your criticism to jokes? Or were those jokes criticism to your criticism?

For example, what do you think about this material?

http://curi.us/1830-cruz-vs-trump-fantasy-debate

I think there's both some humor and value to it.

curi at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2016 | #4846
> Facial expressions and other non-verbal communication is similar to humor in general in that:
>
> - it less clear than words

how is an expression of happiness less clear than saying "i'm happy" which can more easily be a lie?

> - it's often used by people who don't want to think clearly about the idea they have

can you give an example?

> - it's often used by people who don't want to clearly say the idea they have, but rather want to keep their meaning deniable

you mean, it can be used to lie? but lying can be done with words too.

- it's only understood by people in the right in-group (which may large, e.g. including 99% of adults in a culture)

99% of people cannot understand a smile, a frown?

i don't understand this argument as english can only be understood by english speakers.

> For example, what do you think about this material?
>
> http://curi.us/1830-cruz-vs-trump-fantasy-debate
>
> I think there's both some humor and value to it.

i do not understand it. i'm not "in".

i also did not understand why you criticized humor straight after using it.

Anonymous at 4:08 PM on February 5, 2016 | #4868
> i also did not understand why you criticized humor straight after using it.

the timing of those two posts was an irrelevant coincidence.

> i do not understand it. i'm not "in".

well, for one thing, it has various links. you could click them and learn about the topic.

for another, i guess you mean you don't follow the politics in question. similarly i could easily write an epistemology post that people who don't know the field wouldn't follow. ditto for programming, or for many different specific computer games. or i could write a post about a book, for many different books, that'd be hard to follow for people who haven't read that book. those are not necessarily bad things to do.

writing specialized stuff is not inherently bad.

> how is an expression of happiness less clear than saying "i'm happy" which can more easily be a lie?

translating facial expressions to words is error prone. the facial expressions are ambiguous. and if you don't follow one, the available help to look up what it means is MUCH MUCH worse than a dictionary is for words you don't know.

> 99% of people cannot understand a smile, a frown?

no you reversed that. CAN understand, in some cases. i said it could be understood by an in-group which could be large. i said the large group that understood could include 99% of adults in a culture.

curi at 5:28 PM on February 5, 2016 | #4883
>> how is an expression of happiness less clear than saying "i'm happy" which can more easily be a lie?
>
> translating facial expressions to words is error prone. the facial expressions are ambiguous.

how are they ambiguous?
a smile, a frown, an eye roll.

facial expressions don't carry enough information on their own to pursuit a philosophical discussion. you can't criticize facial expressions for a purpose they were not meant to fill.

but they might add to the information. you might be able to tell if the person is hostile, interested, curious, innocent, guilty.

> and if you don't follow one, the available help to look up what it means is MUCH MUCH worse than a dictionary is for words you don't know.

you can ask the person making the expression in front of you:
"what is that face for?"

you can google facial expressions.
here's something i just found
http://danidraws.com/blog/2007/12/06/50-facial-expressions-and-how-to-draw-them/

also:
http://www.grimace-project.net/about
google scott mccloud facial expressions and look at images
you find the pages of his book that the grimace project refers to

i think they are a bit silly tbh
as this is more what actors do
than how people express themselves in real life

for instance
people rarely show anger by frowning
it's more like a cold stare
a stone face
or refusing to look at you

there is a project i criticized
which could be really cool if they did it right
they are scanning people's heads
and making 3d models
but they are having people pull faces
all call it "facial expressions"

when the way to show genuine fear
is to scare a person for real
not to have them act

Anonymous at 1:34 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4901
you have criticisms of using humor
but are not completely against humor
it's not a refutation of using humor ever

in what cases do you think humor is useful?

you made that fake debate thing

what is its purpose for other readers?
to tease curiosity over the matter?

Anonymous at 2:03 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4902
> how are they ambiguous?
> a smile, a frown, an eye roll.

a small movement of some muscles, which you have to figure out if it's a smile, a frown, or what. that is a skill, and it's hard, and people who have had a normal upbringing in our culture, and learned this skill normally, still misread facial expressions frequently.

> but they might add to the information. you might be able to tell if the person is hostile, interested, curious, innocent, guilty.

and you might also misread any of those things. facial expressions are easier to misread than words like "I'm mad at you".


> you can ask the person making the expression in front of you:
> "what is that face for?"

you can do that if you want them to dislike you and not give a straight answer. which is how most people would respond to that kind of question, which socially awkward and uncalibrated.

> http://danidraws.com/blog/2007/12/06/50-facial-expressions-and-how-to-draw-them/

studying that and then trying to read someone's facial expressions IRL in real time is harder than looking up words they said in a dictionary. it's easier to misread the facial expressions than the English words they use.

this is a simple point. dunno why you're arguing.

Anonymous at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4910
> this is a simple point. dunno why you're arguing.

because i disagree. if you are not interested in criticism, i won't argue. you closed paths forward.

Anonymous at 11:09 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4916

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)