Taking advantage of COVID isolation to finish some reading, including Nidesh Lawtoo's The Phantom of the Ego (Hopkins 2013). This work focuses on the idea of mimesis as it was developed by several modern writers (Nietzsche, Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, and Bataille) as the force that drives the formation of self and society. I wrote some initial thoughts here in December. One idea that runs through the discussion of mimesis is the role of sacrificial violence in forming community, that communities form around the shared experience of directing violence at some "other," a scapegoat. I had some trouble with that--I always associated community with something good and comforting.
I missed this before, but in this book Lawtoo ends up offering a way out, which is to distinguish between the mimesis of violence and the mimesis of laughter--that there are infectious experience that bind people in positive ways. He also points to the affective connection between child and mother as another example of a positive sharing. Give it a thought, and you can see if everywhere, even in something as mundane as advice on public speaking, where you start with a joke to make a connection with the crowd (still crowd psychology). I know I feel much more connected with people when we are laughing, and with the people who are quick to laugh.
One caveat is that Donald Trump's crowds share laughter as well as anger. He invokes the mimesis of violence when he gets a crowd to chant "lock her up" or invites the crowd to turn on journalists, and laughter when he makes jokes about his rivals. I don't know if Hitler made jokes, but I can imagine he might. But Trump for sure taps many possible sources of contagious identification.
All laughter is not the same, nor are all jokes. My step child much prefers comedy over drama, and watches lots of stand up specials. We'll watch them together sometimes, and some of them work for me, others don't. At one point it dawned on me that I much prefer comedians who make fun of themselves or their group, and that comedians making jokes about others strike me as sour and unfunny. Trump's cracks are always about others, designed to distinguish him and his crowd from others. His only moments of self-deprecation are hollow feints.
I don't know if the distinction between self-identifying and other-directed humor can be maintained firmly or distinguished absolutely in all cases. I'm not sure I believe anything in life has a firm boundary, certainly not something rooted in language. A parent can make jokes about being a parent, but what about making joke about your child. Parents are so thoroughly implicated in their children's lives that maybe it always has an element of the joking self. The joke about the kid is often really a joke about the parent's reaction to the kids, or about how much they feel inadequate to their role as parent. What about with spouses? That seems like an area that can creep over into sourness, but where maybe the best jokes make fun of the spouse making the joke.