Everyone knows that the photo image that passes through the lens of the human eye hits the optic nerve upside down. However, “through the magic of television” the digital or analog message carried to the human brain is inverted along the way so that the world appears to our visual “sense” as it really is.
Those of us with vision problems also know that without the corrective help of glasses we would never see “normally.” I shall always be grateful to Ben Franklin for his invention of glasses! And for the development of the meat packing business. Without the evolution of these two industries, I would have died long ago from starvation, because I could never see well enough to stalk and kill a crafty wild animal.
I might have survived as a “gatherer” instead of a “hunter.” Or a machete wielder who clears the path through the jungle or primeval forest for those talented bowmen and spear chukkers with 20/20 vision or better. Or perhaps an “animal husband,” an occupation that doesn’t need such keen eyesight but became very important when our wild animal protein supply died off from over hunting. (Or was the original food shortage caused by the over-population of humans due to the lack of entertainment in the cave or something better to do outside?)
What was considered “normal” for my peers in school has always concerned me because I felt too hyper for that title when I was growing up. What’s more, I was rarely called “normal,” just a little bit crazy. Fortunately for me, our scientific ancestors had studied deviate behavior and come up with the “bell curve” to graph the six basic or “standard” deviations (there are three positive and three negative.)
In my college statistics course I learned that studies using statistical analysis showed that the majority of the humans observed fell into the first standard deviation (positive and negative combined.) This was somewhat unsettling to me, since an individual is never quite sure if he or she is an actual member of a recognized “majority.” I suspected that I didn’t fit into any acceptable, noble grouping of human beings. Over the years, I became certain that I wasn’t “normal.” However, what has the majority in any category done except retard the progress of the few exceptional individuals – those average raisers, those misunderstood geniuses, and those weird lunatics?
Like Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, I’m not here to praise the abnormal nor reject the subnormal: the good they do “is oft interred with their bones,” methinks. Nevertheless, I wonder if there isn’t some way to dissipate the evil that the blessed “normal folks” integrate into society. The “majority” is a terrible bully that tries to constrain the creative forces of the deviates and mal-contents and usually succeeds.
The disruption caused by the unacceptable behavior of a few cannot be tolerated, otherwise the majority becomes unruly, and eventually uncontrollable. By definition, new ideas that challenge the status quo are deemed subversive, sometimes even seditious, by the leaders or managers who are responsible for the continuity of the current ground rules. Shame on the iconoclasts, silence for those annoying vocal non-conformists, and prison for the revolutionaries! In our precious democracy, let the majority rule! Everywhere, and forever!
But, there’s always an exception to every rule. The idealists, who constitute the majority of the influence peddlers, have determined the standards for our society. Their high ideals include such things as quality work, dedicated service, compassion for your neighbor (but not passion for his/her spouse), punctuality, orderliness, cleanliness (supposedly close to godliness), truthfulness, honesty, etc.
The Utopia sought here is a tribe of people who strive to fulfill God’s unrevealed purpose, attempt to achieve perfection, seek to live in peace and harmony, and always practice the “Golden Rule.” Not a small task for a collection of somewhat primitive and selfish animals bent on survival. Especially when we are taught that all the good things in life can be bought in the world market if you fight hard enough to acquire the cash or a substantial line of credit. The exception that proves the rule is that most of us are members of active minorities who can dominate others through the subtle manipulation of the unorganized majorities.
The monolithic presence of a majority is a myth. Under certain circumstances a majority turns into a hysterical mob whose power is quickly dissipated after a few radical demons have been exorcized. Although the sum of all our individual acts can be tallied up by experts and then statistically analyzed, the commonness recognized doesn’t truly reflect the uncommon, individual acts of the members of an organized group such as a military battalion or a football team.
The “norm” is the residual categorization of the most numerous occurrences observed amongst a small sampling. It may be indicative for a specific group for a limited period of time, but it is a moving target in a very dynamic culture. It is sold by pollsters as an indication of some truth about our habits, our current preferences, and our ephemeral pleasures. But, the “norm” is not any one American exactly. And that’s good, although it is not what we’re taught.
