Challenge Match: Ian McLean vs nyk537: Ha(!) Couture.

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posted on Jan, 26 2009 @ 02:10 PM
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The topic for this debate is: "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

Ian McLean will be arguing the pro position and will open the debate.
nyk537 will argue the con position.

Each debater will have one opening statement each. This will be followed by 3 alternating replies each. There will then be one closing statement each and no rebuttal.

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posted on Jan, 26 2009 @ 11:59 PM
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Opening Statement


Topic: "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

Let us cut to the chase:
Socratic Question #1: What is an evolved culture?


 


In 1931, Constance Rourke, author of The Roots of American Culture, published an interesting book: American Humor: A Study of the National Character. She had this to say:


HUMOR has been a fashioning instrument in America, cleaving its way through the national life, holding tenaciously to the spread elements of that life. Its mode has often been swift and coarse and ruthless, beyond art and beyond established civilization. It has engaged in warfare against the established heritage, against the bonds of pioneer existence. Its objective - the unconscious objective of a disunited people - has seemed to be that of creating fresh bonds, a new unity, the semblance of a society and the rounded completion of an American type. But a society has not been palpably defined either in life or in literature. [1]
emphasis added


Rourke studied the various manifestations of humor in American cultural history, and drew from those examples a solid foundation for examining the evolution of the national character:


If the American character is split and many-sided at least a large and shadowy outline has been drawn by the many ventures in comedy. [1]


For purposes of her study, Rourke likened humor to a "fashioning instrument". But, if this is an apt analogy, what forge crafted such instrument? What gives form to the humor itself, as a cultural force?

In this debate, I will go beyond Rourke's thesis, and look broadly at the phenomena of humor as a 'mirror' of culture. We will see that common roots exist between the expression of humor in a society, and the forces that cause change in that society.

Rather than humor being a mere causal force, its as-yet undefinable relationship to the fundamentals of human nature that give rise to culture make it a continuously true and useful benchmark of cultural evolution and change.


 


As E.B. White said, in his essay Some Remarks on Humor:


Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. [2]


And as previously emphasized, "a society has not been palpably defined either in life or in literature."

In this debate, we're dealing with many subjects that have not been "palpably defined":

  • What is humor?
  • What is the essence of culture?
  • How do we define significant evolution?

    At risk of merely distressing the frog, I will not contend that we will achieve concrete and indisputable answers to these questions in the course of this discussion. Rather, I will look for correlation and rational consistency, through logic and example, and attempt to find sufficient support therein for the arguments presented. This should be an interesting debate.


     


    I will keep this initial post short, to allowing my opponent to establish his contention of the common ground of discussion.

    In that interest, let us take a passing glance at the words of that famous dissector of frogs, Aristotle, and his comments about the form of humor known as Literary Comedy. From the Poetics:


    Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type- not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. [3]


    I believe that Aristotle dwelt too much on the Tragic, a near-idolatry of hamartia in the essence of human nature. And while I feel his definition lacks closure and is by no means complete, he is Aristotle after all and much truth can be found in his illustration:

    The key concept in Aristotle's definition is "some defect or ugliness". Through what lens do we judge what is a 'defect' and what is 'ugly', when attempting an Aristotelian analysis of Comedy? Those are culturally relative terms.

    As are what is 'painful' and 'destructive'. We have all heard comedians remark "what, too soon?" when sharing a joke that steps painfully on still-tender sensibilities. This illustrates an aspect of cultural evolution: the constant redefinition, reinterpretation, and transcendence of past ugliness and pain. Lessons learned. And at that forefront we always find, to indicate and lead us: humor.

    Socratic Questions #2: Will topical comedians ever run out of material?


     


    With that brief introduction, I pass the dissecting knife to my esteemed opponent. Thank you for your participation, NYK, and thanks to our moderator MemoryShock for an interesting phrasing of the topic. The participation of our ATS readers and judges is greatly appreciated, as always. Many thanks!



  • posted on Feb, 2 2009 @ 09:26 AM
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    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"
     


    I'd like to begin as always by thanking Ian and MemoryShock for making this debate possible. I’d also like to issue a big thank you to the members of ATS who will be following and/or judging this debate. Let’s have some fun!
     


    It appears as though my opponent wishes to attack our debate through a careful dissection of the meanings of humor and culture. This seems particularly odd to me considering the burden of proof lies with him to convince us that our debate topic is true.

    So what have we learned from the opening remarks made by my opponent?

    We have learned that we do not have a clear definition for either humor or what constitutes an evolved culture. Having said that, are we somehow expected to believe that humor does in fact provide the truest benchmark of an evolved culture, even when we have no clear definitions of either term?

    I wonder what my opponent finds wrong with the definitions given by that faithful servant of students everywhere, Merriam-Webster?


    Humor: that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous : the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous : something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing



    Society: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another b: a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests


    So according to my opponent, a society has not been defined either in life or literature. What then could the objections be to the above mentioned definition?

    Socratic Question #1: Do you agree or disagree with the above definition of a culture? Please explain.
     


    What I seek to discuss through the course of this debate, is not how we can define the terms given in our debate topic, but the practical applications of the topic itself.

    Let's assume for a moment that the definitions of our topic are given, can we then truly rely on something as arbitrary as humor to accurately measure the evolution of a culture? Does the fact that stand up comedians can use racism or bigotry as a comedic tool really signify that our culture is "evolved", or is it just the opposite?

    Socratic Question #2: Do you believe that being able to joke about serious matters signifies some sort of evolution in our culture?

    Over the course of this debate we will further examine these questions, and eventually land on some solid answers.

    I look forward to seeing where this debate will take us.
     


    Answers to Socratic Questions


    What is an evolved culture?


    This is indeed a tricky question to answer. I believe we can accurately define what a culture is (as explained above), however, I don’t know that we can reach an agreement on what constitutes “evolved”.


    Will topical comedians ever run out of material?


