Tolerance and Normalisation

I chatted with an associate this evening about the gun debate in America. For some reason, gun control is again a hot topic. He believes that guns, like drugs, should be treated as mental health issues.

Click an image to read the referenced article.

The Atlantic: An ER Doctor’s ‘Third Way’ Approach to the Gun Crisis
The Atlantic: The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Gun Control

Full Disclosure: I do not believe that the Second Amendment of the United States confers unrestricted rights to own a gun. Full stop. I believe this is a perversion by activist Supreme Court justices of the original intent of the grammatically-challenged Forefathers of that cursed country.

The mental health topic brought my attention to the question of tolerance and normalisation. Mental health, an interest of psychology has a sordid past. At its very core is the idea that humans can be normalised, that they can be categorised into normal and abnormal behaviours, and what is deemed normal might have some room for variation, but this tolerance doesn’t really allow for much discrepancy.

Normalisation expects to bring people into some basic conformity—give or take. The problem is that this is contextual and the acceptable range changes over time and place. Many behaviours previously considered abnormal are now acceptable, and some acceptable behaviours are no longer tolerated. Some of these changes have flip-flopped legal status as well. It’s just a game to some people.

Tolerance takes a position that there is no normal, per se. Some people just have different ideas.

Here is a clip of an interview with Dr Oz ( né Mehmet Cengiz Öz) where he illustrates my position. I’ll disintegrate it next.

Dr Oz explains why he does not support legalisation of marijuana

Transcript

Reporter: What is your stance on [the legalisation of] marijuana?

Dr Oz: … There are not enough Pennsylvanians to work in Pennsylvania, so giving them pot so they stay home… I don’t think [is] an ideal move. I also don’t want to breed addiction to marijuana. It’s not physical addiction; it’s emotional addiction, but I don’t want young people to think they have to smoke a joint to get out of their house in the morning. We need to get Pennsylvanians back at work you got to give them their mojo, and I don’t want marijuana to be a hindrance to that. I also don’t want people operating heavy machinery and driving by me when they’ve been taking their fourth joint of the day. But there are other issues that are plaguing Pennsylvanians. We’re a border state, practically, … because they’re flying illegal immigrants up here from the border in the middle of the night … but they’re also getting their narcotics up here really easily.

So, let’s break down this word salad. This will reveal some of Dr Oz’ and my worldview biases.

  1. Neither Oz nor I advocate the use of marijuana or other recreational drugs. However, Oz wants to make or keep it illegal and criminalised. I do not agree. I feel they should regulate it and tax it. Although I neither advocate nor endorse the use of any of these herbs and chemicals, I feel they should do this for all drugs. [And if we are going to make these chemicals illegal, let’s not be hypocrites and make nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine illegal.] I’m not advocating this. I’m just saying adopt a position and maintain it with integrity.
  2. There are not enough Pennsylvanians to work in Pennsylvania.

    First, Oz is a wage slaver. Next, the unemployment rate for PA was 4.9% in March, so this does not appear to be a problem.
  3. so giving them pot so they stay home… I don’t think [is] an ideal move.

    Oz makes an unsubstantiated connection between the legalisation of marijuana and staying home—being lazy or unmotivated.
  4. I also don’t want to breed addiction to marijuana.

    Marijuana is not known to be addictive. As a doctor, Oz knows this.
  5. It’s not physical addiction; it’s emotional addiction

    Here, Oz backtracks, but he also introduces an unsubstantiated claim. If you are interested in why I consider psychology pseudoscience, follow this link to explain DSM changes in this area.
  6. but I don’t want young people to think they have to smoke a joint to get out of their house in the morning

    Oz makes a total non-sequitur here. Nothing he has mentioned this far would lead to this conclusion. If someone already feels this way, its legal status is irrelevant. Enough said.
  7. We need to get Pennsylvanians back at work you got to give them their mojo, and I don’t want marijuana to be a hindrance to that.

    This is more Calvinistic wage slavery advocacy. Again, he is equating the consumption of marijuana with being unmotivated. Perhaps he should challenge Micheal Phelps to a swimming race. If motivation is the issue, perhaps he rather favours legalising amphetamines—but I supposed he’d have a preconceived rationale for that, too.
  8. I also don’t want people operating heavy machinery and driving by me when they’ve been taking their fourth joint of the day.

