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Dangerous Laughter: Egalitarianism And The Batek Of Peninsular Malaysia
Tuesday, May 28, 2019 - 19:00
In the Batek’s forest, laughter and mockery are often subject to taboo, and inappropriate laughter or mockery can cause storms, madness, ill-health, or even death. However, although these taboos are viewed and described with utmost seriousness, people also find great pleasure in laughing together and making jokes. In fact, this pleasure is often intensified when the laughter or joke is forbidden and risks catastrophe. This sets up a dynamic whereby it is largely up to individuals whether they choose to follow the taboos, or to ignore them and succumb to the pleasure of sharing in subversive laughter. Speaking to debates on power and ethics, this paper therefore both outlines the Batek’s laughter taboos, and asks how managing the conflicting demands of laughter shapes people’s ethical values, particularly in relation to power, authority, and egalitarianism.
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Chris Knight is best known for having developed the 'sex-strike' theory of human biological and cultural origins. Instead of attempting to explain human nature and social life piecemeal, one theory for the incest taboo, another for language, yet another for religion and so forth, Knight's approach is designed to join up the dots. Spectacularly confirmed by recent discoveries in population genetics and archaeology, this is one of the few successful attempts to put together the big picture, explaining religion, language, sexual morality and the whole range of distinctively human characteristics on the basis of one simple idea.