I have gotten my head around something recently which is not so much difficult to understand, it’s more difficult to fathom. I have been looking closely at the links between humour and seriousness. You can draw a lot of your own conclusions with regard to this but I am sure you understand the basic precepts of the sliding scale of balance, in this case obviously the scale with humour at one end and seriousness at the other and of course we’re all somewhere along that scale.
Some people pride themselves on their sense of humour just as others would equally relish in their seriousness but some people equally use humour and seriousness to redress their own imbalances. You’ll sometimes find people with deep depression pretending to be alright and I know one fella in particular who is an absolute master at keeping a completely straight face while arbitrarily ripping people to pieces for his own personal amusement and the amusement of anyone who’s lucky enough to know him and know what he’s at, that seems to be his own unique brand of humour which is rare and very funny.
No one gives too much thought to humour or how it works, it is something that we just use and I believe that most of the time it is completely instinctive, even when it is being used as tool to redress something or other. I am probably way too serious myself, some would say, but to be honest I spent most of my life laughing my head aff and I kind of see my recent chilling out as being something that happens naturally with age and experience. I still love a giggle I am just more fussy these days, seriously, you can only laugh at the same shit so much before it gets trite! On the other end of the scale it is difficult to rile me now as well, much more difficult than it was, so that I suppose that really is balance. Having said that I am aware that I am good at the moment and I am by no means saying that it’s great and always will be, God knows what’s going to happen tomorrow!
The interesting thing I have found out recently is in regard to our collective humour. We’re dark here, very dark, growing up in Craigavon we had many areas that were completely mixed and slaggin’ was part of the set up and sectarian slaggin’ was also part of the game, it was rarely taken seriously. I touched on slaggin’ not that long ago when I wrote an essay about the riots/protests but I am getting something else now which is maybe a little bit deeper again and I am not sure a lot of people are fully aware even of their own levels in regard to how and when seriousness and humour are appropriate.
So really serious head here for a minute, it is needed to grasp this. We’re in the middle of a full scale culture clash here on this tiny little piece of land. Most of us can live with each other the very best but it is of course well documented that some people are unable to live with one another, in short, they hate each other. As far back as many hundreds of years ago we have been killing each other, I am not getting into the ins and outs of who started what and when and all that because I am aware of how tribalism works and I am not interested in feeding that beast, I am looking at things very subjectively and stating it just how it is.
From very early on the factions who have been participating in the violence have been relatively small in number in comparison to the population, especially recently. If we just look at the period from the early 20th century before Partition until the recent troubles you will find there to be too many dead to count and very different accounts of numbers of dead depending upon which side you ask. From 1969 until 2001 there were exactly 3,526 people killed, mostly civilians.
I’ll write that again: From 1969 until 2001 there were exactly 3,526 people killed, mostly civilians.
Now during that very period most of us just went along with our lives because it became a way of life didn’t it? I mean what else could we have done? While it all was going on I believe we got a kind of ‘collective trauma’. This is something which I never hear talked about. I am not widely versed in Sociology aside from my own musings and some bits and pieces that friends have pointed out to me so I am sure there are studies on this kind of thing somewhere. But it isn’t something which is widely known about and I know this from how people see that period of the troubles. Again, depending upon who you ask you’ll get differing accounts but War is War, it doesn’t matter who started it or who may have won or who done what, War is War and people die, in this case mostly civilians. I am not concerned at all about the sides and how they lined out and who done what, I am simply concerned with the overall picture of this ‘struggle’ and how it impacted the Country as a whole and even the Island as a whole.
Mostly civilians. Think about that for a moment. We were all targets if we were alive during the troubles. All of us. Some more than others obviously but there was a chance it would happen and I am sure many of us know people who had near misses and brushes with death and most of us know someone who died or was involved in some way or another. That’s how our conflict differed so much from others, it was really woven into the life of our country and conflict continued right along side what we came to know as life. Simple.
