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I’ve been having some doubts about it recently, and now I’m convinced. Civilization has become obsolete.

Oh, I acknowledge that it has advantages over other forms of group living. The hunter-gatherer system has a certain romantic appeal, but who wants to live like a wild animal? An agricultural society would be placid but numbingly dull. Civilization, on the other hand, gives us plenty of choices. It produces tons of cool stuff. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s edgy. Plus, I really believe that this is the kindest, most polite, and least murderous time in human history. On balance, that is, all things considered, relatively speaking.

But look at the downside. Along with that cool stuff created by technology comes more ingenious and deadlier weaponry. Civilization has spurred overpopulation, so that humanity itself threatens to be a plague upon the earth. And now, civilization’s dependence on commerce and consumption has involved us all in a slow motion self-immolation — a long, lingering death for us and half the life forms on earth.

So there’s that. What’s more, my belief that we live in the kindest and gentlest world ever is based on per capita calculations. Since the earth’s population has septupled over the last 200 years, the absolute numbers for these variables have actually been quite horrifying. Civilization, perhaps the greatest invention in human history, looks like it may be on course to self-destruct before the end of this century.

That gives us only eighty-six years to fix it. Or we’re all dead. But hey, no pressure. We don’t have time to invent something new to replace civilization, so we’ll need to do some drastic tweaking on the fly. Here are my top three recommendations:

Cut back. I guess we’re stuck with commerce and free enterprise, but who needs all this consumption? Just a little would be fine — enough to be comfortable, but not enough to tap out the planet’s resources. Violators, I’m afraid, will have to be disciplined.

Eliminate private wealth. It’s also time to admit that large concentrations of money tend to breed all kinds of bad outcomes. People just can’t be trusted with all that moolah. Much better for the greater good to have everyone own everything. All of your other freedoms, of course, would remain intact.

Stop having intercourse. It only leads to more people, you know, and we’re crowded enough already. Fortunately, civilization itself has already provided the answer to this problem. The digital revolution has birthed this weird self-centered universe where we can be alone and all together at the same time. Sure, it’s creepy, but at least people aren’t actually touching each other, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps the development of fully functional robots might also be part of the solution.

Maybe “obsolete” is the wrong word. Clearly, however, civilization needs a serious upgrade. And while we’re at it, it’s also time for us to grow up. If a One World Government is necessary to make all this happen, then that’s what we'll have to create. We can no longer afford to cling to such childish notions as patriotism. To do so would be uncivilized.
Must Wear Corrective Lenses
Yes, I know that bad things happen in the world. I am aware of the dangerous trends that threaten us all. We are all going to die in the end. And yet, even if it turns out that I’m kidding myself, I prefer to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. For me it comes down to this choice: do I want to feel good most of the time, or do I want to feel lousy?

Just don’t call me a cockeyed optimist. I have a slight astigmatism, is all.
A Million Dollar Idea
The fantasy of tax reform is always beckoning to politicians on both the left and the right. They are on high alert now, because a moment is approaching during which something major might actually get done about our current tax system. There will be talk of the flat tax again, and the national sales tax, and its cousin the VAT — all of which will shine briefly then die of suffocation in Washington. It is into this vacuum of hopelessness that I would like to introduce my own humble vision of a kinder, saner tax system.

I call it the Million Dollar Idea. It envisions a system under which individuals would be limited to a net income, after taxes, of one million dollars. To enforce the limit, we’d return to a steeply graduated income tax. I see that sliding scale beginning to slide at about $20,000 then get steeper and steeper until it gets to the million dollar mark and hits 100%.

Deductions would be allowed, but I think this might be a good time to rethink that whole system as well. In my view, charitable contributions, including donations to non-political non-profits, should still be honored. I am open to negotiation on other deductions, but the simpler we keep it the better. We must be very careful, in any case, not to allow any loophole that might undermine our goal of limiting income.

I will also negotiate on the million dollar limit. If our leaders, in their wisdom, wanted to make the limit lower, then they would have my blessing. At a million, I think we’re being quite generous. I’m not rich myself, so my point of view might be skewed, but that seems like a very large amount of spending money to have available over the course of a year. Plus, it’s a nice, round number that would work well on a bumper sticker.

If we even need bumper stickers, that is. I am confident that the wisdom and the moral righteousness of the Million Dollar Idea would be immediately evident to most of us. Not only is a tax-free million plenty of money to get by on, I think a lot of people would say that taking more would be a sinful.

