Comedians worth their salt know that neuroses, awkwardness, and dissatisfaction are often the best places to plumb for material. The Buddha knew it, too, although he wasn’t doing slapstick—Buddhism’s first noble truth is an acknowledgement of life’s inevitablesuffering, from the most trifling irritation to the greatest tragedy.
Cue Christopher Kelley, a Buddhist Studies professor at Brooklyn College and the New School who explores the parallels between dark comedy and basic Buddhist tenets in talks across the country. Like Buddhism, Kelley thinks, comedy of the truth-telling sort can help us confront moments and experiences that can be painfully awkward, deeply unsettling, or outright depressing.
Thinkolio, a think tank that connects professors with the general public, is partnering with the Strand Bookstore in New York City to host an upcoming talk with Kelley, “Buddhist Realism and Dark Comedy: It’s Funny Because It’s True,” at 7 p.m. on May 5. Below, Kelley discusses the merits of dark comedy as an effective vehicle for facing what pains us the most.
What does dark comedy have in common with Buddhist philosophy? Buddhism and dark comedy both seek to expose unsettling truths about the human condition, which we normally choose to deny—namely, old age, sickness, and death. In Buddhacarita (“Life of Buddha”), an epic poem written by the Indian monk Ashvaghosha in the 2nd-century CE, it is Prince Siddhartha’s encounters with old age, sickness, and death that lead him to seek out a solution to the problem of suffering. These encounters eventually transform him into an awakened Buddha. Like the Buddha, the comic can be a powerful medium for communicating the disquieting, shunned truths in life. In comedy—as any good comedian knows—making jokes about the human condition usually gets a big laugh. It’s funny because it’s true.
From day-to-day anxiety to existential dread, how can comic relief be an effective antidote for dealing with our messy afflictions? The Buddha diagnosed the root cause of human suffering (dukkha) as our own compulsive tendency to cling to unreal ideas about ourselves and the world we inhabit. I think dark comedy offers a kind of disruptive therapy for our anxieties about life by using humor to reveal the profound incongruence between the way we think the world should be and the way the world actually is. A lot of research has been dedicated to understanding why we laugh. One such theory says that we laugh at incongruence itself. We find humor in these moments, be they as simple and absurd as a throng of clowns spilling out of a tiny car or, as I would argue, the disconnect between our idealizations and the way things really are.
Dark comics like Louis C. K. explore this juncture in their stand-up acts when they make jokes about the certainty of death. In a show he performed at the Beacon Theater in 2011, Louis told the audience that it was a statistical fact that one of them would most certainly die within the next year. Everyone laughed at his “joke” because nobody really believes that they’ll be the statistical fatality. We laugh at dark jokes because the reality of things doesn’t quite square with our own perceptions about ourselves and the world. Intellectually, I know that I’ll die some day, but I don’t really believe that I’ll be that statistic. Except I very well could be!…
Not everyone likes to hear about the threat of nuclear war. Some find refuge in denial and say that nuclear war is impossible because it makes no sense. Unfortunately, humankind has a long record of doing things that make no sense.
In previous posts in recent years I have pointed out both written documents and changes in US war doctrine that indicate that Washington is preparing a preemptive nuclear attack on Russia and China. More recently, I have shown that Washington’s demonization of Russia and President Putin, the incessant lies about Russian deeds and intentions, and the refusal of Washington to cooperate with Russia on any issue have convinced the Russian government that Washington is preparing the Western populations for an attack on Russia. It is obvious that China has come to the same conclusion.
It is extremely dangerous to all of mankind for Washington to convince two nuclear powers that Washington is preparing a preemptive nuclear strike against them. It is impossible to imagine a more reckless and irresponsible act. Yet this is precisely what Washington has done.
Careful studies have convinced the Russians that Washington is investing in and arranging components that have no other function than to devastate Russia and cripple the country’s retaliatory capability. In short, Washington is preparing to launch a nuclear war. https://www.rt.com/news/386276-us-missile-shield-russia-strike/
As I explained previously, the theory behind this insane scheme is that after America’s preemptive strike Russia will be so devastated that Russia would not retaliate with any remaining forces out of fear that Washington would launch a second major strike. Washington also plans to use agents in place to assassinate as many members as possible of the Russian government, thus leaving the government in confusion without leadership.
Yes, the insane American/Israeli neoconservatives are this determined to exercise hegemony over the world.
Yes, Washington is sufficiently criminally insane to risk the destruction of life on earth based on the supposition that Washington’s offense will work perfectly and Russia and China’s capabilities will be so degraded that no retaliatory response will occur.