Seriously give it some thought. Conflict on that kind of scale is not something which you would ever consider to be normal is it? There have been many conflicts which were much worse but I think it is very, very rare that a conflict could continue for 32 years and be so close to all of the people in such a small and relatively developed land. That length of time coupled with the divisive nature of the conflict make it quite unique and worthy of much more study than is currently being undertaken. Indeed I think the Republican and Loyalist communities should be studied in depth, not Historically, presently.
The psychology of this is deep and really disturbing and I believe that we developed our very dark sense of humour as kind of defence mechanism. Among people who have suffered trauma you will find this kind of divergence of the emotions where the wrong emotion can sometimes come at very inappropriate times. Often people will laugh when something horrific is happening because they have a complete inability to fathom or comprehend the seriousness of the matter they are facing so they use emotion, very instinctively at times, to try and offset the depth of the experience. Again I have not done any studies on psychological matters I only know what I know from personal experience and observation.
When I want to discuss matters such as this I find that very few people wish to engage and this is because of fear. They don’t know they’re afraid and they don’t want to admit that they’re afraid so what they do is either find a way not to talk about it any further by citing the seriousness of it all or they could focus on the person talking about it and come out with statements about it being depressing or they may even find a way to attack and undermine people who they deem too ‘serious’.
It is depressing and I have to say something which needs to be said
“Depression must be faced and it must be felt in order for it to be overcome.” If you don’t face those demons they will either kill you or emotionally cripple you. We must go through emotion in order to understand it.
And I believe equally for collective emotional matters, our past needs to be faced and we need to understand and come to terms with the concerns that these people within our community are facing, both sides, Prods and Taigs.
When you understand subjectivity and I mean really understand it, not just be aware of it or be able to rely the dictionary definition. I am talking about truly getting the depth of what we deem to be right and wrong. If you take a side in any given conflict it is highly unlikely that you understand subjectivity because it is too easy to simply state that this one is wrong and that one is right. There are rights and wrongs on both sides, indeed all sides, and sometimes wrongs are allowed to lead to further wrongs and further and sometimes hundreds of years can pass and the people in the present have no idea exactly how it all got so out of control. Sometimes certain people can see something as being perfectly justifiable while others see the same act as being criminal but who’s right and who’s wrong? Depends on who you’re aligned with doesn’t it? A good example is Nelson Mandela, one group of people said he was a terrorist while others made him president!
I think I went a little bit off track there but not too much because it is all relevant. The main push of this is to look at our collective sense of humour. Like I was saying about people using humour as a kind of defensive ploy to stop themselves from being aeffected. Defragging any society is not an easy thing to do because when you’re dealing with numbers of hundreds of thousands or millions it is difficult to generalise but a certain amount of generalising can and must be done in order to see things clearly.
When I first started looking at these matters it used to completely boggle my mind but I have kept looking and after close to four years of pretty intensive research in History, current affairs and human behaviour I believe I have a very good understanding of the way societies operate. I am not quite ready to theorise in a categorical way just yet but I am getting there, indeed when I look back at the types of essays I was writing in 2009 and 2010 I can see a clear development in what I am saying. I have got less opinionated and more exact, more comprehensive and in my personal life I am pretty much non judgemental now and I can carry out community work with a great degree of empathy for the people who I work with.
During the troubles those of us who were not directly involved were in a very strange place. Even though we didn’t take part physically most of us did mentally. We still had allegiances and it is very difficult to find a person who is completely impartial here. Despite the fact that most people didn’t take part in the struggle directly they did lend a lot of support to it and whether you like it or not or whether you care to admit it that support was part of the struggle as a whole. Another thing you would have found would have been very large numbers of more liberally minded people especially in the middle classes who may not have supported violence but they did support their respective communities and held strong religious and Nationalistic ideals, people like this still make up the very core of our country and again they may not like admitting it but I am sorry we’re all part of the same ball game here and if you’re staunchly Irish or staunchly British you are part of the overall problem in this country.
