The Myth of Normal is the fable that to be fully American we must be fully white, fully male, fully straight, fully rich, fully able, fully sane and fully armed with guns and ammunition. Fortunately none of us is all of these and so none of us is normal. In fact, our culture’s infatuation with guns and violence is far from normal, but the myth continues to have a powerful influence on all of us… even those of us who reject it. What one of us can say we haven’t envied those who appear to be normal? What one of us can say we have never desired to be normal?
This site explores the intersection of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability and mental health in the context of a pervasive American infatuation with guns and violence. It looks especially at the label of “sanity” as it is used to justify the oppression of those who reject the Myth of Normal. Sixteen million people–the so-called “five percent” of Americans who are told we lack sanity–are currently targeted for forcible psychiatric compliance. This targeting of the five percent diverts attention away from the cultural insanity of guns and violence onto a convenient scapegoat, those of us given psychiatric labels.
What would it actually take to address the root causes of the violence that permeates American culture? How can we reach out to those caught in the grip of the Myth of Normal–those who feel rage and alienation at not being accepted as normal–in order to oppose all types of violence? Not only the violence that is sensationalized in the headlines but domestic violence, incest and abuse of children, bullying and hate crimes, the violence engendered by unequal access to marriage, the economic violence of poverty, hunger and homelessness, the racial violence of vigilantes, militarized policing and mass incarceration, the sexual violence of rape, workplace harassment and unequal pay, the disfiguring violence of a perpetual state of war, and the disabling violence of unequal access to productive and meaningful work–all of these are the many faces of America’s infatuation with guns and violence that mask the truth: not one of us is immune to that gnawing feeling inside that everyone else “has it together” and that we somehow must heal alone without joining together to heal the larger social ills surrounding us; not one of us is immune to the Myth of Normal.
How can we reach out to one another–especially the millions of Americans who reject violence as a solution and yet continue to be targeted for forcible psychiatric compliance–in order to develop healing communities that resist the Myth of Normal? Gandhi identified the roots of violence as “Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles.” (Young India, 22 October 1925) We could add Medicine without empowerment; Remedies without compassion; Healing without community; Sanity without integrity; and “Normalcy” without inclusion, acceptance and love. Gandhi continued: “We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.”
This blog is inspired by those seemingly impossible discoveries in collective healing that exclude no one… not even those who would forcibly impose their “solutions” upon us. Those who would force “Normalcy” upon us have succumb to the seductive belief that social ills can be cured by crushing individual non-conformity. In fact, our non-conformity, our diversity and our courage provide antidotes to the Myth of Normal, antidotes that all of us need because none of us is immune the desire to fit in with the crowd–regardless of what crowd we are chasing. Our need for community makes us vulnerable to the Myth of Normal and yet this same need for community–a beloved community based on mutual respect, empathy and collaboration–is our last, best hope for healing the violence that surrounds us. Together we can confront the Myth of Normal and heal our broken society. Together we can can step beyond the Myth of Normal and embrace the collective power of our diversity. Together we can build a deeply interconnected community where emotional and social care is no longer outsourced to psychiatry but becomes our shared responsibility.
Gandhi Graffiti by Victor Grigas (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The graffiti quote “First they ignore you, then they fight you, then you win” is misattributed to Gandhi. However, Gandhi did say: “Mistakes, even insanity must be expected from the strong and the powerful, and the moment of victory has come when there is no retort to the mad fury of the powerful, but a voluntary, dignified and quiet submission but not submission to the will of the authority that has put itself in the wrong.”
Gandhi also said: “Either the Government must bend to the will of the people which is being expressed in no unmistakable terms through non-cooperation, or it must attempt to crush the movement by repression… [T]he Government is seeking not to put down or prevent violence but to suppress expression of opinion, to prevent the spread of disaffection. This is repression… The only other way to prevent the spread of disaffection is to remove the causes thereof. And that would be to respect the growing response of the country to the programme of non-cooperation. It is too much to expect repentance and humility from a government intoxicated with success and power. We must therefore assume that the second stage in the Government programme will be repression growing in violence in the same ratio as the progress of non-cooperation. And if the movement survives repression, the day of victory of truth is near.”