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What's all the fuss about normalization?

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Recently, the word "normalize" has bubbled to the surface of punditry and social media conversations. When I look it up, I get vacuous definitions like, "to bring or restore to a normal condition."

When I was a kid, a teacher told me that if I couldn't define a word without using a form of that word in my definition, then I didn't know what the word means.

Putting that quibble aside, I will certainly admit that the 2016 election cycle was not normal. I would think that returning to normality from the abnormality of the 2016 freak show would be a good thing. But, no. When paid pundits and volunteer keyboard warriors inveigh against normalization, they are alerting us to the dangers of treating something that is definitely NOT normal as if it WERE normal. This makes intuitive sense to me, but it raises a dangerous question:

What is "normal?"

I watched a YouTube video in which a guy walked up to people on the street and asked them, "Have you seen any normal people today?"

Almost everybody he talked to either asked him what he meant by "normal," or they struggled with the ambiguity of the question.

Am I normal? I'm a white, heterosexual man, so surely I should count as normal in some respect, but I would probably bristle if you described me as normal. I think a lot of people would. Maybe most people, in which case it wouldn't be normal to think of oneself as being normal. But that doesn't make a lick of sense.

I think most everyone living in the English-speaking techno-industrial world has felt terrorized by normality at one point or another. Who is normal in high school? The prom queen? The captain of the football team? The class president? There's only one of each of them. They CAN'T be normal. They're exceptional, but exceptional people get held up as examples of normality all the time, like the disadvantaged kid who worked hard, said no to drugs, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made a fortune.

A one-in-a-thousand case can't be normal, but we're indoctrinated to think that if we fail to meet that standard that it's a matter of personal failure on our part, rather than a normal outcome given the circumstances.

Social media and the fragmentation of the traditional media have given us another reason to push back against the constraints of normality. Facebook and it's ilk allow us to surround ourselves with our ideological soul mates and never have to suffer the inanities, manufactured obsessions, and paranoid fantasies of the lumpen masses, whom we regard as occupying a continuum that runs from "freaking clueless" at one end all the way to "straight-up evil" at the other.

If those people get to decide what counts as normal, then we want nothing to do with it because normal doesn't just mean what's typical or familiar, it also means what's right. Whether or not we subscribe to the doctrine of moral relativism, we're not about to let some idiot from outside our micro-tribe tell us we're wrong about anything.

That's probably the source of the worry about "normalizing" Trump. If we treat him as if he were a normal occupant of the Oval Office, that also means that we have to admit that, on some level, he and his knuckle-dragging supporters are right. But we know they're not right, which means, no matter how many people voted for him, Donald Trump being the president of the United States is not and cannot be considered normal.

601 words

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