One might hope that the American and Western populations would be outraged that Washington is so power-crazed that Washington is subjecting all life to such risks. But there is no sign of an anti-war movement. The Western leftwing has degenerated into Identity Politics in which the only threat comes from white heterosexual males who are portrayed as misogynists, racists, and homophopes. The Western leftwing is no longer war-conscious. Indeed, the leftwing has become diverted into such silly irrelevancies as transgender rights to toilets of their choice. The impotence of the Western left is so overwhelming that the left might as well not exist…
Even Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, is well-known for not permitting his own children to use iPads, smartphones and other handheld devices, noting how addictive and openly available devices like these are in our society today.
“… when he [Steve Jobs] was asked “Your kids must love the iPad?” He said “Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.” The reason why he said that was because he recognized just how addictive the iPad was as a vehicle for delivering things to people. That once you had the iPad in front of you, or when you took it away from the home with you, you’d always have access to these platforms that were very addictive. That were hard to resist.” ~Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
Here are several other documented ways in which screen-time and smartphones are negatively impacting children’s health.
1. Literally Turning Them Into Addicts
As Jobs says, the devices are highly addictive, meaning they re-train the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, interfering with the a child’s natural responses to the joy, while heavily distracting them from life. These devices are digital drugs, as habit-forming as cocaine and ubiquitous in our society.
“This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy — who has been researching video game addiction — calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).
That’s right — your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.” [Source]
“Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.” That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially.” [Source]
Over time, these symptoms can develop into depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders, increasing the risk of children being diagnosed and labeled as having ADHD or bipolar disorder.
“Too much screen time too soon, he says, “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”” [Source]
3. Destroys Their Posture
The developing body is especially prone to developing abnormalities in the spine with overuse of handheld technologies, potentially causing lifelong health issues. Doctors are now seeing cases of ‘text neck‘ in children as young as 7 years-old.
“A leading Australian chiropractor has warned that ‘text neck’ – a condition often brought on by bending over phones and tablets for several hours at a time – is becoming an epidemic.
Dr James Carter, based in Niagara Park, on the NSW Central Coast, said the relatively new condition can lead to anxiety and depression as well as spinal damage.
He revealed he had seen an ‘alarming increase’ in the number of patients with the condition over the past few years and said 50 per cent of them are school-age teenagers.” [Source]
The following x-ray images taken by Dr. Carter give a look at how badly text neck is affecting children.
He even had one seven-year-old patient with ‘text neck’ symptoms, pictured before (left) and after (right) treatment. Source
Shocking X-rays of teenagers have been released to raise awareness about a condition called ‘text neck’, pictured (left) is a 16-year-old girl who is developing a hunchback and (right) is a 17-year-old boy with an abnormally curved spine. Image Source
Thomas Metzinger on the nature of subjective experience.
BY CODY DELISTRATY
In his 2003 book, Being No One, Thomas Metzinger contends there is no such thing as a “self.” Rather, the self is a kind of transparent information-processing system. “You don’t see it,” he writes. “But you see with it.”
Metzinger has given a good amount of thought to the nature of our subjective experience—and how best to study it. A fellow at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, he directs the Neuroethics Section and the MIND Group, which he founded in 2003 to “cultivate,” he says, “a new type of interdisciplinarity.” To bridge what he calls the academic variant of the generation gap, the group is formed of philosophers and scientists—young and old—interested in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience.
There’s a long history of conscious self-models on this planet.
When I spoke to Metzinger recently, he explained that the self evolved as a biologically useful construct to “match sensory perceptions onto motor behavior in a meaningful way.” Earlier this year, Metzinger made waves by publishing an article in Frontiers in Robotics and AI that argued that virtual reality technology—the ability to create illusions of embodiment—will “eventually change not only our general image of humanity, but also our understanding of deeply entrenched notions, such as ‘conscious experience,’ ‘selfhood,’ ‘authenticity,’ or ‘realness.’”
In our conversation, we discussed the origins of the self, intimations of mortality, what those who champion a singularity—an immortal union of brain and computer—are missing, and how virtual reality could perhaps push the self into entirely new modes of experience.
What do you mean when you say the self doesn’t exist?
We know there is a robust experience of self-consciousness; I don’t doubt this. The question is how could something like that emerge in evolution in an information-processing system like the human brain? Can we at all conceive of that being possible? Many philosophers would have said no, that’s something irreducibly subjective. In Being No One I tried to show how the sense of self, the robust experience of being someone, could emerge in a natural way in the course of many millions of years of evolution.
The question was how to arrive at a novel theory of self-consciousness, what a first-person perspective is, that, on the one hand, takes the self really seriously as a target phenomenon and, on the other hand, is empirically grounded. If we open skulls and brains we don’t find any entity that could be the self. It seems there are no arguments that there should be a thing like a substance, a self, either in this world or outside of this world.
What explains the evolution of a self?
I think even simple animals that can’t have beliefs or higher cognitive states about themselves have a robust sense of selfhood. There’s a long history of conscious self-models on this planet. They have been here long before human beings have arrived on the scene; they are a product of evolution with many biological functions.
One, for instance, is to control the body—to match sensory perceptions onto motor behavior in a meaningful way. Another much deeper one is the unconscious forms of self-representation; for instance, the immune system that biological organisms have evolved. A million times every day our immune systems says, “this is me” or “this is not me,” “kill or don’t kill,” “cancer cell” or “good tissue.” If it would make a mistake in one of these selections, you would already have one malignant tumor cell every day. So we are grounded in very efficient mechanisms of defending the integrity of the organism, the life-process itself.
What’s most unique about the human self as opposed to similar mechanisms in other organisms?
In humans I think something very special has happened. Our self-models have opened the door from biological evolution into cultural evolution. They made living together in large societies possible, and there are, of course, long stories to be told there, because we can use our own self model to understandwhat another human being believes or desires, something we cannot perceive with our sensory organs. But if we have a self model of ourselves, our own internal model, we can use it to simulate mental states.
Here we come into a very interesting and deeper principle. There is mortality denial. There is the theory of terror management, which says that many cultural achievements are actually attempts to manage the terror that comes along with insight into your own mortality. The way I have put this is that, as biological beings for millions of years we operate under biological imperatives and almost the highest one is you must not die, under no circumstances.
Now, we human beings, we have a problem that no creature before us had. We have this brand new cognitive self-model and we have this insight that you will die—everybody dies—and that creates an enormous conflict in our self-model. Sometimes I call it a chasm or a rift, a deep existential wound that is given to us by this insight—all my emotional deep structure tells me there is something that must never happen, and my self-model tells me it is going to happen.
How does a self help deal with the knowledge of death?
Animals self-deceive, and they motivate by self-deceiving. They have optimism bias; just like human beings, different cognitive biases emerge. So we have to efficiently self-deceive. The self becomes a platform for cultural forms of symbolic immortality, the different ways human beings tackle the fear of death. The most primitive and simple, down-to-the-ground way is they become religious, a Catholic Christian, for instance, and say, “It is just not true, I believe in something else,” and form a community and socially reinforce self-deception. That gives you comfort; it makes you healthier; it is good at fighting against other groups of disbelievers. But as we see in the long run, it creates horrible military catastrophes, for instance. There are higher levels, like, for instance, trying to write a book that will survive you…
There is no clear line dividing science fiction and reality. If we can think it, we can create it, and so the world becomes a stranger and more interesting place by the day. This applies both to our individual universes within, and with the outer world at large.
We really have no idea at all what it means to be a human. We don’t know where we come from or how we got to this shining gem of a planet. We don’t know why the earth is covered with the mysteries of antiquity and the monolithic footprints of giants. We certainly have little understanding of our fate, nor much of the heavy forces at play against us.
But we do have the brilliant spark of consciousness as well as free will to help mould our 3-D experience during the wink of time that passes from birth to what we fear is death. We are in a sense programmable life forms, and so the question is, what are being programmed with and by whom?
The Science Fiction Side
Programmable life forms (PLFs) are thought to be artificially created biological organisms that move about autonomously, yet within the operating parameters prescribed to them by their creators.
Some surmise that PLF’s are nano-sized creatures designed to invade the human body to influence its performance, affect the mind in some dastardly way, or to collect information. Others say PLF’s are more complex extra-terrestrial creatures, similar to grey aliens, or other cold entities, perhaps created by the military or alien scientists, tasked with analyzing and influencing human behavior, with experimenting on us as well as ruling over us.
Public information about this is sketchy at best, with some claiming that the Pentagon and Black-Ops military programs have already pioneered and deployed these technologies for purposes of psychological and physical warfare. Others believe that PLF’s are part of a sophisticated array of mind-control technologies presently engaged in manipulating the human race, along with HAARP, chemtrails, GMO’s, nano-fibers, vaccines, ELF’s, and so much more.
