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”?