I admit I have never been what most people would consider normal. I have been much bigger and physically stronger than most people I know most of my life. I have usually been one of the smartest people in every group I’ve been part of. Smarts and strength do not ‘normally’ go together, at least not according to popular stereotype. I have also always been one of those rare kids who never stopped asking ‘why’ to everything. I just turned thirty six years old and I still ask ‘why’ to everything just like I did when I was eight years old.
I’m sure most of you who are parents and have dealt with grade school children get asked ‘why’ to everything. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why did my dog die? Why do people fight wars? Why do people dump toxic sludge into the ocean? And on it goes. Tragically most people quit asking why entirely about the time they hit puberty and become interested in sex, sports, and popular culture. I never developed a strong appetite for any of these three aspects of life. My friends and I were discussing economics, science, and foreign policy when we were thirteen years old, right about the time most of our peers and elders outcasted us. I think we were outcasted because we didn’t care about the latest episode of ‘Friends’ or ‘The Simpsons’ or how bad the football team lost on Friday night.
My close friends and I were never popular or considered normal, especially in high school. While most of my rural school was listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and Alan Jackson, my friends and I were listening to Metallica, AC/DC, Green Day, Marilyn Manson, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and other hard rock groups that were big in the late 1990s. People thought it was odd that my best friend was a girl. Most people figured we were having sex (which we never did) just to wrap their minds around the foreign concept that platonic friendships can exist between teenage boys and teenage girls.
I am not what most people would consider normal, mental illness or not. I never have been normal and I certainly don’t care to start being normal now. I never want to engage in normal behavior, especially with what I have seen out of normal people just from my previous jobs and some of my normal friends’ Facebook postings. I care about the plight of the poor. I also do not envy the wealthy. I believe climate change is real and we are contributing to it. But I also believe we will adapt to climate change, manage it, and even solve it. Our species has survived small pox epidemics, bubonic plagues, malaria, famines, hundreds of wars, the Dark Ages, and several ice ages with only a pittance of the science and knowledge we have even today. And our knowledge is only continuing to grow with each passing day. Science and knowledge are not static, don’t fool yourself. We have knocked problems down for thousands of years. We are knocking down problems even as you read these passages. We will continue to knock problems down. It is what our species does. Birds can fly, lions can hunt, fish can breathe underwater, we humans see problems and solve them. One of the most encouraging things I tell myself everyday is “many people much smarter than me are thinking things up.”
I support renewable energy. I don’t buy the whole “drill baby drill” nonsense, climate change or not. I believe we are and will keep advancing and find far better ways of powering civilization and doing things. If Henry Ford just listened to public opinion, he’d just sold faster and stronger horses. If Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla would have just listened to public opinion, we would not have gotten electricity when we did. I also believe we would have never gotten to where we could use renewable energy without using fossil fuels first. But like the use of whale oil and wax candles, we will move beyond oil to even better energy sources. I believe we will leave the oil age long before we run out of oil, just like we left the bronze age three thousand years ago and yet we still use copper and tin.
I am not afraid of foreigners and immigrants. Ninety five percent of planet Earth does not come from America already. I guarantee you my ancestors from Germany weren’t fluent in English (nor were they doctors or engineers) when they first set foot on Ellis Island. If anthropologists are correct, we’re all immigrants one way or another. I don’t watch regular news casts because I am convinced the regular news reports only bad news and only a fraction of what could be reported. But bad news is reported on so much only because that is what we humans are predisposed to notice. It’s in our genes. Our minds can only take in so much information and survival is priority number one of all species.
I believe that decades from now, future generations will be amazed that people used to work in manufacturing, farming, and customer service instead of letting machines and computer programs do most of this repetitive work. It’s an election year in my country and all sides are talking about bringing back jobs to America. Most low to mid level manufacturing jobs are never coming back to America. Many manufacturers in China and other countries where we outsourced our manufacturing are replacing their human workers with machines even as we speak. And this is before 3D printing becomes mainstream, which it will within ten years. The days of people going straight from high school to a manufacturing job for the next forty five years with a pension, union protection, and insurance are just as dead as the days of the blacksmith and wagon maker. So also are gone the days of a family with eight kids being able to make a living on 40 acres of farmland. We simply no longer need ninety percent of our population working in farming or manufacturing like we did during the Industrial Revolution. And these people had really low standard of living by modern standards anyway. Hans Rosling gives some pretty good TED talks about how standards of living are rising all over the world, not just in North America and Western Europe.
Change is the only real constant. Trying to hold onto the old tried and true may be normal but it merely delays the inevitable. The US banned stem cell research several years ago only to see that research go to countries like South Korea and China. Now that stem cell research can be done without aborted fetuses, the US welcomed it back but will be playing catch up in this field for years to come. Normal people talk about building walls, closing off the national borders, and isolating. Yeah, that worked miracles during the Cold War and ancient China. If normal people would have had all the say, we’d have never gotten rid of slavery, we’d be systematically discriminating against women, religious, and racial minorities far more than we are now, children working in mines and mills would be considered ‘character building’, we’d still have the divine right of kings and emperors, and we would have never entered the Industrial Revolution, let alone our current Information Revolution. These same people who fear change and machines taking their jobs don’t seem to be rushing to join Amish communities or throw away their smart phones. But it’s normal to be selective, have cognitive biases, and to overestimate how great the past was while underestimating the possibility for the future. Normal is common. Normal does not change the world, especially not for the better. Normal is boring. And dare I say normal sucks.