To define normal is no easy task. Many people might claim they know it when they see it; or, rather, theyd know whats abnormal by seeing it. The problem is that few people ever completely agree; and so it is that we fail to reach a consensus on a subject that requires consensus.
Granted, normality doesnt require complete consensus, not if we define it as acceptable standards established by most people in a given location. There must still be some consensus, among those who believe themselves normal, within a given location. Since minimal standards deviate so much from place to place, the consensus breaks down at a broad enough level; and beyond the nation-state, its barely even an issue.
The reason that normality isnt an issue at the universal human level is that nation-states monopolize the benefits that accrue from standards of normality. Some call it traditionalism. Others call it common sense. Whatever its called, its what helps center the state by giving residents common cause. With a notion of whats normal, theres something worth protecting: and these are the values most residents agree are the ones that should define human purpose.
With normality comes the belief that theres a right way of living and also a wrong way. Because customs vary so much from place to place, those beliefs change. And with people in distant nations living life the wrong way, its easy to see why nations turn to war. After all, someone has to protect the right and proper way of doing things, and who better to protect those values than the nation-state?
Nation-states declare certain truths to be self-evident because theres a rightness to them. For some nation-states, those values are right because they benefit all people. For other nation-states, such values are right because divine beings have decreed them so. A third category of nation-states provides no other rationale than the benefit of law and order, which is, in fact, what all nation-states seek.
A nation-state forms itself on the very foundation of those broad standards, since its those standards that define a given nation-state. Its why some people choose to distinguish themselves from others to form new nations so that their standards will never have to be compromised. Naturally, most nation-states are divided by language, but, in reality, its differing customs that make unity such a frightful prospect.
From local customs come cultural values and, with culture values comes the need for a nation-state to protect those values. Security of life and property are one thing; but even without such concerns, theres the need to protect a way of life against those who live in error.
such manner, the belief in right values strengthens the fear of competing
values such that there can be no tolerance for that which is different.
Granted, standards of normality do evolve, even within a given nation-state. However, those changing values come at the price of considerable upheaval; and this is because theres so much resistance to change. In a world with clear standards of behavior, what can be worse than altering those standards, since by altering those standards, the standards are proven wrong; and if standards are wrong, what, then, is there worth fighting for?
Normality, then, is the notion that there are some values and customs beyond compromise. To critique those values and customs is to question the purpose of the nation-state established to protect those values and customs; and this, for some, is a betrayal tantamount to treason.
What reinforces a sense of normality is the fear of change; and the nation-state encourages that fear since change is rarely a benefit to a nation-state. If anything, change seeks to modify the nation state from within, altering the basis of power by forcing a reevaluation of values. The only fully secure nation-state is one that refuses to reassess the values that sustain it; although such a nation-state only renders itself more vulnerable to change by fearing it so much.
As a tool to maintain law and order, normality serves the nation-state better than by force of arms. Its what makes any nation-state self-governing since the populace can be relied upon to enforce its own values, for fear that opposing values will be forced upon them if they dont. Normality holds a people together, and gives those people a common enemy. That enemy, however, is dangerous for no other reason than for being different; for speaking a different language or for even for looking different.
Before there were nation-states, tribal communities maintained their own values; and unless they did so, there would be no values to hold the tribe together. Since a common cause was necessary to defend against enemies and survive the elements, those values were critical; and it was later those values that would justify the leadership of the few over the many, as if only some people could serve as intermediaries between tribe members and divine beings. This was the basis of the elite: that there were a select few entitled to more by virtue of being closer to God; a select few who could properly guide the rest.
The nation-state still guides by virtue of its exalted position, something closer to God than the people themselves; and the leaders are first among equals, if not outright superior. The exalted position comes of protecting the things that most residents value: the normal way of life, designed to secure peace, prosperity and happiness for all.
The elite benefit more than most from such peace and prosperity, their control of the state and the economy reinforced against those who seek to challenge them. The reason that there is an elite is that some people have been better than most at using those predominant cultural values to their advantage; and others, less so. And, in some states, people are encouraged to push self-interest at every opportunity, barring conflict with the laws which channel those energies carefully and selectively, for the benefit of those who draft the laws.
So it is that normality benefits the few at the expense of the many, who can be relied upon to enforce those standards with outraged ferocity. Theres no other force like the angry multitude to bolster a system which guides by fear. Fortunately, for the elites, the multitudes are always quick to anger at the prospect of losing a chance at prosperity; and its a prosperity most people dont even have. But its not even prosperity thats at stake, its the promise of prosperity that many believe they deserve.
Traditionalism is an attempt to achieve prosperity by pursuing time-tested values; the longer people have been doing something, the more suitable it must be as a guide to behavior. The past teaches, certainly, but it constrains us only because so many of us believe it must; as if humanity ever evolved by constraint. Its only those who stepped clear of humanitys self-inflicted constraints whove pushed the bounds of whats permissible so we might be capable of more.
Our security and happiness, after all, does not depend on what others have done in the past, under completely different circumstances. It depends on what we believe we deserve and on what we do to meet that greater sense of self-worth. The past ceases to benefit us if it keeps us from claiming the future. Unless values evolve, well never be able to take full advantage of the world before us, failing to exceed ourselves by holding to the same limitations imposed on us for millennia.
The Church That Is No Church, however, is not advocating the disposal of values altogether. Values, after all, are useful guidelines to remind us of our shared humanity. Those values, however, should never be coerced because nothing of real value to human beings need ever be coerced. There is no surer sign that values need to evolve than the coercion of values upon those who resist them. But as long as empowered individuals resist what no longer has value, then values can evolve to more adequately embody the promise of tomorrow.
As long as fear mobilizes the populace, the few who resist traditional values have their work cut out for them; and when those few cant be ignored, theyre renounced, and even demonized. Traditionalism thrives on fear because its the promise of certainty in a time of potentially catastrophic change. When traditionalism has grounded people for so long, why dispense with it if it means people might lose their footing and be forced to find other means of securing themselves?
Traditionalism is something of a psychological crutch which allows people to link themselves to a past which seemed more certain and less hazardous. The truth is that life has always been hazardous, the past not becoming less certain merely because it has already been decided. With traditionalism, there is not only present certainty but the pride that comes of past glories. Traditionalism also gives meaning to human endeavor by valuing consistent modes of behavior and by arguing that only means of such behavior can humanity do justice to its gods and to itself. By ensuring that the future resembles the past, traditionalism reassures us that were serving the right purpose. It dispenses with individual doubt in favor of the undisputed logic of many generations of many families.
If, in fact, everything is for a reason, then there was, indeed, a purpose to traditional views; however, the purpose must remain fresh otherwise traditionalism becomes a punishment rather than a benefit. For everything to happen for a reason, the reason should be a relevant one, and when the reasons cease to make sense, so must traditional views be discarded.
Traditionalism requires normality. Normality, on the other hand, has no need of traditionalism. But normality still holds people to an unspoken code of behavior. Failing to follow that code results in social exile since the community rejects those who reject communal norms.
Strict application of unspoken social norms results in traditionalism. To enforce those norms is to provide the legal framework for a power structure which benefits from strict observance. After all, strict observance of social norms reinforces the existing power structure at the expense of those who dont already benefit. Social norms provide stability in the wake of chaos and traditionalism at the first sign of change. Because people fear the future, they find refuge in traditional views which have been sanctioned by time itself.
What traditionalism forgets is that human society evolves, its requirements revised to meet changing expectations. For all we know, the human mind is evolving too, more agile than ever in the wake of increasing societal demands. The more we accomplish great things, the more we expect great things not only from ourselves but from others.
We can no more follow thousand year-old advice than we can live with the diminished expectations of a bygone age. Granted, some societies are content to live as their ancestors once did, but such societies are fiercely traditional, almost repressively so. A forward-directed society has no use for traditionalism since only the future can satisfy our ambitions.
Normality is not as resistant to change as traditionalism. However, it reject deviations form the norm. Its a shame because its those very deviations that highlight new opportunities for human ambition. Without deviations from the norm, there could be no evolution. Humanity itself was a deviation from the tree-dwelling apes because one of those apes found more to be gained from exploration and risk.
Forward-thinking individualism has no need for normality, much less traditionalism. To limit ones choices to the choices made by others is to reject the possibility of better choices; and societies arent primed to take advantage of unique choices since most people are too busy following one another to notice anything out of the ordinary.
And what happens when people follow one another? They run in circles until someone risks communal disapproval by breaking from the circle and following an untested path. It takes only one person to change the shape of human endeavor. And when that new path leads to something profound and exciting, people take notice.
Progress, after all, does not occur when people do what theyve always done. Progress comes when people seek out better ways of doing things. Its because some people embrace ingenuity and risk, that humanity has evolved over the years, dropping from the trees so we might eventually explore the stars. We are seekers, after all, not followers, and its only by exploring the unknown that we will even understand our purpose.
Traditionalism, cautions us, convincing us we deserve only so much as others believe we deserve, which may be little if anything. But its time to free ourselves from the restrictive power structures of the past. We deserve the future, a better future for all; and progress can give us that future.