    Where does the number four come from? Is four different to one or two? Has this been studied? Is he saying this doesn’t already happen? Does he believe that current intoxication laws and incapacitation regulations aren’t in place?
  9. We’re a border state, practically…

    Where to start… Pennsylvania is a border state. It borders New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia. If one counts for the water border of Lake Erie, one might be able to argue that it shares an international border with Canada—although, I feel that’s a stretch. At that point, one wouldn’t be far from considering Hawaii to border California. It’s only water. He does say practically, so perhaps that’s his out.
  10. because they’re flying illegal immigrants up here from the border in the middle of the night

    Wait a minute… Geezer’s talking about the southern border between the United States and Mexico. (That’s where brown people live.) The fewest number of states between Mexico and Pennsylvania is four, but that’s stretching it. Something tells me that Oz is at least an elitist and at worst a racist. I’m a sad panda.

    Another non-sequitur. Somehow, Oz is trying to create a link between marijuana and narcotics whilst also contending that legalising marijuana would somehow affect these illegal flights. Wait, are the flights illegal or just the passengers? How does he know that either is illegal? And does it have to be at night? I get the feeling that Oz watches too much television. Perhaps that’s what we should criminalise. So many questions.
  11. but they’re also getting their narcotics up here really easily

    OK? Perhaps we should contract with them to transport the marijuana up here if they are so efficient. Or would it be better to grow it locally? Racists tend to be nationalists and would likely favour a Made In America policy—unless they can exploit brown people. Or Oz can employ otherwise unemployed Pennsylvanians on his pot plantations. Where does it end?

What does this have to do with normalisation and toleration?

People like Dr Oz want to mainstream people, a concept some familiar with special education might remember—get the people in line with the herd. Proper people—normal people—are supposed X and Y and Z. Toleration allows that there may be people with descriptively ‘normal’ traits and behaviours, but there should not necessarily be a penalty for noncompliance.

When I was an undergrad student, I had a side job as a shift supervisor at an Au Bon Pain in Boston. On an occasion, one worker, let’s call her Mary, was arguing with another worker that we’ll call Marie. Mary said she was not going to make any more sandwiches because she had already made twice as much as Marie. Although I understand the notion of fairness she was invoking, I reminded her that she was being paid by the hour, not the piece. As long as she was still on the proverbial clock, she would continue to make sandwiches. Although I didn’t press this point, I could have hired Marie to watch Mary make sandwiches. In fact, I suppose I was hired to watch them both make sandwiches.

The point is—Mary’s perception aside—that there was no reason to presume these two should produce an equal number of sandwiches in an hour, a day, or a month.

I mention this because—getting back to Oz’ drugs scenario—if people are happy getting high on heroin and nodding out on Kensington Ave, that’s their issue, not Oz’ and not mine. If Pennsylvania needs workers and can’t get them, figure out how to attract workers. Don’t create a situation so bad that the alternate to work is just the lesser of two evils. This reminds me of a story from my consulting days.

Without dropping any names, I was hired by a company to ‘deflect’ some costs. The high-level concept was to redirect people from a relatively expensive call centre to cheaper self-service. I reminded them of the Principle of least effort.

Essentially, I conveyed that people are inherently lazy—echoing Carl Jung. People will take the path of least resistance. If it’s easier for them to call, they’ll call; if it’s easier to self-serve, they’ll do that.

“So we should make it more difficult for customers to call?” was how this was interpreted.

“You should make it easier to self-serve.”

I’m still shaking my head to this day. What humans will do to other humans in the name of commerce.

Where was I?

Day in a Life

“They found Gary.”

That was the response to my question regarding the police presence yesterday.

EDIT: Some in the community have arranged a memorial for Gary.

In Memorium

I live in an economically depressed community. Swathes of addicted streetwalkers to the south and crack and smack street dealers to the north. Between these bookends are some dozen or more churches and me. Adjacent to me is an abandoned church, a haven for the doubly disenfranchised homeless in the community.

Gary didn’t make it to Christmas. Perhaps I saw him around the neighbourhood, but I didn’t know Gary by name.

“It doesn’t sound like it ended well,” said I. “I think it was frostbite,” he continued.

I find it difficult to believe it was frostbite, but I’m no expert. It barely gets below freezing this in part of the country and not lately.

“He had no place to go. They wouldn’t let him in the shelter because he drinks.”

This is Tough Love™ in action. Hate the sin. Fuck the sinner. Another victim of the system and of morality vis-à-vis Virtue Signalling.

In the words from the first Home Alone instalment: Merry Christmas, you filthy animal.

Fables of the Deconstruction

To some extent or another, humans appear to need order—some more than others. Societies are a manifestation of order, and we’ve got subcultures for those who don’t fit in with the mainstream. Humans are also a story-telling lot, which helps to provide a sense of order. Metanarratives are a sort of origin story with a scintilla of aspiration toward some imagined semblance of progress.

