On Laughter (Part 1) - - the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems?

(Apologies to Simpsons)

I love to laugh.  That may seem hard to believe to some who’ve met me but that’s in part because laughter is a double edged sword.  But my friends who know me, know that about me.  I’ll never claim to be a comedian myself, but I am a fan: Chris Rock, Ellen, David Allan Grier, Chapelle.  Now why do I mention minority comedians.  Because unfortunately I have a point to make.

Dave Chappelle.  Once a rising star (at least on TV - unfortunate that being on TV is our standard but validated in the eyes of all too many because of fame and wealth)   Funny as Dave is, his experience with Comedy Central was tragic.  Sadly ironic that this story that proved the double-edge nature of comedians played out on one of our most gifted comedians (one of high principle) and not the recipient of humor (which is what public debate focuses on, see Mohammed drawings, reaction; Curb episode of someone pissing on Christ) Many have speculated why Chappelle left his popular show.  Everyone has an opinion and I’m sure anyone’s guess is as good as mine.  But here’s my take on the situation (hat tip to DWWP- David G.).  

Emasculating black men in movies can be a laugh- the question is who is laughing hardest?  And why?  Chappelle himself talked about lines in the scripts that were being inserted by those on his team and wisely noted, getting rich doesn’t necessarily change you, it changes those around you.  What kind of change?  Put simply, money/perks to enact a broader agenda or politics of division that has been with us for a long, long time.  That force is a great boon for some kind of people - you can switch loyalties, sell out, be disloyal, and earn a pretty penny (however that’s defined).  So after a while some of the staff weren’t really writing jokes for Dave anymore.  But the public admission in a major newsmagazine he gave an audience member had  the wrong kind of laughter.  It’s not a matter of “well, I wish that one audience member stayed home that day”.  That was the tip of a very deep iceberg.  That wrong laugh was the tip not the iceberg.  

Chappelle could have been rich, but instead knew how he was being exploited (in a way all too familiar for some) so as to denigrate all African-Americans.  And too much had been fought for in that area to let it come to this.  

Chappelle didn’t leave because he was “crazy”.  He left on principle operating in a system where those who decide sometimes, just maybe have a collective, broader agenda and the people around him weren’t tought enough to say no to them.  He left because some things are so important and vital, and people have died for certain causes - the civil rights movement - being one one of them, including on the battlefield of war and in life, that to unwind the dignity earned African-Americans would be the wrong thing to do.  That’s what the “wrong kind of laughter” that Chappelle referred to is about, I believe.  And it’s not the first time someone who stood up on principle was made out to look “crazy” nor will it be the last. 

footnotes / counter-points accounted for:

*I am not anti-American so don’t even try; I am not a humorless schmuck f*ck etc., or anti-anything.  Interested in having a fair-minded discussion on the subject, and adding light not heat to the subject.


How many are familiar with a term called gang-stalking?  

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gang%20stalking .  

Some other info I ran across:



Seems like a rather troubling trend?  Wonder why no one is paying attention to this kind of violence, by other means.  Well I think we can just leave it up to the authorities - the politicians, the cops, and the goodness of people in general to handle it, right?

The need to fight

The perception of past injustices keeps us at war.  As Martin Luther King explained to his brother when they were on the highway, and the other car flashes his lights, that he shouldn’t respond in kind because someone in that exchange, someone on that highway had to maintain their sanity.  And yet there is a time to fight when injustice reaches an unbearable level.  

I recently purchased a book by the Dalai Lama in which he talks about reconciling the world’s major religions.  I’m looking forward to learning from his insights.  Yes, there has to be an accounting for wrongdoing.  You have to keep score and not be oblivious to the wrongs and aggression committed by others.  But if there is a path where we can correct the injustice without retribution- that would be ideal.  Who knows if that’s possible. 


Peace is a noble sentiment.  So noble it shouldn’t be sought after in a glib manner.  So desirable it shouldn’t be invoked merely to restrain the injured party from taking up arms after every other path towards getting justice has been exhausted.  So often, that which we call “violence” is retribution in a physical form in response to abuses far more damaging to the soul than a physical blow could ever render.  In Braveheart, William Wallace says “They can take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom”.  There are many instances of us putting values such as love, freedom, pride above life itself.  So why do we have a moral and legal system that does not?

The actual causes of violence trace to a clash of values (intolerance), self-righteousness in all its forms (arrogance), the desire to dominate and control; oppression (fear, selfishness, self-importance).    

You will know a violent nation by its society and ultimately by the behavior of its people.  It’s collective values.  When you witness social aggression between people, when you see its idols and how they behave, when you see how it Actually values modesty, humility, and non-judgmentalism.  When you see its judgmentalism.

War doesn’t begin out of thin air.  A nation chooses its leaders, based on its values.  It sanctions war, even if later it distances itself from it.  The only way to end war — is not by a last-minute plea to call off the dogs once tension has led to a boiling point.  It is well before.  It is to create a culture in society and an awareness at the individual level that sees ALL violence as unacceptable - social violence, verbal violence.  

We reshape ourselves, we have a chance to reshape the outcomes of our collective behavior.  That work is one of the highest and most noble objectives I can think of - and something that is a very daunting and improbable task.  There are many forces that want us to be confused, disoriented, have a misplaced sense of priorities, and ultimately warlike since it serves some other interests.  We see how people responsible for spreading the word of Love and Peace - such as clergy, cope in a system that ensures that only the most domineering, political types get ahead and we have the irony of a self-righteous, arrogant person who uses verbal and social violence to get his way preaching the “gospel of peace”.  To say that we have our work cut out is an understatement.  

Social Interaction: The Social Group Type and the Opportunistic Type

The Story

I was in a cafe in Oakland recently and observed a conflict.  Well, not a conflict in the sense of a blowout argument or fistfight.  This was the less sensational but far-more-common subtle tension between people that manifests in our daily life, here there and everywhere.  The details are so trivial, they hardly constitute a “story” but here goes.  I order a latte and sit down.  The next customer behind me in line, a dark-haired older woman orders some drink, and right away, I can tell there is some tension between her and the cashier.  Something said, something not heard correctly, minor irritation.  Nothing untowards said, largely one could tell in the tone of their voice that they were somewhat irritated with one another - and you have that mix of subtle cues: a bit of curtness in the reply, the lack of eye contact with speaking or listening, a patronizing or gruffer tone of voice.  It is jockeying, or passive-aggression, or whatever one might call it.  The interesting part of this exchange to me was not this,  that the cashier’s co-worker was sitting on the sidelines but nonetheless heard what was happening.  When the customer came back with some request 5 minutes later- I couldn’t quite hear what the request was- asking for something for her drink or placing another order- the co-worker picked up where the last left off- being a bit cool to the customer and not idly listening to the Customer speak ill about the earlier employee’s behavior.  The nature of the exchange between the three people I will call social conflict or social tension; and the dynamic of Employee 2 being aware of the dynamics between Employee 1 (and then incorporating this into her behavior) I will refer to as the pack mentality type. 

Why does this “story” interest me so much?  Well, it crystalizes what I’ve been dwelling on now for a while- which is there are really two kinds of social personalities.  The Opportunistic type and the Pack type.  Now bear in mind that many of us fall somewhere along this continuum and by no means must we represent the polar extreme as if it were a binary choice.  But let’s review the two.

Pack/Social Group Type

Pack types tend to focus on social dynamics.  They may have close friends and more significantly for this definition, be part of a small tight-knit social circle (typically between 3 and 8 people).  You see packs forming as cliques in social life but also in the workplace.  Families can behave as packs but do not necessarily since their union is not chosen by all parties.  Important is what it isn’t: a group formed fully by the free choice of all of its members and a grouping of peers or social equals.  Back to the pack.  Why do packs form, why do they stay together, why are they useful?  Gangs are packs- an extreme variety but nonetheless.  Why do gangs form: security, fraternity, advancement.  This is instructive since if we look at social groups, they are packs that exist for similar, though less drastic, reasons: security in a social environment, fraternity, and social advancement or opportunities.  But nothing in this world comes for free- so what does the pack member do to keep his place?  It’s the same thing that keeps the pack together- cohesion, common commitment to one another, mutual respect, loyalty and commitment to other group members, putting the group first, and more importantly putting each member of the group’s interests above those of the out-group.  This latter clause is perhaps the toughest one for members since doing so means risking alienating others outside the group.  Without it however, all cohesion is lost as the behavior of standing idly during another member’s social conflict is akin not to the Pack type but the Opportunistic “each man for himself” type.

Opportunistic/Individualist Type

The opportunist or individualist largely moves through the world individually.  He or she may or may not belong to social groups - but if so, this typically falls along the lines of common interests.  This type of social group tends to be more casual, less tight-knit.  Individualists generally see themselves as responsible for their behavior and their outcomes.  They also, consistently so, view the same for others.     

Neither type is preferable in any objective sense, and people not only fall somewhere in between both extremes, but selectively engage or disengage during social conflict in different settings.  

Back to the topic of social conflict.  When people move in any group, there are really two responses to the social conflict of another member of the group:

1. Undercutting  

2. Concerted non-involvement

3. Social Group behavior 

To summarize, #1 involves either not being aware of social dynamics and acting in ignorance in such a way that worsens the outcome for the other group member, or observing such dynamics but nonetheless ingratiating oneself to the out-group member for opportunistic reasons at the expense of the group member, #2 involves being aware of social dynamics but consciously removing onesself from the social conflict, #3 involves being aware of the social dynamics.  I’ll elaborate on all three below.

Social tension typically results from any number of reasons.  I observed such an incident a week ago in which Person A was teasing Person B in a way that he thought was playful but the recipient, she could have viewed as offensive.  Such incidents can be harmless fun or they can be viewed as hurtful, modestly so or otherwise.  What is undercutting.  Let’s add Person C to the mix.  Let’s envision that Person B speaks up to Person A and asks, “Why did you do that (or what makes you say that?)”.  Now Person A can either remedy the situation and deal plainly with Person B.  OR they can use a convenient option of freezing Person B out by directing conversation to Person C.  Person C is in quite a position- no?  This akward unsponsored moment is brought to you by humanity on a daily basis!  Person C either observed the social tension or not.  Moreover if observed, he may not perceive the offense in the same manner or to the same degree.  But whether he rates the offense as badly as the recipient, he or she may at least acknowledge that Person B is offended or bothered by such comments.  When Person A directs conversation to Person C after offending Person B and then freezing them out, Person C has a choice.  He or she can choose from the 3 above options.  Let’s discuss them.

Person C can practice concerted non-involvement.  The decisive precondition of this choice is that Person C has in fact aware of the social tension, and the decisive quality of his or her behavior is studious non-involvement despite temporal discomfort or acknowledging the discontinuity in the conversation.  Significantly, listening passively to Person A as he freezes out Person B does not fit this category.  This is, instead, undercutting as it serves Person A’s intentions perfectly of using insulting language to Person B and not only ignoring their request for clarification, but freezing them out and continuing the conversation with Person B. To elaborate, by giving visual attention to Person A, Person C is engaging in undercutting behavior.  A less likely but other variant of undercutting is supporting Person A by laughing along, agreeing with them, or contributing further to the taunt.   Option 3 of social group behavior would be giving visual attention to Person B.  It is supportive behavior since it allows Person B to attempt to resolve the situation with Person A. More moderated versions would entail Person C asking Person A “I think she was saying something…”.  At the extreme end of social group behavior would be admonishing Person A for the cutting remark or behavior, or directing attention and conversation back to Person B.  Option of concerted non-involvement means observing and acknowledging the offense by saying “I’m not going to get in the middle of this.” or not giving either party visual attention.  CNI is not without cost but it is fundamentally neutral.  CNI neither favors Person A or Person B but simply acknowledges there is conflict.  

If it’s so simple and logical, where do people go wrong?

Disconnects form amongst people for differences of style (pack, opportunistic), differences in perception (noticing of social tension or not), perception of tension (serious, unserious).

Straight Talk


"The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing, but he had come to me for help. ’

Said by: Shirley Sherrod, USDA Rural Development Georgia State Director, delivered at the NAACP’s 20th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet.

This will be controversial.  Reports are that Sherrod has submitted her resignation.  Let me submit the counterpoint.  Delaying one’s response is a way of establishing authority in an interaction.  It is a fairly subtle but nonetheless aggressive way of trying to establish a superior position relative to the conversational partner.  Let’s try a thought experiment in a different, objective setting: let’s say that Person A was relying on an authority figure- Person B and Person A acted in a contemptous manner, treating Person B as inferior.  Do you think the authority figure Person B would go out of his way to pull strings on Person A’s behalf.  Forget race and gender; basic rules of interaction would suggest that if you need something from someone- the manner in which you treat them will in fact impact what they decide to do for you.  Try interrupting your boss every other sentence, and see if you receive a promotion.

Coming back to Sherrod’s example, in an increasingly diverse environment, old habits may nonetheless die hard.  The kind of privelege that we receive in life - whether it is because we are white or that we are male or some other characteristic,we so often take it for granted….that is, until we are forced to reliniquish it.  As minorities gain more positions of power, there is no racist equation in the applying the age-old maxim: earn respect by giving respect.  Those that have been able to acquire respect through no contribution of their own may find it tough sledding in an increasingly meritocratic world where they must deal with others as equals.  As they are denied services, and turned away from career opportunities because they are unwilling to deal with people on an equal basis — evolutionary principles suggest such people will likely dwindle.  The problem may correct itself.  

Unfortunately for Sherrod, she made her decision sound like it was based on race.  It wasn’t.  It was based on an age-old principle of mutual respect or lack thereof and its impact on the weaker party’s outcome.   


Discussing SNL is hardly much use.  The prevailing attitude is “it sucks but used to be good back when … {fill in the blanks}”.  I LOVE SNL right now and I particularly love the current cast- Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Bobby Moynihan.  I find the writing to be genius and the nuances captured in the acting to be unlike anything else on TV.  I like many other people have my favorite periods and periods I tuned out (ie: The Fallon Era).  Am watching a re-run from earlier this year- with Jude Law and as is often the case with SNL, some skits are better than other, but I just find this stuff extaordinary.  I find this on par with any era since I’ve been watching regularly (since 1998)  Favorite shows on TV right now: The Soup, Curb your Enthusiasm, SNL.

Where we stand

Strange when we consider racial equality — and find the surest attitudes against it from…. within us as minorities.

Indian-Americans just like any other minority struggle with the world they have been shown and taught to think is ideal.  The larger propaganda is clearly effective.  That racism that we are nonetheless so attuned to spot elsewhere so often lies unseen within us.  And against us.

I have many times been confided in by fellow Indians, male and female, that white people possess true beauty.  We value our friendships with white people.  We praise other people’s relationships with white people.  We pride ourselves on being on good terms with white people or being treated with regard by them.  

So often, in the interactions between Indian guys and girls - we hold each up to the expectations that are not of our own making.  Indian girls sometimes feel Indian guys don’t measure up.  Indian guys sometimes struggle to see the beauty in Indian girls that we know is there but have been conditioned not to see.

Undoing these attitudes take a lifetime ….and sometimes more, which is a tragedy to perish from this Earth before seeing your own people for what they are and not what you have been led to believe.

In some ways the real “tragedy” behind this dynamic is there is no conspiracy behind it.  There are no corporate board room tables sat around and memos issued and depictions considered and propaganda designed.  There is no directive to make Indians uncomfortable in our own skin.  There isn’t a collective effort to construct masculinity after caucasian traits or femininity and chasteness after white ideals.  Were there such consolidated an effort, undoing it would involve fixing the target and confronting it, daunting as that might be, it would have shape to it, it would have form.  Instead we must tilt against unseen assumptions.  We must question the  manner in which stories are told.  And perhaps most unlikely, we must look within ourselves and try to understand why we feel the way we do about our own kind.  And be willing to acknowledge that racism won’t subside unless we ourselves confront our stubborn misperceptions and the damning self-image we have of our own people that we can no longer blame on society.