THE COMEDY DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW

sadhna bokhiria

Dr Sadhna Bokhiria, a Professor of English at Argosy University, was working on her dissertation and in the process was feeling the pressure of the situation. One night she took a break from her studying and visited her local comedy club to blow off some steam. It was there that she experienced a release of all that pent-up pressure the dissertation brought into her life, and she realised this effect came directly from all the laughing she was doing. So after going to a comedy show for the first time in her life, which clearly had a positively profound effect on her, the good doctor realised that “Laughter is really good for you.”

This detour provided a wider perspective for Bokhiria, who caught the rush and the bug to learn more about humour and its effect on audiences and comedians. She wanted to know that if laughter has such a profound effect on the audience, what must it do for the comedians on stage who are generating the laughter? And so she began to study indepth the correlation between humour, comedians, and higher intelligence. Thus a second dissertation was born, one which involved Bokhiria interviewing more than 500 comedians over a period of more than 3 years to try and work out the effects stand-up comedy has on the comedic brain. After reviewing all these comedians she gave this rather interesting 13 minute TEDx talk:

She realised that “Stand-up comedians have been known to have higher IQs, higher emotional intelligence, they’re better at problem solving, they’re better at abstract thinking or the ability to think outside of the box, and on top of that people even find them to be more likeable and attractive. Their creative process is highly intellectual and incredibly liberating. You see, stand-up comedians are always on. Their brains are constantly scanning our worlds looking for what’s off so they can use it in their material, and that means that they’re constantly observing, learning, writing, and practicing…comedians are trained to find humour or to find the light in things.”

Her research also led her to believe that it takes great courage and incredible intelligence to be authentic in today’s world, and comedians are only a handful of people who are able to fully exemplify this, in this case through their art. In that same vein of thought, please find below several quotes from various authentic comedians, all of them trying to find the light in various different subject matters. These quotes are from many comedians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, as well as some from atheist Bill Maher, who was on fine form this week on his show talking about your favourite topic and mine, Donald Trump. Please note that there is some strong language, you have been warned. Enjoy!


On Friday President Trump temporarily reopened the government. And I know liberals are tweeting out “Trump caved!” But all of you have got to calm down. Stop gloating. You didn’t win yet. The man is still one tweet away from calling a national state of emergency and bringing back slavery. Act like he’s still crazy. You have got to treat him like you’re training a dog, with constant positive reinforcement. Maybe it’s that every time he does something you like, tweet out “Who’s a good boy” – Michael Che, from Saturday Night Live, 26 Jan 2019

Like most parents, mine wanted me to go to school. As far as Indian parents are concerned there’s only really three options: you’re a doctor, you’re a lawyer, or you’re a major disappointment. – Dr Sadhna Bokhiria

The Vatican has released a new app called Click To Pray that will allow Catholics around the world to pray with Pope Francis, replacing the current app for Catholic prayers, Grinder. – Colin Jost, from Saturday Night Live, 26 Jan 2019

My dad’s Christian friend used to always say “Islam and Christianity have so many similarities. Even in the Bible it says ‘From dust we are and to dust we shall return.'” My father would be like “That is why I don’t dust the furniture, it could be somebody I know.” – Salman Jaffri

Riding the train is pretty good for me, that’s pretty good right now, I really enjoy it. Do you like using the train? So many wonderful things happen there. I was on the train and this woman sneezed and this man said “God bless you” to her and she didn’t say anything. He said it again just in case she didn’t hear, like “Hey, God bless you.” Still nothing. He physically tapped her on the shoulder and was like “Hey, God bless you.” And she finally begrudgingly was like “Okay thank you.” And I was trying to understand why she wouldn’t just say “Thank you.” But then I started thinking about the phrase “God bless you” and it’s kind of a paradox, right? Like, who are we to command God to bless somebody else? And if we could then we would be gods and religion would be useless in the first place. So maybe she realized that and didn’t want to be complicit in that kind of hubris……or maybe she’s a c*nt. I don’t know. – Dina Hashem

Growing up I always thought God hated me, that Allah was mad at me. My mum would be downstairs, I would be upstairs, and she would be like “Son, come downstairs.” “Yeah mum, in a minute.” She would then say “Right now!” “Yeah, in a minute!” I would come down about 5 minutes later, I’d be running down the stairs and I’m running and I hit my knee on the coffee table, and my mum says “You know what? See, Allah did that…because you don’t listen to your parents. You see that?” – Salman Jaffri

Let me just ask you about Trump’s state of mind. He said the other day “I see a lot of the Democrats, almost all of them…” This just speaks to his mind and this is what I want to ask you why you like this guy. He’s starting with a giant lie, that the Democrats…the end of the quote is, “are breaking.” “I see a lot of the Democrats, almost all of them are breaking, saying ‘Look, walls are good, walls are good.'” No Democrats are saying that, that’s exactly the opposite of their position. Their leader said it’s an immorality. So he starts with a lie, “I see a lot of the Democrats…” He’s in the middle of his own sentence when he then goes “…almost all of them.” You see! He builds on his own lie from two seconds before. He is not fucking sane! He is not a sane person, really, he convinces himself of his own reality, that is so dangerous…You like someone who doesn’t live in reality?!…He also said this week “I know more about technology than anybody.” Now, this is an insane person. How can we move forward with an insane person and a criminal?…He is an insane political narcissist who shouldn’t be president. – Bill Maher 25 Jan 2019, on his show Real Time With Bill Maher, speaking to ultra conservative Ann Coulter

That’s why I don’t think we’ll see guillotines, because Americans never blame rich people. That’s the tragedy of the Trump voter. They see themselves being squeezed and they can’t identify who’s doing the squeezing. They think it’s immigrants and single moms. You know? The takers! Remember the takers, people with no money who have all the money? – Bill Maher, 25 Jan 2019

The police, they’re struggling at the moment, because the government have cut their numbers. And the police said “If you cut our numbers, crime is going to go up.” Now, crime has, in fact, gone down. That’s slightly embarrassing for the police, isn’t it? Best interpretation of those figures is that police numbers have very little effect on overall crime. The worst interpretation of those figures is, in fact, that the police were responsible for a lot of the crime. – Andy Parsons

You want to be careful because apparently, according to the police, one in twenty drinks are now spiked in Britain. I was thinking you could probably use that as an excuse not to go into work the next day. “I can’t come in because my drink was spiked.” “How do you know?” “Well, I had twenty of them.” – Andy Parsons

I predict that Trump will win the Nobel Prize. For Literature. “The Collected Tweets of Donald Trump” is surely a worthy successor to the work of William Golding, the 1983 laureate and author of “Lord of The Flies,” in its depiction of adolescent cruelty. – Bret Stephens, Jan 2019

What’s currently bugging me? When I hear the word Brexit, it raises bile in my throat. I’m allergic to the word. The minute somebody says it, I go into a coma, standing up. I don’t care anymore, about anything. It’s worn me down. – Ruby Wax, Jan 2019

I will tell you guys something else about me. I grew up in a Muslim family. Most of my family is from Morocco and they still live there in Africa, so…you know…SURPRISE! What’s up?! That’s right, thanks for the white privilege, idiots! I got ya! I’ve been secretly brown this whole time. You guys have been pranked. You guys are all on my new prank show, Muz, What’s Up? I want to give a quick shout out to the cops, thanks for the no tickets ever, that’s been great. Those guys take one look at my ID and they’re like “Hhmm, Mekki Leeper? Well, that sounds like a halal food order, but you look like my kid! Get out of here, man. What, do you want 20 bucks? Do you want to play with my gun? I love you.” That’s what they say. Very interesting. – Mekki Leeper

It was weird growing up in a house with two religions, because my mom was Muslim and my dad was Christian and instead of like forcing one on me, which you are supposed to with your child, they were like “No, it’ll be fine, we’ll just let him pick. Come on Mek, there’s no pressure. After all, you are eight. It’s about time you made a decision, you know. Don’t worry, one of us has to be wrong, so there is that. Why don’t you come back home after Little League and denounce one of your parents’ beliefs. That will be character building for you.” – Mekki Leeper

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THE PARTICULARS CAN UNDERMINE THE UNIVERSALS

monkeys bananas

For many years I have had a particular thought about the way Muslims are today. I believe that many of us (myself included) have lost touch with the universal principles of Islam because we are too immersed in irrelevant particulars. I feel that as we argue amongst ourselves more and more about these particulars, we are drifting further away from the general higher level principles of Islam, and thus from the essence and nature of what it actually means to be a Muslim. A better way to explain this is by using an analogy or two. The first one involves monkeys in a cage.

An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, he hangs a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder. The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one of them begins to climb the ladder. As he does so the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. He also sprays the other 4 monkeys.

The monkey scrambles off the ladder and all 5 of them sit for a time on the floor, wet and cold and bewildered. Soon the temptation of the bananas is too great and another monkey attempts to climb the ladder. As soon as his foot touches the ladder the experimenter sprays this ambitious monkey with cold water, and all the other monkeys as well. Later when a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid being sprayed again, pull him off the ladder and beat him. By now they have all learnt their lesson well.

The experimenter removes one of the original 5 monkeys from the cage and replaces it with a new monkey. This new monkey spots the bananas and naively tries to climb the ladder. As soon as he gets anywhere close to the ladder the other monkeys pull him away from it and beat him. The new monkey has no idea why he is getting beaten, he just now knows not to go near the ladder ever again.

The experimenter then removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, this new monkey tries to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him away from it and beat him…including the previous new monkey who has never been sprayed with cold water, and who has no idea why he is getting involved in all this violence.

monkeys stop

Eventually all of the 5 original monkeys end up being replaced by new monkeys. By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys are left and yet, despite none of the replacement monkeys ever experiencing the ice cold, soaking, spray of water, they all have learned the hard way never to try and go for the bananas and to stay away from the ladder, without never actually knowing why, a lesson that has literally been beaten into them.

This analogy is supposed to describe a real scientific experiment, one that is meant to raise profound questions about our tendency to unquestioningly follow the herd. Usually when people mention this story it is in regards to organisations and how many people in companies, especially large ones, continue to do things simply because “that’s how we’ve always done things around here.”

Whether the experiment actually happened or not, it does seem that when you are part of a group, family, religion, club, tribe or whatever, accepted behaviors eventually become the norm, usually without question. After all, no one wants to be beaten, shunned, or sprayed with ice cold water.

I feel that we Muslims of today are the replacement monkeys, only we’ve been replaced many times over, generation after generation, to the point now where many of us do not know why we do the things we do as Muslims. The original context and reasoning has been lost to us. We have no real appreciation of the actual underlying context of any of our actions or rituals. Ideally we should not be monkeys in a cage, not knowing what we are doing, instead arguing over nuanced particulars without understanding greater universalities.

