Normal is the greatest evil in the world

Bold title, no? Perhaps, but it’s actually true.

Think of some of the most horrific crimes done by societies on this planet in history, and look at the core issue that caused the violence. It’s usually one group of people dehumanising and annihilating another group of people who are different to them in some way.

Nazis believed that people like them were “good” and real citizens, and blamed all of the bad things in their lives on those people not like them. In World War 2, the German Nazis murdered millions of people just because they weren’t like them, because they were Jews or gay or non-German, or disabled in some way or any number of other “not us” things. Modern Nazis are everywhere these days, killing, beating, maiming and raping people because they believe themselves to be more human than the “other”.

Look at what’s happening all around the world, even here in supposed egalitarian New Zealand. People identify those who are like them and those who are not, and convince themselves that the people who aren’t like them are less human or less worthy of freedom or even existence. When another person is viewed as not as human as me, then the me can discriminate and be cruel. Poor people can have their needed help taken away from them because those in power dehumanise them and blame them for being poor. The homeless are stereotyped as being hostile and dangerous, as being at fault for their situation, so people can justify treating them inhumanly. Politicians can take away funding to feed kids in their schools because they can blame the parents for not being good parents, all the while the kids still go hungry. We have become a very cruel world, or perhaps the cruelty has always been there, we’ve only just recently become aware of it.

People are being murdered around the world because they’re “other”. There are innocent African Americans being murdered by American police in certain regions because the cops believe that just being black means someone is a threat. A kid with a plastic gun got shot by a policeman last year or the year before, because that policeman didn’t see a boy playing pretend, all he saw was a criminal with a gun. Because being white is this great NORMAL, and not being white is an excuse to kill and oppress people.

Closer to home, in New Zealand if you’re obviously Maori, people immediately assume that you’re a criminal. You get followed around shops because you’re Maori and that means you’re in the shop to steal stuff. If you’re a large Maori man with facial moko tattoos you can just stand there and smile, and still someone will accuse you of being threatening or dangerous. If you go to court for the same offence as a pakeha person, the judge will often subconsciously believe that the pakeha person is good and deserves a second chance, but if you’re Maori, they will more often than not assume that you’re a career criminal, as if the mere existence of Maori genes in your blood means that you will always be a criminal and violent, and you will get the maximum sentence or certainly a harsher one than your pakeha compatriot. Because being pakeha/white is “normal” and good, and being anything else is “bad”.

There are so many people out there who genuinely believe that Islam is a religion of hate and cruelty, without any knowledge of the actual religion. I don’t know much about Islam, other than it holds a lot of the same beliefs, religious structures, and doctrine to the other Judeo-Christian religions, but I know enough about the body count of the major religions in the world throughout history to understand that if you actually did a tally of religious violence throughout history, and used that as the benchmark of the “most violent religion”, Christianity is much much higher on that list than Islam. They’re the ones who used their religion to colonise the world, to murder millions and millions of native peoples around the world in the name of God, they’re the ones who tortured, raped, drowned, and burned to death millions of “witches”, and they’re the ones who, in the modern age, still justify killing, maiming, and allowing people to die of things like AIDS in the name of God because being anything other than heterosexual is being a “deviant”.

All of this hate, all of this rage and violence… almost all of it comes out of the defence and enforcement of this weird fluid thing called “normal”. In some ways even the gross amounts of violent greed in the world is down to this concept of normal because the super rich view themselves and humans and “good”, and the poor “masses” that they steal from aren’t human, aren’t “normal”, so they’re justified in taking everything.

Everything horrific in this world, at least the human world, so often comes down to this idea of normal and that it divides people into one group who are allowed to live without oppression, bullying or death by mob, and the other group who are “less” and deserve to be oppressed as a punishment for not being normal.

