“Life is a matter of oscillation. Life is vibration. The question is: how are you going to interpret that. Is it tremble, tremble, tremble; or is it laugh, laugh, laugh?” ~Alan Watts
Nietzsche’s Will to Power was groundbreaking philosophy. It paved the way for the future of self-empowerment and higher thinking. It built a bridge upon which we can at least begin the journey toward the ideal of the Overman (Ubermensch).
But there’s a fly in Nietzsche’s ointment. It takes itself too seriously. It’s too rigid and attached to power. It’s heavy-handed and heavy-hearted. Otherwise, it’s brilliant. Otherwise, it’s perhaps the most important idea in philosophy.
What if there was a way to take the fly out of the ointment? What if there was a way to take all the glorious empowerment of Nietzsche’s will to power but then leave all the self-serious attachment to power behind? What if there was a way to practice self-empowerment with a good sense of humor? And what if we could use this heightened sense of humor as a launchpad for even higher humor, and even greater power?
That’s where the Will to Humor comes in.
Where the will to power is the drive within mankind to perfect and transcend the self through the possession and exercise of creative power and to use that power in the world, the will to humor is the drive to transform power into purpose, purpose into humility, and humility into humor. Because a good sense of humor is the only thing that can get power over power and prevent it from corrupting.
The will to humor is absolute detachment in lighthearted laughter. It’s only ever serious about not being serious. Everything is inconsequential. Everything is an infinite game, and the one practicing the will to humor is an infinite player recognizing the truth of the Italian Proverb: “after the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.”
The box is a metaphor for death. Be you rich or poor, powerful or powerless, king or pawn; at the end of the day, we all go into the box. It doesn’t matter what masks we’ve worn in our life. Be it the mask of a CEO, a Queen, a beggar, or a taxidermist. Be it the mask of a liberal, a conservative, or an anarchist. Be it the mask of a pragmatist, a stoic, or an existentialist. The utility of all masks ends in dust.
As Emil Cioran said, ““Fate” was only a mask, as everything is a mask that is not death.”
Those practicing the will to humor laugh at all the masks. Even the mask of the Ubermensch. They laugh at all pretenses. Most of all, they laugh at the cosmic joke. Not because they are immune to it but because they realize that they are the butt end of it. We all are. They realize that everything is laughable. Everything is fleeting. Nothing is permanent. All things end. We are all of us caught in a cosmic blender that we know next to nothing about. Swirling around in our confusion, we are given a choice: languish or laugh.
The will to humor gives us power over power because it is a way to transcend the confusion of the cosmic blender. It is a way to detach ourselves from the cosmic joke. It is a way to rise above our mortal dread by assimilating it into our mortality. It’s a way to go meta over our self-seriousness. Most importantly it is a way to resolve the dilemma of power.
Through the will to humor we discover our inner looking glass, our primordial mirror, our vital contribution to Cosmos: Presence. The will to humor engenders presence by prompting us to search for hidden meaning. Not in a codependent way, rigid and clinging. Nor in an independent way, fierce and searching. But in a detached way, open and flowing. Meaning becomes an act of lighthearted creation rather than an act of heavyhearted faith.
The will to humor is radicalized virtue. It radicalizes courage, moderation, wisdom, justice, curiosity, and honor. Through radicalized virtue comes a heightened state of lightheartedness, a sense of play so powerful it gains power over Power itself.
With this power over power, those practicing the will to humor are compelled to turn their power outward. First as laughter, second as expiation, and third as prestige.
This is where the will to humor distinguishes itself from the will to power. Where the will to power consumes itself in individual power, the will to humor subsumes its independent power and turns it outward into interdependent empowerment. Individual power is “corrected” —checked and balanced— by the greater power of humor and humility to prevent the corruption power.
The first act of outward empowerment is the almighty laugh. Lest we become corrupt from the power we have attained through our will to power, we must let it go, we must surrender it, we must get out from under it. We do this through humor. And the most profound act of humor is laughter.
Laughter is the only thing in the universe that is both weapon and medicine. We must laugh and laugh hard. We laugh to cut. But we also laugh to heal. We laugh to stand our ground in honor. But we also laugh to give ground in humility. We laugh to be wild and fierce. But we also laugh to encourage.
The will to power needs to level-up. It does so by laughing into the abyss. If, as Mark Twain said, “The human race has only one effective weapon, and that is laughter,” then it stands to reason that we double down on laughter as a weapon and turn it upon our self-seriousness.
When we are cutting with the kind of laughter that manifests from the will to humor, we are cutting with the sword of humility.
Our laughter is a razor-sharp frequency cutting through all things. It’s a guillotine chopping off the head of anything that takes itself too seriously. It slips through the broken places of the heart and creates lightheartedness. It reminds us that we are both worms and gods, tragically mortal and yet comically transcendent. It mocks all self-seriousness and half-measures. It’s a coup stick that tricks holy shrines into monkeyshines. It melts gelded thrones. It shatters the kneecaps of high horses. It makes the devil blush and God cry. It mocks Death itself.
As R.A. Lafferty said, “The law of levity is allowed to supersede the law of gravity.”
Nothing is more powerful than laughter in the face of that which seeks to destroy us. The will to humor teaches us how to shine even as our heart is breaking. Our indomitable sense of humor blazes through the cracks of having fallen apart and come back together again. As Rabelais said, “For all your ills, I give you laughter.”
Where the will to power ends at being a self-forging independent force of nature, the will to humor extends this momentum by becoming a self-overcoming interdependent force of fate. Where the will to power is attached to the ideal of self-power, the will to humor is detached from it and thereby empowers. Where the will to power has power through sheer grit, courage, and determination, the will to humor gets power over power and empowers the world through honor, humility, and humor.
Where the will to power attempts to control the world in a self-empowered narcissistic way, the will to humor empowers the world in a state of humility, respect, and mindful non-attachment. By doing so it becomes even more powerful through the higher power of prestige.
The will to humor ushers in a vital soul-centric perspective, as opposed to the ego-centric perspective of the will to power. It’s accompanied by a sense of childlike lightheartedness and play.
Any philosophy that doesn’t honor the inner child is a dead thing. There’s no room for prestige. It’s stale, dry, and weighed down by the heavy rust of power dynamics. Humorless, way too serious, and lacking in humility, it shrivels up on itself, desiccated and uncouth.
Honoring the child within allows for a playful space. Playfulness is the acting out of a good sense of humor. As Khalil Gibran wisely stated, “Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
Rather than be overly serious and excessively telic (job-oriented) those practicing the will to humor are nonserious and atelic (play-oriented). They work hard but they play harder. They are playfully nonchalant rather than aggressive and rigid. They allow room for prestige to flourish.
Another powerful function of the will to humor is to deflate the ego of power by reminding those in power of their own fallibility, while also reminding those who are not in power that power has the tendency to corrupt if it’s not checked and balanced by humility and humor.
The will to humor countervails even as it unveils outdated power. It is needed to trump the Trumps of the world. It is needed to toss a monkey wrench into the war machine and dismantle it. It is needed to make people laugh at their own seriousness. It is needed to break psychosocial hyperreality down to its most fundamental points and then build it back up into the healthy and healing light of cocreation.
At the end of the day, the will to power is an amazing pursuit but for the fly in the ointment: it takes itself too seriously. We resolve the problem by going next level with the will to humor. We open our eyes. We quit pretending to be asleep. We laugh and laugh hard. We stay there.
As Soren Kierkegaard said, “When I opened my eyes and saw the real world, I began to laugh. And I haven't stopped since.”
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (The Will to Humor Vs. The Will to Power) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.