The Shriek Of The Week: This is not Normal!
Since shrieking has become an important part of the public debate, I’d like to write more about the things we shriek at each other.
Recently it’s become fashionable to shout “This is not normal!” In a context where we might once have yelled “I object!”. Of course, since some things are both normal and objectionable, this new slogan has created confusion about the relationship between how common something is and whether it is good or bad. Goodness is the most desirable quality an idea or object can posses, and the category of “bad” things includes everything we want to avoid. It’s very important to keep the concepts of goodness and justice distinct neutral concepts like novelty.
As near as I can tell, this mess started with the over use of the word “normative” meaning “socially acceptable”. Excessive references to social “norms” are also to blame. In the proper context, these words are useful. It’s very important to distinguish things that are socially acceptable from things that are inherently beneficial. There’s really no practical reason why bowing, couldn’t replace shaking hands for example. The trouble occurred when certain academics over used the words social norm, normalize, and normative, in order to obscure the fact that what they were saying was obvious. Soon we were all scolding each other “don’t normalize” unhealthy eating, don’t “normalize fat shaming”, we can’t allow this depravity to become “normative behavior”.
The human mind went to work on these messages, and concluded that if you “normalize something” you must make it “normal”therefore: normal is good and not-normal is bad. Pretty soon, you couldn’t point out that something was unusual without getting shrieked at by someone who felt attacked. The concepts of normality, appropriateness, justice, and goodness, have become so conflated that people will use the same breath to yell “It’s okay to be different!” and “This is not normal!”
Language should be allowed to evolve. If you can indicate disapproval by saying, “Dude, that’s bogus”, then you can express the same sentiment by saying “This is not normal”. Language can change because it’s a conduit of thought. The occasional change of nomenclature is no impediment to clear thinking. Treating two concepts as similar because they are indicated by the same word is a total impediment to clear thinking. Use “normal” to express approval if you like, but don’t act as if the goodness and the ubiquity are identical. All rational beings are united by our general preference for good things over bad things. We should resits attempts to obscure “Goodness Itself” with all the energy we have left over after earning our livings and training jiu jitsu.
It occurs to me that our violent disagreements over the meanings of words may be a reaction against blasphemy. We know instinctively that the concepts our favorite words represent are from the same thing as our minds and are therefore sacred. Our preoccupation with words is a result of attributing human frailty to the unchanging and eternal. You can’t destroy goodness by saying “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad!”. A productive conversation can be destroyed if we transfer our love and admiration of concepts, to the terms we’ve decided to fetishize. I beg you in the name of all that is sacred, argue using ideas not words and don’t make statements you aren’t prepared to clarify!