Laughter, according to Plato through his Socratic dialogue, is the result of the soul’s simultaneous experience of both pain and pleasure. He argues that a man who can find humor at the expense of his neighbor, friend or enemy, must be a malicious man seeking superiority. Malice, as he explains, is a pain of the soul. As we laugh, we are not simply broadcasting our pleasure, but also a deep pain of which we may not be aware.
Is that really so bad? It is never and never will be my intention to act maliciously against my neighbor in order to get a laugh. To deliberately attack another personally and derive from that attack a gleeful satisfaction is not humorous, especially if the victim is offended by the “joke.” However, is it really so awful to crack a smile at a friend’s awkward reaction or find some humor in your sister’s outfit? Is there not a sense of honesty in displaying for the world what we find to be funny? I suppose, in this sense, that humor does carry a deep root in malice. This malice, though, is not necessarily a bad thing: through our laughter we can display our true feelings in a non-hostile way that will not provoke violence.
I do not believe that laughter is an illustration of superiority. Although malice, even in the slightest sense, can be discovered at the root of laughter, it is not necessarily the intention of the laugher to attack the potential “victim” of the joke. Laughter is not only heard from the superior in our society, and it is not always targeted at whom would be deemed “inferior.”