They Laugh that Win

They Laugh that Win

Professor Alex Inkeles told a group at the University of Michigan that the more often you laugh the higher you are likely to be on the social scale.

“Contrary to popular belief,” he said in a lecture, “the lower you are in social status the less likely you are to report having laughed during the past day.”

The Harvard Professor said his rule held true in warm countries such as Italy as well as cold countries such as Britain. —New York Times, December 6, 1958.

INKELES’s RULE, or the law of nonGravity, will surely give way, once the qualifiers, revisionists and neo-Inklings have begun their work, to a more complex and less intelligible statement. But even in this first crude formulation we can detect the faint outlines of a science of risibility that may some day stand alongside the dismal science of economics and other serious studies.

Doubts arise. Were the interviewers carefully instructed to keep a straight face? Have upwardly mobile staff members been noticeably more jovial since this study was made? What about really cold countries like Greenland and really hot ones like Ghana? But let us not linger over such side-issues. Let us press on.

Inkeles claims that his rule is “contrary to popular belief.” Whose popular belief? “Birds of a feather flock together,” or “the poor ye have always with you” sound like popular beliefs. “The lower you are in social status the more likely etcetera” certainly doesn’t. Put it in the vernacular: “Folks who ought to know their place laugh in the big shot’s snarling face”: and it still won’t wash. Certainly not in America where the Cheshire grins of assorted millionaire poll cats have dissipated any lingering images of upperclass sobriety and reserve. We must conclude that the contrariness status of the Inkeles Rule remains unproved.

This is unfortunate, because a scientific statement should, if possible, be contrary to some popular belief, in order to help stimulate non-conformity. Non-conformity is currently receiving the near-unanimous endorsement of scientists.

To advance the study of risible stratification we should do three things: 1. clarify our concepts (argue about words); 2. develop more precise research methods 3. place our formulas in a sound theoretical context (argue about what we have done).