Now, there are broad scales of this idea. Lots of incarnations. World War 2 is just a very large scale, as are all of the current “ethnic cleansing” events that are going on in the world. Those things are obviously immoral to much of the “civilised” world. But what about the kid at school being beaten, threatened, and verbally abused because he prefers reading books over playing rugby? What about the drunk mobs who beat up some random guy on the street thinking he’s gay because he’s wearing a pink shirt? What about the transwoman who is assumed to be sexual predator just because she dared to choose to live as herself instead of the man that society decided she had to be? What about women who get beaten for asking questions, for being smarter than the boys? Or shot for wanting to go to school? Hell… what about the smokers who just want somewhere safe and under cover to have a smoke without the entire world lecturing them about lung cancer. Or the fat person who can’t go into a food court in a mall and eat their lunch without multiple people telling her what she should and should not be eating?

Every time you correct someone for not being normal, that’s a kind of violence. Telling a fat person that she should be eating a salad instead of hot chips doesn’t seem like a sort of violence, it’s certainly not on the same scale as mass murder, but it’s still violence. Just as refusing to respect someone’s preferred name and gender doesn’t seem like violence, but it is. Those “corrections” are telling to each person who are receiving them that they’re not allowed to even exist, that they don’t deserve basic human respect, because they’re not “normal”. If a fat girl can’t eat in public without someone “correcting” her, that message says that she’s not allowed to exist in that public space. If a smoker can’t just sit and have their break far from people who might be harmed by the smoke without being harassed, they get the message that they’re not allowed to exist anywhere but their own homes, that they’re not allowed lives with work and kids and partners and go to the mall or the movies or whatever, because they’re not a person until they’re non-smoker, or until they’re no longer fat, or no longer brown skinned, or until they wear a short skirt with cleavage, or until they walk everywhere with a smile glued on their face. When you “correct” someone in a public space for not complying to your beliefs about what people should do and be, you’re telling that person that they’re not allowed to exist in a public space unless they fit what you think of as “normal”. You’re erasing their very right to exist in public spaces. Now does it sound like violence? I think so.

I live in a small coastal town in NZ. It’s a pretty nice town with lots of different sorts of people, but if you’re weirder than the locals they generally respond in a similar shitty way. I was sitting outside a bakery one day a while back, and a kid wearing a full goth outfit, a Mohawk, and heaps of piercings was walking down the street towards me. He looked amazing… beautiful even. I sat and just admired the fierceness of his manner and all the details of his costume. And as I watched, the locals on the street coming the other way were all so afraid of him. They gave him a wide berth, some even crossing the road to avoid walking past him. Here was this beautiful example of diversity, and they were all afraid of him. I remember that day thinking that it was such a tragedy. This kid was just a kid, just an ordinary young person living his life as he chose and dressing as he chose to express himself externally, and because these locals perceived his lack of normality as a threat he was othered, he was avoided and treated like a pariah. That fear, that assumption that diversity is always a threat, is a sort of violence. You’re telling someone that unless they’re normal, they can’t possibly be a good person.

Our culture enforces the norm with different kinds of violence. And this idea permeates every aspect of our lives. It’s so prolific that a lot of people bully and correct other people, but do not even recognise that they’re being violent towards those other people.

I genuinely believe that we will never ever stop the violence in our world until we stop this enforcement of the norm. People are people, whether they’re like you or not. Individually, some people are good, some people are mean, some people are loving, some people are cold and grouchy. But belonging to one group, say gender or sex or culture or race or religion, does NOT define whether an individual is good or not. And if we pretend that it does, we’re being culturally violent towards those people.

I once had a person tell me that I must be inherently a bad person because I did not follow their particular religious sect. They believed entirely that without their specific faith, humans had to be evil. What’s ironic is that they were a part of Christian sect that prayed for God to kill LGBT people, and celebrated when other groups of people out in the world killed an entire race. Now does that sound like goodness to you? Because it certainly doesn’t sound good to me, but do we assume that all Christians are evil bastards like this particular sect? No, we do not because they’re a part of the “mainstream”, the normal, and so any deviation from goodness is considered an issue of an individual being evil. But the moment an individual in a “minority group” does something horrible, the entire group is held accountable for it. The only evil in the world is individuals, not entire races, religions, cultures, sexualities, genders… ONLY individuals. But everyone is so focused on policing the norm and making everyone the same, that they convince themselves that their bigotry is true to make themselves feel better about the world.