Yes, sinful. Greed is still a sin, isn’t it? We tax cigarettes and liquor and marijuana, why not avarice? The current system encourages and rewards greed; that cannot be healthy for our society, much less our immortal souls. Ask Pope Francis; he knows what I’m talking about.

If you’re concerned about how this unusual stricture might affect our economy, you shouldn’t be. There might be a little chaos at first, but that would be just the kind of problem that markets would actually be good at solving. The only pain caused by the new system would be experienced by the rich, and that would be a refreshing change of pace. I’m not certain, come to think of it, that we could even call it pain; a mild tingling sensation would be more like it.

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor would narrow, and maybe — just maybe — we might all begin to see that our fate and fortunes really are tied together. And who knows? A greed tax might just head off the coming revolution and save the lives of a whole lot of investment bankers. You see? Everybody’s a winner.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t such a humble vision after all. I want to revamp the tax code, salvage our free enterprise system, and save the soul of capitalism. Not that Washington cares much about humility. Or greed, for that matter. It’s money that gets the most attention there, and with billions of dollars at stake, I guess the Million Dollar Idea has as much chance as any other tax reform proposal — which is close to none.
Aristotle, by most accounts, had a lousy sense of humor. If he was witty at all, my guess is that his jokes tended toward the too-clever-by-half, labored wordplay that does nothing but give smart people a bad name.

It should not surprise us, then, that the unit of measurement used by Aristotle in his discussions of comedy was the “hee”. He is credited, in fact, with the creation of this comedic constant, and evidence of its use can be found throughout his work (which, it must be said, is uniformly unfunny).

One need only look at Ari’s Poetics to see that he’s not the right person to be making such judgments. There, he spends most of his time grinding away on the grand catharsis provided by tragedy and devotes comparatively little space to comedy. Tragedy, he thought, could only happen in the lives of the great and powerful; comedy was left for the rest of us as a way of purging our unpleasant emotions. Isn’t that the very opinion you might expect from a person with no sense of humor?

The “hee”, we now know, is not broad enough in its applications to qualify as the fundamental unit of hilarity. “Hee” is most often used as a kind of titter — just the kind of response one might predict to the lame, too-clever humor that Aristotle probably favored. When we combine “hee” with “tee”, moreover, it descends into a giggle (or worse, a sniggle). Such a term could never encompass the concept of an ordinary laugh or cackle, much less a full-throated guffaw.

Such was the power of Aristotle’s intellect, however, and so great was his influence over Western thought that the “hee” persisted as philosophy’s standard unit of funniness well into the Middle Ages. Indeed, it continued to be used by anyone who thought seriously about humor… until the time of Thomas Aquinas. It was Aquinas who sought to overturn Aristotle’s influence and replace “hee” with “ho” as the measuring stick of merriment.

Sadly, St. Tom was no better equipped than his Greek predecessor to make such assessments. Although “ho” is a rounder, holier version of its predecessor, it is also clearly inadequate as a gauge of comicality. Anyone who seeks to attach humor to Godliness is setting himself up for failure. That is why ho-hoing survives today only within the Dominican order itself and in the quasi-amusement of such figures as Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant. If we are looking for a gold standard with which to value jollity, then “ho” is more like the bitcoin — not based on anything real.

In modern times, Jean-Paul Sartre has made the case for making “heh” the yardstick of humorousness. We see that this promulgation also fails. Although “heh”, like “hee”, is a recognized and widely used expression of mirth, it suffers from the same lack of comprehensiveness in meaning. Also, thanks to its frequent association with dark irony (let’s call it for what it is: sick humor), there is some doubt as to whether the “heh” has any real connection to levity at all.

As was the case with those other great minds, it seems that JP was not the right man for this job. Five minutes spent thinking about the implications of existentialism will make that obvious.

What’s left, then, is the “ha”. It has been the common man’s standard for funniness since chimps first chuckled, and it will no doubt be there after the last fancy-pants philosopher tries to explain humor and falls on his arse. Perhaps Aristotle was right after all, though not quite in the way he thought. Comedy, as he suggested, is a tool of catharsis best used by common folk. To that philosophical axiom I would add this corollary: since the common folk cannot take part in tragedy, so too should the great and powerful steer clear of humor. This applies to philosophers in particular; they can kill a joke by just looking at it.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon