Laughing in the Dark

Are we the only self-hating species? The only species that commits suicide? Are we the only species that laughs? Have you noticed how little humour there is in mass extinction and environmental destruction? That this secular end of days is the source of hardly any comedy?

It’s unseemly — profane even — to laugh out loud about the anthropocene. Unless it’s that grim, knowing, gritted-teeth kind of laughter in which we marvel at being part of a civilisation more concerned with counting calories than carbon. (If only we could harness vanity in the service of ecological repair); in which we mutter, “well, you gotta laugh because what else can you do?” or “if I didn’t laugh, I’d be weeping”.

Yes, there’s a lot of Weeping in the Dark, but not much laughing. Which is also surprising, because we often laugh at tragedy. Think war (Black Adder Goes Forth, Waugh’s Scoop); racism and red-neckerism (All in the Family); religion, which is a tragedy only to some of us (The Life of Brian, Religulous, the Bible); humanity (where to start? Perhaps Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, or the Bible, again.)

If Henri Bergson is right and laughter doesn’t exist outside the pale of what is strictly human; and if, as he says, its natural environment is society, then shouldn’t this be a time of rolling in the aisles clutching our stomachs in uncontrollable mirth? Because what could be more human than this human-all-too-human epoch?

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