    Probably not, no. There will always be something to mock or make light of in the world, no matter what happens.
    The real question for me here is whether or not our ability to make light of serious situations truly signifies some sort of evolution in our culture.



    posted on Feb, 3 2009 @ 09:07 AM
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    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    First Reply

    Thank you NYK, for not cutting too deeply with the dissecting knife. As we can see, dear readers, such knives have a sharp edge, and a blunt portion. Here we see the blunt:


    I don’t know that we can reach an agreement on what constitutes “evolved”.


    And here we see the sharp:


    Socratic Question #1: Do you agree or disagree with the above definition of a culture? Please explain.


    My dear NYK: you presented no definition of 'culture', only a quoted a excerpt concerning 'society'. Please be careful where you slice.

    In this reply, I'll look more into the subject my opponent has sidestepped: what is meant by 'culture', and how the term 'evolved' applies. First, however, a quick rebuttal.


     


    My opponent presented several scatter-shot contentions in his introduction. We may dispense with these rather quickly.

    First, he claims I feel this debate should be concerned with dissecting the definitive "meaning" of humor and culture. This is simply not true. We need to analyze those subjects, somewhat, to clarify what we're talking about, but no schematic definition need be drawn. We are concerned with the impact and root causes of the relationship, and that is where we will focus.

    He then claims that I have the "burden of proof", a common trop associated with the pro position of a debate argument. What we are looking for here is the "truest", or best method of a benchmark. That is a judgment that requires comparative evaluation of possibilities, and I will present strongly my position. The burden of my dear opponent is to present stronger alternatives, unless he can somehow achieve logical closure of argument on the set of "all possible benchmarks". I won't hold my breath expecting that to happen.

    In an initial attempt at dissection, we have seen an attempt to 'define' humor, based upon the words "ludicrous" and "absurd". Good going. Okay, let's go deeper - please keep defining terms, starting with those two, until you reach a state of complete circular reference. What does that show, to support my opponent's case? Not much.

    One interesting word that arose in my opponents quoted definitions was "incongruous". I believe that is an important concept, although he made no mention of it, and I will examine it further in a later reply.

    My opponent claims humor as "arbitrary". With that he would dispense of it as a metric. However, it is my contention that the very properties of humor, hidden in the categorization 'arbitrary', are what make it a superior benchmark. What do we mean by arbitrary? Why, simply that it cannot be completely and accurately defined by any known constant standard. Just as cultures cannot. And, as we are beginning to see a connection between the state of a culture and its changing expression of humor, it becomes evident that that 'arbitrariness' is in fact flexibility: an adaptive standard of measure and indication, which no scientifically defined dissection has yet been able to match or explain.


     


    We are asked:


    Does the fact that stand up comedians can use racism or bigotry as a comedic tool really signify that our culture is "evolved", or is it just the opposite?

    In a word, yes. You have not provided your definition of 'evolved', and I am giving you the benefit of breadth in that answer. You must realize that 'evolution' is a dynamic, ongoing process. Thus, your question would be better phrased "...culture has evolved". So, despite your attempt to limit the consideration of humor to the crass and vulgar, we can see that the change in how 'comedic tools' address racism and bigotry parallels societies attitudes towards those subjects. Otherwise, guess what: it wouldn't be funny.

    The topic here is "an evolved culture", which, quite simply, is: a culture that has evolved. I contend that all societies experience punctuated evolution, though the dynamic story of history and events, as seen through the lens their culture at the time. This ongoing process drives further changes and readdresses the culture itself.

    A definition of 'evolve':


    To undergo change and development
    [1]



    Socratic Question #2: Do you believe that being able to joke about serious matters signifies some sort of evolution in our culture?

    Yes. If one day, a 'serious matter' cannot be joked about without disapproval, and the next day (or month) it can, does that not indicate that a cultural change has taken place? Of course it does.

    Socratic Question #1: What benchmark can be used to measure the cultural change that has taken place, when a subject becomes funny and acceptable to joke about?


     


    What follows is a bit of exposition on exactly what the term 'culture' is used to indicate. Some may find this a little dry, and if so I apologize; I myself found it fascinating. My opponent claims:


    I believe we can accurately define what a culture is


    I have found an exceptional book, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, by Raymond Williams (revised edition, published 1983). An excerpt is available here:

    pubpages.unh.edu... [2]

    The entire discussion of the term 'culture' is well worth reading. A few samples:


    Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so partly because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought. [2]


    Originally used as a noun of process, regarding agriculture, the term expanded to metaphor, referring to tended growth and human development. Its use was incorporated into several intellectual paradigms, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Johann Gottfried Herder wrote, in his Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1791):


    nothing is more indeterminate than this word [culture], and nothing more deceptive than its application to all nations and periods. [2]


    He then introduced an innovation: the use of 'culture' in the plural: cultures. What was an absolute concept began to be seen as a flexible multivariate.

    This began a Romantic embracing of the term, and its use turned from a term orthodox, class-based approval, to a more heterogeneous application to the complete activity of human endeavor. Interestingly, the use of the word 'cultural', to refer to a specification of study, did not enter into use until the 1870s.

    To this day, 'culture' is still an ungrasped and evolving concept. Williams goes on to say:


    The complex of senses indicates a complex argument about the relations between general human development and a particular way of life, and between both and the works and practices of art and intelligence. It is especially interesting that in archaeology and in cultural anthropology the reference to culture or a culture is primarily to material production, while in history and cultural studies the reference is primarily to signifying or symbolic systems. [2]


    The distinction of culture as "signifying or symbolic", in study of societal change and the creation of history is important, as it relates the study to a more flexible view of measurement standard: the psychology of humans, and groups of humans that form societies.

    Socratic Question #2: How can every possible aspect of a human culture be measured?



    posted on Feb, 3 2009 @ 10:51 AM
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    Ladies and gentlemen, once again we are treated with more clouding of the meaning of word culture.

    It appears as though my opponent seeks to win this debate my making the topic so fuzzy that a clear answer cannot be found. Let us not get lost in the endless and unnecessarily complex definitions we are being bombarded with.

    For a moment let us reset and remind ourselves of what we are truly here to discuss. What my opponent must prove to you is that humor is the truest benchmark of an evolved culture. So far, we have been presented with no evidence for this claim, only discussion of the world culture itself.

    What I would like to do at this time is present to you some alternatives to humor as a benchmark for societal evolution.

    Let’s begin by looking at some words by the Chinese philosopher Confucius.


    Study the past if you would define the future…Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart…I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there…If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow hear at hand.


    Taking those words into consideration, could we really use the past itself as a benchmark for the evolution of a culture? Perhaps a more relevant question would be; can we really judge the evolution of culture at all without the past?

    Even if we were to concede that humor can be used as a benchmark for societal evolution, how can we judge said evolution without taking a close look at the history of that culture?

    There are many factors that go into judging the evolution of society, and history is perhaps the most important. Just because a society can joke about a certain matter does not mean that they have evolved to that level.

    By taking a look at history, we can ask ourselves some important questions.

    “Has this society truly evolved to this point, or has the issue always been relevant to these people?”

    “Does the comedy of today really represent the change in the society, or is there some other event in the past that signaled this change?”

    It’s easy to see simply by asking these questions that while humor in a society may reflect some evolution, it can hardly be considered the “truest” benchmark, which is what our discussion is about.

    In fact, I would argue that humor is most often a secondary signal that change has occurred, and not a true benchmark itself.
     



    Socratic Question #1: What benchmark can be used to measure the cultural change that has taken place, when a subject becomes funny and acceptable to joke about?


    First of all, you are assuming that every cultural change will at some time become funny or amusing, and I do not think we can make that assumption safely.

    Secondly, as I mentioned previously, I would seek to find out what historical event took place to ignite the change in the first place. That is where our true benchmark lies.


    Socratic Question #2: How can every possible aspect of a human culture be measured?


    Excellent question and I don't know that there is anyway it can.

    That isn't really our concern here though is it? We are not asked to explain how every cultural change can be measured, we are simply asked to determine if humor is the truest benchmark for cultural change itself.
     


    Looking back, let us consider for a moment that history can in fact be used to measure the cultural evolution of a society.

    Compared to humor, history is something tangible. It is something that a society can look at and see without bias where they have evolved and what they have evolved from. Whereas humor is something that is not universal, history is. Humor is far too personal to be used as an accurate measuring device, especially for something as equally fluid as evolution.

    Over the remainder of this debate, we will continue to look at some meaningful benchmarks for the measurement of societal evolution.

    In doing so, we will see beyond doubt that humor is nowhere near the truest .
     


    Socratic Question #1 - Do you believe humor is truly universal enough to use as an accurate benchmark for societal evolution?



    posted on Feb, 10 2009 @ 11:10 AM
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    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    Second Reply


    Socratic Question #1 - Do you believe humor is truly universal enough to use as an accurate benchmark for societal evolution?

    Yes. Two definitions of benchmark:


    Noun: a standard by which something is evaluated or measured,
    Verb: to measure the performance of an item relative to another similar item in an impartial scientific manner

    [1] "benchmark", Wiktionary, retrieved Feb 10th 2009


    Measuring how humor changes in a culture, and how humorous interpretations and perceptions change, benchmarks the broader change of an evolving society.

    And humor is one of the most difficult things to 'fake'. Something cannot be forced to be funny, it either is or it isn't, of its own accord, in the culture in which it exists. It is thus an 'accurate' and true benchmark. As to whether humor is universal to all creation, or only universal to humanity, opinions vary:


    A thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution.

    Humour is the debunking of humanity, and nothing is funny except in relation to human beings.

    [2] George Orwell: "Funny, but not Vulgar" Leader - GB, London, July 28, 1945



     


    Rebuttal:

    My opponent makes the excellent point that we cannot analyze in detail and completely understand a culture without potentially looking at its entire history, in every aspect. That is certainly true, but it would be wrong to conclude that could be considered some sort of 'benchmark'. A benchmark is an indicator, a standard that measures and shows where to look in the larger body of evidence for significance.


     


    Let's look at two examples of humor as an effective benchmark. I'll begin with the example of humor in the former Soviet Union.

    In the most repressive days of the Soviet Union, the State recognized the danger of humor. Humor indicated dissidence and potential change, and that was not tolerated. Joke telling became a criminal act:


    Day in, day out, officers of the state were taking the time and trouble to track down joke-tellers, or going out of their way to add the evidence of joke-telling to other charges, and then handing out short sentences.

    [3] Ben Lewis, "Hammer & Tickle", Prospect Magazine, May 2006


    This approach did not prove effective. The jokes, and the risk of "counter-Revolutionary" cultural change they represented, continued unabated. The State attempted a different approach:


    They [political leaders] also imagined that the jokes could be used as an early warning system; problems indicated by humour could be tackled before they caused a revolution.

    [3] Ibid.


    Lewis continues, concluding that the culture of communist countries shaped the jokes the State found so dangerous, and that this is a universal human phenomena.

    An interesting 4-minute discussion of Mr Lewis' subsequent book may be viewed here, courtesy of Russia Today television:




     


    Humor was an excellent benchmark of the American public's views regarding the Iraq War. In a way, the jokes of late-night comedians even acted as a 'lighthouse', a reflection and indicator to the public of a change in the expressed common culture.

    Contrast these two jokes, one before the Iraq War, and one after:


    "There was another war-related casualty today. The French were injured when they tried to jump on our bandwagon." —Jay Leno

    [4] "Late-Night Jokes About the Iraq War", politicalhumor.about.com



    "President Bush set foot on French soil for the first time since the start of the Iraqi war for the G8 Summit in Evian, where thousands of protesters were there to meet him. For those of you who don't know, the G8 Summit gives other nations in the world a chance to express their wishes before we ignore them completely." —Craig Kilborn

    [5] "Late-Night Jokes About the Aftermath of the Iraq War", politicalhumor.about.com


    Please review the previous two links with an eye towards contrast. There's hundreds of jokes there, and the comparison is telling.


