Who defines normal?

Actual is not normalThere’s a fascinating essay by Stanley Fish at the New York Times, wherein he looks at the way society defines normality, and deviations from it. [via Cheryl Morgan] [image by Kevin Dooley]

It’s a real ethical can of worms – a brief look at the comments thread on our recent post about deaf parents wanting to select for deafness in their children makes that abundantly clear – and Fish takes the very rational and pluralist line which states that, essentially, it’s a dilemma that will never be resolved.

“I am neither making nor approving these arguments. I am merely noting that they can and have been made, that they will continue to be made, that there is no theoretical way to stop them from being made, and that their structure is always the same whether the condition that asks for dignity and the removal of stigma is autism, deafness, blackness, gayness, polygamy, drug use, pedophilia or murder.”

It’s a thought provoking piece, and well worth the ten minutes it’ll take you to read it – and it’s also interesting to see sf-nal tropes turning up in a positive light in such a mainstream essay, as Fish uses the X-Men as an analogy.

It strikes me that the only route forward in light of Fish’s conclusion is that we need to become more accepting of otherness. Looking at human history, however, I wonder if we’ll ever achieve such an admirable goal.

5 thoughts on “Who defines normal?”

  1. Well, yes — but Fish’s argument seems to be that there’s no principled way of deciding which kinds of otherness should be accepted (“blackness, gayness”) and which kinds of otherness should not be accepted (“pedophilia, murder”).

  2. And he has a point. Neither he or I are arguing in favour of letting pedophiles off the hook because they’re a persecuted minority, but the point is that deciding where and how that line gets drawn is a very difficult proposition, and that it’s inherently a function of our own self-image as ‘normal’ people.

  3. According to some political ads I remember from the last election, reading The New York Times is NOT normal, along with piercings, tattoos, and drinking lattes.

    (And before I forget, Happy Bloomsday, all.)

  4. To me. Normal is nothing more then a word. Normal is a word in the dictionary that defines who we all are. I am not normal. Nor do I ever want to be. In my eyes, know one is normal. Everyone would be better off if the word was left forgotten.

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