Another analogy involves rocks. A philosophy professor once stood up before his class with a large empty glass jar. He filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full. They said yes. He then added small pebbles to the jar and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. He asked a second time if the jar was now full, to which the students again agreed that it definitely now was.

The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up any remaining empty space. He asked his students a third time if the jar was now full and they agreed that it was now not just full but completely full.

jar rocks

This analogy is used mainly in relation to time management principles, with the big rocks representing the more important things, the pebbles are things in your life that are not as important, and the sand is all the small stuff that you are not supposed to sweat. I have also read versions of this story where the professor proceeds to add water after pouring in the sand, but the point remains the same: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.

So if you spend all of your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important. Therefore in order to have a more effective life, you should prioritize important things in your life and then worry about pebbles and sand at a later time. And so forth. For Muslims the big rocks are the universal underlying and overarching principles. We need to fit these into our spiritual jar before trying to deal with lower level, more nuanced issues, such as where exactly to place our hands during prayer, can we or can we not celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), are prawns okay for us to consume, etc. Too much sand, too many pebbles, and nary a rock in sight.

What recently brought this thought to the forefront was a link sent to me by a cousin of mine. The link was to an article about Islam and veganism called The Halal Bubble And The Sunnah Imperative To Go Vegan by Dr Mohamed Ghilan. Written in May 2016, this very lengthy and informative article can be broken down into two sections. Firstly, it is about the concept of veganism when looked at from an Islamic and prophetic perspective. Secondly, and more importantly for this blog post, it is about how in Islam too much focus on particulars have confused our understanding of universals. Perhaps at a later date I will write something about Islam and veganism, but it is this latter aspect that I would like to focus on for now.

The article is one of best I have read in years. Ghilan writes with a deliberate bluntness that make his points very clear indeed, especially the need to have a proper understanding of the overarching principles of Islam before delving into more nuanced and detailed matters. Many Muslims are perhaps unable to see the dichotomy we face of going too deep into irrelevant issues, to the detriment of losing focus on the bigger rocks. The trees end up obscuring the view of the forest. If we are far removed from the main principles of Islam, a religion with a rich intellectual heritage and culture, then this surely begs a simple question: how truly Islamic are we?

For many Muslims chances unfortunately are that if you were born into a Hindu family (for example), then you would probably still be a Hindu. How many of us, in that situation, would know enough about religion and faith to move from Hinduism to Islam? How many of us would move beyond being just spiritual monkeys in that particular theological cage, blindly following the Hindu herd? How many of us would be smart enough to advance beyond just ritual actions and go on to understanding the key principles of faith that hopefully drive us towards Islam (which I consider to be the one true religion)? How many of us genuinely have at least one true connection with God in our lifetimes? How many of us try to learn about Islam not from the internet (Shaykh Google Bin Yahoo), but from an actual shaykh, scholar or imam — a trustworthy and learned individual with a sound, in-depth understanding of faith who is steeped in religious scholarship?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) summarised all of Islam in one word, al-nasiha, sincere concern. How many of us Muslims today have this sincere concern of Allah, His Messenger, His book, the Muslim ummah, and the rest of creation? True devotion to Islam should therefore come before family loyalty and worldly possessions. Only then can we correctly teach our own children about what to do as Muslims (something many of us can barely do at present), never mind trying to give them a satisfactory and correct reason as to why we should do such things.

The article by Ghilan brought this and other points home for me. It made me take a mental step back from the brink of all that is going on and refocus my faith. Selected quotes are presented below and, whilst the article was not easy to get through due to length and intensity, it is well worth reading in full. I honestly hope it provides as much benefit to you as it did to me. Enjoy!

mohamed ghilan

The Halal Bubble And The Sunnah Imperative To Go Vegan

Dr Mohamed Ghilan, 16 May 2016, almadinainstitute.org

The popular conception of religion seems to be that of a set of rules and regulations that one adheres to. It is a handbook of what to do and what not to do without much attention given to what it all means and what it is about. For many Muslims, Islam is simply an explicit code of not only what to believe, but also how to articulate it in a way that does not get you in hot water with whoever appointed themselves as the gatekeepers of Paradise. Beyond this, Islam is viewed as nothing more than a set of obligations and prohibitions that one must abide by. In effect, when one chooses to fly with Islamic Airways they have to leave their intellect and conscience behind at the airport because these are items displayed on the diagram posted at security checkpoints outlining the prohibited articles to carry onboard.

A result of such a vision is a crisis of faith for many modern Muslims who cannot but find themselves wondering about the rationality of Islam and whether this religion is relevant today. This is not surprising given how an organic religion described by the Beloved ﷺ as one congruent with the Fitra, i.e., the natural inclination towards God and Truth, has been turned into a didactic checklist.

In reaction to this crisis there have been isolated calls to reform Islam. However, most current calls for overhauling Islam as a religion so that it can “modernize” come from individuals who have not made what Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani calls the “mental transition from a preoccupation with particulars to a concern with universals”.

Focusing on the particulars can at times serve as a vehicle to undermine the universals.