     


    I've reached my link limit for this rather-hurried response, and I apologize. In my next reply, I'll look closer at theories of why humor is such a useful indicator, in relation to evolving avenues of culture change. Over to you, NYK.



    posted on Feb, 11 2009 @ 09:17 AM
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    So what exactly have we learned thus far in this debate?

    We have learned that there are many different ways to judge the societal evolution of a culture. My opponent has presented evidence to you in order to prove that humor can in fact be used as a benchmark to judge this evolution.

    However, can we really say for sure that humor is the truest benchmark of this change?

    Are there not other areas of our society where we can look to determine how far we have progressed and evolved?

    Take for example the laws of a society.

    As cultures evolve and grow, so too does their understanding of right and wrong. Using the law of the land as a benchmark, could we not examine two different cultures and determine that one was more “evolved” than the other?

    For example, when comparing a society that has no law against murder to one that has laws that punish murder as a crime, could we not say that the latter must be more evolved or enlightened?

    Granted the above example assumes the listener feels that murder is wrong or evil, but that sentiment itself could be viewed as a benchmark alone. The ability for a society to determine as a group what is good or evil is a marker for cultural evolution regardless of the laws.

    So where else can we look for signs of cultural change in a society?

    Could we look to a society’s government, or lack thereof as a benchmark to where they have evolved? Can we examine the changes in a society’s religious practices as a tool to determine evolution? How about something simpler such as the recreational habits of a group of people, or the changes in their customs and mannerisms?

    The point is that there are many, many different benchmarks by which we can judge the evolution of a particular society. Humor may in fact be one of these benchmarks, but there is no way that we can definitively say that is the truest.

    My opponent has given you some delightfully in-depth examination of what humor is and how in can be applied as a benchmark for societal change.

    Has he at any time though proven to you that humor is in any way superior to any other benchmark? Have we been given evidence that humor is the truest benchmark of change, and that no other substitute will suffice?

    The short and simple answer is no.

    My friends, do not let your opinions be swayed by the over the top analysis of humor itself and the meanings of culture and society. Let’s take a look at the facts so far, and re-examine the true meaning of this debate.



    posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 09:39 AM
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    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    Third Reply

    My opponent finally brings some alternatives to the table. He suggests, as other possible benchmarks of change, the following areas of study:

  • The body of laws in a society
  • Morality in a society
  • Implementation of government in a society
  • Religious practices in a society
  • Recreational habits in a society
  • Customs and mannerisms in a society

    All valuable points of interest, to a cultural anthropologist, or anyone else who would examine a society. But how complete are these benchmarks, and how true are they?

    Socratic Question #1: Can you provide objective criteria for measuring change in morality and change in customs in a society, and a common benchmark unifying the two measures?

    I propose that using change in humor as a single criteria provides a unified benchmark that is both complete and true. Let's look at some categories of humor:


  • Finances
  • Friendship
  • Government
  • Lawyers
  • Love
  • Religion
  • Teaching
  • Wisdom
  • Women

    [1] "Jokes by Category", DirectQuest Directories

  • All categories my opponent would propose. He forgot economics and finances, probably due to the difficulty of him defining what 'evolution' is there. Humor has no such problem - communism and capitalism are equal targets of wit. Humor is a broad, unifying benchmark, capable of giving a common metric of change for very different areas of cultural examination.

    And it's truer. How do we define if something is 'funny' in a culture? Well, we don't. We can simply observe that it is funny, and a topic of humor, in the particular culture in which it exists. It's difficult to fake, and easy to observe, objectively. We do not have to impose our own external standards to measure it, as we would, say, when judging what significant changes in a culture's religious practices are.


     


    I'd like to bring up one point that we may have already agreed upon, for further analysis. It's the difference between an evolved culture, and an evolving culture.

    Throughout this debate, I've been trying to decide what I think an evolved culture is. You know: 'utopia'. I've come up with several ideas, not all of them involving women in bikinis.


    In my mind, the sticking-point I have is thinking of evolved as a past-tense. I think an 'evolved' culture is not one that has finished with change, but rather is stable yet constantly allowing of new change, new exploration, new avenues for humanity to travel. Paradoxically, perhaps an 'evolved' culture is one that allows constant change and continuing evolution, both at an individual level, and at a broader cultural level.

    Anything more specific than this, is more revealing of the deficiencies of the current culture, the one doing the measuring, rather than what a more 'evolved' culture would actually be like.

    Socratic Question #2: What do you think of the proposition that an 'evolved culture' is one that exhibits and allows for constant, stable exploration of new evolution, both for individuals and groups?


     


    Philosophers like to study humor. A lot. More than I expected, entering this debate. One of the major theories in the current study of humor is called Incongruity Theory:


    In 1790 the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in The Critique of Judgment focused on the requirement of surprise when he claimed that laughter is an emotion that arises from a strained expectation suddenly reduced to nothing. William Hazlitt, in his 1819 Lectures on the Comic Writers, credited laughter as coming from the incongruity that results when one idea disconnects or is bumped up against another feeling. Arthur Schopenhauer agreed in 1844, when he explained in The World as Will and Idea that laughter is a way of acknowledging an incongruity between the conceptions that listeners or viewers hold in their minds and what happens to upset their expectations.

    [2] "Humor - Incongruity Theory" science.jrank.org

    That is, humor arises from an incompletely resolved difference between the expectations and mindset of the individual, and a broader, culturally-relative alternate explanation. A possible cultural change. Humor is the guidepost to new, unexpected avenues of change in a society.


    The problem of humor is a timeless and a placeless one. In a study conducted across 186 societies, researchers found no society that was completely humorless (although they found the Aleuts somewhat dour). What’s more, they found that the subjects about which people joke could be classified according to a universal schema.

    In general, humor depends on an understanding or culture shared between joker and audience.

