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In Praise of the Normal (and Abnormal)

From Wilson's vault of previously unpublished material.

by James Leroy Wilson
November 7, 2001

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In Praise of the Normal (and Abnormal)_James Leroy Wilson-From Wilson's vault of previously unpublished material. John Derbyshire of the National Review wrote recently of the concept of "normal." Everyone wants to be considered normal by their peers, even while historically abnormal phenomena, such as out-of-wedlock births, public expressions of homosexuality, and day care, become commonplace. (One example of the changing of the times is that in the previous sentence I used "out-of-wedlock" where the more pejorative "illegitimate" was once used.) As to be expected from a conservative magazine, Derbyshire praises the concept of normal and wants its standards to be high.

Derbyshire opened my mind on, oddly, the concepts of idealism and totalitarianism. But first, I should explain what I would define as normal. To be normal is to manage, by inclination rather than social pressure, to uphold the expectations and standards of civil society. In the United States, this standard for adults has historically been to marry and stay married, raise good kids, be reliable and competent in providing income, maintaining at least an average standard of living, and participating in public, community, and church affairs. Decency, productivity, and conformity are the virtues of the "normal."

That is, normality implies standards, standards that for many of us seem impossible to achieve even some of the time, and for all are impossible to achieve perfectly. Even the most successful among us may be haunted by bizarre fetishes, closet addictions, or spiritual turmoil. And that's the problem. A normal person probably thinks of him-or herself as abnormal, too inward-looking and aware of one's own vulnerabilities. Being normal is all too hard for too many of us. We try to be normal because of the social pressure, the peer pressure. And when we don't succeed, we receive the implicit message that there's something wrong with us.

Normality therefore becomes oppressive. And that's where the liberalism comes in to help us out. When we feel abnormal, we are reminded by the Left that we are, in fact, normal. That we should be normal, recognized as normal in law. For many failures to achieve normality are accidental or uncontrollable, and therefore faultless. The physically disabled and the mentally handicapped are not in control of their "abnormal" characteristics. Neither are homosexuals. So they should enjoy all the rights, privileges, honors, and acceptance as the rest of us, right?

It sounds good because it sounds fair. But the reality is, normal people are able to walk, think rationally, and are attracted to the opposite sex. If normality does not imply these three characteristics, society would crumble and the human race will suffer extinction. Society thrives and perpetuates because normal people, the vast majority of people, possess these characteristics.

What the Left wants is exactly what fascists, white supremacists, and other vile varieties of right-wingers want. They want to make normality universal in civil society by abolishing abnormality as they define it. That is idealism; that is totalitarianism. While totalitarian right-wingers want to eliminate society of those who they deem can't be equal with "normal" people, the totalitarian left wants to, as Pat Moynihan put it, "define deviancy down" thereby broadening the definition of "normal." Abnormality is abolished because the most abnormal among us will enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else.

The Left wants to achieve "normal" by defining it out of existence, thereby increasing the chances of achieving total social equality. The gross lawyering and politicization of the judiciary of the past 50 years are attributable to this aim. If you want to abort the baby inside of you, you're still normal! If, because you are physically handicapped, you get to play competitive golf with a cart while your competitors have to walk, your winnings are still fair! If you couldn't quit smoking even while most smokers have, you're still normal, so it's still not your fault you got cancer, it's the tobacco companies'!

Eradicating abnormality is idealistic because idealism presumes a norm, a social condition in which all humans and human institutions are working well. The Left assumes that justice requires elevating the status of the no-fault disabled to the same status as regular, healthy human beings, not only in law, but in every social transaction, in fact in every interpersonal interaction. We can't hurt anyone's self-esteem, can we? Everyone has the right to be normal, even abnormal people.

The racist, nationalist, and religious right define "normal" in very narrow contexts and would exclude, expel, or eliminate all those who can not conform. The Left likewise can not tolerate abnormality, and would rather be all-inclusive with never-ending regulations to protect the "rights" of the disadvantaged. It seems that only conservatives both recognize that there is "normality" that should be honored and defended, yet that the "abnormal" should also be tolerated.

The weak might prefer a Leftist regime to boost their self-esteem, but for the "abnormal" people to truly thrive, they need a conservative environment in which they recognize themselves as oddballs and deal with it. Affirming self-esteem never inspired anyone, but those with it are capable of all sort of innovation and good work that make us all better off.

If you have been made to feel abnormal, because of singleness, a perception that you've underachieved, that some condition has disabled you, you can, like everyone else, look upon yourself as a victim or as a free agent. Victims play into the hands of the totalitarian Left, justifying their lack of accomplishment by blaming others. Free persons view the standards they can't or won't achieve, the "normal" expectations left unfulfilled, as opportunities to do things differently. Freedom is experienced by playing by different rules yet dealing with the consequences. This in no way dishonors the standards of normality that work for most people and which keep civilizations stable for many generations. All I'm saying is that not everyone can be normal, yet everyone can lead happy lives without abridging the freedoms of others, as long as they can free themselves of the social pressures of normality.

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