The elevation of particulars over universals plays a pernicious role in the continuation of using Islam as a pawn to serve identity politics’ purposes. Neo-traditionalism (or neo-orthodoxy if you prefer) creates a mirage to give the appearance of Islam as the last stronghold against the consumerist monoculture of modernity. In this façade, a Muslim can effectively go through life with some minor religious inconveniences but for all intents and purposes never have to consciously assume the uncomfortable position that God has decreed for Muslims in the Quran: “We have made you [believers] into a middle nation, so that you may bear witness [to the Truth] before others and so that the Messenger may bear witness [to it] before you.” [2:143] The task of bearing witness to the Truth requires one to be socially conscious enough so as to take a stand when they see a tide going the wrong way. But the hyper-legalization of Islam for the sake of identity politics and the desire to be unique for the sake of uniqueness comes at the detriment of one’s awareness of the ethical implications of their choices of action. One salient example of this is in how we choose to eat.

If you were to ask most average practicing Muslims what the Sunnah of moderation in eating is, you will likely get cited the partial Hadith stating, “A third for food, a third for drink, and a third for breathing.” This demonstrates two issues regarding how Muslims’ conception is of the Sunnah today. For one, it is a set of prescribed discrete actions and statements attributed to the Beloved ﷺ, usually devoid of context and removed from a greater way of being. Secondly, it is approached selectively, picking that which does not upset the status quo of how one conducts their life, allowing them to maintain it by only doing minor adjustments without raising consciousness about the validity of fundamental assumptions taken for granted.

From a linguistic perspective, the word Sunnah in Arabic refers to a path that is constantly trodden. According to the legal definition, it refers to the sayings, actions, and affirmations of the Prophet ﷺ. In his text on the foundational principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Muhammad ibn Ali Ash-Shauokani (1759-1839) combines the linguistic and legal definitions in commenting on the Prophet ﷺ’s command to follow his Sunnah by saying that it refers to the Prophetic Way. In other words, Sunnah is not just a list of isolated actionable items one gets to mindlessly check off. It is a path one sets on and a way of being in the world. To act in a Prophetic Way entails a synthesis of the Prophet ﷺ’s life so it becomes possible to answer the question, “What would the Habeeb do?

In order to understand what moderation means we must turn to the Beloved ﷺ’s life and statements. Many Muslims are familiar with the story related in the collection of Bukhari of the three companions: one announced he would fast everyday, the other affirmed he would pray every night till sunrise, and the third said he would become celibate. In hearing about this the Beloved ﷺ called them and after confirming their intentions he rebuked them. He told them that he is more conscious and fearful of God than they were, yet he fasts on some days and does not on others; he prays some of the night and sleeps the rest; and he marries women. He followed this by declaring that this was his way, and whoever rejects his way is not of him.

A key lesson derived from this Hadith is that the Beloved ﷺ did not go to extremes in his life. His actions were deliberate and after his migration to Medina he was in a position to live the most extravagant life similar to that of any ruler, or to live the most impoverished life similar to that of a monk. This point needs to be emphasized because when it comes to eating and food choices there is a common modern retort that the early community of the Beloved ﷺ was poor and did not have access to some of the luxuries of modern life. Although they did not have access to the technologies we have today, they most certainly were not poor. In fact, given that their wealth was based on physical entities (gold, silver, land, horses, camels, etc.), it can be argued that they were wealthier than today’s Fortune 500 whose much of their wealth is typically nothing more than numbers on screens that could disappear if a financial crisis such as the one in 2008 strikes again.

While the ultimate purpose of creation as taught in the Quran is to recognize God and worship Him [51:56], the immediate purpose of creating human beings is to be God’s vicegerents on Earth. “[Prophet] when your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a deputy on Earth,’ they said, ‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’” [2:30] It is fascinating that the angels’ already knew enough about the potential of the dark side of human beings that they could not see them as a creation in any other way. However, after God demonstrates to the angels what is special about Adam we are reminded later in the Quran of an essential aspect that governs the Earth in which we live: “He has raised up the sky and has set the balance so that you may not transgress in the balance: weigh with justice and do not fall short in the balance.” [55:7-9]

As we continue to transgress the Divine balance for the sake of satisfying our insatiable stomachs we not only bring harm to the natural order on Earth, we also fail in fulfilling our duty as stewards. This is not only a matter of having to answer to God. Beyond the environmental damage we are causing, the people and animals we abused just so we could have a barbeque or a walima will also seek us out for retribution on the Day in which neither wealth nor children will benefit.

The impact of eating animal products on the Earth both on land and in the ocean makes the only ethical eating lifestyle to observe today a vegan one where all animal products, including eggs and dairy, are eliminated from our diet. In light of what we have done to the planet and the animals because of our lust after meat, we can no longer claim as Muslims to be witnesses to the Truth while continuing to contribute to the perpetuation of such abuse and transgressions. Ethicists define three levels of the moral response to a presented question or situation: expressive, pre-reflective, and reflective. The expressive level is the most primitive one at which the individual expresses unanalyzed emotions and feelings, which in and of themselves do not establish a justification for the directed course of action. At the pre-reflective level the justification is made by reference to what may be termed a normative or a conventional rule. In the context of eating meat and some Muslims’ negative response to veganism, the justification for continuing to eat meat is by simply referring to the fact the Prophet ﷺ ate meat. The defining feature of a pre-reflective response is the lack of critical analysis of normative or conventional rules being used to justify actions and resistance to examine the overall coherence of such actions. Finally, the reflective response is one in which the conventional rules are examined and synthesized in light of the presented question or situation. At this level it is not sufficient to quote a single Hadith or verse of the Qur’an devoid of historical context and how it applies to a current one in light of other verses and Hadiths. This is a level at which the particulars need to be analyzed in light of universals.