Some people appear to be more predisposed to need to ride this metanarrative as a lifeboat. These people are typically Conservative, authority-bound traditionalists, but even the so-called Progressives need this thread of identity. The problem seems to come down to a sort of tolerance versus intolerance split, a split along the same divide as created by monotheism in the presence of polytheism.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Won’t Get Fooled Again — The Who

In a polytheistic world, when two cultures collided, their religious pantheons were simply merged. In a blink, a society might go from 70 gods to 130. On this basis, there was a certain tolerance. Monotheism, on the other hand, is intolerant—a winner takes all death match. The tolerant polytheists might say, sure, you’ve got a god? Great. He can sit over there by the elephant dude. Being intolerant like a petulant schoolboy, the monotheists would throw a tantrum at the thought that there might be other gods on the block. Monotheists won’t even allow demigods, though there is the odd saint or two.

This is a battle between absolutism and relativism. The relativist is always in a weaker arguing position because intolerant absolutists are convinced that their way is the only way, yet the tolerant relativists are always at risk of being marginalised. This is what Karl Popper was addressing with the Paradox of Tolerance.

In a functioning society, a majority of the metanarratives are adopted by the majority of its constituent. On balance, these metanarratives are somewhat inviolable and more so by the inclined authoritarians.

A problem is created when a person or group disagrees with the held views. The ones espousing these views—especially the Traditionals—become indignant. What do you mean there are more than two genders? You are either male or female. Can’t you tell by the penis?

I happened to read a tweet by the GOP declaring their stupidity:

America the Stupid

The Vice President, a living anachronism and proxy for the American Midwest Rust Belt superimposed on the Bible Belt, he tells his sheep that “The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment that America ceases to be America…” Americans as a whole are pretty dim, and it seems to get dimmer the higher one ascends their government. Pence seems very firm in affirming a notion of American identity, but not accepting that identities change. He may become upset if he finds out that George Washington is dead—in fact, there are very few remnants of the original United States aside from some dirt, trees, and a few edifices—and the country is still the county. Some people have a difficult time grasping identity. It makes me wonder if he fails to recognise himself in the mirror after he gets his hair cut.

The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue… The idea is to disarm the bombs… of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrants…

Jacques Derrida

Interesting to me is how people complain about this and that politically. Most of this is somewhat reflexive and as phatic as a ‘how are you?’, but some is more intentional and actioned. Occasionally, the energy is kinetic instead of potential, but the result is always the same: One power structure is replaced by another.

What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one

Jacques Lacan

As Lacan noted, as people, we believe ourselves to be democratic, but most of us appear to be finding and then worshipping some authority figures who will promise us what we desire. We desire to have someone else in charge, who can make everything OK, someone who is in a sense an ideal parent. I don’t believe this to be categorical, but I do believe that there is a large contingent of people who require this.

As an aside, I’ve spent a lot of time (let’s call it a social experiment) in the company of social reprobates. What never ceases to amaze me is how these social outcasts seem to have a strong sense of right and wrong and how things should be. Conveniently, they exempt themselves from this scope, so if they steel to buy drugs, it’s OK, but if someone else gets caught, they should get what’s coming to them.

About a year ago I was chatting with a mate, and I shared an observation that the biggest substance abusers in high school—”the Man’s not going hold me down” cohort—are the biggest conservatives. A girl a few houses down from me became a stripper, but her political views are very Conservative, an avid Trump supporter.

One woman I know is a herion-addicted prostitute. In her eyes, she’s fine (sort of—without getting into psychoanalytics); other women are junkie whores. A heavy dose of assuaged cognitive dissonance is the prescription for this, but it confounds me.

Getting back to the original topic, people who need this order are resistant to deconstruction and other hallmark notions of poststructuralism. They need closure. This translates into a need for metanarratives. When confronted with the prospect of no Truth, they immediately need to find a substitute—speculatively, anyway, as denial and escalating commitment will kick into overdrive.

The same problem mentioned above comes into play here. A few years ago, there was an Occupy Wall Street group, and like atheists, there are myriad reasons why people participated. One of the commonest complaints by the power structure and the public at large is if you don’t like the status quo, what status should replace it. None of the above was never an acceptable response.

It doesn’t matter that in this universe we occupy there is more disorder than order, and entropy rules, pareidolia is the palliative. And religion remains an opiate of the masses.


Please ignore my clear misappropriate of the classic R.E.M. album.