We live in a time of strange contradictions. People are adamant in their independence while demanding governmental assistance. People protest their perceptions of an economic state of affairs, some argue for a hybrid called ‘commutalism’, which upon further review, is nothing more than redressed hard socialism. The wealthy are fit and lean, while the working class and poor are overweight. People claim their creativity while openly aping from their entertainments.
And we have an entire generation of people who hold their uniqueness so precious they fail to recognize that they are painfully and unwittingly normal.
Rebellion is the new conformity. And there has never been a more conformist era than the one in which we live.
There is nothing more oppressive than the status quo. For the oppressed normal, it is expected to find ways to escape their anxieties, to measure the quality of their relationships by how much fun can be had with or at the expense of the other. All nouns are expendable, all that rejects this normal is marginalized away from consciousness. “I don’t want to listen to sad bastard music; I just want something I can ignore.”
The most problematic part of this normalcy is that there is no true ‘normal’. Normal doesn’t really exist: organs in the body are not always in the same place, no one sees the same river twice. Yet, we live lives of expectation: by being normal, we take things for granted and are that much more shocked when things fall apart or, worse yet, when our lives become disrupted by the ab-normal.
Perhaps this makes me a cultural and religious heretic–for the cult of normal is no more rampant than it is in American sanctuaries—denying the fictitious right of people to lead normal lives, but God forbid if the cable goes out while they’re in the dramatic pause before eliminating a couple on Dancing With the Stars.
I suppose that may be too specific: God forbid the cable goes out.
And if there is no need to find common ground, since the ground already is common, what fun is there to be had? Normal, then, leads to ennui, which leads to continued normalcy, which leads to continued ennui. No wonder it becomes fashionable in this era to look to the east for guidance: what will save us from this boring existence fueled by false excitement and meaningless relationships?
I’ve seen too many people who claim they want to live life to the fullest and without regret, yet they will populate social media with the same pictures, doing the same things in the same places with the same people. Or the same things with the same people in different places. Or go to the same places and do the same things with different people. It’s all interchangeable precisely because it’s that mundane and meaningless. Is there anything more regrettable than circling the same drain until the 3Ms of social death kick in: marriage, mortgage, minivan? (Term courtesy Dr. Earl Creps, who recognized once that postmodernism is the new modernism, but apparently found that deleterious to his demand as a speaker on postmodern and emergent Christianity.)
Existence is not the problem, it is the solution. While true uniqueness is as much an impossible brass ring as true normalcy, we can and ought to embrace the fact that while we share the same existence and experience a lot of the same things, that we are more than slaves to a scene, subculture or dressed-up barbaric cultural norms. We do not have to homogenized in order to be a community, and we can’t truly selflessly love what or whom we take for granted.
The hopeful part of all this is that if we take Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolutions seriously, that the culture is codified and rigid enough right now for an outlier to begin the paradigm shift. I don’t claim to be that person, but if there were ever a time for people to shake off the doldrums of same-y, now would be as good a time as any. It’s a daring, audacious thing to be something more than nothing at all, and it takes significant courage to exist apart from the strictures of the routine of fun, but what one will find there is something far greater than fun: joie de vivre. And nothing tortures me more than to see that spark in someone, only to see it constrained by an enslavement to the tyranny of normal.
We have no right to complain about our dreams dying when we sacrifice them on the altar of two-for-one happy hours and a bunch of selfies with the same facial expressions; profligacy and recklessness; Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and small groups. May as well be mannequins, for it all demonstrates the same drudging experience in the iron lung of self-indulgent vanity.
Life is an adventure, and without the fires of curiosity and compassion, without the risks of love and loss, discovery and wonder, and the judicious presence of mind to say no every once in a while, it is nothing more than a cold, painful jaunt from nursing to nursing home, diapers to diapers, dust to dust.
The worst contradiction of all is to claim to live when all one does is pass the time, awaiting burial.