“Language is not life; it gives life orders.
Life does not speak; it listens and waits.1”
Although the words “norm,” “normal,” and “normalcy” are part of our commonly used language, do we actually know what they mean? Similar to other frequently used words, if we take time to thoroughly reflect on their meanings, we’ll see that they are fluid, multifaceted, and culturally masked; some things not easily seen at first glance.
The “norm” is what’s expected from a determinate order of things. For instance, it is the norm for it to rain in the Tropics. We think it’s normal. Yet, it’s not the norm for it to rain in other parts of the planet. There’s no normalcy of rain in certain places. Now, when we enter the realm of the social – as in social psychology, for instance – sometimes we confuse “norm” with “normal,” in the sense of something being rational, sane, and right versus not being. We tend to identify what is normal with what we think is good. However, history shows us countless patterns of how things that were “normal,” that is, they were the “norm,” were – we think now – irrational, wrong, and immoral.
For example, it was the norm that slavery was taking place for centuries in countries worldwide. But was this normal? It was “normal” in the sense that it was the “norm” – there was “the normalcy of slavery” – but not in the sense of it being (to us now) sane, correct, or moral. Or was it? When we speak of “normal” to imply right as opposed to wrong – or good versus bad – changes take place in the definitions of “norm” and “normal”.
What is considered “normal” in all societies is always susceptible to change. In the United States’ landmark case Loving v. Virginia, for example, Judge Leon M. Bazile dictated:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.2”
Appealing to a divine order which was and is considered by many to be the “norm” (as in a transcendental, standard law) and “normal” (as in correct, right, and moral). “In quoting others, we cite ourselves.3”
It was only through a restless social awakening given the circumstances of miscegenation among other things – such as the division of labor – that this supposedly fixed norm (divinely ordained) was questioned, deconstructed, and abolished. What was considered abnormal by the law (interracial relationships) became to be considered normal by a big part of society and rose to be a norm: “After Loving v. Virginia, the number of interracial marriages continued to increase across the United States.4”
One important thing to remember is that the meaning of words – what they come to signify – needs to be understood in context. Meaning is always part of specific social and theoretical dynamics that condition the sense we give to words. “Wordplay hides a key to reality that the dictionary tries in vain to lock inside every free word.5”
1. EPZ Thousand Plateaus. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
2. Loving v. Virginia. Criminal Proceedings
3. Around the Day in Eighty Worlds. Julio Cortazar.
4. Loving v. Virginia. Implications of the decision
5. Around the Day in Eighty Worlds. Julio Cortazar.