Don’t Let Social Engineers Define Normality

women-in-combat

The great political, social, and moral issue of the present day is the authority of the natural and normal.

Accepting that authority means accepting a vernacular form of natural law, and thus a belief that the world has an innate way of functioning that is presumptively good. We can understand a great deal about that way of functioning, since otherwise reason would be of little use to us. Nonetheless, many of the details escape us, because the world is complicated and we didn’t create it. It has its own principles, and goes its own way.

For that reason, accepting nature means trusting the world more and ourselves less than is usual today. It means letting most things follow their own course, and dealing with what seems amiss with the aid of informal and inexact kinds of knowledge, like tradition and common sense, that fit situations that can’t be analyzed and resolved precisely.

The liberal technocratic view now dominant is very different. It wants to put individual man wholly in command, and tells us that the way the world is constituted has no authority. We should view everything around us, even our own bodies, as raw material for our purposes, and make things work the way we want them to work without worrying about what they’re for or what’s natural for them.

Another way to make the point is to say that each of us should define his own version of what’s natural. That is the source of the emerging view of transsexualism, which denies that the human body has a nature of its own, and tells us we are men or women only if we agree to be. The effect of such an outlook on public life can be seen in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 Supreme Court case that traced the right to abortion to “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” On such a view, the way the mother defines the world determines whether her baby is a baby. To say otherwise is to violate her liberty.

In support of such views, proponents say that “natural” has no intrinsic meaning, since all events are equally real, and there’s no point claiming some of them are more in accord with the way the world is constituted than others. On such a view, the distinction between natural and unnatural becomes a matter of social expectations. Expectations differ and change, so giving some of them authority because they are natural is really a matter of enforcing the expectations of the older and more powerful members of whatever groups are socially dominant. Others are likely to see that as oppressive: why should they be subject to the views of straight white male bitter clingers who fear change and hate those who differ?

For that reason, it’s thought that conceptions of what is natural should have no effect on public policy. That view seems plausible to many people today, so that references to unnatural acts or the natural family have come to seem downright bigoted, but in the long run is hard to take seriously. It’s impossible to do without a conception of natural functioning when we deal with immensely complicated adaptive systems like living organisms and human societies. We can’t discuss them the way we’d discuss a machine, because we can’t design them or understand fully how they work. Instead, we understand them by reference to the normal configuration and functioning of systems of that nature. Biology and medicine rely on such considerations when they speak of health.

But if that’s so, why shouldn’t the same be true of politics and morality? Biology and medicine have to do with physical functioning and well-being, politics and morality with more comprehensive forms of functioning and well-being that include physical matters like health but extend to others that are much less tangible but no less real and important. Why think that the latter areas of discussion can get by without a concept of natural functioning when the former can’t? Is it believable that our way of thinking should become more technological and value-free as the object of attention becomes more subtle, multilayered, overarching, and humanly important? That is what present-day ways of thinking demand, and it makes no sense.

In any event, the view now dominant also involves a conception of what is normal that is forced on the recalcitrant by the socially dominant. That view is based not on what is normal by nature but on what seems normal in a liberal technocratic society. Such a society is now the accepted ideal: maximum equal satisfaction of individual preferences is considered self-evidently the highest goal, and technological thinking is considered the normal and rational way to deal with practicalities. In contrast, natural law understandings of man, the world, and how they function have become incomprehensible to members of our governing classes, since they differ from the principles that order the bureaucratic and commercial institutions that give them their position, so such understandings are considered prejudiced, stereotypical, pathological, and generally abnormal and weird.

As a matter of principle, the liberal technocratic view requires government policy to be based on equal treatment of individual preferences, technical considerations, and nothing else. The aspiration can’t be attained, because technical considerations and the principle of equal treatment don’t resolve all conflicts among preferences. However, those who support the ideal can’t admit the problem without admitting the controlling authority of something other than equal human wills and so openly abandoning it. To avoid doing so they silently smuggle in principles that are treated as beyond debate and imply an enforceable conception of what is normal.

