There was a wonderful science fiction story written many years ago by Murray Leinster called “First Contact”Â which concerned the first contact between an alien race and human beings.Â The contact occurred far off in space; our space ship contained diplomats and military men.Â Both races took great pains to conceal the location of their home worlds and made contact with a fair amount of anxiety and paranoia about the intentions of the other.Â The story ended with one of the characters, an enlisted man if my memory serves, expressing confidence that our two races would find a way to co-exist in peace.Â His reasoning?Â All the while the senior diplomats and military were parlaying, he had spent the time with a junior soldier of similar rank telling jokes to each other.Â The idea that the aliens had the same sense of humor as the earthlings was enough for him.
In a similar vein, one of the places that computers routinely fail the Turing Test is to fail to “get” humor.Â Try to joke with a computer program and you will find the “intelligence” you are involved with to be quite alien indeed.
Humor is one of our most effective and most sophisticated defenses.Â It can defuse the ability of anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other uncomfortable emotions to control us.Â It is considered one of the most mature defenses.Â As might be apparent, humor does not resolve dysphoric affects but robs them of much of their power and intensity just as it allows an attenuated expression of the affect.
Ideologues typically are humorless.Â What humor does get expressed by them is usually bitter and angry and directed at their enemies.Â This is one reason ridicule is an effective weapon against such people.Â They take themselves and their ideologies extraordinarily seriously and cannot tolerate ridicule.Â One recent example occurred when the outtakes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ‘s last videotape were placed on the web.Â His ineptness with a rifle inspired laughter rather than fear; his death was assured at that point.
In today’s Huffington Post, Erica Jong, a writer who made her reputation writing humorous novels, shows the damage that ideology can do when it destroys one’sÂ sense of humor.Â She is angry that male reporters routinely comment on Hillary Clinton’s appearance: