When people talk about normal, most of the time what they have in their mind is a definition of average. More and more kids are being diagnosed with syndromes of one sort or another and suffering shit school lives and bullying as a result. If we are to believe the media and the medical (largely driven by drug manufacturers) profession, conditions like Autism, dyslexia, Attention Deficit disorder, depression and bi-polar disorder seem to be on the rampage, but isn’t it more accurate to say that it’s labelling that is on the rampage?
In his seminal work The Book (on the taboo against knowing who you are), Alan Watts wondered at our modern western need to break things apart and label the components. He proffered that a head can’t exist on its own without the rest of the body, so why do we single out the head as a distinct entity; or an arm or a leg for that matter.
Taking this further, the human or animal body can’t survive without an unfathomable range of other organisms, reactions and seemingly serendipitous events. Starting at the level of a human individual we can look outward to the massive cosmological scale where stars, galaxies and planets conform to patterns and predictable behaviours; any one of which, if changed minutely, could result in our planet being uninhabitable to human like life forms. Starting again at our human individual and going inward this time to what see as the minuscule, we can move through the physiological processes and chemical reactions in our bodies, down through the bacterial symbioses, shared DNA, common ancestors, continuing down through atomic, sub atomic and fundamental (and maybe further still) particles. Small evolutionary differences in any part of this array could have resulted in entirely different organisms to humans or none at all.
With that knowledge, which is probably basic to say the least, (we just don’t know what we don’t know after all), we continue to pull the whole apart to label it. Work in almost every facet of our existence is sidetracked and absorbed by symptoms thinking. You go to the doctor with a headache, he gives you pills to take away the symptom (possibly dangerously), you see a fungal disease on your lawn, you buy a fungicide to kill it, completely missing the fact that healthy grass relies heavily on soil borne fungi to enable it to absorb enough nutrition. In agriculture the entire industry in the west is based on reacting to symptoms. In medicine, treatments are almost entirely symptom specific and don’t take account of the whole person and her or his environment. Millions of people are dumped onto anti-depressants for the long term with no account taken of why they are depressed, drug addicts are given drug substitutes and are left languishing on methadone programs for decades with the end result being that they are still drug addicts.
Labelling leads to symptoms thinking which leads to there being an accepted notion of normal. If the majority of us don’t have a drug habit then people without drug habits are normal. If the majority of us find it energising (or just bearable) to be in close contact, social situations with others most of the time, then that is the norm and those who are the right shape to fit this hole are therefore normal. Square pegs need not apply for this round hole.
In our western systems where time is money, the capitalists can’t deal with you if you aren’t normal. It’s one size fits all, so if you dare to take one step to the right or left of the line of average we can’t accommodate you. However, just so that we know the next time, we’ll label you on our abnormality scale. If we find enough people who are your kind of abnormal we’ll invent something to sell to you that claims to cure your abnormality. If we have to waste time with you, we might as well make some money at the same time.
In reality normal is just another name for average.
If everyone was average we wouldn’t have the Mona Lisa, Starry Night or For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Make your own new normal at least twice a day and come back to see me next week…next patient please!
Check out Dominic’s brilliant film below: