Why Be Normal?

This is something of a trick question, obviously.

Years ago, during a visit to my parents after they retired and moved to Florida, I bought a bumper sticker, legible from five car lengths back, that read:

WHY BE NORMAL?

On my way out for a walk that evening, I put it on the back bumper of my parents’ Cadillac. It remained there until my father noticed it, a day or two later, and it was gone.

To suggest that being normal is even a question, well, it’s simply not normal. The normal thing is to want to be normal, I suppose, to do what a normal person normally does, to want a normal life. The larger question, of course, is why be philosophical? Why inquire?

It was not normal, before recent years, for an incumbent (or even retired) president to publicly lie over 25,000 times in a four year span. Now we’re used to it, you know, everybody lies, this guy is just really, really driven to lie, so what? The deadly, massively destructive storms that now visit nations around the world regularly, while uncommon, even unthinkable two decades ago, are now pretty much normal. Friends communicating exclusively by texted initials like LOL, ROTFLMAO!, etc. is now, like, totally normal (even if these two are relics). We have a bias toward getting used to what happens regularly, quickly considering it the new normal. The first time we are confronted with the unfamiliar might be a shock, even feel like a moral reckoning, the fifteenth, certainly the hundredth, time is pretty normal.

This is what we mean when we speak of battle-hardened troops. It’s normal for a person to hesitate to kill another person, until you are in a place where your best friend’s head gets blown off by a deadly enemy. You see the ugly bastard swing his gun toward you and you blow his fucking head off. It’s him or you. The first time you blow somebody’s head off you might vomit, have nightmares about it. After a few times, well, shit happens, you simply have to get used to it. It becomes fairly normal. Eventually you can even fire into a crowd, fuck it, these fucking people are not even people. It’s normal human behavior, has been from the dawn of the homo sapiens epoch.

So it was when one of the psychiatrists who interviewed normal German bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann before his trial for crimes against humanity in Jerusalem. Asked if Eichmann was “normal” one court appointed shrink said “more normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him.” [1] Astute readers of this blahg had to know a reference to Nazis was on the way, at the same time, the normal Nazi is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about.

We have Normal (standard behavior based on the norms of the group — sane) on one side and Abnormal (extraordinary, exceptional, out of the ordinary — insane) on the other side, the side where monsters, saints and heroes live. As I have written here many times — we are always able to justify our actions as good and morally correct. This is a cardinal characteristic of the “wise ape”. If I cut your head off it’s because you made me do it, you sick bastard. That’s normal.

Normal for 126 sitting members of the House of Representatives to join the president’s Texas friend’s baseless lawsuit seeking to invalidate the votes in each swing state that Trump lost in 2020. They just argued, you know, that the Supreme Court should throw out those millions of votes because they deprived the majority in the great state of Texas of their right to the president they chose. Nothing not normal about sucking up to a powerful, famously vindictive boss who rules by fear and intimidation and is also a sadist. Normal, also, for the well-funded elected representatives of the rest of us to do nothing about these 126 democracy subverting lickspittles.

Decency, of course, is normal too. Kindness to others, perfectly normal. Mercy, normal. Except when these things are weaponized, which is now normal too. What a useless idea “normal” is. I was reminded of that by this headline in the New York Times.

Now there is absolutely no reason to think that Mr. Trump was one of these outliers, I’m not saying it or even suggesting it. In defense of a man who’s hard to defend, he was pretty much the same before and after his dramatic brush with COVID-19 (and Vegas oddsmakers are at odds over whether the Liar-in-Chief actually ever was infected with the novel coronavirus before his heroic quick “recovery”). Mental illness is a whole other topic, when we start throwing around words like “psychotic”… hoo boy, that’s not normal. Not normal at all!!!

[1] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem p. 25

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