The common thread is that PLF’s are thought to be artificially-generated, yet somehow biologically living creatures, confined to a pre-programmed range of awareness which determines their function and behavior, along with their purpose and mission.
Creepy stuff to be sure, but don’t many people act as programmable life forms?Don’t they behave as though they’ve been given a script to read and a character to play? Don’t most of us seem to be performing a predictable role in this matrix, mindlessly obedient to the whims of the main stream?
Human Beings are PLF’s
As human beings, we ourselves are indeed programmable life forms, influenced by incomprehensible collage of internal and external factors, suggestions and demands. We are anything but static beings.
Atomically, we are stardust, made up of atomic matter held together by the influence of universal forces. Deoxyriobonucleic acid, DNA, is the most fundamental community of molecules in all life, containing the genetic information that determines the type of life form and it’s physical characteristics. At this level, our genetic makeup determines one’s basic characteristics by directing cellular activity, and science is fast at work exploring and debating the possibility for gene manipulation to program human beings to adopt more favorable traits such as resistance to certain diseases and resistance to addictive behavior.
We are what we eat, and we are what we think, and the human body is affected by our environment and whatever we consume, either consciously or unwittingly. The mind is an impressive machine that responds to education, cultural and religions influence, peer pressure, trickery and manipulation.Philosophy can change how it operates, as can propaganda, and the psyche is an instrument of extreme sensitivity, capable of the subtlest communication, yet prone to developing abhorrent blind spots, depending on how it is trained.
The holistic composition of the human being also determines our level of happiness and our ability to adapt to and thrive in the day-to-day conditions of life. In this way, as integral beings, if we are being influenced on one level, the effects radiate outward to each other part of our make up. If something goes wrong at the cellular level, disease can overcome and destroy the body. If something negative occurs at the spiritual level, this can have impact physical health, mood and even personality. From our spirit to our DNA, to our body to our mind, we are comparable to computers which perform functions in accordance with whatever software or program is loaded.
Human beings are multi-dimensional entities made up of a complex array of inter-dependent and evolving systems. We are dynamic creatures at every level, and each part of our make up is the product of whatever influences we accept. In this manner, the overall health, wellness, condition, and behavior of a human being is hardly a matter of chance, but instead, we are the ongoing product of an ever-changing amalgam of many inputs, internal and external, seen and unseen, positive and negative.
The Greatest War is the War on Consciousness
There is a great war happening right now, far more significant than any theatre of military operations. It is a war to alter human consciousness in such a way that our lives play out in chaotic, confusing, depressing struggles, never quite understanding the true value of our lives, always falling again and again for the lowest of political tricks and schemes, acquiescing to war and institutionalized theft while ignoring corruption and contempt.
Either we acknowledge our dynamism and work to insert beneficial programs and habits into our lives, or we stumble on as programmable life forms, performing whatever task we’ve been told to, remaining blind to our potential destiny as stewards of a prosperous, peaceful and beautiful planet.
Perhaps the existence of PLF’s is truth. Maybe it’s half-truth, or not at all, who really knows? The average person has no direct contact with advanced science like this, so it’s impossible for most of us to know what is actually happening in the realms of the top-secret or of the alien.
What we do know for sure, however, is that we are capable of awakening, of expanding our own individual and communal consciousness, the very aspect of life which animates our material bodies, and demonstrates that we have more power and control in our lives than we are told. It is up to each of us to commandeer our personal evolution in defiance of a warped and deadly system which has us all targeted for extinction.
“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.” ~Jiddu Krishnamur
About the Author
Dylan Charles is a student and teacher of Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, a practitioner of Yoga and Taoist arts, and an activist and idealist passionately engaged in the struggle for a more sustainable and just world for future generations.
One thing’s certain, though: This is not your grandfather’s masculinity.
Or put another way, today’s masculinity is “precarious.” At least that’s what social psychologist Jennifer Bosson calls it. She argues that “manhood” these days — however you define it — is a status that must be continually earned. It’s precarious because it can be easily lost, which is why men are constantly looking for ways to reaffirm it.
How exactly? That’s what she and fellow University of South Florida psychology professor Joseph Vandello attempt to find out at the university’s Gender & Interpersonal Dynamic Lab, where they’ve conducted numerous studies over the last decade to quantify “precarious manhood” scientifically. These studies include…
Measuring Aggression When Masculinity is Threatened In one study, Bosson and Vandello had men either braid a female mannequin’s hair or a “gender-neutral” rope and then choose between punching a bag or doing a puzzle. Those who braided hair were more likely to punch the bag than men who braided rope. In a second experiment, they let everybody punch the bags but tested who hit the bag harder. Men punched significantly harder after the hair-braiding task than the rope-braiding task. Finally, in a third test, they had everybody braid hair but only let half of the group punch the bag, which left the other half more anxious and unnerved. “The study makes the point that men have more anxiety, stress, discomfort and unhappiness after falling short of perceived manhood ideals,” Bosson explains.
