As a result of their having abandoned that part of human nature that is potentially most transcendent, it’s no surprise that modern intellectuals dismiss playfulness — especially when it dares to present itself in literature, philosophy, or art — as frivolous or whimsical. Men who wear bow ties to work every day (let’s make an exception for Pee-Wee Herman), men whose dreams have been usurped either by the shallow aspirations of the marketplace or by the drab cliches of Marxist realpolitik, such men are not adroit at distinguishing that which is lighthearted from that which is merely lightweight. God knows what confused thunders might rumble in their sinuses were they to encounter a concept such as “crazy wisdom.”
Crazy wisdom is, of course, the opposite of conventional wisdom. It is wisdom that deliberately swims against the current in order to avoid being swept along in the numbing wake of bourgeois compromise; wisdom that flouts taboos in order to undermine their power; wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to avert one’s gaze from the sorrows and injustices of the world, insists on joy in spite of everything; wisdom that embraces risk and eschews security; wisdom that turns the tables on neurosis by lampooning it; the wisdom of those who neither seek authority nor willingly submit to it.
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When will our literati — in many cases, an erudite, superbly talented lot — evolve to the degree that they accord buoyancy and mirth a dime’s worth of the respect they bestow so lavishly on gravity and misfortune?
Norman N. Holland asked a similar question in Laughing: A Psychology of Humor, concluding that comedy is deemed inferior to tragedy primarily because of the social prevalence of narcissistic pathology. In other words, people who are too self-important to laugh at their own frequently ridiculous behavior have a vested interest in gravity because it supports their illusions of grandiosity. According to Professor Donald Kuspit, many people are unable to function without such illusions.
“Capitalism,” wrote Kuspit, “encourages the pathologically grandiose self because it encourages the conspicuous consumption of possessions, which symbolize one’s grandiosity.” I would add that rigid, unquestioning allegiance to a particular religious or political affiliation is in much the same way also symptomatic of disease.
Ironically, it’s this same malignant narcissism, revealing itself through arrogance, avarice, pique, anxiety, severity, defensive cynicism, and aggressive ambition, that is keeping the vainglorious out of their paradise. Among our egocentric sad sacks, despair is as addictive as heroin and more popular than sex, for the single reason that when one is unhappy one gets to pay a lot of attention to oneself. Misery becomes a kind of emotional masturbation. Taken out on others, depression becomes a weapon. But for those willing to reduce and permeate their ego, to laugh…it into submission, heaven on earth is a distinct psychological possibility.
Tom Robbins In Defiance of Gravity Harper’s (September, 2004)