Can we call ourselves normal? (3) – The sociocultural norm

How can we distinguish normal from abnormal? This is the third part of a series of articles that will lead us to question the multiple associations towards which these definitions tend.

The sociocultural environment in which each one lives is normative. An individual consciously or unconsciously adopts its conventions and precepts that are explicit or implicit. His behavior will refer to rules of socio-family, cultural, political, hygienic origin, etc., which he will hardly be able to avoid, which will organize the various orientations of his existence. From an early age, for example, the Lebanese child is subject to the regulations that impose the prescription of taking into account the gaze of the other. He will be subject to continual value judgments: “What will such a person think of you if you don’t behave as I ask?” And the child, in his desire to be loved both by his parents and by others, will submit to what is prescribed for him, to what he will learn to regard as normal. Resembling the other is one of the “educational” norms that he will internalize very soon in our cultural circles and, if he does not react, it will condition him throughout his life. This way it will fit into a generationally transmitted normality.

G. Canguilhem invites us to think about the norm from a dynamic and controversial point of view: return to its origin, discover its normative objectives, ask about its consequences both for the individual and for the community, finally stripping it of its utilitarian or seductive packaging to put it at the service of a liberation of critical thought and not of a closure to any questioning. A subject/citizen constantly faces the following challenge: living, participating, interacting in a normative socio-cultural environment trying, if he wishes, to safeguard his subjectivity, his particular reactivity to the various norms, his creative originality, while respecting otherness.

Above all because the notion of normality is not immutable or static. It is relative (remember Blaise Pascal: “Truth under the Pyrenees, error beyond”), condemned to evolve, in a democratic country, according to new advances or struggles for emancipation. Take the example of masturbation. Not so long ago, this practice was severely condemned, considered harmful. A child or adolescent suspected of masturbation or caught in flagrante “crime” was predicted the deterioration of his nervous system, blindness, loss of memory, moral disorder and a whole string of other calamities. It was recommended (and still is) to occupy the child to divert attention from his body while being ashamed of his act. Anecdote: At the end of the 19th century, the American John Kellogg had the extraordinarily commercial idea of ​​launching an advertising campaign in which he argued that cornflakes they are effective in combating the scourge of masturbation. His contemporaries were so convinced of this that, more than a century later, his business is still flourishing! The discoveries of psychoanalysis have swept away this nonsense. They revealed that from very early on the boy felt erotic sensations in certain areas of his body and that it was quite common for him to touch him. He will gradually learn to displace his instinctive force thanks to his sublimation.

The agents of individual or collective normalization are never short of inventions to guide individuals towards interests appropriate to their objectives. The relatively recent creation of the “nudge” is an excellent example. It is a term of English origin that can be translated as a kind of push that is given to an individual to push him towards what he should see as her own interest. If, for example, he’s not on Facebook or another social media platform, every time he visits a certain site, he’ll get a push inviting him to sign up or create her profile there. If you agree, you have made the “right” decision, the one expected of you. The principle of the push is to convince yourself that if everyone thinks or acts a certain way, why would you do the opposite? It is a psychological manipulation used by politicians, economists, doctors, categories of psychologists, publicists, politicians, etc. It is a “soft” pressure with an adaptive objective, coming from individuals or groups of individuals who “know better than you” what makes your “happiness”.

Social networks continue to contribute to the creation of fashion effects with sometimes pathological consequences. They navigate, for example, on the obsession with body aesthetics that invades screens and billboards. Thus, a few years ago, blogs sang about the benefits of anorexia (“pro ana”) or bulimia (“pro mia”) have been very successful when we know the psychosomatic ravages that these disorders develop and that their therapy should be oriented towards psychogenic causes and not necessarily focus on the body.

Recent research in social psychology has come to the damning conclusion: “Sometimes we adopt a practice or follow a tradition not because we like it, or even because we think it’s defensible, but simply because we think most people are attached to it.

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