The Joke was on You and Me.
-- Birth of a Joke
"I started a Joke" released as a single by Bee Gees in December 1968.
"I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn't see that the joke was on me oh no
I started to cry which started the whole world laughing
Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me."
What does this song mean for us today?
Nietzsche's 'The Parable of a Madman' (1882) provides some clues.
"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter.
Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? ...-- Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him -- you and I. All of us are his murderers.
What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?
Whither is it moving now? .... Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? .... Has it not become colder?
"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo.
Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but:
"What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?""
(from Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125)
-- The Joke
Without religion, secular society drifts about looking for something to fill up an infinite vacuum left over from god's disappearance.
What is life for? How do we anchor our morals on an empty sky?
Nihilism, where everything is just meaningless and anarchistic, is a modern response as suggested by Sartre's title for his magnum opus, "Being and Nothingness" (1943).
He advocates. "The first thing we can be aware of is our existence, even when doubting everything else (Cogito ergo sum). In "Nausea", the main character's feeling of dizziness ... occurs "in the face of one's freedom and responsibility for giving a meaning to reality".
Sartre's philosophy can be summed up in the phrase "Existence precedes essence". We find ourselves existing without any predetermined directions. We have to create our meaning out of nothing by sheer acts of will.
In popular culture, nihilism is best typified in the Joker, the Tragic Clown. He personifies a life beyond ethics.
He mocks respectability, human sufferings and pain. He laughs at our feeble attempts with orderliness and rules.
“Don't talk like one of them. You're not! Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak, like me!
They need you right now, but when they don't, they'll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble.
They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve," The Joker with Batman.
When there's no eternal value, why take things so seriously? Good is same as evil. Or better, there's no such a thing as a good or an evil. Things are just there.
"Live and let be. Laugh and dare," says the Joker, Nietzsche's Madman.
If Nihilism is true, then the joke is on us, on all who live morally and meaningfully.
What a joke: to live deluded and according to rules when there're none!
Are you mad enough?