“They know that if they put the letter x in their ad or brand, whether you know it or not, you instantly think about sex. I’m concerned about how we’re controlled or directed or conditioned, without even knowing it.” -V. Vale, publisher of RE/SEARCH
I live in Los Angeles, which is often referred to as the normalization capital of the world. Hollywood is responsible for most of the plot lines, belief systems, ways of being and images that seduce and support the vast majority of people into living in normalized ways. It is hard to know how effected by my environment I have been. I suspect some degree of normalization has set in within me- probably a lot more than I am comfortable being aware of.
Normalization has spread all over the world and it manifests in many different forms. For purposes of this essay I am referring to normalization in the Western World, mainly America. Many philosophers, social theorists and others currently consider America to be the epicenter of unprecedented degrees of normalization. I believe that a normalization of the masses is occurring in America and it is far greater than what occurred in Nazi Germany or what currently exists in North Korea.
When I use the word normalization what I am referring to is the absence of all forms of resistance. When resistance is gone, normalization is what sets in.
What do I mean by normalization? Maybe it would be easier to answer this question by stating what I do not mean by normalization. I do not mean a creative, fully-accepting, loving, non-dramatic, non-fearful, non-violent, non-addictive, generous, kind, confident, anti-authoritarian, free-thinking, self obsessed human being. I do not mean someone who does not like their work but works for the money and routinely engages in popularly accepted, corporate forms of distraction, consumerism, communication and entertainment.
So what is normalization? Wiktionary (an on-line dictionary) defines normalization as any process that makes something more normal or regular, which typically means conforming to some regularity or rule, or returning from some state of abnormality. I suppose that when speaking about normalization in a social sense, abnormality could imply existing outside the norm.
So what is the norm in American society? We know it when it sets in.
For many artists and activists in America, life is a continual process of resisting the above various forms of normalization.
Minor forms of mental illness are the result of resisting normalization (clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder), but more extreme cases of mental illness are always the result of normalization (narcissism, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and psychopathy to name a few).
The greatest counter-culture movements, from the hippies and beatniks to the punk, post punk, grunge and indie movements have been born from resistance. Today (in 2015) this resistance is more visible in the occupy movement, the hacker group Anonymous, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Artistic counter-cultural movements in America are currently in great decline because the pervasive forces of normalization have effected almost everyone (mainly through technology, policing, economics, public shaming and various laws).
What about “terrorist” and paramilitary groups? Insurgent groups? Any group that utilizes any form of psychological or physical violence is the norm. There are few things more normalized in America than violence.
The main symptom of normalization is chronic irritation, anger, emptiness and rage. It does not feel good to be normalized. Not everyone responds to normalization in an socially acceptable way. This is why it is often those who regularly experience chronic irritation, emptiness, anger and rage who engage in wars, violence and other forms of emotional and psychological oppression.
Normalization is violence. A violence against life itself.
Authentic resistance is never violent or harmful to others. Authentic resistance is a force of love, creativity, honesty, kindness and a strong impulse towards liberation, generation and freedom from all forms of violence.
Life is resistance. It is through a continual interplay of resistance that life exists.
Resistance is the creative process in action.
Non-violent acts of political protest are a powerful and important form of resistance (especially when living within authoritarian systems). However, this form of resistance is not nearly as effective for our inner-selves as being engaged creatively.
Creativity is the greatest form of resistance because creativity is generative. It fills the emptiness so that normalization can not set in. Normalization generates holes so that it can burrow in deep.
A few basic examples of forms of resistance are: not regularly watching television and popular movies, regularly reading literature, philosophy and poetry, viewing art, listening to non-passifying forms of music (meaning non-corporate music that requires some effort to find and listen to), being a vegetarian, not paying attention to the news, growing your own food, spending little time on-line or on a cellular phone, not engaging in social networking, loving your work, engaged in creative activities, not always looking outside oneself for fulfillment, regularly having great ideas, cooking one’s own food, engaged in transcending the ego, not utilizing the medical system to maintain health.
The internet, television, popular-movies, the news, Facebook, Instagram, politics, institutionalized education, the medical system, capitalistic belief systems (money), popular self-help books, your own personal and family drama, psychotherapy with a normalized therapist, most corporations and technology all share one common purpose- to normalize the individual. The amount that you are engaged with these things often determines the degree to which a person has been normalized.
Television, the internet and movies (there is a difference between movies and film) are the main vehicles of normalization. While watching images on a screen the human mind becomes relaxed enough that subliminal messaging is able to sneak in to the subconscious mind (everyone involved in advertising is aware of this psychological fact). The subconscious mind is like the roots of a plant. It generates what grows in the conscious mind. This is why subliminal messaging from the corporate media often grows into normalization.
If you value your autonomy, Be careful what you open yourself up to, is a good thing to keep in mind.
Ultimately a person does have a choice. To agree to normalization or engage in acts of resistance. Most choose normalization because it feels so much easier. Everyone is doing it. This is why normalization has some real benefits. A person can live a normal, relaxed and comfortable life. A person can afford what is often called security. A person can feel like they fit in and are apart of something bigger than themselves. But the normalized person is not really there. It is just a normalized version of who they think they really are.
This is why the main focus of a normalized lifestyle is the pursuit of pleasure (consumerism). A normalized person works so that they can live (consume) on their off time. When it comes time to living- it is all about the pursuit of pleasure. This pursuit takes the form of vacations, shopping, second homes, going out for nice meals, being passively entertained (movies), getting intoxicated, being in good shape, prescription medication and being happy. Once a person is no longer resisting normalization, there is more time to just chill and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
The reason why normalization leads to an obsession with the pursuit of pleasure is because normalization does not feel good. It does not feel good to not be who you think you are. It fills a person with anger, illness, frustration, fear and emptiness (pain). Normalization stresses a person beyond their capacity. They have to pursue pleasure in order to escape the pain of normalization.
Authentic resistance always feels good. If it does not feel good it is not resistance. It feels fluid and free. It is an energy that elevates a person out from the more oppressive forces of normalization. It fills up the emptiness and puts a person in alignment with their true self.
This is why it is so important for a person to have a creative outlet. Whether it is writing, painting, drawing, dancing, sculpting, gardening, knitting or engaging in non-passive forms of entertainment and/or psychological enhancement (listening to music, reading, watching films, meditating).
Creativity is resistance. As long as a person is regularly engaging in some form of resistance, they are still free.