Tag Archives: intellect

The Last Laugh?

One of the striking differences between Right-wing folks and those further left on the political spectrum is the humorlessness of the former. (Admittedly, go too far left, and you’ll find folks who are equally humorless.)

Some of you may recall efforts to find a Rightwing counterpart to Jon Stewart, back when he and the Daily Show were huge cultural influences.  It failed miserably–the short-lived conservative effort just wasn’t funny. Currently, late night humor/satire is predictably anti-Trump. I would be hard-pressed to name a popular conservative comedian.

What made me think about the uneven distribution of witty entertainment was reading #Secondcivilwarletters.

For readers of this blog who may inexplicably have missed them, the “letters”–patterned after the letters read as part of Ken Burns’ civil war documentary–absolutely owned Twitter and the Internet. The hashtag was a response to crazy Alex Jones’ (Infowars) assertion that “the liberals” were going to start a second civil war on the 4th of July. (News flash to Alex–it’s the 10th. No war yet.)

The only war that did begin was with humor on Twitter–and it was brilliant. And very funny.

In a large number of them, liberals poked fun at themselves and what we might term “liberal culture.” For example:

Dear Mother: the WiFi is weak and my last tweet went unliked. iPhone battery at 3%. Soles of my Toms are worn thin. Tonight we decamp to the Prospect Park bandshell with only goat cheese, a flat sheet, and a dry Zinfandel to watch Antibalas perform.

The ability to laugh at yourself is–in my humble opinion–the most essential element of a genuine sense of humor. (My mother used to say that anyone can laugh when someone else slips on a banana peel, but people with a real sense of humor can laugh when they slip on a banana peel.)

So what, you say. Why does humor matter?

It matters because a number of research studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

The connection between intelligence and education is much more attenuated–plenty of people who haven’t gone to college are smart (and as a college professor I can attest to the fact that plenty of people who have managed to get through college are significantly less than brilliant.) But to the extent that ones’ level of education does signify knowledge or intellect, it’s telling that white support for Trump divides sharply between people without college degrees–who voted for and/or support him– and people with college degrees, who didn’t and don’t.

In this age of tribalism, there are so many ways Americans have “sliced and diced” ourselves–religion, race, gender, urban versus rural, etc. I’m really reluctant to add to those divisions, especially with a snippy and facile generalization. But there are some conclusions we can draw from the characteristics of the pro- and con-Trump camps, and one of them is that smart people don’t support this unstable, ignorant and dangerous President.

Who will get the last laugh is, unfortunately, still an open question.