Thus, for example, there’s no proof that putting women in combat improves military functioning, or that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships improves the lives of men, women, or children. To the contrary, the evidence suggests that they make social institutions less functional and most people less happy. If so, they certainly don’t maximize satisfactions counting all preferences equally. It’s evident, then, that those changes are being made not for utilitarian evidence-based policy reasons but on account of an unbreakable sense that different treatment based on sex is out of place—that is to say, abnormal—in present-day society.

The evident basis of that sense is that sexual connections and distinctions are subtle and impossible to understand completely, so they can’t be dealt with technologically. It follows that if society is to become fully and transparently rational, as rationality is now understood, they must be eliminated or deprived of effect. For people who run things today the choice is therefore clear: the irrational and abnormal must be suppressed, and that means women must go into combat and marriage must be fundamentally redefined.

That choice is commonly attributed to an egalitarian moral principle that tells us that human beings have equal worth and must be treated equally. In fact, it’s based on no such thing, but on the need to maintain the appearance of technological rationality. Egalitarian principle doesn’t keep people from drawing the distinctions they think are normal even when those distinctions are not fully voluntary and have no special connection to human or moral worth. The military routinely treats officers and enlisted men differently, not to mention fellow citizens and enemy soldiers. The issue, then, is what distinctions are normal, and that depends on understandings of the world and how society should function.

As noted, the current view is that society should function technologically, and only accept distinctions like money, certified expertise, and bureaucratic position that fit neatly into a liberal technocratic system. In contrast, the older view trusts in the world’s innate way of functioning, which includes sexual distinctions, and typically views that way of functioning as natural and providential. The official view today is that the former approach is obviously correct and liberating. It’s hard to see why. It can’t work in accordance with its principles, because there are too many things that can’t be understood technologically, so it can’t be correct. And it’s hardly liberating to give up a conception of order as natural in favor of order as the creation of human will, since the will that determines order will inevitably be that of the powerful.

Why should we want to be ordered around by social engineers who don’t understand what they’re doing?

Editor’s note: This column first appeared January 14, 2014 in Catholic World Report and is reprinted with permission.

James Kalb

By

James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command (ISI Books, 2008), and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

  • Objectivetruth

    The link below is a must read article by a female Marine infantry Lieutenant that saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. She says men and women were not created equal, and in the long run, women serving in front line infantry positions is a negative that will weaken the Marine Corps. An excellent article:

    http://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/article/get-over-it-we-are-not-all-created-equal

    • tom

      The USMC is down to 3 pull ups. A brigade of Swiss Guards could destroy them when Barack’s troops are assembled to his liking. That’s his goal, of course.

      • Objectivetruth

        She describes in the article how the deleterious, stressful physical effects of combat over time (lack of sleep, 16 hour days of carrying 80 pound packs, bad diet, muscle wasting, etc.) had a far greater negative effect on the female marines than the male. The women had far more injuries, medical conditions, sicknesses, etc. than their male counterparts.

        • tom

          Basically, women who are 20 have the same physical abilities as an active man who is 50. What Barack’s doing is making the women the officer corps and the men the grunts. The gals love it.
          Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to war we go.

          • Adam__Baum

            Don’t you know that war will be an old women’s game played young men?

      • Adam__Baum

        Who needs pull ups when you you fight with a joystick?

    • Adam__Baum

      I wonder if she’s been drummed out of the corps, yet.

      • Objectivetruth

        It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. We could be in the future fighting two fronts, North Korea and Iran. This would require reinstituting the draft. In a world now of “we’re all equal”, for every man conscripted, that means also a woman. Would 18 year old female high school cheerleaders then be required to the front lines? How would the progressive liberal feminists react when their daughter receives a draft notice and to report to Parris Island in two weeks? Picture the State U. Tri Delta sorority hunkered down for weeks in a fox hole in the middle of a North Korean winter as 5,000 screaming Korean Communists are charging them with fixed bayonets.

        • tom

          That’ll be the day. The gals will be attending McGill. or conscientiously objecting. The smarter guys will, too. The response to a draft would be lower than the rate of Obamacare enrollment. For better or worse, a draft is impossible in 2014.

        • Adam__Baum

          I can’t even imagine the State. U frat boys making it past Parris Island.

        • Gilbert Jacobi

          I’m tempted to say I can’t think of a better place for them; it’s certainly better preparation for life than Beyonce Studies.

  • Prof_Override

    In the present day world “Normal” is a statistical term, with non-technical types flogging it with ignorance. If you glance at the etymology, “made according to a carpenter’s square”. Of most use in this discussion is a Gaussian curve (or normal curve) which describes quite accurately a huge number of natural things. That which is “normal” is the majority of a phenomena roughly occurring in the middle of the distribution. While the study of the middle can be insightful, it is the outliers (the +2/3/4 sigma folks that are the movers and shakers). If’n your vision of this world is to return to hunter/gatherer caves and mud huts, then that’s what those folks in the middle of the pie will get you. If you like your iphone (and heaven forbid the relativistically driven GPS thing-a-ma-bob on it), then the discussion is the proper integration of the non-normal into the social fabric. So are you going to thumbs up the hacker dude hunched over his computer kicking out the code for a new app that you want for your iWorld while tarring and feathering the gay designer dude who is pushing the envelop fashion (which you will see in a couple years watered down in your local Target and which your wife/daughter will making a bee-line for when it hits the stores). Maybe the discussion is – has pendulum swung too far the a-normal way, but I don’t know about you, I don’t want to go back to mud huts or give up my iPhone just because some blindered people in the middle can’t deal with anything beyond + 1 std. deviation.

    • http://jimkalb.com/ James Kalb

      The word has multiple senses. You insist on reducing it to one, which you say is all it has in the present day world.

      Why do you think that contributes to the discussion? It looks to me like willful refusal to engage.

      • Adam__Baum

        It looks like a series of disjointed run-on sentences where opening premise was an attempt to force fit everything into the Gaussian distribution.

        • Objectivetruth

          Basically, a posting going down hill with no steering wheel or brakes.

          • Prof_Override

            Wow – insightful, thank you for your input.

        • Prof_Override

          You are wrong “of most use” is an explicit statement of selection of one from many for the use as example. Statistics is mathematic abstraction of natural processes. There are many distributions that have been observed and documented, I simply selected one (the one most people are familiar with and can relate to) to illustrate a point. Lack of comprehension on your part is not my problem.

          • Adam__Baum

            But your lack of comprehension, and paucity of outlook are is your problems. That’s why your post is being taken apart like a cheap Happy Meal toy.

            • Prof_Override

              “taken apart”, I don’t think so. Attacked – yes, but that would be my expectation with the readership of this site (that’s a sincere compliment by the way and not a slam). “Taken apart” requires one to win what I would call the battle of the Venn diagram – your circle of logic has to completely encircle the others. That hasn’t been remotely achieved. Slinging mud because you don’t like the form of an argument doesn’t constitute anything other than a post modern, opinion is fact line of thought.

              • Adam__Baum

                Whatever.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        At the heart of the statistical definition of “normal” is an extreme Nominalism. Its axiom is that everything is unit and individual and that all categories and classifications are purely notional; “similarity” and “difference” are ideas, not things and classification is a choice. The objective features of a phenomenon so little constrain the ways it is classified and theorized that these features can be disregarded in trying to understand why a particular classification system or scientific theory has been adopted.

        The question is at the heart of the great debates of the Schoolmen over “Universals.”

