Wit and Wisdom

As mentioned before, what appears to be the default position taken up by the majority of people in Western societies when things go downhill from an economic, political, and social standpoint is to scapegoat minority groups such as Jews, Muslims, as well as other minority groups and people of color for all of the problems. But as one Islamic scholar said, in order to avert the scapegoating to a certain extent, Muslims need to voice themselves and to talk about their beliefs, experiences, and ideas out in the open, so that people in Western societies can understand their beliefs, experiences, and ideas and then realize that it is not so difficult to integrate these beliefs, experiences, and ideas into the broader social fabric of society.

Thus, as Erving Goffman wrote, the nature of “talk” is such that talk is similar to a “structural midden” and “a refuse heap in which bits and oddments of all the ways of framing activity in the culture are to be found.” On one hand, there is “formal” talk and interaction, and on the other hand there is “informal” talk and interaction. Much of Goffman’s preoccupation was with informal talk and informal interaction. And as Goffman argued, the manner in which one’s talk and interaction takes up “a real place in the world” depends largely on the looseness and wit which shape the talk and interaction. Arguably, the looseness and wit which shape the conversation and the nature of the back-and-forth or give-and-take that results from dynamic talk and interaction ties into the “cultural competence” and “rank” and “social relationship” of the communicator and speaker with the audience and interlocutor and with broader society.

As a result, even informal talk and interaction are deeply intertwined with “the surround in which it occurs.” And as suggested before, the aim of talk and interaction is to stir an emotion or feeling in an audience by conveying one’s experiences to the audience. Whether the audience acts upon the emotion and feeling that is stirred by the communicator’s conveyance of their experiences is a wholly separate issue. In most cases, what suffices for the communicator is that the emotion and feeling has been stirred within the audience as a result of conveying their experiences to the audience. Also, flashes of looseness and wit as well the degree and manner by which looseness and wit are incorporated into formal talk and formal interaction can create “a range of possibilities” for both the communicator and the audience, as mentioned before. And the irony is that those with the most looseness, humor, and wit are usually the ones who are most depressed and melancholic, given that they realize the absurdity of everything more than anyone else.

Nevertheless, looseness, humor, and wit are crucial in a political or social atmosphere and climate that is characterized by a heightened sense of anger, frustration, and stress. As Irving Janis wrote in a book titled “Stress and Frustration,” some of the ailments and symptoms which result from a state of shock and stress due to both personal and systemic circumstances are “loss of personal identity” as well as “gross impairment of mental functions” and a sense of “personal vulnerability” which take much time and effort to overcome. Also, one can argue that the personal circumstances and the systemic circumstances which lead to shock and stress are deeply intertwined. In turn, all of this brings to mind the swaths of individuals in America, but especially in Washington, who sought recourse to counselors and therapists immediately after Donald Trump got elected as president in 2016. Whether the dull-wittedness and sourness of those in certain positions of power can prevent a repeat of such episodes remains a question mark.

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