Religion is not a ticket to become somnambulant as one mindlessly applies a rulebook. It is a call to waking up and being conscious of how one engages with the world. Being religious and following the Sunnah in modern activist parlance is another way of saying one is “woke”. There is a price being paid for the dietary decision one makes, and it is not limited to the one displayed at the cash register. In a Hadith related in the collection of Muslim the Beloved ﷺ is reported to have said, “God is pure and does not accept anything but that which is pure.” The food we eat is energy that is in turn directed towards acts of worship dedicated to God. Consciousness about diet entails recognizing that we have a relationship with the food we eat. When we ask why we are having trouble getting for Subh on time or why we find trouble concentrating in our prayers or sweetness in reciting the Quran, the first thing we should look to is our food. If that energy is not pure and is derived by means of abuse and transgression against the balance, we should not be surprised about having trouble in forming a connection with the Merciful.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS WAVING THE FLAG OF SELF

things phone

In our modern age we find ourselves surrounded by paradoxes. With more of us voting, democracy seems to be eroding at alarming rates, especially in the west. With greater understanding of our planet, climate change and environmental disaster seems to be right around the corner. With more and more convenience in our lives, plastic is overtaking the amount of fish in our waters. With more and more “stuff” in our lives, anxiety and depression are soaring throughout the population. And the list goes on.

One particular paradox I find myself intensely interested in is to do with technology, and one question in particular. Is all this smart technology making us dumb and depressed? In 2010 the American author Nicholas Carr wrote his seminal book The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. The book focused on the internet, this thing that is in reality dumb due to the chaotic nature of the way data and information, disinformation, and misinformation is presented, shared, over-shared, and consumed.

My own opinion is that technology and the internet are making us all dumber. One of the many ways we are indeed making ourselves dumber is the way we are outsourcing our thinking and relying on supposedly smart technology to micromanage our daily lives for the sake of cheap convenience. Another way is all the over-sharing many of us do. Too much social media clearly brews a kind of relentless unhappiness for many of us, acting as a stimulant to continue their own brand of narcissism.

And it seems I am not the only one who thinks like Carr and his hypothesis, which leads to another paradox of our times. With more and more technology, the greater the backlash against all this technology. And adding to the irony is the fact that the backlash is disseminated online, on the very platform being so stringently criticised.

So keen is my interest in this subject matter that I like to collect quotes from various sources that capture the chaos, the madness, and the paradox of the technology we are knee-deep in. And it’s only going to get deeper. I can’t wait for the day when your smart glasses inform you to look at your smart watch, which then tells you that you have a notification on your smart phone, which is constantly listening to you and monitoring your location. Have fun making sure all those gadgets are fully charged! And that’s assuming AI and the subsequent robot uprising does not decide to destroy us all. I, for one, welcome over robot overlords. Anyways, please find below a selection of quotes that echo these sentiments. As always, enjoy…


The internet provides us with seemingly limitless data, prose, images, video and other raw materials that could in theory enhance our intelligence and enable us to become more knowledgeable, to be more skillful or to otherwise use actionable intelligence. Maybe we could improve our decision-making, reflect on our beliefs, interrogate our own biases, and so on. But do we? Who does? Who exactly is made smarter? And how? And with respect to what? Are you and I, and our siblings and children, engaging with the seemingly limitless raw materials in a manner that makes us more capable, more intelligent? Or do we find ourselves outsourcing more and more? Do we find ourselves mindlessly following scripts written or designed by others? – Brett Frischmann

The internet promised the library of Alexandria at our fingertips, delivered instantaneously wherever and whenever we like. It delivered that and much, much more. One might describe the exchange in Faustian terms, as trading one’s soul for knowledge. Putting aside concerns about what’s been lost (our soul, humanity, etc.), it’s not even clear that the promised knowledge was delivered. To make matters worse, evaluating the Faustian bargain is even more difficult when the intellectual capabilities required to do so seem to be waning, at least for many of us. – Brett Frischmann

Imagine what we could do with our money, and hours, if we set our phones aside for a year…More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion. – Paul Greenberg

Charlie Brooker once did a list of the greatest video games ever and he put Twitter at the top of the list. It’s enormously distracting, but it is just a game…I spend a lot of time on social media and people ask me if the abuse I get is upsetting, but working in comedy has built up my skin – I’m used to hecklers. Their interest is in being heard and turning the volume up on themselves. The very nature of social media is people waving the flag of self. – David Baddiel

I was putting too much weight into who was viewing my Instagram. I would worry about how a post was performing instead of making important calls. I felt a certain pressure to make a brand of myself, and there was so much anxiety in that…I’d be lying if I said I could look at an explore page on Instagram and not compare myself to what I see on those pages. Someone is purchasing something you can’t purchase or making connections you haven’t yet made. It’s the rat-race lifestyle boiled down into the palm of your hand, and sometimes it feels inescapable. – Alexandra Mondalek, fashion reporter in New York

People naturally compare themselves with others because it helps us figure out where we stand. However, Instagram, more so than any other platform, confuses our social comparison radar. We’re constantly trying to figure out if we’re more or less attractive, smart, and accomplished than everyone else. With Instagram we have immediate access to all of these idealized images, which aren’t always an accurate representation of the world. People tend to post only their best images on Instagram, using filters that make them look beautiful. We have a false sense of what the average is, which makes us feel worse about ourselves…We should try to educate young girls about the consequences of spending too much time on this platform. And we need to try to find ways to bolster confidence. People come in all shapes and sizes. – Danielle Leigh Wagstaff, psychology professor at Federation University Australia

A friend who stumbled upon my Twitter account told me that my tweets made me sound like an unrecognisable jerk. “You’re much nicer than this in real life,” she said. This is a common refrain about social media: that they make people behave worse than they do in “real life”. On Twitter, I snark. On Facebook, I preen. On Instagram, I pose. On Snapchat, I goof. It is tempting to say, as my friend suggested, that these online identities are caricatures of the real me. It is certainly true that social media can unleash the cruellest side of human nature. For many women and minorities, the virtual world is a hellscape of bullying and taunting. – Derek Thompson

Each social-media platform has its own culture and patois but, broadly speaking, the internet is a kingdom of self-regard. A 2012 Harvard study found that, in interpersonal conversations, people typically talk about themselves for a third of the time. Online, that number jumps to 80%. That’s largely because, on sites like Facebook and Twitter, people assume they are speaking to big audiences. Tête-à-tête, people closely monitor each other for empathy and understanding. Speaking to 1,000 people online, it’s impossible to discern what your followers are thinking. The focus naturally turns inward. – Derek Thompson

Social media have turned a species used to intimacy into performers. But these performances are not necessarily false. Personality is who we are in front of other people. The internet, which exposes our elastic personalities to larger and more diverse groups of people, reveals the upper and lower bounds of our capacity for empathy and cruelty, anxiety and confidence. – Derek Thompson

selfie sharks

Daredevil behaviour in pursuit of likes, retweets and shares does not always have such a soft landing. The number of self-inflicted injuries and fatalities in the name of attention-seeking is growing: between 2014 and 2018 more than 200 people worldwide died while taking a selfie. In October 2018, Jon James, a Canadian rapper, fell to his death while filming himself on an aeroplane wing. Joanne Orlando, a researcher in technology and learning at Western Sydney University, blames the mechanics of social media which prize constant validation from others. Since people are more likely to comment on dynamic selfies than static ones, many are reluctant to upload anything that looks too ordinary…India is on the front line of selfie fervour: over half of the selfie-related deaths recorded since 2014 occurred there. The country’s ministry of railways now warns people to avoid taking selfies on the tracks; and Mumbai’s police force has identified 16 hotspots in the city where selfie-takers could put themselves in danger. – Chris Stokel-Walker

Excessive sharing and social media use is a double whammy for both the person posting and the person observing. For the person who compulsively shares every meal, every trip, every Uber ride, and every thought that passes through her head, there’s a dopamine hit in the brain signaling attention and reward for every like, share, and comment. This continues the cycle of oversharing and why a mild Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook user goes from posting once a week to 70 times a day…For the user, or the person observing, it’s a passive activity, one might think, and so it shouldn’t affect a person’s mental state much. But…it produces a kind of faux envy. Adults know Instagram isn’t real life — it’s all filters and posed shots. But still we wonder deep down: What if it is real? What if their life is really like that? – Nicole Russell

A view that I hold but can’t defend is that humans aren’t wired to see their reflection given there are no mirrors in nature, and that constantly seeing and taking photos of ourselves is a maladaptive behavior that’s going to have some kind of troubling repercussions down the line. – Whitney Cummings

Because of social media people don’t really have their own opinions any more. They have to sort of check what everybody else is saying. They wake up in the morning and they do a temperature check. “Is it okay to think like this today? Is it okay to like this? Oh, this is what everybody’s not liking? Okay, I’m going to ride with this.” So everybody wakes up in the morning and we wait for social media to tell us how to think and that’s whack. – Bill Maher and Charlamagne Tha God, from the show Real Time With Bill Maher, 01 Jun 2018

We’ve adapted our entire culture around Facebook. That makes “just quitting” easier said than done…The growing pressure that many people feel to abandon Facebook altogether fails to take into account both Facebook’s position in modern society and the stakes involved for anyone who chooses to leave a network that has spent more than a decade trying to make leaving it impossible. At this point, despite the enduring popularity of the #DeleteFacebook hashtag, “Why don’t you just delete Facebook” is the internet’s equivalent of asking, “Why didn’t they just leave before the hurricane came?” — because it vastly misrepresents how embedded Facebook is at every cultural turn most of us take, and deflects social responsibility away from Facebook onto the users who have been directly impacted by the company’s lack of accountability…Facebook has changed how we interact with our pasts, and how we interact with the places and people we call home. – Aja Romano

A COMEDY CLUB IN PALESTINE

mark thomas

New York is famous for its basement comedy clubs. Los Angeles is famous for a well established comedy circuit. Chicago is considered to be the spiritual home of improv, with the world famous improvisational comedy club The Second City. Melbourne in Australia has a huge annual comedy festival, as does Montreal in Canada with their annual Just For laughs festival being the biggest international comedy festival in the world.

Here in Britain we have a history of working class comedians who come from real working class backgrounds, people such as Lenny Henry, Sarah Millican, Frank Skinner, Victoria Wood, Peter Kay, Jason Manford, and, the king of them all, Billy Connolly, all of them diligently working their way through various pubs and working men’s clubs, honing their craft along the way. And barely a month goes by here in the UK where we don’t have a comedy festival, culminating with the Edinburgh Fringe Arts Festival in the month of August, the biggest arts festival in the world.

