Saturday, June 19, 2010

On being normal


On being normal

George Clark, 16 January 2008

Normality is a political idea. It makes it possible to label people as sub-normal (bad), normal (good) or supra-normal (excellent). So how do we recognise a normal person? There are many possible ways but they boil down to the idea that, "me and us are normal, 'they' are not". In what follows we will look briefly at two broad views of 'enlightened' normality and at a possible merging at the level of supra-normals.

Reasonably enlightened normality

In Europe there has been the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment. These created a view of normality that favours rationality and materialism in a clockwork, Newtonian universe. The 'scientific method' rules the modern world.

Sub-normal people are hangovers from pre-modern times. They are traditionalists who are superstitious and believe in magic. Normal people are thoroughly 'modern' and look for evidence to guide their rational, systematic and selfish thought processes. Supra-normal people are the lions of philosophy, science and economics who embrace post-modernism with its deep-rooted, radical doubt and its existential uncertainty - anything goes.

In this view the social paradigm involves dualism and debate. There are winners and losers. Competition. Humanity is seen as having dominion over creation.

Integrally enlightened normality

In the east there have been thoughts of enlightenment and thus of liberation and release for more than 2000 years.

Sub-normal people believe in the abiding reality of self and things. This is the root of their suffering. They are in the majority. Normal people appreciate (a) the impermanence of all created things and (b) the wisdom of renunciation and stillness. This leads to the end of suffering. Supra-normal people are the transcendent sages and gurus who fully embody the highest ideals and act as a role model for others.

In this view the social paradigm involves monism, discussion and silent meditation. We are enmeshed in a web of multiple, complex and intertwining causes and conditions. Viewpoints are held lightly. Partnership. Everybody can win release from suffering by changing how they think.

The merging of the supra-normals

The above sketch is brutally over simple. It serves to polarise world views and to point to the possibility of a merging - at least at the level of the supra-normals. This might lead to a more systematic and compassionate stewardship of ourselves and the planet. Anderson (1996) noted the potential for humanity to wake up - 

"... we have not one Enlightenment project but three: a Western one based on rational thought, an Eastern one based on seeing through the illusion of the Self, and a Postmodern one based on the concept of socially constructed reality. And despite their many differences, they share the common goal of liberation.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau made the famous revolutionary pronouncement that "Men are born free, and everywhere are in chains." A couple of centuries later that still holds truth for us, but now we see that the strongest chains are symbolic ones, mind forged manacles." (p219)

Source: Walter Truett Anderson (ed) (1996) The Fontana Post-Modernism Reader; Fontana; ISBN 0006863701 see

No comments: