Humour and International Challenges
Augmenting Problem and Strategy Comprehension through Psycho-Cultural Catalysts
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The Union of International Associations is in process of maintaining and
developing profiles of over 30,000 world problems and some 29,500 strategies
in response to them. Other databases linked to these include human development
approaches, human values and metaphors. This material is largely derived
from some 20,000 international organizations that are profiled in a related
database. These databases are made available in publications such as the
Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential and the Yearbook of
International Organizations. CD-ROM versions are available and the data
is also increasingly available on the Web (see http://www.un-intelligible.org/docs/overview.php#orga
The Encyclopedia data is being extended under a contract (1998-1999)
with the European Commission in relation to biodiversity conservation.
This contract explicitly calls for enhancement of user access through multi-media
facilities. Funds are currently being sought from the World Bank to further
extend information relating to development. These initiatives are designed
to encourage widespread participation of users in the further improvement
of the data.
The Union of International Associations considers that there are strong
arguments for offering users a fresh way of exploring problem and strategy
profiles on the Web, namely through relevant humour. Given that the existing
UIA information is highly hyperlinked, it would be relatively straightforward
to build up a humour database that would link from and to particular problems
and strategies. The procedure might be extended to human value profiles
and to profiles of approaches to human development.
Users of the problem and strategy information would then have the option
of exploring it through jokes. Humour is seen as a vital supportive aspect
of the learning process. Humour would help to reframe some problems creatively
-- especially for those who have been over-exposed to them. The existence
of this facility would attract a wider range of users and would also evoke
relevant new jokes.
It is hoped to strike up working partnerships with bodies that would
find this somewhat unusual approach to be relevant. Examples of such bodies
include: Association for the Promotion of Humour in International Affairs,
International Society for Humor Studies, International Centre for Humor
and Health, the International
Society for Luso-Hispanic Humor Studies, and the World Assembly of
Technical and Creative Humorists, as well as equivalent national bodies
such as the American
Humor Studies Association .
This initiative would also seek to take advantage of the considerable
investment in humour by particular cultural and ethnic groups. A prime
example of this is the Nasruddin learning stories widely disseminated by
Sufis in the Middle East and the Islamic world. In this case, an appropriate
partner in establishing links to specific humour might be the Institute
for Cultural Research. Analogous humour from other cultures would also
Also relevant to this project would be insights from bodies such as
the American Association for Therapeutic Humor.
Research work required The work would focus mainly on identifying humour
which provided insight into problems or strategies, as do the Nasruddin
learning stories (eg http://www.cse.ucsc.edu/~jyoti/mulla.html).
Where such humour is available on the Web, a direct link could be made
to them from the relevant problem or strategy. Where the copyright issues
could be negotiated or avoided, jokes would be entered into a database
to, and from, which links could be provided.
Some of the work would involve the administrative load of developing
and maintaining partnership arrangements with interested bodies to facilitate
the above task and to improve the quality of the jokes linked to specific
problems, strategies or human values. It is expected that a significant,
but useful, aspect of the work would involve negotiations with bodies sensitive
to the political appropriateness of the humour used to illustrate particular
problems and strategies. This challenge is discussed below.
As is widely recognized, a vast body of humour is available through
the Internet. There are many sites that specialize in particular forms
of humour. It is expected that those responsible for such sites might be
appropriately challenged by the search for jokes relevant to problems or
Challenge: Political correctness
One of the main challenges is that much appreciated humour is "politically
incorrect" in that jokes are often at the expense of stereotypes and scapegoats.
This is notably the case with religious and ethnic jokes. More generally
it might be said that most jokes are politically incorrect in some way,
if only as a manifestation of speciesism. Careful attention is therefore
required to this whole issue. It is also worth adding that absolute political
correctness may be incompatible with a sense of humour.
Several approaches are possible:
The joke text could be accompanied, where appropriate, by a text explaining
why it was politically incorrect or in bad taste. This would have the advantage
of rendering explicit the psycho-dynamics that may in fact be contributing
to the existence of the associated problem.
Where possible bodies representative of the stereotype victimized by the
joke might be involved in preparing and approving the text, and any commentary
on it. This would be especially the case where that culture is the principal
source of jokes about themselves (as is often the case of English jokes
and Jewish jokes).
Consistent with one of the principles of positive humour (http://www.callamer.com/itc/aath/affirm.html)
, namely: "All teasing and ethnic humour will be by mutual consent and
will go both ways or I will not engage in such humor", it should be possible
to locate equivalent jokes illustrating the same point but from the opposite
ethnic or cultural perspective. Such jokes should then be juxtaposed.
A second challenge would be determining criteria for exclusion of jokes
because they were "dirty", even though they might be a valuable illustration
of a problem or strategy.
It is worth noting the limited-edition compilation entitled Wit and
Wisdom of the United Nations: proverbs and apothegms on diplomacy
by V S M de Guinzbourg (Paroemiological Society, 1961). The Council
of Europe was a sponsor of the International Humour Exhibition in 1995.
Importance of humour
Humour appears to be intimately related to deprived or stressed social
circumstances (as are documented in the Encyclopedia) and often seems to
arise from them. The vital role of humour has been recognized for people
in oppressive regimes, conditions of social deprivation, prisons, ill-health
and monotonous occupations, namely diminished quality of life. By introducing
humour as a dimension this may therefore provide insights otherwise unobtainable.
The press release for a website on political cartoons makes the following
points under the heading Learning through Political Cartoons: For
students, it's a wonderful introduction to the use of symbolism, satire,
metaphor and irony, and to the importance of humour in political and social
debate. Adults who like cartoons and cartooning may find it hard to tear
themselves away from the website, and they are funny and fun to read. (http://www.newhorizons.org/announce
Nancy K. Baym. The Performance of Humor in Computer-Mediated Communication.
Department of Communication, Wayne State University [text
J. Morreall. Taking Laughter Seriously. State University
of New York, 1983.
Michael Mulkay. On Humour: its nature and its place in modern society.
J. Polity Palmer. Taking Humour Seriously. Routledge; 1994.
Josepha Campinha-Bacote. Humor Therapy for Culturally Diverse
Psychiatric Patients, 1997 [text]
V. S. M. de Guinzbourg (Ed.). Wit and Wisdom of the United Nations: proverbs
and apothegms on diplomacy. Paroemiological Society, 1961
George Smilovici. Comedy and Political Correctness - Are they
compatible? Australian Journal of Comedy, 2, 1, 1996 [text]