One place you may not expect to see a thriving stand up comedy scene is in occupied Palestine but, as with many things in life, you would be surprised. Palestine has given rise to many comedians who tread international waters, comedians such as Maysoon Zayid, Suzie Afridi, Mo Amer, Atheer Yacoob, Ray Hanania, Manal Awad, Aron Kader, Dean Obeidallah, Amer Zahr, Eman El-Husseini, and Mona Aburmishan. The West Bank now also boasts its very own comedy club, or at least the remnants of one. And it is all thanks to Mark Thomas.

Thomas is a comedian, author, and activist from south London whose work has tackled social inequality, human rights violations and the arms trade. Born in 1963, he broke into stand up in the mid-1980s and became renowned for his no-holds-barred political comedy. A 30-year veteran in the entertainment field, he decided to hold a comedy show in a refugee camp in Jenin. Thomas had for a while been thinking about setting up a comedy club in that part of the world. He spoke to a Palestinian man about his idea and where exactly the show should take place. “What about Nablus?” he asked. “No, they’re too shrewd,” the Palestinian replied. “Hebron?” “No, they’re too stupid.” “Ramallah?” “No, they’re too bourgeois.” Thomas loved the fact that even in a place as small as Palestine they had regional stereotypes, which aren’t necessarily helpful but do show a sense of fun and playfulness. When Thomas asked “What about Jenin?” his Palestinian friend replied “That’s a great idea.” Just as well, because Thomas is no stranger to the Palestinian town:

I have been to Jenin several times since 2009. The first time was when I walked the 724km around the length of the Israel Wall in the West Bank. What amazed me was there was a Jenin Freedom Theatre there which would have defied people’s ideas of a refugee camp. It was a battered building with a flat above it and I was asked if I would like to stay. It is an amazing place and I love it. – Mark Thomas

And so, of he went. Dodging cultural and literal bullets, Israeli incursions and religion, Thomas and his team set out to run a comedy club for two nights at the Jenin Freedom Theatre. And what of the actual show itself? Thomas has explained that the experience was different from what he was perhaps expecting:

Some people don’t think women should be on stage, some think men and women shouldn’t be rehearsing together, and so it was quite fraught at times. We were putting on our comedy show in the middle of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, which created tension, with people questioning whether we should do it…I was fascinated to hear all the different voices, speaking out about living in the camps, about the intifada, about the occupation, the rage people have about how inept, corrupt and incompetent the Palestinian National Authority are and how they collude with the Israeli occupation. But also there were some who made jokes about just wanting to get a girlfriend, or how their parents treat them badly. One of the most challenging performers was a young woman who impersonated a male Palestinian boss, and she was genuinely radical. It was brilliant…I had gone there with this grand vision of Palestinians talking about their experience of the occupation, that it would be some Palestinian equivalent of socialist realism. But actually the most exciting thing was just these ordinary voices – for people to have their own voice, not an official voice and a flag, was the most radical thing. – Mark Thomas

Thomas ended up creating a stage show based on his experience called Showtime From The Frontline, which the Guardian called “defiant comedy that gives a voice to the voiceless…in its gesture of common humanity and its call to laugh in the face of totalitarianism, it flies a defiant flag.”

Since comedy is all about punching up rather than down, and since most comedians seem to have left-leaning tendencies, you would expect stand ups to support the people of Palestine. Case in point is an event which took place early 2017 featuring six British comedians, a show called Give It Up For Palestine:

The power of comedy should never be underestimated, as the recent Netflix debacle involving Hasan Minhaj and his show Patriot Act, pulled from Saudi airwaves by Netflix themselves, clearly demonstrates. Another example of the power of comedy comes from way back in 2002, but still seems very relevant even today. Way back then, a Palestinian stand up comic who had been due to open for Jackie Mason, the world famous Jewish comedian, at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago was taken off the bill hours before he was due to go on stage. Jyll Rosenfeld, Mason’s manager, said that Mason, a vocal supporter of Israel, was unhappy at the prospect of sharing the stage with Ray Hanania, a 49-year-old novice comedian. Rosenfeld said: “It’s not exactly like he’s just an Arab-American. This guy’s a Palestinian. We were not told about it ahead of time. Jackie does not feel comfortable having a Palestinian open for him. Right now it’s a very sensitive thing.”

Citing an example of Hanania’s act, she went on to say: “Supposedly he’s married to a Jew, and he says they had a UN peacekeeping force at their wedding. That’s not funny. It’s in bad taste right now. There’s too much misery on both sides and Jackie’s not going to let that be exploited.” She added that it was “nothing personal”.

Hanania responded by saying: ‘I’m upset because I deserve to be on stage and it was a big break for me. I wasn’t going on stage to make a political statement. I was going on stage to make people laugh.”

Ali Alarabi, the president of the United Arab American League at that time, described the cancellation as “an act of hate and racism” and demanded an apology on behalf of all Arab-Americans. You may not be surprised to learn that no apology was ever given.

Okay, so this particular Palestinian-Jewish comedy combo did not work out so well, but there are others that have. Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah have been touring together for over 15 years now, Eman El-Husseini and Jess Salomon not only tour together but are actually married, the aforementioned Ray Hanania and Charley Warady have been on the road with their Israeli–Palestinian Comedy Tour, and you have various Palestinian and Jewish comedians taking part in the 1001 Laughs Palestine Comedy Festival.

