Assassination by Laughter

Blue_window washers_2012-08-02

2014-02-23 – I have a hard time with laughter. Not yours. Mine. My laughter. I have a hard time with my own laughter. If I laugh out loud and long . . . well, I start coughing and choking. And I can’t stop for a very long time. And even once I’ve stopped coughing, I can still have that tickle in my windpipe for an hour or more, just waiting to trigger another bout of coughing. What starts out fun ends up . . . well, not fun.

Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say this. One of the highest achievements in my family is to be funny. In fact, it is a kind of competitive sport. And we’re all good at it. So it’s kind of an embarrassment to be unable to really let go and laugh.

My wife Kit wonders, “why don’t you laugh at my jokes?” I do, but I laugh in a subdued way so I don’t end in a fit of coughing. She doesn’t buy this, but it’s true.

Yesterday she told a joke that was over the top. I won’t repeat the joke here. You just had to be there. But it was hilarious. And my usual reserve gave way to peals of laughter. And then, the coughing began. And then the question suddenly dawned on me: was she trying to assassinate me by laughter?

I recently upped my life insurance.

I may be funnier, but when she’s funny, she gets even.

* * *

Now, when I originally planned this post, I was planning on writing about punishment. Research in the behavioral sciences indicates that humans have evolved to get a little rush from punishing other people, even if we bear a cost for inflicting the punishment.

The famous experiment involves two test subjects. Test subject A is given $100 and told to split it with test subject B. Test subject A is told that he can divide the money any way he wants. The only constraint is the test subject B can reject the split. If he rejects the split, no one gets anything. The experimenter takes back the $100 and says goodbye.

If B is “rational,” he would accept any split. Even $1 is more than he walked in with. But this is not what happens. B tends to reject the split if it is “insulting”—that is, if it is not close to an even split. B is willing to punish A for being greedy even if doing so causes B to lose as well. Not surprisingly, most A’s understand this and tend to split the prize somewhere near 50-50.

You can see the impulse to punish others acted out in our politics. People are eager to punish slackers or to punish the 1% even if it means less for themselves.

* * *

What do these two things have to do with one another? I’m not sure. Last night I had it all worked out. I should have written it down then. I thought for sure I’d remember in the morning.

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