When I was growing up as a precocious child in the rural corn belt of Nebraska, I was frequently asked “Why can’t you be normal”. My classmates, the adults in my life, and even my own family asked me this frequently. I didn’t have the foresight or the courage then to ask “What defines normal” or even “Who defines normal”.
Looking back on it years later I know I never would have gotten any kind of direct answer simply because what qualifies as normal keeps changing. In 1750 it was normal for two out of three children born in London, England to die before their fifth birthday. Now in the developed world (and increasingly so in the developing nations) infant mortality is rare. It is so rare now that if most of us were to look back five or six generations in our family tree, we would find that our most of our ancestors had more dead children than most of us have children or siblings. That’s what breakthroughs in medical science can do. As recently as my parent’s generation, most people were married in their early to mid twenties and had children within a few years. Now it is quite common for people of my generation to not marry until their thirties or even not marry at all. Back when my parents were in their twenties, if you weren’t married before thirty you were thought insane or gay. Now the stigmas on both homosexuality and lifelong bachelorhood are in retreat. Instances like these create new normals out of old normals that no longer worked.
There are things that go on now most people take for granted that may be looked out in horror by future generations. Even though wars haven’t really been fought between developed nations since World War II, I can imagine a future where people will look back at their ancestors and wonder how we justified ourselves in fighting wars and proxy wars that went on for years. Perhaps committing any kind of violence against other people will someday be viewed with the same horror we in 2016 view slavery, inquisitions, and wars of territory expansion. I can hope, can’t I? Perhaps in future years it will seem absurd for people to hate others based on their political views. I can only hope so, otherwise I am forever condemned having to listen to people bicker back on forth about political beliefs on Facebook and Youtube when all I really want to do is chat with a few friends and watch a few videos. I hope our obsession and splitting hairs over political beliefs will someday seem as absurd as Catholics and Protestants fighting during the Renaissance is to our 21st century sensibilities. Besides it’s not like politicians ever invented any labor saving devices, cured any deadly diseases, did any serious scientific research, or thought up better and less cruel ways of living. At most, they provided some funding and got out of the scientists and engineers ways. Many of the most influential and beneficial people who made a difference in history never held a public office, won a battle, or sat on a throne. Remember that the next time you take your political beliefs seriously.
Less dogmatic and hateful attitudes about political beliefs would be nice. What would be even nicer is less stigma and discrimination against those with mental health issues. Seems to me that having mental illness is one of those few things many people don’t feel bad at all about stigmatizing. It is essentially stigma’s final frontier. Every week it seems there are crime drama shows where the accused perpetrator is mentally ill or an introverted loner who doesn’t fit in. It also seems too common someone with a mental illness committing a violent crime gets far more attention than homeless mentally ill people being beaten by cops or gangs of ‘concerned citizens.’ Funding for mental hospitals has been dramatically cut over the years, often leaving the most afflicted to either the street, prison, or dead. It seems that prisons have become de facto mental health hospitals for a sizable portion of the mentally ill population. I know that the stats are a few years old in the link. But I have little reason to believe that the situation for mentally ill individuals in prisons has gotten much better in recent years. The treatment of seriously mentally ill individuals, at least in my country, is barbaric and insane. What did you think was going to happen when funding for mental hospitals was cut? Did you think the problems of the mentally ill would magically vanish once the hospitals were no longer well funded? Or did you think mentally ill people like myself are making our illnesses up and don’t need help? There should be no wonder why I was so quick to self commit myself on two separate occasions. There should be no wonder why I want to change my medications even after a few mini breakdowns. I don’t want to wind up in prison or dead for the crime of having a psychotic breakdown in front of the wrong person. You won’t prosecute the handfuls of crooked bankers who triggered the Great Recession but you will throw thousands of mentally ill people in jail because you don’t know what else to do with them? Way to stay classy. This is certainly one old normal that is in dire need of a quick death and being replaced by a new normal of more understanding, compassion, and better treatments. And yes, we can find the funding to do this transition if we care enough to do so.
Speaking of practices some currently on the fringes of normal society abhor, maybe even the age old practice of killing animals for food will seem barbaric to future generations. If lab grown meat gains traction in future years it could. Don’t be so quick to scoff. In 1900, who would have thought Henry Ford and his insane motorized carriage would put the draft horse out of business within several years? Or who would have thought in 1850 that John Rockefeller would find great and numerous uses for a scummy and sludgy nuisance called petroleum? These two by themselves got rid of old normals and created a new normal. The internet is a key example of a new normal. If I was born even fifteen years earlier I would have never been doing this blog. Who knows what new normals are on their way? Stay tuned my friends. Things are going to be getting more interesting than they already are.