You can add to this mix the following comedians, be they Palestinian, Jewish, or other, all of them using comedy in surprising ways to try and bring some sort of peace to the Middle East, or at least to ease tensions by providing a better understanding:

The satirical newspaper The Onion present their brief guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Aussie comedian Tim Minchin presents his simple yet effective peace anthem:

Comedian Sammy Obeid, like Tim Minchin, tries to bring the two sides together, this time using hummus:

Sammy Obeid again, this time giving his unique take on the whole Israel-Palestine situation:

Comedian Suzie Afridi makes a strong case for using comedy to reclaim our own narrative:

It is very important to learn public speaking because it is how we are as brown people, as Arabs, as Muslims, as Palestinians, it is how we are going to get back our narrative. Because our narrative is hijacked, it is hijacked by the terrorists and it is hijacked by the media in America that needs to continue the weapons industry. So we need to own our own narrative and I think comedy is a great way of doing that. – Suzie Afridi, Palestinian-American comedian

Another Aussie comedian, Jim Jeffries, talks to immigrants in America, including one from Palestine:

Disgraced comedian Louis CK, currently in the middle of trying to make a comeback, compares his kids to the conflict:

British comedy legend Alexi Sayle gives his views on Palestinian suffering:

Amer Zahr, a Palestinian-American comedian, gives his reasons as to why he uses humour the way he does:

As Arabs, as Muslims, as Palestinians, we all have stories to tell, especially Palestinians, we have long stories to tell about our history and our struggle and all that kind of stuff. So for me I use comedy as my form of activism, I use humor to tell our story. A lot of times people say to me “You’re a comedian, I never know if you’re being serious or you’re not being serious.” Comedians don’t lie, we use humor to tell the truth. We don’t use humor to lie, we use humor to tell the truth, like modern-day philosophers, so we’re always telling the truth. And I learned that if you make people laugh they listen to you. And so when we want to tell our stories comedy is a very very effective tool to do that…We Palestinians have been using art for a long time to talk about our struggle, whether it’s poetry, art, drawing, painting. And now we’re starting to use comedy as well to talk about our struggle…We have enough doctors and engineers, we need more comedians. – Amer Zahr

Final words go to the always brilliant Frankie Boyle:

Among the lowlights of 2018 were the Palestinian right-of-return marches that demonstrated the old Israeli proverb, you can’t make an omelette without shooting protesters. Trump said the US was “fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement”. The lasting peace that will come about once Israel has shot all the Palestinians.

BBC’s coverage of Gaza is as shameful as anything it has ever done. Except Mrs Brown’s Boys. Actually, there’s a bunch of stuff. Forget it.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was in London this week. Netanyahu’s got a combover. I always think his hair is a kind of living metaphor, occupying territory where it doesn’t really belong. Israel are saying that people in the Gaza Strip are attacking them with kites. Kites! I think the main problem of being an Israeli military spokesman must be keeping a straight face. “These people have kites! If we don’t stop them they’ll start farting into beach balls and bouncing them over the fence.”

I honestly think there will be peace in the Middle East once the oil runs out, although knowing their luck someone will invent a replacement that involves mixing sand with falafel.

I think we’re heading for a two state solution. Israel as a solid, Palestine vaporised into a gas.

I’ve been studying Israeli army martial arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back. People think that the Middle East is very complex but I have an analogy that sums it up quite well. If you imagine that Palestine is a big cake, well…that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.

Israel say civilians are being killed because they’re living near terrorists and, to be fair, they are living stupidly close to Israel.

Israel this week shot dead 58 Palestinian protestors and wounded another 2,000 people, in what the British media disgracefully described as ‘clashes’. It’s not clashes. If one side has sniper rifles and the other side has a few catapults and slingshots, you’re basically murdering the Ewoks.

Republican elites seem to hate everything about Jews, except Israel. It says something about the incredible strength of antisemitism that paranoid ideas about Jews controlling the media and banking systems persist even among the people who control the media and banking systems.

So I did a joke about Israel’s last assault on Gaza. I did two jokes on a show called Political Animal. I was censured by the BBC Trust and they called the jokes anti-Semitic, which they weren’t, and I wrote a response. Jeremy Clarkson tells a nursery rhyme that ends in the word “nigger” and the controller of BBC One comes out to defend him and say he’s not a racist. And the reason is there’s no content to what he’s saying, so he can be defended. But if you want to defend what I’m saying you’ve got to actually talk about the situation in Gaza.

The death toll rose from the protests in Gaza. Over 100 people have been shot dead and thousands more have been shot and wounded. But to be fair there were injuries on both sides. One of the Israeli snipers got an erection for so long that his foot went to sleep. Things are bad in Gaza. Things are so bad in Gaza that porn stars have started referring to their pubic arrangement as a ‘Gaza strip’, an area that has been so brutally pummeled that no child could ever hope to crawl out alive. So why is it important to talk about this? It is important to talk about this in Britain because Britain still provides moral and practical support to Israel while Israel breaks international law. And I don’t think British people would be okay with that if they knew the full facts of the case, if they knew the full extent of Britain’s hypocrisy on the world stage. Britain sells weapons to Saudi Arabia that Saudi Arabia uses to kill people in Yemen. Yet Britain is the number two provider of aid to Yemen. And why not? Life gives you Yemen, you give Yemen aid.

We are told that Prince William is to visit Israel and the West Bank. He’s not the first member of the royal family to go over there, but he is the first one who isn’t leading a crusade…It’s Israel’s 70th anniversary, so William will be greeted with a 70 gun salute, fired straight into some Palestinians.