To Be “Normal”

To be or not to be, Normal?

As a writer for Quora I answered questions primarily for autism and mental health topics.
One question, I don’t remember it exactly but, it went something like:
“Should people with mental disorders wait until they are normal again to have relationships?”
I wasn’t in the mood for a nuanced argument that day, and began my answer with:
“I’m not “normal” and I never will be.”
shame
He didn’t like my answer, to put it mildly.  He was simply astounded I wouldn’t  want to be normal nor have any shame that I wasn’t.

“Normal” is a 19th century idea brought to you by this dude:

quetelet_adolphe

  An out of work astronomer by the name of Quetelet
He decided to take data collected in censuses and surveys (also 19th century inventions) and apply the mathematics of astronomy to the data in order to determine averages.
Astronomers believed that every individual measurement of a celestial object (such as one scientist’s measurement of the speed of Saturn) always contained some amount of error, yet the amount of aggregate error across a group of individual measurements (such as many different scientists’ measurements of the speed of Saturn, or many different measurements by a single scientist) could be minimized by using the average measurement. In fact, a celebrated proof by the mathematician Carl Gauss appeared to demonstrate that an average measurement was as close to a measurement’s true value (such as the true speed of Saturn) as one could ever hope to get. Quetelet applied the same thinking to his interpretation of human averages: He declared that the individual person was synonymous with error, while the average person represented the true human being.
Social-Norms
Before that, people were not compared to each other but to the ideal (perfection of god, those we felt represented god) where all but a few were found lacking. They lived their lives pursuing a goal of heaven or enlightenment.
History shows this is not necessarily a better attitude, yet the shift made way for rather darker ideas of the worth of those who for whatever reason were deemed  abnormal or less.

Genetic Fitness

In the same century as this development Francis Galton,  Darwin’s cousin, whom Darwin disagreed with I might add, decided to apply Darwin’s studies of plants and animals to people.   His work was the root of the modern Eugencis movement and is still alive and well today.  At its core Eugenics puts forward the philosophy that certain traits are more ideal and make a person more genetically “fit.” Some have gone as far as trying to engineer the perfect society by encouraging child bearing among the “fit” and discouraging it through various means from propaganda to sterilization and murder.
theblackstork

 

from wikipedia: The Black Stork is a 1917 motion picture written by and starring Harry J. Haiselden, the chief surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago. The Black Stork is Haiselden’s fictionalized account of his eugenic infanticide of the child John Bollinger. The film was re-released in 1927 under the title Are You Fit to Marry?

 

The ideas of both Quetelet and Galton influence cultural thinking today

Even if we don’t necessarily agree with Galton, or know or believe that there really is a “norm” of humankind, we let these idea influence our thinking.

We compare ourselves and others against the perceived new view of perfection, the ideal traits, the cultural expectations we deem “normal.”

It still influences how we view people with disabilities and mental disorders and any others perceived to be “abnormal.”

You might be thinking at this point,

“but Amanda, Surely, there are typical people?”

Oh yes sure, but even “typical” people are nuanced individuals who don’t fit the mold of “normal” with perfection.

Also,  I don’t believe you can rate people’s worth as better or less based on measurement of any kind,

not in accomplishments or lack,

not in test scores,

not in contribution to economy

and certainly,

NOT in culturally preferred traits.

People are people.

No better or less than others.

The pursuit of happiness however one defines it shouldn’t be put on hold because we don’t meet an imaginary ideal.

 

 

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