        • Prof_Override

          I don’t see this as nominalism, as I’m not nominalistic. Pure abstraction is just as off the road and in the ditch as pure nominalism. My reaction is to the relatively unfettered use of terminology, “Normality” in particular, that does have actual moorings. The hard normal curve revolves around a single variable, which is fine in example, but useless in modeling a real world system – which would quickly devolve into an unsolvable non-linear programming problem (the real world). That shouldn’t detract from the effort to abstract the underlying concepts and that shouldn’t excuse people from unilaterally ignoring generally accepted concepts just to meet their world view.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            Apart from its various uses in mathematics (normal vector, normal matrix, normal number), which need not detain us, in English, one of the oldest meanings of normal is conformity to a norm or rule.

            No one disputes that it can mean the Gaussian continuous probability distribution, but that is far from being its only meaning. To suggest otherwise is like claiming “mental” should only be used to refer to the chin.

      • Prof_Override

        The comment on women in the marines dodges the subject. Your core premise is natural law. In any discussion there is a core assumption(s) and then a house of cards built upon the assumption(s). Discussion of the house of cards isn’t really the point, it’s the base assumptions that matter – in this case natural law. I’m using generally accepted mathematical concepts to link to “natural”, then pointing out and asking the follow-on question about outliers that contribute to society (or don’t) and which are part of what is natural (my premise). This flows from the headline “Social Engineering” & “Normality”.

        “The word has multiple senses” is pure Macguffin. Refinement of any concept moves from the intuitive to the analytical. To deny an analytical argument is to deny refinement and speaks to a calcification in thought processes – which I definitely don’t accuse you of. “Normality” directly links to the statistical definitions etymologically, so I don’t think that it is a fair argument to simply wave off the line of thought with a false comment on multiple senses.

        • http://jimkalb.com/ James Kalb

          I agree that the core issue is what is natural. That’s why the first sentence of the piece reads as it does. You seem to be claiming that “natural” is always best understood as a matter of statistical distributions. I deny that, and so does the Catholic natural law tradition.

          The argument of the piece is that there are important aspects of the world that can’t be understood in such mechanical ways. E.g., health is not a matter of statistical averages, but it’s natural and normal and the concept is necessary for understanding living systems. If you disagree, it would help for you to engage what the piece says and say why.

          • Prof_Override

            Fair enough – “it’s hardly liberating to give up a conception of order as natural in favor of order as the creation of human will” you are running into the post modern dilemma of your conception of order as natural doesn’t gibe with my conception of order as natural, hence “natural order” being a relativistic concept, meaning natural order as applied historically and today is a creation of human will. It may have good intentions and divine pretentions, but in the end it is simple human will.

            • Gilbert Jacobi

              Balderdash! The examples of the natural order the article refers to are universally accepted from biology and medicine, as in 98.6 degrees is normal body temperature; glassy eyes and a white, furry tongue indicate ill health or reading too much secular humanist crap, etc. This not only clearly points to a conception of order, but moreover, one which does not depend on human will. In other words, it is no stretch at all to extend this to stating that a union of male and female reproductive organs is natural and normal, while a union of organs of the same sex is not; or to state that females’ typically being 50-70% weaker than males means they are not naturally suited to combat, etc. Rather, it is an act of (incredibly hubristic) human will to try to enforce the opposite of these examples as natural and normal.

            • http://jimkalb.com/ James Kalb

              Are you saying that the existence of two different conceptions of order means that the choice between them is a simple matter of will rather than one being more adequate to reality than the other?

        • Guest

          Well, this is simply a reductionist understanding of his essay and of reality.

    • DD

      Talk about small minded and reductionist.

      • Prof_Override

        Talk about narrow minded and petty.

        • Guest

          How? You reduce the essay to a pedantic, minimalistic, and facile understanding of the word normal and then when this is pointed out your defense is more of the same.

          Do you actually assert the word normal is simply a statistical reference without regard to any other meaning?

