Musing About Merriment in Our Mirthfulness

Mirth is defined as good-humored play which tickles everyone's fancy and offends no one.

The merriment in mirth, like tension and competition everywhere, follows an oft-imitated model. The model presented here was developed by Stanford University Professor Rene Girard and by UC Riverside student Bill Mason. It applies in general to all humor at any level of intensity, from mirth to viciousness. It has 5 stages.

1. Mimetic Desire for Mirth
One party identifies Mirth as an object of desire and other parties reflect that desire. Examples of things children and adults find merry: mirth, humor, theater, satire, parody, jokes, monkey business. Whatever the Mirth Culture tells us is funny, that's what people decide is laughable.

2. Mimetic Rivalry for More Merriment
Now the parties begin competing for more mirth. Whatever forms of merriment emerge, people copy them. If it's a mean-spirited rivalry, it's played as a win/lose game. To win, you only need to make some people snicker while making your rival wince. Typical strategies are put downs or parodies. If it's a good-humored playfulness, it's played as a win/win game. To win the Game of Mirth you must tickle everyone's fancy while offending no one.

3. Skandalon
Skandalon is a Greek word that means "taking the bait". It's the root of "slander" and "scandal." In the rivalry for merriment, if one side is offended they are caught in the temptation of Skandalon and feel compelled to retaliate. Thus begins a mean-spirited Chilly War, fought on the battlefield of the psyche, in which the goal is to chill out the other side. Skandalon is what makes it so hard not to take the bait, so hard just to walk away. It's so easy to retaliate. The give and take escalates.

4. Scapegoating and Alienation
Eventually one side crosses some arbitrary threshold of concern where the supervising authorities feel compelled to intervene. It's essentially random which side crosses first, but often it's the weaker faction, which uses more wicked humor (or even a punch in the nose) to maintain parity. Whichever side goes over the arbitrary line becomes blameworthy, and the others who kept their mirth below threshold are offended. They gang up on the scapegoat, sending him or her to the Jail of Bad Souls, or even calling for the authorities to intervene and humiliate the scapegoat.

5. Acceptable, Politically Correct, and Sacred Humor
To appease the crowd, the authorities determine guilt and visit sanctions and humiliation on the scapegoat. Then everyone laughs. (If the scapegoat is able to laugh, he or she gets a Buddha Nature, if not, the scapegoat gets an Azazel Nature.) This escalates the humor to the next higher level of authority in our culture.

The 5-stage pattern repeats at all levels of humor and for all rivalries and competitions. The most vicious satire is reserved for people highest up in the power structure. Ethnic conflicts, guardians and those they guard, school "tribes" and politicians follow this model. Well, actually, almost everyone follows it.

At every point in a battle of wits, the dynamic is somewhere in the 5-stage model, which repeats endlessly.

The only way to stop the insanity is to adopt the conscious goal of de-escalation and run the model backwards toward Mirth. Giving up the desire to be mean-spirited, avoiding the temptation of skandalon, avoiding scapegoating, avoiding authorized and sanctioned humiliation.

A common type of scapegoat is a person who bears witness and speaks the truth to power. Sensitive figures in childhood were made fun of for bearing witness to mean-spirited humor.

In Littleton, the community witnessed the escalation of the pervasive and horrific culture of verbal savageness that adolescents wage with cruel verbal abuse, shunning, and other powerful tokens of disrespect.

Mean-spiritedness, left to itself tends to escalate over time.

We need to think our way out of verbal violence by mindfully running the model backward, de-escalating nasty humer and moving toward mirth.

At every stage of the model, we need to be mindful of the dynamic we are caught up in, and consciously elect to run the model in reverse.

With Girard and Mason's Systems Theoretic Model of the dynamic structure of mirth and merriment, we can discover the optimal strategy to drive the system in reverse toward good humor and mirth.

It's pure science, pure reason, and pure common sense. These methods of thought all reach the same insightful solution to getting along.

It's time we learned it so that we can discontinue the mindless practice of amusing ourselves to death. It's time we learned, reviewed, reflected, and meditated on the Mimetic Mirth Model. You can do that in the context of your faith, or while daydreaming. It's the same calming mindfulness.

Reference: Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads
Chain of Credit

--Barry Kort, Ph.D.
--Nancy Williams, M.S.

This document is on the Web at:

Bill Mason's mirthful parody of this model, has not been crafted yet.

Copyleft The Orenda Project
Copyleft Barry Kort,
Copyleft Nancy Williams,

This document may be circulated or improved without permission, as long as it tickles everyone's fancy and offends no one.