But you know what? If you collected together all of the people who in one way or many ways did not fit this invisible “norm”, who had been bullied as a kid or treated badly because they belonged to a “minority group”, what proportion of the population do you think those people would belong to? Perhaps, let me put it another way, how many people do you know in your life who haven’t been bulled at school or at work, who haven’t been treated badly because of something that they are? I don’t know about you, but I know no one who has never been bullied in one way or another. And I guess, that could just be the fact that I don’t fit into this “norm” in very many ways so I tend to befriend fellow freaks and weirdos, but I would still guess and probably be right to assume that actually, the majority of people don’t fit into the norm in some way. Which makes it not a “minority” problem but actually a “majority” problem. For example, take 50% of the world of women, they are oppressed in patriarchal societies, then add gay men they too are oppressed in patriarchal heterosexual societies, add straight men who aren’t white, and now I ask what proportion of the total population would all of those groups be? Certainly NOT a minority. The problem is that the proper group that is completely “normal” are the actual minority, and they subconsciously (or consciously) enforce the idea that they’re the majority, that they’re the norm by making everyone oppress each other for the singular bits of them that do not fit the norm.

So why do we continue? Why do we continue to bully others who don’t fit in? Why do we think we have the right to beat up or maim or kill a person simply because they belong to a particular group who aren’t “normal”? I’ve always wanted to meet someone who has violently beaten someone for being gay, and actually ask them why? Why was that violence the reasonable response to someone being gay? Why does being gay in some areas of the world mean that straight people are justified in hunting them down and beating, maiming or killing them? I’ve never understood this. Why in Chechnya, did an uncle feel justified in throwing his nephew off a building and killing him? Why do people do this? What is the purpose? Why is this the correct response? I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer from any bully I’ve managed to talk to, they usually just shrug and say something mindless like “they’re gay”, with no other justification. But why? Why must we as a culture use bullying and systemic oppression to suppress diversity? Why is diversity such a threat to society? And why can’t we each see that hardly anyone actually fits in the norm perfectly? Everyone is bullied, everyone is told that they’re horrible or bad or whatever, for not fitting that perception of normal. So why do we perpetuate it? Why do we not remember being that scared child facing down a bunch of bullies, remembering how horrible that was, and then as an adult refusing to bully others like that?

If we stopped enforcing the norm and accepted diversity as a perfectly natural part of being human, what wonders do you think, could we create by redirecting all of that energy into better things? How much better would the world be if we actually allowed everyone to be treated equally as human beings regardless of concepts like “normal” or “freak”?

Bigot isn’t an insult it’s a challenge

(Originally posted 1 Feb 2017 on the old blog)

My core belief with regards to social justice is that everyone should be treated equally, so when I see a comment or a post online that is bigoted or contributes to the suffering and/or oppression of others, I immediately feel the moral imperative to call out people on their bigotry. I do try to curb that instinct for self preservation or if I can see that the person just won’t understand, but the need to point out the bigotry is always there.

Other than the very common explosion that happens when you point out people’s prejudices and they’re not ready to contemplate your words, the next most common reaction for me is someone getting angry and accusing me of insulting them.

I’ve never really understood this reaction.

To me, an insult is a label describing a trait of a person that is probably permanent. Essentially an insult is a judgement of someone’s moral essence or it’s a way of making someone else less human than you are. In general, it’s usually describing something that can’t be changed or something that someone thinks isn’t changeable. Like, being called a “chauvinistic pig”, is usually a label given to cis het men who think that women exist to meet their needs and for no other purpose.