    [3] "Theories of Humor", Meredith Silverman

    Pay particular attention to the fact that humor requires a shared culture. There are two aspects to this: first, the cultural interpretation of the 'setup', or basis for the joke. This gets the audience on the same page, following along to the joke's script. Then there's the common understanding of the incongruity, the punchline. It reveals a new ways of looking at the subject, that is also understandable beyond the individual.

    This process highlights an aspect of the listeners' culture that contains internal cognitive dissonance. Places where the culture claims both 'A' and 'not-A', and needs a jester to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. These very places are the locations where cultural change is occurring, and can occur.

    It seems that human beings have a built-in mechanism for driving and focusing upon change, a will to show our eyes the road to tomorrow, in our society and ourselves. How beautiful that its true exercise brings a smile.



  • posted on Feb, 13 2009 @ 03:22 PM
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    It is with great regret that I must humbly request an extension for my next reply.



    posted on Feb, 16 2009 @ 08:54 AM
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    My friends, I fear we are beginning to sound like broken records at this point.

    We have gone around and around the issue of humor being used as a benchmark for societal evolution. We have also stepped aside and examined some alternatives to humor and how they could be applied, and yet here we are again, faced with the same initial questions about humor from my opponent.

    My opponent continually tries to define humor as a unifying benchmark, which it is not. We cannot be convinced that every person within a society shares the same sense of humor. Perhaps humor could be considered an accurate benchmark for certain sections of a society, but not a society as a whole.

    Despite the feverish attempts of my opponent, we can’t let ourselves be fooled into thinking that humor is such a broad and generalized thing.

    In order to accurately measure the evolutionary changes within a society, we need something much more concrete and universal than humor.

    I have presented several alternatives to humor that could be used, which my opponent has danced around with only slight mention. Keep in mind though that it is not the purpose of this debate, nor my objective to convince you that any alternative benchmark should be used. The purpose of our debate here is to prove to you that humor is or is not the best benchmark for judging evolution within a society.

    To his credit, my opponent has presented compelling arguments for using humor as a benchmark, but he has yet to prove to us beyond doubt that humor is in fact the best possible benchmark.
     



    Socratic Question #1: Can you provide objective criteria for measuring change in morality and change in customs in a society, and a common benchmark unifying the two measures?


    No more than you can provide objective criteria for measuring change in humor.

    Morality, much like humor, can vary greatly from person to person. What one person may find right or wrong, funny or unfunny, can be quite the opposite of the person next to them.

    So what is the unifying benchmark in all of this?

    The thing we need to keep in mind is that of all the benchmarks we have examined throughout this debate, not one of them is superior.

    A society is an ever changing and fluid thing, much like the benchmarks themselves.

    There is no set criteria in which we could accurately judge how a society is progressing or evolving. In order to do that, we must look at various sources and draw a conclusion from a conglomerate of information.

    The point here is that we can never say for sure that humor, or anything else for that matter, can ever be used as a singular source of information for judging societal evolution.

    Despite our attempts to simplify things and make them easy to judge and measure, the evolution of a society is something that requires multiple sources, and multiple benchmarks.



    posted on Feb, 17 2009 @ 03:26 PM
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    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    Closing Statement

    The flow of humor in a society acts not only as an indicator of social tension and change but also, in deeper analysis, as a map:


    Moreover, the notion that humor is a marker of “symbolic boundaries”, as well as its comparative perspective, both within and between nations, is derived from the work of Michele Lamont (Lamont & Fournier 1992; Lamont 1992; Lamont & Thevenot 2000). Humor does not only mark social boundaries, but touches upon moral boundaries as well.

    [1] Giselinde Kuipers, "Humor Styles and Symbolic Boundaries: A Comparative Study of Humor in the Netherlands and the US"


    My opponent would like to confuse the complex variety of humorous explanation with the comparatively simple measurement of what people joke about. It is quite easy to form objective measures of what people find funny; it is a topic of infinite study to determine what a person finds funny, and why.



    We cannot be convinced that every person within a society shares the same sense of humor.

    What one person may find right or wrong, funny or unfunny, can be quite the opposite of the person next to them.

    Exactly! And those differences reflect the diversity in that society. The structure of humor, as a shared experience, mirrors the structure of society.



    No more than you can provide objective criteria for measuring change in humor.

    I certainly can. My opponent would perhaps claim that distance is an inadequate benchmark of travel, as it can be measured in any number of units: feet, miles, meters and light-years, and is thus not 'objective'.

    I present for perusal a list of 80+ journal articles, describing and discussing various methods for objectively measuring humor, some broad and useful for cross-cultural comparison, others specific and applicable to the study of dynamics within a society:

    humormatters.com... [2]



    There is no set criteria in which we could accurately judge how a society is progressing or evolving.

    Precisely correct, as how a society is evolving is a determination that must be made relative to the observer. We all choose and declare what we deem as important, as important. The study of 'how' is as complex as ourselves. But as a benchmark to indicate whether a society is evolving, and where that change is occurring, humor is unparalleled.


     


    Ladies and gentlemen, lacking an answer to the Socratic Question I posed in my last reply:


    Socratic Question #2: What do you think of the proposition that an 'evolved culture' is one that exhibits and allows for constant, stable exploration of new evolution, both for individuals and groups?

    I must conclude that my opponent believes, as I do, that the ideal of an 'evolved culture' is one that provides for constant opportunity for change: change in individual world-view, interaction, social dynamic, and endeavor of importance at all scales, large and small.

    With the true exploration of that change come new ways of thinking, new social flows, new experience. At the break-point of the wave of change, the sudden joyous shift in perception is expressed in the most human of ways: smiles, laughter, good-spirits and humor: a shared revelry in the eternal renewal of the universe.

    It has always been thus, and always will, transcending time and circumstance:
    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    Thank you.



    posted on Feb, 18 2009 @ 08:10 AM
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    My friends, as I have said before, do not let yourselves be swayed by my opponent.

    The task that was given in this debate was to not only to convince you that humor is the truest benchmark for societal evolution, but to prove to all of us that this was the case.

    Has this been done?

    Has my opponent, through his endless philosophical definitions of humor and what constitutes a society, proven beyond doubt that the truest benchmark of an evolved culture is humor?

