Friday, July 15, 2016

The Trouble with Normal

by Jean Roberta

“Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first" --
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

- Bruce Cockburn, 1983

I think the most accurate political label for me would be Romantic Leftist. The best aspect of the spotty Christian teaching I was exposed to in childhood was the combined concept of universal worth, universal rights, and universal kinship, which implies universal empathy and responsibility. I loved the idea that every human being has value, and that since we all need love, we should all give love.

Belief in a God-Father, gazing fondly down on each of us from the sky, shouldn't be necessary to create a more loving world. We wouldn't need Him (in all His contradictory guises) if we had each other.

Although I believe that a radical leftist commitment to universal everything is logical (evidence shows that a greater commitment to the general welfare of a population decreases violence of all kinds), its appeal to me is basically emotional.

“Liberty and justice for all” was part of the Pledge of Allegiance I learned to say each morning in the U.S. school system. I felt I could really feel patriotic toward a government that guaranteed those things.

Then I grew up in stages, and each stage brought a new level of disillusionment. I’m sometimes amazed that I still have good memories of a happy childhood in a region that was dominated by the Mormon Church, with its thoroughly male-centred, racist, pro-capitalist world-view. I was clearly in a bubble until I began to see the world as it really was.

When I reached puberty, I began dating, and I also hung out with kids who weren’t all white. Being part of a mixed-race crowd actually made me feel safer than if I had been surrounded by blond, blue-eyed kids from a TV sit-com. My Mohawk-looking grandfather was still alive and sometimes came to visit us, all the way from New York City. Plus my mother could turn surprisingly dark in the sun, like a snapshot developing color over time. I had reason to worry about being rejected by a really white crowd if they discovered that I wasn’t 100% pure.

Several of my white classmates warned me that if I kept on hanging out with “Mexicans” (mostly U.S.-born), my reputation would be mud.

A famous Chinese woman novelist gave a talk at the state college where my father taught, and she stayed in our guest bedroom for several days. My friends (including the “Mexicans”) wondered out loud why my parents would let a Chinese person stay in their house. Yet no one I knew was officially racist. Their expressions of disgust that “people of color” were allowed to live were usually prefaced with, “I’m not racist, but . . .”

Whenever a boy asked me out, I would tell him I wanted to be treated like an equal. Then he would crack a joke about the stupidity of girls, especially the ones who get themselves raped, pregnant, beaten or killed. I would ask why a boy who hated everything female would choose to spend time with a girl. That was my date’s cue to comfort me in baby-talk: “Aww, honey, don’t be like that.”

Adults told me that love isn’t rational, and that boys who picked on girls had secret crushes on the objects of their ridicule. I was told that boys have trouble expressing their feelings, and that was why I couldn’t expect them to treat me as politely as I was supposed to treat them. I was also told that a “real gentleman” would go far beyond treating me like a fellow-being. A gentleman was expected to open doors for me (literal and metaphorical), carry my shopping bags, pay for the stuff in them, and shower me with unbelievable compliments.

My experience with boys, and then with men, could be described as extreme. I would get extreme lines (“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” “I’ll love you forever.”), followed by casual contempt or scary rage. (“You never told me you’re into that Women’s Lib crap!” “If you want to go out to work, you should pay for everything!” “You never told me you’re the kind of slut who’s had sex with other guys!”)

Yet when “male chauvinist” (after an extreme French nationalist in Napolean’s time, Claude Chauvin) and then “sexist” became popular terms, every guy I met assured me that he didn’t fit that label. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a male chauvinist, but why do some girls always . . ? My desire for an education that could lead to an interesting career was dismissed as a symptom of my hormonal nature, or a perverse effect of corruption by my educated parents.

After divorce, I moved on to dating women, and by the time my daughter was 11, I was planning to move in with Mirtha, now my spouse. My daughter opposed the plan, so I arranged for the two of us, mother and child, to go to counselling. I asked the counsellor if she could counsel a lesbian mother. She said she could counsel anyone. Then she said she had no experience with lesbians, and asked leading questions intended to trigger an epiphany in me: I was supposed to realize that I was hurting the daughter I loved, and that she would be so much happier with a stepfather. I explained to the counsellor that: 1) I had never met a man who had any clear interest in helping me to raise my daughter, including her father, and 2) I had asked my daughter several times why she was upset, and she had told me that she didn’t want me to date anyone: male, female, trans, or extraterrestrial. Nonetheless, the counsellor made it clear that our sessions together would only be successful if I broke up with my girlfriend and resolved to stay out of the lesbian community for the rest of my life. So much for unbiased counselling.

Everyone I’ve ever met has defined themselves as “normal.” In some cases, they think Hitler’s government should have finished the job of removing all Jews from the face of the earth, but presumably that’s not an expression of hysterical bigotry if the people who express it are “normal.” Some folks think the undeserving poor should be cut off from government “handouts” so they will die of hunger and disease, which would be a logical expression of Darwin’s theory of evolution: the unfit die out, and rightly so. Why interfere with nature? (But when a social Darwinist is badly injured or diagnosed with a serious disease, he/she wants all the interference they can get.)

I’ve learned not to ask new acquaintances whether they love peace, justice and human equality. “Of course!” would be the answer. “Doesn’t everyone?” No. Never.

The visionaries who imagine a world in which human worth, as such, is really valued have always been considered insane, as abnormal as a person can be.


  1. Hi Jean-
    You said:
    Some folks think the undeserving poor should be cut off from government “handouts” so they will die of hunger and disease, which would be a logical expression of Darwin’s theory of evolution:

    Can you imagine? How could more desperate people on the streets represent a better society? Those people don't understand cause and effect. They rely on empty theory. Likely the same people won't acknowledge the rest of Darwin's findings when it comes to being descended from earlier hominids. Compassion is one of the things that sets us apart.

    Come to think, maybe not. Have you read some of the stuff about elephants when they lose a family member? Hell, even our cat was sad when our dog died. Poor thing wandered for days around where Moorey's bed was.

  2. I'm inclined to think that the only thing that sets us apart from other animals--other than lucky rolls of the dice--is our frenzy to accumulate more than we need, and some other animals even do that.

  3. Your words remind me that all religions purport to be "of peace", but their followers never seem to read that part of the catechism. And from what I've read, all political systems work very well on paper: Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, etc. The problem is that people get involved with them, and then it always ends up like Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    Dad grew up dirt-poor in Glasgow, thus was a huge believer in socialized medicine. He worked hard all of his life, and thought everyone else should have that same opportunity. The biggest arguments we had (besides "boys do and girls don't") was that I said all jobs should pay the same salary. Everywhere. Period. If you're willing to work harder, you can make a few bits more...but we should all make the same base salary. That way jobs/careers could be chosen based solely on interest and ability, not on whether or not you can make a huge pile of money doing it.

    Dad explained that it was logical that a carpenter made about 8 times more than a high school English teacher, because carpenters were men, who were supporting a family. Teachers were usually women who had a man supporting them and supplying them with insurance. Kind of a Chauvinist, my old man! But I'd hoped those kind of viewpoints would be fading. Instead, they seem to be even more popular than least with some.

  4. Catching up after my trip... This is a great post, seeming to ramble from one thought to the next but tying everything up by the end.

    I've never been or considered myself normal. The term wouldn't fit most of my friends, either. But I guess I am also a "romantic leftist", and life hasn't yet beat that out of me. I still believe that violence begets violence, even when it's the oppressed lashing out at their oppressors, and that kindness and compassion shine their light on the giver as well as the receiver.


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