अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

February 13, 2011

The Moral Laws of Comedy and a Paradox

The Moral Laws of Comedy

According to Eklavya, the three moral laws of comedy can be stated as follows:

  1. The First Law: If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no right to laugh at others.
  2. The Second Law:If you can’t laugh at more powerful people, then you have no right to laugh at less powerful people, irrespective of where you are on the power spectrum.
  3. The Third Law:If you can’t laugh at the society (or the institution or the group) you live in or belong to, then you have no right to laugh at the individuals in that society (or the institution or the group), including yourself.

An extension to the first law is:

If you can’t laugh at your own society (or institution or group), you have no right to laugh at other societies (or institutions or groups).

The revised (and recommended) statement of the same laws will have the word ‘can’t’ substituted by ‘don’t have the courage to’.

The zeroth moral law of comedy defines ‘laugh’ as a specific kind of laugh that is meant to be a negative comment or critical judgement, such as the laugh associated with ridicule, sarcasm etc. It also defines ‘comedy’ to include humour and satire.

A corollary of these laws is that if you violate any of these laws, then you are not creating comedy (or humour or satire). You are just being mean spirited, petty minded, spiteful, nasty, hateful, bitchy etc.

Simply put, you are being immoral.

A generalization of the laws can also be derived. Such a generalization would apply to criticism and punishment too. Thus, the Moral Laws of Criticism (Punishment) can be given as:

  1. The First Law: If you can’t criticize (punish) yourself, you have no right to criticize (punish) others.
  2. The Second Law:If you can’t criticize (punish) more powerful people, then you have no right to criticize (punish) less powerful people, irrespective of where you are on the power spectrum.
  3. The Third Law:If you can’t criticize (punish) the society (or the institution or the group) you live in or belong to, then you have no right to criticize (punish) the individuals in that society (or the institution or the group), including yourself.

Punishing the society needs some explanation. You can’t obviously punish the society in the way you can punish individuals. And one of the axioms of morality says that collective punishment is immoral, so punishing the society in the above sense can’t mean collective punishment (something whose innumerable manifestations we see in all ages and from all kinds of people, institutions, societies etc.). For the purpose of stating the above laws, punishment of society means changing it in some way. And only that way will be moral which changes it for the better. This sense of punishment, therefore, is nearer to treatment or curing in the medical sense.

The zeroth moral law of criticism (punishment) defines ‘criticism’ in a way that would include the ‘comedy’ mentioned above, thus the generalization.

That extension of the first law also applies here:

If you can’t criticize (punish) your own society, you have no right to criticize (punish) other societies.

The Sin-Song Paradox

Any application of the Moral Laws of Comedy (among other things) is associated with and complicated by a Paradox known as the Sin-Song Paradox.

This moral paradox can be stated (according to Eklavya) as follows:

In most societies, we are taught from our childhood (at least in schools, or perhaps only in schools) that we should hate the sin, not the sinner, i.e., it is wrong to hate the sinner (an individual) and right to hate the sin (an act). However, in practice, the norm in all societies is to hate the sinner, not necessarily the sin (if at all). That is why we have all the systems of punishment, whether legal or social or otherwise.

Similarly, we have another such inversion with regard to systems of belief. Ignoring the cases where a system of belief is respected only because of the power it wields (that being covered by a different moral paradox), we are supposed to (or we pretend to) respect those systems of belief which are shown (or proven) to be rationally and/or morally correct, but in practice, we respect those systems which are advocated by people who are, as individuals, rational and/or moral in their lives and their conduct. In other words, we are supposed to like a song because the song is good (musically and/or lyrically), but in fact we like that song (a system of belief) because the singer is good. The converse is also true.

Thus, in the first case, we focus on the individual, when we should, in fact, be focussing on the act. And in the second case, we focus again on the individual, when we should be focussing on what the individual is saying or advocating. This moral inversion is closely related to violation of the third moral law of comedy, which involves focusing on the individual, when we should actually be focussing on the society.

It is a paradox, and not simply a contradiction between theory and practice because the norm that is followed in practice is assumed to be a moral norm too.

In fact, the violation of the three laws as well the above paradox, all involve wrong focus on the individual, when the focus should be on something else.

From the moral view of the world, it can be derived from the above laws of comedy and the Sin-Song paradox that a lot of our (i.e., the world’s or the society’s) problems stem simply from this wrong focus on the individual.

June 27, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Like Music

 

 

But we do.