    Over the course of our discussion, I have presented several alternatives to humor as an effective benchmark, and my opponent has agreed they were valuable points of interest.

    None of these may in fact be the truest benchmark; but neither is humor.

    I simply ask that you keep the topic of this debate in mind as you make your decisions, and ask yourself the questions I have been asking.

    Have we been shown without doubt that humor is the truest benchmark of an evolved culture?

    Has my opponent proven to you that no other alternative could be used in place of humor to measure evolution within a culture?

    Ask yourselves these questions before you make a decision, and consider your answers carefully.

    My opponent has managed to take a fairly weak argument for his position, and sugar coat it with quotes from famous philosophers and writers. I urge you to take a look underneath the pretty exterior though, and see what you find.

    Is humor in a society the truest benchmark of an evolved culture?

    No.

    No it isn't.
     


    Once again I'd like to thank Ian McLean for a wonderful debate. We had some issues to work around throughout this discussion, and Ian was fantastic in adjusting to those with me.

    You're a real sport Ian, and it was an honor to debate you.

    Thank you.



    posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 11:35 PM
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    Ian McLean takes this by majority decision. Congrats to both Fighters.



    "Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark Of An Evolved Culture"

    Judgment for: Ian McLean

    First I must assert that my judgment is not based on the argument, but rather the performance. One more of style than substance. And my apologies for such a seemingly arbitrary assessment. But I assure you that I was not merely dazzled my Ian McLean's 'fancy footwork'. In fact, what I found most swaying was the lack of substance in nyk537's responses. Because while I agree that Ian McLean was obfuscating the topic, clearly demonstrating a difficulty in grasping the rather slippery subject, even if a feigned one, nyk537's lack of attack on his opponent's apparent weakness was to me the fatal flaw.

    Ian McLean wrote:
    "I will keep this initial post short, to allowing my opponent to establish his contention of the common ground of discussion."

    To this nyk537 responded with definitions of humor and society, but then backed off from the point.

    nyk537 said:
    "What I seek to discuss through the course of this debate, is not how we can define the terms given in our debate topic, but the practical applications of the topic itself."

    But then proceeding to ask if his opponent would accept the previous definitions as one of his choices for a Socratic question, essentially handed the reins back to Ian McLean.

    And so in my mind the die was cast.

    From here, Ian took it upon himself to choose the course, as he had already set the tone, leaving nyk537 to defend not a position of argument but rather the course of the argument itself. But pointing out on several occasions that Ian McLean had failed to properly approach the issue was not enough for me to award judgment in favor of nyk537.

    When nyk537 did manage to rally and point out some genuine issues of contention, they were not fully backed and so easily cast down or twisted to give at least the appearance of agreement.

    In the end while I don't feel Ian McLean made any real headway in proving the subject at hand on more than a rudimentary level, with lines drawn toward the relationship between culture and humor, but he never really had to.




    Challenge Match:
    Ian McLean vs nyk537: Ha(!) Couture
    Topic: Humor In A Society Is The Truest Benchmark
    Of An Evolved Culture"

    I’d never considered humor as a benchmark for anything before this debate, and was interested to see how this was going to play out. I had questions from the start about the wording in the subject title.

    It would be hard enough to prove either way even if everyone agreed on all the definitions from the beginning.

    Opening Statements
    Ian McLean brings us directly into the debate with his first question: What is an evolved culture?
    it’s a good question - and the first reference is interesting, but instead of defining either evolution or culture it explains only that: ...a society has not been palpably defined either in life or in literature.
    which I appreciate - because it does point out how elusive the definitions are going to be, but I did find this quote to be useful:

    “If the American character is split and many-sided at least a large and shadowy outline has been drawn by the many ventures in comedy. “

    It stayed with me through the debate - because I recognized that all we really had to go by was that shadowy outline.

    In his opening statement he stated his intentions very eloquently - and also made some pretty bold promises. It was good that he went out of his way to establish the problem we were all about to have with definitions because - while the meaning of the words society, evolution and culture were essentially up for grabs, I found myself also wanting something I could hold on to for the duration for the words benchmark, true - and even humor.

    IM left it to nyk537 to try and define both culture and evolution with his first question - good move

    Then nyk537 opened with a good natured: Let’s have some fun!

    Nyk537 then acknowledges that he recognizes IM’s evil plan:

    “It appears as though my opponent wishes to attack our debate through a careful dissection of the meanings of humor and culture...
    We have learned that we do not have a clear definition for either humor or what constitutes an evolved culture. Having said that, are we somehow expected to believe that humor does in fact provide the truest benchmark of an evolved culture, even when we have no clear definitions of either term?”

    nyk537 establishes one big problem - how can anything be defined as a benchmark when we haven’t yet determined the true definition for the item he claims is the truest benchmark of them all?

    nyk527 continues, moving past the definition issue to ask: can we then truly rely on something as arbitrary as humor to accurately measure the evolution of a culture?

    Here I have to question nyk537’s answer to IM’s question. He’s defined society - according to the dictionary. But Society isn’t the same thing as culture. And then I wonder what he means when he decides that humor is an arbitrary choice.

    nyk537 was right to say: however, I don’t know that we can reach an agreement on what constitutes “evolved”.

    Many of the following points might have been easier to make if the word evolved simply meant changed. However, by the way they both continued to use it, I took it to mean improved or progressed. This complicates the situation somewhat.

    nyk537 makes this clear by saying: “The real question for me here is whether or not our ability to make light of serious situations truly signifies some sort of evolution in our culture.”

    So, both opening statements were much more than a polite introduction to the subject along with the expected pleasant formalities. Both debaters have asked some tough questions and managed to further muddy already muddied waters.

    First Reply
    IM’s answer to nyk537’s first question is expected: My dear NYK: you presented no definition of 'culture', only a quoted a excerpt concerning 'society'.

    He follows with his rebuttal: ...he claims I feel this debate should be concerned with dissecting the definitive "meaning" of humor and culture. This is simply not true.

    NIce try. But, even if IM is sincere, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s a necessary obstacle course that needs to be tackled before any real work can be done: We need to analyze those subjects, somewhat, to clarify what we're talking about...

    I like the way IM handles nyk537’s stating that the burden of proof lies with him. He responds: “The burden of my dear opponent is to present stronger alternatives, unless he can somehow achieve logical closure of argument on the set of "all possible benchmarks".

    I agree with this. IM still needs to demonstrate how humor can be used as a benchmark - period. But it will be up to nyk537 to present us with superior options if he means to prove that humor is not the “truest” possible benchmark.

    I also agree with this:
    “One interesting word that arose in my opponents quoted definitions was "incongruous". I believe that is an important concept...”

    If anyone is going to make an attempt at explaining humor, I think this is a good place to start - but IM doesn’t pursue the meaning of the word or how it might help define humor any further here.

    Next, the shell game continues:

    “My opponent claims humor as "arbitrary". With that he would dispense of it as a metric. However, it is my contention that the very properties of humor, hidden in the categorization 'arbitrary', are what make it a superior benchmark...”

    He finishes with:
    ..."it becomes evident that that 'arbitrariness' is in fact flexibility: an adaptive standard of measure and indication, which no scientifically defined dissection has yet been able to match or explain."

    It’s the word flexibility that makes sense out of this for me.

    At this point, while we’re still struggling with what and where the definitions are, we receive an answer to an important question:

    Does the fact that stand up comedians can use racism or bigotry as a comedic tool really signify that our culture is "evolved", or is it just the opposite?

    In a word, yes...we can see that the change in how 'comedic tools' address racism and bigotry parallels societies attitudes towards those subjects.

    Otherwise, guess what: it wouldn't be funny.

    It’s a good example, and he makes clear - if society hadn’t changed, the culture wouldn’t have changed . So, things that were previously not funny - are now funny.

    He directs us to a link that sheds some light on how we determine what culture really is: “Some may find this a little dry...”

    Well yeah, a little, but I thought the following parts were both useful :
    ...Originally used as a noun of process, regarding agriculture, the term expanded to metaphor, referring to tended growth and human development...
    ...The distinction of culture as "signifying or symbolic", in study of societal change and the creation of history is important...

    As far as defining culture, this helped me to understand IM’s view a little better - culture can be considered a symbol or a metaphor for human growth and development.

    So I disagree with nyk537 here when he says: Ladies and gentlemen, once again we are treated with more clouding of the meaning of word culture.
    ...Let us not get lost in the endless and unnecessarily complex definitions we are being bombarded with...
    I agree that the topic is still fuzzy, but I think this may be as close as we get to being able to use the word culture in this debate.
    ...What my opponent must prove to you is that humor is the truest benchmark of an evolved culture. So far, we have been presented with no evidence for this claim, only discussion of the world culture itself...

    Well, true enough. We’re really no further along at this point, so I’m looking forward to nyk537 presenting us with some alternatives to humor for the title of “truest” benchmark

    We get Confucius:
    “Study the past if you would define the future…Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart…”
    followed by a couple of solid questions:
    ...can we really judge the evolution of culture at all without the past?

    Does the comedy of today really represent the change in the society, or is there some other event in the past that signaled this change?”

    but, I don’t think nyk537 can say this for certain:
    “In fact, I would argue that humor is most often a secondary signal that change has occurred, and not a true benchmark itself.”

    Here I begin to think about the real difference between history and culture. History is an account of what’s happened. Culture evolves as a result of history.

    If a benchmark is meant to be a measurement, we would need something that’s separate from history to “mark” the type and amount of change that’s occurred throughout history. If humor is an element of culture, and culture encapsulates change and turns it into something observable - a symbol - wouldn’t that be a simpler, more concise way to recognize change than analyzing all of history?

    So, I agree with nyk537 that looking at history is necessary to recognizing and understanding change - but marking when, how and to what degree would require another type of tool.
    This doesn’t mean humor is the default best tool, but history alone doesn’t make sense to me.
    when answering IM’s question: What benchmark can be used to measure the cultural change that has taken place, when a subject becomes funny and acceptable to joke about?” he/she responds with:

    “Secondly, as I mentioned previously, I would seek to find out what historical event took place to ignite the change in the first place. That is where our true benchmark lies.”

    This statement all but admits that a recognizable change is the direct result of an event - the event won’t work as a measure of itself - but the resulting changes might.

    I do like nyk537’s answer to the 2nd question - very much:
    Socratic Question #2: How can every possible aspect of a human culture be measured?
    “That isn't really our concern here though is it? We are not asked to explain how every cultural change can be measured, we are simply asked to determine if humor is the truest benchmark for cultural change itself.”

    Absolutely - humor is a part of culture, it’s true. Understanding the nature of culture is necessary, but our true objective is still to determine whether or not humor is or isn’t the truest benchmark of a culture that has moved forward - progressed.

    I have to disagree with this however:
    “Whereas humor is something that is not universal, history is”
    History may be easier to observe, record and analyze objectively than something as elusive as humor, but our view of history is still subjective and personal.
    “Humor is far too personal to be used as an accurate measuring device, especially for something as equally fluid as evolution.”

    Humor is personal - but also universal. For humor to work for the group and get any kind of reaction at all it would require some common ground and a shared experience. It would necessarily require both the specific and general in order to have any connection with it’s audience and to create a moment of recognition. The history that people experienced together would provide the subject material for humor. Humor would be a way to examine that history and express what it means to us. So, I see humor as being a better indicator of change within history than the history itself.

    After both of the first replies, I begin to see humor as a true benchmark - but I’m not convinced it’s the truest. nyk537 promises to gives us additional options for truest benchmark - which is necessary to proving humor is out of the running.

    A couple of nyk537’s statements about history only managed to get me thinking about what history really is and to compare it to humor directly. At this point I don’t see it as being a contender for truest, but I would say IM still needs to prove humor is really the best indicator of how much a culture has evolved.