MeasuringPerceived Masculinity After Job-Loss Another study sampled people who had lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession. They were asked “to what extent did other people think you were less of a man or less of a woman when you lost your job?” Women didn’t think they were less of a woman for losing their job. Men, however, retrospectively thought that people thought they were less of a man after losing a job. And even worse: “Believing that others thought you were less of a man correlated with depression and anxiety,” Bosson says.
Measuring Masculinity with Action Verbs In a third study, participants were asked to fill in 25 sentence stems that began with either “A real man…” or “A real woman…” Results were coded according to whether the sentence completions contained actions (e.g., “tells it like it is”) or adjectives (e.g., “is compassionate”). The findings revealed that men described “a real man” with more actions than adjectives, and described “a real woman” with more adjectives than actions. “Thus, men define their own gender status in terms of the active things that men do rather than the ways that men are,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. They suggested that this could explain why men take more physical risks than women since risks are convincing ways to prove manhood, especially when it’s been threatened.
Bosson thinks men’s unwillingness to violate old-fashioned gender roles stems from how cultures define manhood. She also thinks it’s one of the worst times in America’s history to be a man who relies on traditional ways of demonstrating manhood. “That’s because we’re still close enough, historically, to a romantic nostalgia for the 1940s and 1950s, when middle class men could earn masculine credentials by being the sole breadwinner doing a manly job with a stay-at-home wife.”
But again: This isn’t your grandfather’s masculinity.
In the park, a sharp screech cuts through the early morning silence. I glance overhead and spot a very large broad-winged bird. I stop walking and watch her swerve around a nearby oak tree, noticing the rich brown wings speckled with white, the rust-colored tail feathers. A red-tailed hawk. She sails through a space between two blossoming trees and then, with a single heavy wing beat, soars up into the open air above the hill. Her flight path is winding, sunlit. After circling several more times, she catches an updraft, ascending higher. I wonder if she’s looking for a landing spot. She spirals again and then flies around the corner of a building, out of sight.
Before I heard the hawk, I had been walking along and dwelling on something that happened a long time ago. I had held up this heavy thing to the light of my mind, turned it around, tried to buffer its jagged edges with repetitive thoughts. Then, a bird called me back to the world. With a single cry, she guided me away from the circular paths of my mind and invited me to join her in the moment.
For me, bird calls are a bit like mindfulness bells: they remind me to stop, offer my attention to the present, and breathe. Sometimes only the loudest honks of geese or the piercing trill of a blue jay can cut through the thicket of my thoughts. Other times, when I’m feeling more relaxed and attentive, the invitation is quieter; it’s the gentle coo of a lone pigeon or the tender threnody of a mourning dove that gives me pause.
Most mornings, I pass by a large rock wall draped with lush, shiny ivy. I stop to watch a choir of house sparrows chatter and flit among the leaves. Some ruffle their feathers and dive into the fluff on their breasts, grooming and picking with their sharp beaks. Others hop over the cracks in the rock, clenching a twig or thick piece of grass. Their movements seem erratic, spontaneous. I can never guess what they’re going to do; I can only watch. The red-tailed hawk is similar. What I imagine to be a calculated effort to search for a landing spot could simply be a morning joy ride. I can never know for sure. Instead, I try to observe and notice the questions and thoughts that arise. Maybe I’m the one who’s trying to land.
I usually walk with my dog, Abby. When she’s off leash, she meanders slowly through the long grass, sniffing dandelions and tree stumps. One morning, she walked ahead of me on the gravelly path and paused by a small lump in the grass. When I approached, she was standing over a dead pigeon. It seemed to have died only recently; it looked deceptively healthy and composed.
Abby moved her nose closer to the bird and sniffed its white feathers. I panicked and started to reach for her collar, then stopped. I realized there was nothing dangerous about the dead bird or Abby’s curiosity. I looked closer, too. I noticed the delicate folds of gray and white feathers, the tiny, fragile head, the body’s odd stillness. I wasn’t sure if I felt sad, afraid, or awestruck. I looked at Abby. “Do you think it suffered?” I asked. She lifted her head and met my gaze just long enough for me to answer my own question: of course it suffered, at least in some way…