 

 

May 3, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Have Nuclear Weapons

 

 

But we do.

 

 

March 26, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Have a Conscience

 

 

But we do.

 

 

March 25, 2008

Shelly, Monk, Russell and Frankenstein …

… unite in The Spirit of Solitude.

Byron too.

Actually, it is not Frankenstein but Frankenstein’s Monster. I used to get it wrong. A lot of people still do.

The sackful of books I had mentioned earlier, included a 1904 edition of Shelly’s ‘Poetical Works’. Yes, I have a book that was printed more than hundred years ago. One of these poems is called ‘Alastor: Or, the Spirit of Solitude’. Ray Monk’s biography of Bertrand Russell is called ‘Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude’. And ‘Frankenstein’ was, of course, written by Mary Shelly (who happened to be P.B. Shelly’s wife, in case you are not aware).

Note the unshakable sexism or general bias in ‘Shelly’ sufficing to refer to ‘P. B. Shelly’ but not to ‘Mary Shelly’.

The above may just be interesting trivia, but there is something else related to the title of this post which is not so trivial.

I had watched a film version of ‘Frankenstein’ as a child on TV. After that, innumerable times, I have read about the book as well as film versions. Almost always the only themes that are discussed are some variations on man’s meddling in God’s creation or the unimaginable effects of scientific magic.

Many years ago when I read Mary Shelly’s original ‘Frankenstein’, I was completely taken aback by the fact that (what seemed to me) the main theme was not mentioned anywhere. Not prominently at least.

Of course, someone might have mentioned it prominently and I may not have come across it. I don’t know everything, you know.

Today I happened to pick up that 1904 book and came across the poem mentioned above. And I was amazed to see that the poem is on the same theme which I had thought was one of the main themes of ‘Frankenstein’. It can also be mentioned here that the idea for this novel was conceived during a long conversation among the Shellys and Byron in the Alps.

If you are not too straitjacketed, you can find similarities between Byron and Frankenstein’s Monster and also between the hero of the poem mentioned above and Frankenstein’s Monster. And Ray Monk used the title of that poem for his biography of Bertrand Russell. Not fascinating?

I hope you do understand that having similarities doesn’t mean being the same. And also that similarities in such a context have to be of some significance. That doesn’t include the fact that all of them had two eyes and two ears etc. Moreover, the similarities are uninteresting without the differences.

What’s the bloody theme?

The theme is quite a familiar one, except that the intensity is what makes it special. That intensity is in the individuals concerned. In how the society responds to the individuals. And vice versa.

But I have already mentioned the theme more than once.

The Spirit of Solitude. What else?

Pray, what does ‘The Spirit of Solitude’ mean?

Well, it doesn’t exactly mean what you may at first think. For example, it doesn’t only mean that the individual concerned Likes to be Alone. He might. Usually. But not always. Remember that old saying? Man is a social animal? Well, even misanthropes need some company. Friendly company. Reliable company. It also means other things which I will talk about later.

By the way, neither the Shellys nor Bertrand Russell can truly be called misanthropes. Byron was perhaps one. Was Frankenstein’s Monster a misanthrope? Well, whether he was or was not, but he certainly was forced to become one, as the novel quite clearly (and in detail) shows.

I don’t know about Ray Monk.

Aren’t you going overboard, comparing a monster to those literary and philosophical giants?

No, I am not. I have thought quite a lot about it and tried to find evidence for and against it. Frankenstein’s Monster, as presented in Mary Shelly’s novel, was hardly the monster he is made out to be in the movies, in popular culture and even in language (as in “BJP has created a Frankenstein”: That monster is much more dangerous than poor Frankenstein’s ever was).

But the connections get still more interesting.

I have not Googled all this information. I have earned it all in the old fashioned way.

The connections get interesting because Bertrand Russell, in his great and unique ‘History of Western Philosophy’ called ‘Frankenstein’ an allegory of the Romanticist movement of the 19th century. (Byron, Shelly and Keats were the central figures of that movement in literature). This is one of my favourite (favorite) books, but I have no hesitation in saying that Russell got it (at least partly) wrong. He also missed the theme I have mentioned. I mean he was right in pointing out some of the shortcomings of the Romantics, but he got the Frankenstein part wrong. I don’t agree with his interpretation of the novel or of the character.

Since Shelly has done the work for me, I will just point to him to further elaborate on the theme.

No apology for name dropping because, as I said earlier, I have earned it all. In the old fashioned way. Even if I am writing about it in the new fashioned way.

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