An insult is what you call someone when you know they’ll stay an asshole, so there’s no point in having a discussion with them. It’s an insult because you’re calling them something as their identity, and not just identifying bad behaviour, i.e. you’re assigning them an identity based on their behaviour or beliefs.

But when I’m calling someone out, my intention isn’t to assign someone an identity of “bigot”, my intention is to call out their behaviour, to name their behaviour and inform them of the consequences of their behaviour so that they think about their actions. So, if I take the time to construct an intelligent reply that points out to another person why what they’ve said/written is offensive, and perhaps give them other ways of responding to said situation that is less harmful, what I’m actually saying is that I believe that the person is a reasonable individual who just simply doesn’t understand all of the implications of what they’re saying. I’m also saying, that I believe once they understand, that they would care enough about other people that they would want to be a kinder person, that given additional knowledge they would choose to change how they deal with said subject to minimise the harm that they previously spread with their prejudice.

So, if I take the time to actually call you out, particularly if it’s a long post/reply, I’m not actually insulting you, I’m challenging you to understand the situation a little better, because I believe that you’re a good person who would want the opportunity to learn how not to be an asshole to other people if only you understood the situation a little better.

Being called out isn’t a comfortable process, it’s embarrassing, challenging and can hurt one’s feelings, it can feel like you’re being attacked. But, at least for me, the purpose in calling someone out on their bigotry is to challenge them to be more aware of the consequences of their actions.

I’m calling someone out as a challenge to be a kinder human being. So when you reply with things like “don’t insult me” or “political correctness gone wrong” or “grow a thicker skin”, all that I end up hearing is in fact that you don’t care. That I’ve just wasted my time and my belief in your kindness towards others. In the end you’re actually the one who is insulting you, not me, because you’re revealing that you just don’t care enough about other people.

Does Freedom of Speech mean I can say what I want?

(Originally posted: 10 Dec 2016 on the old blog)

Being a regular facebooker, I’ve seen all sorts of arguments, and responses to arguments. One that bothers me a great deal is this idea of people thinking that they can say what they want without social repercussions because of Freedom of Speech.

Now, whenever someone says this, I think of the various movie memes when a character says “I do not think you know what that word means”.

In general terms, Freedom of Speech is the right of every person in that particular country to say what they wish (within legal reasonableness), without fear of death, attack or some other sanctions from the government.

Freedom of Speech and Expression is covered in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and under this Article 19 is a suggestion of limitations to the Freedom of Speech: Justifications for such include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Wiki)

Now, different governments apply the legal definitions and consequences of Freedom of Speech, slightly differently (and I’m not knowledgeable enough in international law to go into specifics). But they all come down to the idea that freedom is where one can say what one wishes (within reason) without fear of punishment from the government. No where that I’ve seen does this Right extend to one person being allowed to speak their mind, while blocking the right of other people who disagree with them to verbalise their disagreement.

The idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is to make everyone as absolutely equal as possible. So that one person doesn’t have more rights to being human than someone else. So, Freedom of Speech is about everyone being allowed to speak without sanctions from their government, and that right protects not just one opinion but all opinions (within legal reasonableness). What that really means is that whether you and I disagree about an issue, we both have the right to express our opinions without the government chucking either of us in jail. Which means, if I disagree with you, the law protects not only your right to speak, but mine also. So, when we all argue on the internet, and paratroopers don’t break into our houses and to arrest us, what we’re actually doing is practising Freedom of Speech.

And while I can certainly understand why anyone would wish that there were laws against people expressing opinions that we don’t like, in order to protect our own rights to free speech, we also have to protect the rights of those we disagree with for it to truly be a Universal Human Right.

In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

So, next time you get annoyed when someone disagrees with you, try and remember that they’re not breaching YOUR Freedom of Speech, but actually practising their own.

Beginnings of Social Justice

The Declaration of Universal Human Rights is a thing a lot of people talk about but don’t always understand the meaning of it, or the why it’s so important.

Us in the modern world, or should I say, the modern western world have no real understanding of the horrors done by the German Nazis (except perhaps veterans of the war, and the families of victims who hold the stories). Yes, we have some comparable incidences of hate crimes, terrorist attacks, war crimes and torture, so we have an idea of those events, but nothing compares the horror, terror, and scale of what happened in World War Two – not at least in the Western world, or perhaps, not yet.

There’s a museum in Auckland, it’s THE museum in the city and it’s also a war memorial. My first trip to the museum as a kid introduced me to a special exhibit illustrating the horrors of the Nazi invasions and massacres. There were pictures of bodies, so many bodies. Many of them were underfed or obviously tortured. Some of them were children just like me. The scale of what the Nazis did was so terrible that the word “horror” doesn’t do it justice. I remember standing there in the middle of this exhibit, listening to the narrator telling the stories, I stared at the pictures of the bodies and those hollow faces of prisoners illustrating in one despair filled expression the torture they were living when that photo was taken. Then, I saw a picture of a girl who had a similar face to mine. And I read about her story. Anne Frank. Her name was the same as my middle name, and she was a writer like me. Worse, she was younger than me when she was taken by the Nazis and didn’t survive the concentration camps. She was so human, so innocent so much like me it just chilled me to the core. Facing all of that horror, and the deep identification with this girl who died, I promptly burst into tears.

Remembering that pain still brings me to tears, because in that moment I realised that I wanted to fight against injustice, to help stop what happened to that innocent girl from hate happening to any other little girl. That was the moment I decided to dedicate my life to being a better person and hopefully helping to make the world a kinder place in which to live.

The synchronistic thing about my own reaction to Nazi-ism, is that post-World War Two, much of the Western World had a similar reaction, and they chose to create the Declaration of Universal Human Rights in an effort to keep what happened from happening again. The sad thing is, that despite the Declaration including the right to education, not only general education but an education on the war and why the Declaration is necessary, much of the Western World has taken such history lessons out of school, or watered it down to the point where no one actually understands what it means. And then we have countries (and parts of countries) who know nothing about the danger and moral wrongs contained in active bigotry, particularly the kind done by governments and representatives of governments.

The basic intention of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights, is to set down the concept that all humans, regardless of their diversity from the “norm”, are born with certain rights. And those rights cannot be taken from them. That religion, sexuality, race, gender identity, sex, culture, socio-economic status, health or disability, etc., is not grounds for stripping someone of their rights as a human. That ALL humans are born free and equal, and should be treated as such.

Nazis did what they did because they deemed some humans to be less human than they were, they believed they had the right to strip certain people of their personhood, so they could be justified in rounding up entire sections of their civilian population, including children, and torturing and murdering them. If Germany had had the concept of Universal Human Rights, and had previously agreed and enforced laws into their justice system to prohibit such hate crimes, much of World War Two might not have happened, and millions of people wouldn’t have been murdered in such a horrific manner that it took much of the world going to war to eventually stop.

With the current political climate of our world, and the increasing levels of hate crimes and public expressions of bigotry, we’re slip-sliding down hill to another Holocaust, one that given our significantly more powerful weapons of war, could very well end up in another World War that ends up destroying the human species, if not much of the other lifeforms who have the unfortunate luck of sharing this planet with us.

And all of this is happening because not enough people in places of power (and one might argue not enough people in general), are educated in the field of Human Rights and ethics.

While I’m not an expert, nor trained in any way in this field, I am an amateur who is very dedicated to justice and equality. So I thought, I would start doing some research, and write a series on my blog describing in relatively simple terms what these Rights are, what they mean, and if I can translate the legalese, perhaps describe in civilian terms what the Articles mean legally in general. Maybe if more people understood what it means, they might make more of an effort to discover and correct their own bigotries… for the good of our world… or at least to allow it to be a little kinder.

There’s so much hate in this world right now, and to quote Yoda: “fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We need to make a conscious effort to counter the fear that ignorance creates, to counter the anger and to dissolve the hate.

For all future generations.