The Power of High Humor

By Gary Z McGee

“The law of levity is allowed to supersede the law of gravity.” ~R.A. Lafferty

A robust character hinges on the Seven Core Virtues (courage, moderation, wisdom, justice, creativity, honor, and humor). This article is about the last and most powerful core virtue: humor. More specifically, high humor.

So how do we attain high humor? By climbing up the ladder of Virtues. From which a healthy character leads to a healthy sense of wonder which leads to a healthy sense of humor. This healthy sense of humor launches us beyond rightness and wrongness, beyond good and evil, beyond self-seriousness and egocentrism and into the open vistas of high humor. It’s rocket fuel for going Meta. And it’s in the metaparadigm where we discover the genius of levity.

Here, we are free to think curiously. To think courageously. To think largely. To think audaciously. To think magically. To think—full stop—rather than merely believe. When we think rather than believe, our thinking becomes sincere rather than serious. It becomes laced with levity, inflicted with irony, pierced with a sense of play. It’s the last and most powerful of the Seven Core Values because it subsumes them all.

High humor subsumes all values:

“A sense of humor is superior to any religion so far devised.” ~Tom Robbins

Where courage frees character, moderation balances character, wisdom guides character, justice stabilizes character, creativity grows character, and honor unifies character, high humor overcomes character. It’s the only virtue that is transcendent. It sees how character is just that: a character caught within a tragicomedy, strutting itself across an all-too-mortal stage. It sees the character’s feet of clay. But it also sees the character’s wings. It honors both through a laughter born from levity.

Where pretend humor is a temptress, high humor is a tempest. High humor is not slapstick. It’s not comedy for comedy’s sake like pretend humor is. It is never serious, but it is always sincere. It is always seated at a great table for play and mockery.

High humor is the only core value that can bluff God and the devil at the same time. This is because high humor subsumes the other six core values. It absorbs them, cultivates them, synthesizes them, and then creatively engages them as a whole. It does it through the use of insouciant daring and devil-may-care nonchalance. This type of humor is high because the stakes are high: live greatly through high humor or die slowly without it.

There is no condition that cannot be surmounted by high humor. It takes a good sense of high humor to endure the realization that we are the butt-end of the cosmic joke. But nothing is more important toward making the darkness conscious than cultivating a good sense of high humor. Especially when our goal is healthy integration, wholeness, balance, self-actualization, antifragility, and enlightenment.

High humor connects the finite with the infinite:

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite or connect the finite with the infinite.” ~Leo Tolstoy

The high humor that we absorb in the cosmic waters of levity gives us one of the most powerful tools known to man: nonattachment.

Through healthy detachment, we see how everything is attached. We see how everything is connected to everything else. We see the interconnected cosmos as a giant web of frequency and energy, of which we are but a tiny drop of dew. But we are a drop of dew that can reflect the entire web. And through such reflection comes the power to create meaning where it otherwise doesn’t exist.

It is through high humor where we discover our inner looking glass, our primordial mirror, our vital contribution to Cosmos: presence.

High humor engenders presence by prompting us to search for hidden meaning. Not in a codependent way, rigid and clinging; but in a detached way, open and flowing. Meaning becomes an act of creation rather than an act of belief.

When we are codependent on meaning, we are taking ourselves too seriously. When we are detached from meaning, we are free to create or destroy meaning as we see fit. We’re not anchored to Truth, rather, we are flowing, swimming, and navigating the turbulent waters of Truth.

It’s through the mirror of high humor where we see that Truth is never fixed. It is always moving, ever tempestuous, always precarious. A good sense of high humor is skill in swimming through such unforgiving waters.

As Alan Watts said, “What one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.”

High humor gives us permission to play:

“A person only plays when they are a person in the full sense of the word, and they are fully a person only when they play.” ~Friedrich Schiller

A sense of high humor is vulnerable armor. It’s flexible shielding. It’s pliable strength.

High humor is radicalized virtue. It radicalizes courage, moderation, wisdom, justice, creativity, and honor. Through radicalized virtue comes high humor, a sense of play so powerful it gains power over Power itself. It’s so fulfilling that it infuses our life with boldness, authenticity, presence, joy, and passion.

Armed with the vulnerable armor of high humor, we become fearless.

Through such fearlessness, we are free to experiment. We are free to transform tragedy into teacher, pain into professor, labor into laboratory. For we realize that life itself is but a grand experiment and we are the experimenters. We are the mad scientist, and our life is our crazy invention.

Those who experiment with life, those who take risks, tend to live a life well-lived (fearless). Those who don’t, tend to live a prescribed life, a stagnant life, a life half-dead (fearful). The humorless tend to fall into the latter category, whereas those with high humor tend to fall into the former.

Those with fearless high humor see how important it is to work hard but play harder. For not only does a sense of playfulness create levity it also creates good morale. It creates a creative environment, a space for thriving, a space for cultivating, a space for self-improvement. It creates a sacred place for unapologetic action, Nietzschean insouciance, and Promethean audacity. As Machiavelli said, “It is better to act and repent than not to act and regret.”

High humor is radical humor, voracious and fearless, primal and priceless. It’s unforgiving in its pursuit. It’s the animal of our highest appetite. It feeds on meaning—high meaning, Meta-meaning. The kind of meaning that fills the belly of the soul to bursting.

It transforms the animal into a God, the God back into an animal. It does this forever, again and again, laughing at the fragility of the human condition and thumbing its nose at the cosmic joke. It’s a Phoenix smoking the pipe of its own ashes.



Image source:

The Guardians of Happiness by Robert Bowen

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 Power of High Humor) 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 It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.



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