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The Comedian (Louis C.K.) vs. The Smart Phone
The reason Socrates banished laughter or comedy from the poetry of the just city is that comedians, at their best, remind us of what we all know: There’s an inexpressible sadness just beneath the surface of all our happy talk, and that means there are limits to how much any of us can be at home in any particular place. So Socrates understood that laughing—as much as crying--expresses a deep dissatisfaction with our present condition.
How to handle that sadness while still living well—how to be as home as we can with our homelessness—is the core of what Aristotle calls the moral virtue of wittiness. How to laugh at the right time and in the right way requires a kind of astuteness and a kind of insight given to only a few of us. Wittiness is a harder and better virtue than justice, because it puts even justice in its place.
Aristotle comes close to saying that the philosopher-comedian is the one who can judge best how to balance our laughable contradictions with the serious sense of singular personal destiny with which we all must live. The therapy that the comedian attempts to provide for us, sadly, he usually fails to provide all that well for himself. Even the philosopher-comedians must struggle more than most of us to find what happiness they can.
Remember, to begin with, the legendary shyness of the founding giant of late-night TV Johnny Carson, which made him constantly uncomfortable (when not in control on stage) and allowed him to be on to something most of us aren’t.
If you’re looking for the therapeutic insight of a philosopher-comedian today, it’s hard to do better than Louis C.K. He sees better than most of us the truth about “smart phones.” I will reduce his eloquent and witty observations on Conan’s late-night show to a series of points. But for you to appreciate true comedic genius, you have to both read the text and watch the video on the link. Reading without watching will cause Louis to seem too preachy or not so funny, but watching without reading might well cause you to miss the profundity of his words.
Kids are by nature mean. Smart phones make them meaner. Why? They can’t see the faces and experience the reactions of those they diss. Their “humor” is more cruelly fun than it might otherwise be, because it’s unchastened by empathy. Smart phones work against the emotion that evolutionary psychologists say we need to moderate our selfish struggle for status.
The real comedian, it seems to me, has a particularly humane aversion to cruelty. That’s even or especially true of that funny guy Machiavelli. And an insightful comedian today reminds us that nobody with eyes to see really believes that kids or the rest of us are getting less mean. These might be the toughest times ever not to be smart and pretty.
Smart phones might be said to build a community, but it’s a virtual community of the diverted. They undermine the habits that lead you “to just be yourself and not be doing something.” It’s “the ability to just sit there...[t]hat’s being a person.” Why? “[U]nderneath everything in your life there’s that thing that’s empty--forever empty.” What’s “down there” is the “knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone.”
That emptiness is often called anxiety; it’s an indispensable part of who we are. Smart phones really keep each of us from, in the authentic sense, being a person. And obviously you have to be able to live well with yourself before you can live well with others. The comedian exaggerates when he says that being alone is the whole truth about who we are deep down. But that’s what really funny guys do.
The experience of being alone leads to an inexpressible sadness. Sadness is a big part of life. Kids need to get used to it, be at home with it. It’s part of price of being human, of living in the truth. It’s part of growing up. We want kids to laugh and cry for the best possible reasons.
People kill and maim themselves and others by texting while driving. It’s a risk they embrace in our risk-adverse time, because they’re so convinced that being alone is too hard. (I don't text while driving, but I do at stoplights, just as I do when [inevitably] feeling alienated and misunderstood at academic meetings.)
So it's better to listen to music than to text while driving, although it's a bit dangerous too. (If you try to do both, then texting inevitably trumps listening, and you will be very lucky to get home unscathed.)
Louis tells the story of being moved to tears by the "faraway sound" of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's "Jungleland." The experts at Rolling Stone were wrong not to have ranked "Jungleland" as the Boss’ best song. Clarence Clemons (the legendary “big man” on the sax) said in his strange book it was by far his most soulful (in the precise sense) performance, and its artistic excellence came from Bruce making Clarence play his “faraway” part dozens and dozens of times and then taking the best parts from those performances for the record. The care taken to perfect the faraway sound was never so great.
So Socrates never would have allowed "Jungleland" to be performed in his just city. Its moodiness is much more subversive that the Springsteen tunes that embrace political causes—all of which are praised (by liberals at least) for their justice. The tune"Jungleland" made Louis so sad that he had to pull over and cry.
The way Louis tells the story—which includes his hilarious imitation of the “faraway sound”—shows us that it’s more than a bit ridiculous that he was so moved. But he was. The song reminded him of his homelessness, of a kind of nostalgia that can’t be reduced to some kind of social or economic or neuroscientific explanation.
Louis was “grateful to feel sad,” because it was a “beautiful” and “poetic” prelude to “profound happiness.” The philosophers say that anxiety is the prelude to wonder about the mystery of being and human being, and so it’s who we are to experience that interdependence of misery and joy. Crying even leads to laughing; tragedy and comedy are interdependent. They both help put us in our place as somewhat displaced beings.
A close encounter with that "first bit of sad" scares us enough that "we push it away with the phone or a jack-off or the food.” Our addiction to the screen is a kind of addiction to masturbation, to being compulsively lost in a fantasy divorced from the real experiences of life. It’s part of a mediocre life in which you’re never “completely sad or completely happy.” Life is the “kinda satisfaction” that comes with being the consumer of products, such as video games.
“[T]hen you die” without having been moved to thought by birth, self-consciousness, or death.
So Louis concludes that if we’re preparing kids to live we have to just say no when it comes to the smart phones. In the most important respects, they’re making all of us stupider. We’re not raising them, Louis reminds us, only to be happy.
We ought to be suspicious of any techno-innovation aims to deprive us of our “sad moments,” from screens to mood-enhancing drugs to biotechnological efforts to bring tragedy to an end. As Walker Percy (a writer admired by the early Springsteen) wrote, we have a right to our anxiety.
So comedians laugh and cry more than most of us. And Louis kept his audience laughing while talking about crying. It just occurred to me that I failed to do that for you. That’s no doubt because I don’t have a video component to my message, and because I, unlike the comedian, didn’t draw much of anything from my personal experience. So I hope I at least gave you a prelude to laughing.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.