The “big,” powerful group “out there” is “Them.” “We” in the minorities constitute a weak, alienated force who are encouraged to join “Them” to become part of their “in-group.” By doing that, we can then enjoy the rights and power of the perceived “majority.” This makes sense because “might makes right,” and the majority has the constitutionally recognized legal might.
Sometimes we just want to join the majority so that we don’t appear different from them. If our differences are reduced, we can avoid the harsh harassment of the majority, even though that is supposed to be illegal. But don’t for a minute think that because you are now a card-carrying member of a respected majority that you will always be one. Sooner or later you become eligible to be a member of the AARP. Consequently once registered, you are subject for expulsion from the other youth-dominated majorities. Not much you can do about this but age gracefully.
Since the majority really is a nebulous label for any group of individuals who seem to behave alike, or choose the same products, or vote for the same political rascal to become their “honest” representative, it behooves us to understand how our behavior classifies us. Naively perhaps, I believe that everything is relative. People who come in contact with us each day view us through their own unique, critical prism. Their culturally-corrected vision may seem a little farsighted or nearsighted to us. Or their lenses may need an astigmatic adjustment to properly distinguish the horizontal from the vertical, or the good from the bad.
However, the most important thing for us to remember is that all of their experiences may have given them different standards and measuring sticks. The freezing temperature of water maybe 32 degrees F, or it may be zero degrees C. Your respects should be paid weekly to Allah on Friday, to Jehovah on Saturday, or to God on Sunday – in a mosque, or in a synagogue, or in a cathedral. You should brush your teeth after every meal (if you have money for tooth paste and a tooth brush.) Your underwear should be changed daily, instead of weekly. Above all, you should bathe daily and let no one see you sweat!
The number of different measuring sticks a person uses to compare or evaluate an acquaintance would surprise the innocent object. None of these is the ultimate criteria, however. And few that are used are strictly visual, superficial – a semi-reliable method of profiling another human being. A person may be too fat, too short, too hairy, too dark, etc. When you see someone unkempt, barefoot, with dirty hair, dressed in rags, and maybe pregnant, do you think this unfortunate person is worthy of your compassion and financial assistance? Some do, but I am sure they are in the minority.
When you receive a photo in the mail of a foreign orphan who needs a sponsor, do you decide to forego a $20 luxury purchase so that you can send a small donation to the charitable organization that’s seeking your money? You have no guarantee that your donation will be spent on that deserving orphan instead of some charity factotum who prints those fliers seeking donations, but some of us do send checks. Bless your hearts! Another minority act outside the norm, no doubt.
If someone falls into a river by accident, or is mugged in the city, or happens to run out of gas on the highway, how many of us stop what we’re doing and try to help them? Those that do are not a majority of the nosey bystanders or rubber-neckers. Heroics aside, how many “good deeds” are done each day for which no notice is made nor any expected? How many of us volunteer for community service, even if that is just helping a neighbor who has been under-the-weather?
I won’t dwell on the usual sorrowful display of normal reactions to misfortune and neediness. Yes, God is supposed to help those who help themselves, but it would be nice for society’s image if the majority were inclined to spend more time thinking about humbly assisting God in this task. I know that the tax bite on our income and property is well beyond the tithing that was originally established to redistribute wealth and support civic emergencies. Still, a pleasant word, a smile, a joke, or an amicable gesture to show our genuine concern for our unknown co-inhabitants who live on the street doesn’t require a great effort. But then, I’m a little bit crazy.
I never expected my unconventional actions to be considered normal. Frequently I deemed normal behavior espoused by the majority as counter-productive or injurious to my health. Like the beer blasts at the fraternity house on the week-ends. Despite all the hoopla by advertisers in the media supporting the current health fad, we can’t be sure today what an unhealthy life style is and what foods are likely to terminate our pleasant sojourn here among the happy and healthy members of the majority.
All we can do is measure our number of years against the anticipated “life expectancy” for our gender at the date of our birth to note that we are statistically living beyond the “average” by using somebody else’s forfeited years. I would be very happy to give back to my donor some of those “bad” years! But that’s impossible.