    • Gilbert Jacobi

      You ignore the political control aspect of Kalb’s argument. If we are now to be subjected to any individual’s definition of what is normal, then not only does the term loses all meaning; more precisely and ominously, the term comes to mean whatever a transient bare majority of malleable voters, Kalb’s “socially dominant”, can be gulled into believing it is, with the consequence that the rest of us can then be forced to go along.

      By mislabeling what those of us not currently in the majority justly feel as a threat as instead a desire to go back to “mud huts”, and by holding up hackers and queers as your heroes, you show yourself to be an arrogant proponent of the unmoored social engineering Kalb rightly warns against.

      The discussion is not about “has pendulum swung too far the a-normal way” (sic) – that is too obvious to warrant discussion. It is about whether thoughtful people in the great middle, i.e. normal people, can regain some control over society through a reintroduction of the concept of the normal and the natural into the debate. By pointing out the false egalitarianism of the progressive technocratic elite, Kalb takes a step in this direction.

    • Gilbert Jacobi

      But you’re happy as a pig in sh*t to force those not blinded by left-lib ideology, i.e., the clear-seeing people in the middle, to accept the freakish behavior of your “movers and shakers”.

    • redfish

      Even when you apply the statistical definition of “normal” to human sociology, you have to make a lot of categorical assumptions to determine the distribution. For example, only a relative few number of people are policemen, but we don’t say being a policeman is “abnormal”, because we consider it just another type of job. Being a policeman isn’t much different than being a fireman, or a doctor, or whatever else, so we put all of those jobs into one category and consider them “normal”, despite the fact that alone each profession makes up a statistically small group of people. That’s why social analyses of “normal” usually depend on an implicit understanding of human psychology.

  • Rusty

    Interesting article.

    It is good to debate the effects that technology has on society so that those affected by that technology can make choices. We choose every day. I note that Prof Override has expressed an understandably common view – who wants to return to living in mud huts?

    The reality is that the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. We want the good things that come with technology, and we decry those to which we object. The issue is that there is a diversity of opinions about what is good, and what is not good. If accepting that society is an organic entity as determined by a naturalistic order means everyone ought to know their place and just accept it, those who do not like their situation would beg to differ. There is little question that those who do not accept the “natural order” of society can only be kept in their place through two means – persuasion, or force.

    Obedience to God and obedience to Caesar are two different things – where we are asked to accept God’s will, the question is knowing the difference. In my view (and all the subjectivity that implies), Caesar has no business telling us what to value – my thoughts and beliefs are between me and God alone. Laws should therefore be honest about their purpose and restrained in their reach. State sponsored efforts to redistribute wealth and channel power to the less wealthy and less powerful have no moral purpose, as the state is not a moral actor – they are simply efforts to mediate competing wants and needs in an attempt to prevent conflict from consuming society. The so-called New Deal was an attempt to prevent revolution.

    Since the state is not a moral actor, it is incumbent upon citizens to act morally, including in their political activity. It is not only our duty as Christians to try to prevent the State from imposing its amoral values on society, it is also our duty to promote the change of heart amongst our fellow human beings that leads to the morally just set of values by which we try to live. In Canada (where I am from) we have no laws regulating abortion since our Supreme Court ruled the previous limits unconstitutional. If the State does not forbid something, our strategy needs to encompass a focus on changing hearts and minds, one person at a time – the levers of the State are not available to us. Isn’t that what Christ did – changing hearts and minds one person at a time?

    • tom

      Moral relativism triumphant!

    • michael susce

      “…as the state is not a moral actor…” We heartily and ruthlessy agree!!.
      Signed, Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

      • Rusty

        By definition, the state cannot be a moral actor – the state has no soul, and is set up to defend a geographic territory and its citizens from external threats. Over time, it has extended itself into all aspects of the lives of its citizens – some call it the Nanny State, some call it the slide towards totalitarianism, which brings us to Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

        Christ gave us no political institutions or models – he intentionally stayed away from those things. He is concerned with the state of individual souls, not the mode of governance – these were the things the Devil tempted Him with in the desert – power and riches.