    Second Reply
    IM says something that stands out for me:
    “...humor is one of the most difficult things to 'fake'. Something cannot be forced to be funny, it either is or it isn't...”

    True. If it is a benchmark - it’s an honest one. If people think something is funny, then there is a kind of integrity that prompts their reaction - something about the subject rings true.

    The following quote also struck me:
    “A thing is funny when...it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

    It should bring back the word incongruous back into the discussion because it seems to be an important ingredient to humor.

    If it’s true then humor relies on upsetting established order, then it must also be a process of contrasting what was accepted and expected with what is new and not quite accepted or expected.
    If we agree that this is part of what humor depends on to be effective, then we also have to accept that it marks the line that separates before and after - a marker of change. Maybe not evolution, but change.

    I think IM’s example of humor being treated as a threat by the Soviets is a great example of just how powerful a statement humor can make - in as much as it indicated:
    “...dissidence and potential change, and that was not tolerated.”

    All of IM’s examples of humor in this section worked as far as showing that humor is topical, current and uses controversial subjects to allow for a kind of rebellion. They went towards proving that humor is a good indicator of what’s on our minds now.

    nyk537 follows by asking what have we learned so far?

    He/she is right to ask, even this far along:

    However, can we really say for sure that humor is the truest benchmark of this change?

    Other options besides humor are presented in this section - including laws, changes in the way society sees right and wrong, government, religion, recreational habits and changes in customs.
    The question “Using the law of the land as a benchmark, could we not examine two different cultures and determine that one was more “evolved” than the other?” is a good question. I just wonder if comparing cultures can show true evolution or progress since that is also subjective. Maybe in order to have a real benchmark a culture can only be held up and compared to itself.
    Again we’re asked: Have we been given evidence that humor is the truest benchmark of change, and that no other substitute will suffice?

    The short and simple answer is no.

    True, but I don’t feel we’ve been given any better alternatives. It just may be that we can’t rely on just one category to show us what we’re looking for as far as a specific period of time that marks true evolution. Art comes to mind, but I’m not sure we can say that humor isn’t an art form since it is all about creative expression and interpretation.

    Third Reply
    IM asks if there are any actual criteria we can use to measure change.

    He says:
    I propose that using change in humor as a single criteria provides a unified benchmark that is both complete and true.

    Reading through the categories he lists, I’m reminded of his earlier statement about not being able to fake or manipulate what’s funny. It’s either funny or it’s not. For me, this brings up the concept of integrity again as it seems to be built into humor.

    Each category listed is something that can be influenced or manipulated - and it’s also possible for each one to be viewed differently.

    What’s funny may be different from person to person, but nobody can control what we think is funny.

    It seems to depend on what rings true to an individual and also to the group.
    “Philosophers like to study humor. A lot. More than I expected, entering this debate. One of the major theories in the current study of humor is called Incongruity Theory...”
    Finally. Several good references explain the concept in depth.

    IM finishes up with:
    This process highlights an aspect of the listeners' culture that contains internal cognitive dissonance. Places where the culture claims both 'A' and 'not-A', and needs a jester to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. These very places are the locations where cultural change is occurring, and can occur.

    This is the best explanation so far of what is necessary for humor to happen. I love both the idea of internal cognitive dissonance - and the need for a jester to lead the way to recognizing a previously unrecognized version of reality.

    nyk537 brings us back around to the beginning - and it’s true to some extent - nothing has changed much since the beginning - and we’re still trying to understand the various parts of the whole even as we should be coming to a conclusion.

    nyk537 acknowledges that IM made a good case for humor being number one, but repeats the obvious - IM hasn’t proven it.

    Is it even necessary to determine it’s the best at this point? It may be best if only by default.
    nyk537 hasn’t shown me that there’s anything else besides history that demonstrates real evolution - and history doesn’t makes sense as a tool for measuring itself.

    Following this is the admission of nyk537 that he/she can’t come up with the list of criteria IM requested earlier.

    The following may be true: Despite our attempts to simplify things and make them easy to judge and measure, the evolution of a society is something that requires multiple sources, and multiple benchmarks

    While it sounds correct, it doesn’t rule out humor as being the truest. Humor may be only one benchmark among many, but it’s still possible for it to be the most useful - and the truest.

    Closing Statement
    IM works to make his point right up to the very end. He’s supplied more examples and references, but this is what most impressed me in his closing statement:

    Ladies and gentlemen, lacking an answer to the Socratic Question I posed in my last reply:
    Socratic Question #2: What do you think of the proposition that an 'evolved culture' is one that exhibits and allows for constant, stable exploration of new evolution, both for individuals and groups?

    I must conclude that my opponent believes, as I do, that the ideal of an 'evolved culture' is one that provides for constant opportunity for change: change in individual world-view, interaction, social dynamic, and endeavor of importance at all scales, large and small.

    It doesn’t even mention humor - but I do appreciate his message.

    nyk537 closes with humor :
    “My opponent has managed to take a fairly weak argument for his position, and sugar coat it with quotes from famous philosophers and writers. I urge you to take a look underneath the pretty exterior though, and see what you find.”

    there were in fact many quotes from famous philosophers and writers - so he ain’t lyin’
    but all of those quotes and excerpts went a long way towards explaining things that were difficult to explain.

    Both debaters were well spoken, and they were both a pleasure to read. I also love that they both have a sense of humor.

    Has IM proven that humor is the truest benchmark?

    I’m not sure we can use the word truest, and after all the discussion, and explanations and definitions - if it weren’t for one thing I might still be wondering.
    It was the truth necessary to humor that won me over.
    The truth is responsible for why you laugh or don’t. It’s the truth that makes humor a danger in the eyes of those that want to oppress. I began to wonder why we even have humor - what purpose does it really serve?

    So, IM managed to convince me that humor is necessary to understanding something about the human condition - and since the human condition is ever changing - humor must also say something about how and when we change and evolve.
    So this win goes to Ian McLean
    Extra brownie points awarded for fanciness





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