When I was in middle school–around the time I was entering, according to Piaget’s theory of development, the formal operational stage, in which one begins to think logically about abstract concepts and becomes concerned with the hypothetical, the future, and ideological problems,–I began to question things with audacity and fervor as I had never done before and never done since. But the time I was ten years old, I had committed my first act of apostasy: I had decided religion and God were fabrications created to pacify and control the masses. Shortly thereafter I became vegetarian, much to my parent’s dismay. Over the next few years I became strongly averse to marriage, pop culture, convention, Babylon, oppressive societal gender roles, capitalism, and many times just humanity in general.
After what would be nice to think of as an evolution into a less venomously bitter and more understanding person (although my past self would have hissingly called it a descent into passive mediocrity), I still find myself questioning. Now, however, I have left behind the stereotypical teenage angst and anger (hopefully not to only have traded it for some other prefabricated track of thought).
Today, I find myself wondering about more subtle differences, exploring the nuances of significance of things we take for granted that we learn from society. I think it is important to do so because we live in a society in which injustice exists, ignorance lurks, and there are issues to be resolved. If governments were perfectly suited to their governed people, if laws were entirely just, if education were entirely equal, children taught no prejudices nor corrupt greed for power or money, and all other wrongs righted, none of these societal ills would exist. Therefore it is necessary to find the source of the inconsistencies that produce the aspects we would like to eliminate in order to eradicate them, not only treat the manifestations.
In order for a society to be functional, there must be established, understood patterns that describe what is accepted and expected behavior. Needless to say, these patterns, or norms, exist for every aspect of life involving people. When new aspects are created, there is a period of uncertainty in the absence of norms to guide people’s actions. In a vacuum of norms, a sort of anarchy thrives, and confusion ensues until rules, whether written out or intuitively picked up, develop. The importance of these norms is huge. They are how values are manifested, spread, and even changed. Thus, if one is to identify issues in a culture, it is important to target the values by analyzing the norms that accompany them. And so we begin to ask:
What is normal? Is normal defined by what is or is what is defined by our notions of normality? Is it even important to strive to be normal? In any given society, what is the difference between what is normal for people (perhaps judged on a global scale, or alternatively, on a psychological measure) and the exhibited standard of normalcy? That is, what is the “margin of error” witnessed between what normalcy is in a given society and what it “should” be? What should be normal? Perhaps normal should be what is healthy for people. Then what is healthy? Perhaps health is being functional and emotionally and psychologically at peace. According to Freud, it is to be able to work and to be able to love. So on with all sorts of different topics that are fundamental in analyzing the way in which our society works.
Taking these questions into account, it is possible to systematically deconstruct and evaluate a society’s norms and values, and effectively find specific ways to change the former in order to change the latter, if it is found that this is in order.
And so, beginning with gross brush strokes and later on opting for finer, more delicate but equally noticeable ones, the inclination of my analyses makes itself visible as decidedly iconoclastic. Let us only hope that the strokes do not become so fine as to become too abstract to be real anymore, and that the resulting portrait of society can lend itself to a higher good.