        The model of a state which includes no separation between faith and government is that of the Musselmen – the entire Islamist project is to restore the Caliphate and rule the world. The Musselmen would disagree about the state being a moral actor.

        • Guest

          You want to read the CCC.

          • Rusty

            Yes, but I would find it interesting to understand your view as part of this discussion.

  • Vinnie

    Ironic that what could be a definition of freedom of religion is used to give a right to abortion, “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

    • Adam__Baum

      It’s also a lie, because that same Court affirms laws and issues decisions that are wholly at odds with that statement. Actually, wasn’t that phrase in Lawrence v. Texas?

      • Rusty

        It may be cynical, but expecting the law to be consistent is a pipe dream.

        Lawyers are taught in law school to be able to argue all sides of an issue, and are expected to do their best to protect the interests of their clients – their ethical framework is explicitly relativist – see the following article:

        http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/01/28/robert-blecker-why-choose-to-serve-evil/

        Judges have opinions and biases, and are lawyers to boot.

        • tom

          These days, the wisdom of Solomon has been replaced with a desire to halve the baby. Let’s not blame lawyers for this Zeitgeist.
          it was Hitler in the Holocaust and the Democratic Party in America.

        • Adam__Baum

          What’s your point? It’s one thing to be inconsistent, it’s another thing to be diametrically opposed or to write trite and meaningless phrases like that one as a part of an opinion.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Funny how when liberals use that term, I don’t think they know what it means:

    http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-new-homophiles-and-three-sigma-rule.html

    Normal has a specific mathematical definition: 68% or more of the given population represents the position that is normal.

    Homosexuality will NEVER be normal. Abortion will NEVER be normal. No matter how much we lie to ourselves about it.

  • poetcomic1

    Norms arise from the past human experience. It is the gift of our ancestors to us and there is absolutely nothing that can take its place. The Catholic Church and the entire Western world, in my own lifetime have been severed ruthlessly from our own immense inheritance of wisdom. Brother Gilles, companion of St. Francis said, “When the King sends his daughter on a journey, he mounts her on a gentle, old mare, not upon a fiery and splendid stallion.” How I miss that gentle plodding sure-footed journey through life that both church and state have made impossible forever.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      But many believe that that the future will be unlike the past, that it will be better, and that, therefore the experience of ages may instruct and warn, but cannot guide or control. For them, history is the embodiment of imperfection, and escape from history became the watchword of the coming day. Others are yet more radical; Condorcet thought that the world might be emancipated by burning its records. Today, many share that view.

      • poetcomic1

        Hitler was the most ‘progressive’ of all. He burned not only records but an ancient people.

  • tom

    We hold these truths to be self-evident has been trash-canned.
    My fellow Democrats, let’s just keep defining deviancy downward.
    (Leon Trotsky(D) approves this message.)

  • Mike Smith

    Wow! Great article! A few additional thoughts:

    There was nothing “natural” about the rise of multiculturalism, secularism, hedonism, and political correctness in America. It was engineered by liberal elites that control the courts, the media, and the schools. Each of these institutions depends on government coercion for money and influence. Nevertheless, most Americans still have “conservative” views on on immigration, guns, religion, marriage, and crime. If property owners could once again exercise their natural right to discriminate—thus ostracizing people with values, attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyles that are detrimental to a stable social order—normalcy would return overnight. Degenerates would either go back in the closet or live in a Red Light District somewhere. Unruly groups would have to get their act together or be shut out/cut off from civilized society. Marxists would be preaching about eco-feminism to their fellow dishwashers rather than collecting inflated salaries in taxpayer-subsidized universities. The only way liberals can win the culture wars is through the threat or use of violence. Deep down, they know the public is hostile to their agenda. Deep down, they know that only a brutal regime of social engineering can suppress the natural social order.

    An elitism divorced from the moral sensibilities of the masses is tyranny.

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