Search the KHIT Blog

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Define "normal"


Hang with me here. Goes materially to the prior post. What's the joke? "You only need two things in life: WD-40 for things that need to move but are stuck, and duct tape, for things that need to be immobilized."

"Norm(s), (ab)normal, normative..." My pedantic Jones for key definitions.
Normal: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Norm: A standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.

Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible.
I'm left-handed—"abnormal" (non-judgmental). In the wake of my 2018 SAVR px, my weight is 160 and BP 120-80'ish, pulse ox .98-.99 ("normal," favorably clinically judgmental). LGBTQ people are "abnormal" (often hatefully judgmental).
"Normative" goes to "ethics." If you want to come off all hiply cocktail party erudite, drop some allusions to "normative."
Below, I've long dug this observation:
If there were only one man in the world, he would have a lot of problems, but none of them would be legal ones. Add a second inhabitant, and we have the possibility of conflict. Both of us try to pick the same apple from the same branch. I track the deer I wounded only to find that you have killed it, butchered it, and are in the process of cooking and eating it.

The obvious solution is violence. It is not a very good solution; if we employ it, our little world may shrink back down to one person, or perhaps none. A better solution, one that all known human societies have found, is a system of legal rules explicit or implicit, some reasonably peaceful way of determining, when desires conflict, who gets to do what and what happens if he doesn’t.

The legal rules that we are most familiar with are laws created by legislatures and enforced by courts and police. But even in our society much of the law is the creation not of legislatures but of judges, embedded in past precedents that determine how future cases will be decided; much enforcement of law is by private parties such as tort victims and their lawyers rather than by police; and substantial bodies of legal rules take the form not of laws, but of private norms, privately enforced.

Friedman, David D.. Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters (p. 3). Princeton University Press - A. Kindle Edition.
WD-40. Duct tape.
Given the practical logistical impossibility of legislating, litigating, or prosecuting every last bit of contentious human interaction, consensus "norms" provide both the mediating lubricants and constraints of civil self-governance.
Back to Hare and Woods:
Even though we are essentially born attracted to people who share our group identity, what constitutes that identity is highly influenced by social forces. Even for babies, group identity is about more than just familiarity. As we grow, it can be defined by almost anything: clothing, food preferences, rituals, physical traits, political affiliation, place of origin, or loyalty to sports teams. While we appear biologically prepared to recognize group identities, our social awareness allows our construction of these identities to be flexible.

This plasticity is what the anthropologist Joseph Henrich argues is critical to the emergence of social norms. Norms are the implicit or explicit rules that govern even the smallest social interaction. They are central to the success of all our institutions, and they must have arisen after we humans had domesticated ourselves, allowing us to identify and embrace humans beyond our immediate families… [Hare, Woods, p. 95]

In 1689, the English Bill of Rights limited the power of the king and gave Parliament free elections and freedom of speech. Other countries slowly followed. Hierarchies remained, but checks on the powerful were being built into the system so that those out of power were never fully powerless. A norm was created for power sharing and compromise. Citizens were not under the direction of a ruler chosen by god or pedigree, but of a citizen representing the needs of fellow citizens.

Political scientists point to the steady rise in democracies since the 1970s to explain the gradual decrease in violence and the unprecedented peace of the last half century…[Hare, Woods, pp. 151-152]

Norms can vary temporally and culturally, as socio/economic/political values "evolve."

Consider the time since 2016:
The presidential campaign of Donald Trump was unique for many reasons, but one of the most disturbing was the dehumanizing rhetoric he used throughout the campaign. Trump had an uncanny intuition for groups his constituents would consider outsiders and was adept at framing these outsiders as threatening. Trump called reporters who insulted his supporters “scum,” “slime,” and “disgusting.” He called Hillary Clinton “nasty” and her supporters “animals.”

After generating a list of outsiders and emphasizing the threat they posed, Trump went on to encourage violence against them. He advocated torture, the death penalty, and deportation for refugees from war-torn countries. Journalists were not safe at his campaign events and had to be contained in pens for their own protection. Even his rhetoric was riddled with violence. He said he wanted to “punch [a protester] in the face,” was pleased that a protester was “roughed up,” and boasted that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and “shoot someone, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

The political system of the United States is based on the democratic principle that every person, even your worst enemy, deserves to be counted as human. We need to work together as a society to shun leaders who dehumanize others and encourage those who, regardless of political party, insist on the humanity of others... [Hare, Woods, pp. 181-182]  
Values and resultant norms change, sometimes unexpectedly quickly. Where are ours headed during this stressful time?

Self-sorting can make life easier for people in marginalized communities, but membership in a demographic group is not what we need to bring the country together, let alone the world. To understand this, we need to turn to the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of the brilliant book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam introduced millions to the concept of social capital, the “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

Brooks, Arthur C.. Love Your Enemies . Broadside e-books. Kindle Edition.

Another excellent book. Though, many of the Donald Trump references were tough sledding for me.


Five years ago today I posted this on Facebook:
So, Donald Trump supporters, you like him because, as he never fails to point out, he's so "very rich" he doesn't have to take any campaign money, which makes him immune from normal quid pro quo political pressures. He's a one-man personal deep-pockets Super PAC devoted to himself. He can "tell it like it is," and do and say whatever he wants. He doesn't need to kiss any donors' asses.

Did it ever occur to you that, were he to actually become President, he would simply try to continue to do and say whatever he wants, because he has no respect for people who aren't "very rich" like him? That he assumes he could run a nation the way he runs his companies? Simply ordering everyone around, threatening them, and calling them insulting names when they don't agree with him? Whether they're ordinary citizens or leaders of other nations.

I would say "be careful what you ask for." He will neither know nor care that you voted for him. This nation is not his latest acquisition, not part of the Trump "brand."
Well, how have our civic norms changed across the past 5 years?

Off-topic: My late younger daughter Danielle would have turned 50 today.

More to come...

No comments:

Post a Comment