On the Merits of Being Normal

September 27, 2018

What does “normal” mean? Why is shaking someone’s hand when you first meet them a “norm”, but owning ten fursuits of various anthropomorphised animals not a norm?

 

A quick look at an etymology dictionary reveals that the word “normal” comes from the latin root “norma”, which means “carpenter’s square”. A carpenter’s square is a tool used by artisans to test the right angles of objects. Thus, it is a structure that standardises different things.

 

So a norm is essentially an authoritative standard (prescriptive).

How does it also come to mean “average”, as in the case of a “normal” distribution of the bell curve (descriptive)? The seeming interchangeability or conflation of these two connotations implies that being average and conforming to the masses is a good thing.

 

This has some kind of circular reasoning of infinite regress.

→     X is good, so we must do it

→     A lot of people do X, so it must be good

→     X is good, so we must do it

→     A lot of people do X, so it must be good 

→     X is good, so we must do it

et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseaum.

 

Now the people who support this “average is good” idea, we call them traditionalists. Traditionalists believe in upholding the traditions and customs of their society. Traditionalism is a hallmark conservative value. It is contrasted with the left-leaning value of progressivism – of ditching traditions in favour of new behaviours that adapt to changing societal values.

 

It is the task of a civilised society to determine which traditions are good to practise, and which traditions we must eliminate. For example, in the past, a general attitude of anti-miscegenation in the US was quite normal, until interracial marriage was legalised in 1967 (yes, this date surprised me too).

 

Now imagine the anarcho-punk teenager, who decries tradition, nationalism, and conservatism with very colourful expletives, all the while wearing the inherited uniform of 60’s proto-punk and 70’s rock ‘n’ roll punk – ripped shirts, skinny jeans, and the mohawks of indigenous cultures.  

 

It makes you think: what norms are we upholding now that will we denounce as immoral two decades from now?

 

And which traditions will be passed down several more generations? What are the enduring traditions, and what purpose to they serve?

 

WHY WE ARE CREATURES OF TRADITION

 

It seems to me that general use-value of tradition is to facilitate large-scale survival of the species. Traditions are time-tested behaviours, passed down from generation to generation. The benefit of adhering to tradition rather than carefully tailoring specific responses to specific circumstances is twofold:

 

  1. it saves a lot of precious energy that can be partitioned elsewhere, and

  2. it displays allegiance and loyalty to the herd.

 

I can't remember exactly where I heard this - perhaps on a Joe Rogan podcast. Basically the guest was saying how there was an evolutionary explanation for racism, xenophobia and tribalism. In the past, it was extremely to risky be introduced to new and foreign tribes & cultures, since they brought with them an influx of unfamiliar pathogens and contagions. Tribes that failed to reject external cultures risked contamination and ultimately the population dying off. Tribes that were hostile to new influences survived and passed on their aversion.

 

Obviously in the modern world, the racism “tradition” is at best archaic.

 

The remnant lesson is that traditions don't spontaneously generate out of nowhere -- there might be historical and evolutionary reasons for our inherited behaviours. 

 

WHY WE ARE DRIVEN TO SIN

 

Now this is something interesting to explore. What about the desires, behaviours, and thoughts that are quite ubiquitous (normal) in society, but actively discouraged? If a tradition is the morality of the masses, what about the immorality of the masses? (Mmm, degeneracy, my favourite topic.)

 

Look at the 7 deadly sins, for example… All of these are denounced by society as sinful (and let’s remember western civilisation is based on Judeo-Christian values, whether you like it or not). All of these make sense through the lens of Darwinian evolutionary psychology.

 

How do these drives help the preservation of the human species?

Species preservation only depends on two things: 1) to survive, and 2) to survive long enough to produce offspring.  

 

In other words, not dying and having lots of sex. Sounds ok to me.

 

Let’s explore these normal phenomena that lack normative flavour:

 

LUST

You bet your sweet ass promiscuity helped many pass on their genetic information.

GLUTTONY

The obsessive drive to eat is very useful in times of famine, and tempers the effects of starvation.

GREED

Materialism is just the hoarding of survival resources.

SLOTH

Conservation of energy is extremely important in times of famine, and allows for energy expenditure in times that really matter for survival, like predator evasion.

WRATH

Anger is a way of enforcing very particular expectations of how the world should be. (Remember this whenever someone is angry). The survival behaviour of a herd or individual may be regulated by expressions of anger.  

ENVY

Keeping up with the joneses is one mechanism of herd conformity. Belonging to a herd greatly increases chances of survival.

PRIDE

Pride is called the “father of all sins”, because it is the act of finding divinity in oneself – of elevating yourself above others. Let’s be real, you gotta be some brand of arrogance to believe that your genetic information needs to be passed down to another generation of lil yous.

 

It is said that these 7 drives are only sins when practised in excess. But take a closer look at the core of Christian doctrine. It is based on a dualism between the pure spirit and the impure body. These seven drives represent the impure desires of the primal body, and not only when practised in excess.

 

What I’m trying to say is that there is method in our madness. There is a reason why we behave the way we do, and why we will continue to do so.

 

I think there is a lot of wisdom in our traditions, and we are intuitively drawn towards them because of eons of evolutionary programming. As someone who has always thought being normal was boring, I’m starting to think it’s the most exciting thing, because you’re tapping into something primal and wonderful.

 

Weirdness has its merits too and can also be explained within the evolutionary paradigm. I think weirdness, unfamiliarity, novelty, are akin to genetic mutations – new traits that push the boundaries of what is possible. The survival of the species depends on biodiversity, so that entities with favourable genetic mutations to suit shifting environmental pressures may survive and propagate.

 

Weird human beings are either revolutionaries or they are liabilities.

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