On the spectrum of Northern Ireland you have the Prods at one end and the Taigs at the other and the rest of us all somewhere in-between with varying degrees of opinions and allegiances. No one looks at a country in conflict in this manner, they get lost by focusing on the those who are taking part directly and don’t think about all the others who can sometimes have subtle yet important influences upon the conflict. Despite what most people believe the problem here is Irishness and Britishness, it is not those who are taking part in the conflict directly who are completely at fault for they are simply asserting and defending their cultural identity, they may be doing this in a way that many of us see as being extreme but to be perfectly honest Human beings are and always have been tribal and war like so it mystifies me as to why there is so much surprise. That is something which I fail to understand about most people, their lack of comprehension, there is no difference between conflicts happening now and conflicts which happened 1000 years ago. The reasons for conflicts come down to the same common denominators humans/food/resources/wealth/power. The reason why people fail to understand conflict is because they stop looking at it subjectively and begin getting stuck on singulars and rationalising ie these ones invaded so it’s their fault.
Human beings are war like and inherently violent given the right circumstances and no amount of love or peace rallies or reconciliation is going to change that. My views on these matters are not popular because people do not like the truth, they would rather pretend everything is alright by any means necessary than face the harsh realities of our species.
I started talking about humour but I took necessary side tracks because I wanted to explain myself as fully and comprehensively as possible. To understand conflict people must first be understood and when you get down to the basics of human behaviour you will draw parallels and conclusions which will leave you in absolutely no doubt that the similarities of human kind across millennia far outweigh the differences.
So here’s the crux of it all and I think it pretty mind blowing to be honest. It is plain and we all know it’s there but we don’t think about much or maybe we think about it in a sort of detached manner which stops us from realising how powerful and influential it actually is.
So you have a deep conflict which is hundreds of years old continuing in the present. Dissident Republicans are still a big threat and the Loyalists are not happy about how their culture is being ‘eroded’. And then there are the rest of us.
I am deeply worried about the rest of us because we have a very obvious cultural denial that is fuelling the division between to the two more extreme factions within our society and one of the main ways this is apparent is through our sense of humour. Some Facebook pages sprung up after the current protests and riots which mock the Loyalist community in particular and I know of a other such pages which are aimed at the Republican community.
Think about please carefully.
What is happening here is moderately minded people are making fun of people who are very volatile and who are highly likely to carry out acts of violence. We’re laughing at people who are capable of murder, does that sound normal, it certainly seems to be a bit perverse to me. I have only really started looking at this in the last 4 or 5 days but the more I think about it the more I am convinced of the madness of it. I remember when some dissidents got off with a charge last year and Facebook was lit up with jokes and jibes. It isn’t the serious stuff that I would worry about anymore because I am concerned more about these subtle influences, things which people see as being harmless but which are anything but harmless. Everything single thing that everyone of us does has some effect or other, it may not always be completely apparent what the effects are but we all influence the wealth of the group to some degree.
We are laughing at people who are capable of civil disorder and murder and I bet that many of those doing the laughing and joking would not be able to explain to you why they are doing it if they’re asked, they would no doubt tell you that they’re just having a laugh! Leaving those who are doing the laughing and mocking aside for one moment lets just look at those who are being mocked. These are groups of people who already have a high degree of social dysfunction. They are socially isolated groups who exist on the fringes of society. They feel that they are victims and they feel that they don’t fit in and don’t belong. They have nothing to lose because they have nothing so being members of extreme organisations is preferable to complete isolation. These groups prop themselves up with Historical myths and stories about the other side. They have a very child like outlook on the world and see things as being constantly against them and here we are laughing at them. Mocking extreme groups will only serve to isolate them even further.
It’s strange because we do this type of thing with so many other groups as well. We mock the Spides and the Foreigners, the homeless and addicts. Often the people we mock are in terrible social situations and this mocking while seen as being a good laugh is actually just pushing these people further and further away and probably making them more and more extreme and the shocking thing is that no one in particular is to blame for it because “We’re only having a laugh aren’t we?!”
I believe that we all need to start thinking very seriously about ourselves and how we fit into our world because currently there is not only a large degree of apathy but there is also this kind of very dangerous and very invisible fuelling of the conflict by people who think it has nothing to do with them.
We’re laughing at murders.
A rethink is required I believe.