Saturday, September 1, 2007

Standard vs. Typical

Those are two words I saw when I looked up the dictionary definition of "normal."

Typical implies average or common. But standard implies something else: an ideal that all are expected to strive for. And this ideal is not necessarily what's typical or common, it's what the culture values. And what the culture values is what the powerful find useful to themselves.

Typical children are not necessarily taught that they are fine and perfect as they are. They are taught to meet the standard, the ideal.

Most people will deny that they are typical. Most people consider themselves "better than average" at driving and moral character, which by the definition of average is impossible. If you hang out on Myers-Briggs personality type communities, almost everyone claims to be one of the "rare" introverted intuitive types, and they disdain the allegedly common/average Sensate types.

If you're already a normal person, then normal is not considered a good thing to be. You're supposed to be better than normal; standard, but not typical; exemplifying the traits that are valued within your culture or subculture.

But if you're considered culturally undesirable - not only shy of the standard, but not even very close to typical - then "normal" is billed as a good thing to be. If there's any shot of force-fitting you into typicality, you are strongly encouraged (or if you're a child, perhaps forced) to try it. And if there is no shot at even mere Typicality, never mind the elusive Standard - then oftentimes you are not even considered a sentient being worthy of basic rights, from what I've been reading.

My boyfriend seems to have gotten both messages about normal - that it's best to be atypical in a sense of being "above" average (of course, what's "above" and what's "below" are not absolutes but are defined by the cultural standards), but that it's also desirable to conform to many typical behaviors as much as you realistically can. This is probably true of many of the milder Aspies and other people who have been at least typical in some areas and notably "less than" typical (or markedly deviant from typical in a way that diverges from the ideal Standard) in others. It may have been true of me in my earlier years as well, but after absorbing enough influences from subcultures where certain standards such as beauty and popular interests are disdained as unworthy while the standards of the mind and certain kinds of "uniqueness" are exalted, I almost exclusively associate "normal" with "typical" and see it as a bad thing. (When I'm not philosophizing about it, that is.)

The "normal" that needs to be reformed is the nature of the standards and how the standards are used to essentially dictate who's human and who's not. A society that fails to find value in people with certain types of disabilities is a profoundly uncreative society, not one that follows any kind of inevitable law of nature. Yes, there is something in human nature that facilitates ostracism, exclusion, and dehumanization, but there is also something that facilitates creativity and cooperation. It would be no less natural to relax the standards and look for a place for everyone than to try to push people as close to the standards as possible or else leave them to die and be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in institutions.

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