When I was in high school, my Modern Social Problems class visited a “mental institution.” During that trip we students were introduced to several inmates who were suffering from some mental disorder and required institutional care which is no longer available in that state. It was obvious from the interviews with these lost souls that they did not see the same world that we saw. Their experiences were interpreted differently than ours. They couldn’t respond “normally” to situations and challenges that occur in everyday life.
Although these people “looked” normal, their speech gave us another impression. With our ears we search for clues to make judgments about the “normality” of others. The voices we hear on the radio or in our conversations over the phone and in person register both the soothingness of the speaker and his friendly/unfriendly attitude. The misuse of grammar and the mispronunciation of words color our opinion about who is speaking.
Perhaps you happen to be one of the regional minorities that thinks the Midwestern accent isn’t representative of the norm. We use this aural tool to gage whether or not someone is part of a defined “majority.” And those immigrants who don’t speak English very well are really in trouble. How can they hope to fit the majority mold when they can’t speak our language? Don’t survey them in the polls, please! They’ll only skew the results.
With our eyes and ears we discriminate (in the good sense?) how someone else measures up to a variety of personal criteria. We place him or her in one of the classes of standard deviates from the almighty “mean” (or “average Joe or Jane.) Depending upon where we place ourselves in those same six categories from loser to winner, we feel akin to them (or not.) Probably we are too hasty in making any sound evaluations, unless we have a long airplane ride to do so, but that doesn’t usually stop us. All impressions that don’t conform to our criteria for acceptance in our group of close friends keep us from going further into the background investigation of any stranger. Our kindest departing impression of this person is that he seems to be a little bit crazy. Not enough to be dangerous, but sufficiently alarming that we may be happy that we don’t have to deal with him in any serious on-going relationship.
So, what does my touch of craziness bring me? A concern for my eccentricity, a slight bit of envy, and a dollop of tolerance because “he just can’t help it.” All of which means that I’m not likely to be bothered much in the future because I wouldn’t fit into any closed group that is so dear to the discriminating evaluator. Still, in all honesty, we have to admit that we all are a little bit crazy in certain ways.
But, that is not so bad when you realize the benefits of isolation from other loonies that our specific brand of craziness provides us. In a large metropolitan area you can see evidence of the “protective shield” around each hurried pedestrian that prevents him from being too friendly to strangers. He “knows” that being outwardly approachable welcomes all kinds of trouble: beggars, pickpockets, schemers, salesmen, and lost tourists without maps. These minorities must be avoided at all costs!
Unapproachable pedestrians try to isolate themselves by avoiding direct eye contact. Or any other kind of contact, physical or audible. Such behavior helps establish their minority position of one. They are alone, but that is better than associating with someone who probably won’t ever help them later! And they’re not crazy according to rigorous polls.
It seems to me then that our home-grown craziness tends to isolate us. But it also tends to identify us to many foreign outsiders as those famous American buffoons, that self-righteous minority of the Earth’s human population sometimes referred to as “ugly.” I speak from 16 years of experience living and working “overseas” trying to defend American behavior, home and abroad. This experience was followed by another four years commuting to foreign locations from the U.S. bearing bad news from corporate headquarters.
There is no easy way to explain what happens in this zany community of half-crazed Americans. The waste of money, the extravaganza of football, the preoccupation with sex, the arrogance of power, the phony religious piety, the lack of tolerance for other ways of life, the divine right to consume nearly half the gasoline produced per year in the world at half the cost others pay at their pumps in foreign countries, etc.
Yes, I was crazy to go overseas thinking I could help those poor people. They were the ones to educate me and help me survive the cultural and consumption excesses that define our fellow Americans in the eyes of the world.
In this global lunatic asylum all of us deviate from someone’s “norm.” We protest that we aren’t so demented that we should be committed to an institution yet. “Just a little bit crazy” isn’t sufficient justification for being interned. So, most of us are free to roam the world and do whatever we choose, and those with money are allowed to do the crazier things!
I hope you will pardon me for confessing my crazy non-conforming behavior in this musing. The white coats are downstairs knocking at my door. I’d better burn this admission of my insanity now. Destroy your copy, please, before it contaminates your thinking. And if you feel just a little bit crazy today, join this elite, silent majority – there are no membership fees, no annual dues, and no monthly magazines trying to change the way you think.