In this essay…
What is normal? – Normal is the conformation to a set standard or a regular pattern. It happens when the same thing is repeated over a period of time. “Normal” is a box that our society created that reflects society’s definition of how things should be. However, it is a subjective discourse. What is normal for one can become chaos for others. For example, driving “left” on the road for people in India is ‘normal’ while it is ‘chaos’ for the people in the west because they derive “right” from the road.
Similarly, a woman philosopher Hannah Arendt in her work, “banality of evil” says that another side of the coin of normality is banality. When evil things get normalized in society, it becomes “banal”. For example, corruption in society is normalized. It is normal for the ‘corrupt’ people in offices. But it is chaos for the poor people who bribe the ‘borrowed money’ with officers for availing government services. It creates a layer of stress on poor people.
It means evil has become normal since it has lost the ability to affect others. Thus, it is true that what is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly. Spider web creates the way for spiders. However, the same spider web obstructs the freedom of flies. For the spider, weaving her web and waiting for the fly is how she survives. It is her normal way of life. For the fly, getting stuck in a web brings her life to the end. Both experience the web, yet their experiences are radically different. Thus, normal is an illusion.
Normal is an illusion throughout the spectrum
The discourse of “normal” and “chaos” can be found in history irrespective of time and space. Ancient India especially in Vedic days was largely peaceful and harmonious. However, in later Vedic days, the ‘varna system’ gets its practical shape in the face of the ‘caste system’. The caste system was normal for the people belonging to the upper caste but it was chaotic for the Dalit community. It degraded the human values of the Dalit community through social ostracization and exclusionist behavior.
Similarly, in Medieval India women’s suppression was normal but it was certainly chaos for the women’s community. For example, Rudrama Devi, ruler of the Kakatiya dynasty in Andhra faced gender discrimination due to a patriarchal mindset. She was forced by society to rule the dynasty by concealing her real identity of being a woman. Similarly, Razia Sultan in Delhi was heavily criticized by the cleric community for her womanhood. Rumors about her relationship with slaves were spread for character assassination.
Following the same footprint, during modern India, Britishers used India for getting raw materials and dumping finished goods into India. It was normal for colonial masters to match the demand of the industrial level. But it was chaotic for the people of India at large. It led to the deindustrialization of India. A large number of people were unemployed and pushed toward extreme poverty. It hurt people so much that they started moving back to villages when the arts disappear before the industrial revolution.
Trickling down of “normalized behavior” in today’s world
After the end of the first world war, 14 points speech of Woodrow Wilson for constructing peaceful world order was deemed as normal for the prospect of the world. It became an illusion with the surge of fascism in Germany under the leadership of Hitler and in Italy under the leadership of Mussolini. It led to the second world war. After the defeat of fascism in the second world war, a peaceful world was imagined as a new normal. However, it was again proved an illusion once the idea of “communism” and “liberalism” became strong in the world sphere.
A clash of ideologies weaved the confrontation. Thinkers of the time especially realists deemed ‘confrontation’ normal. However, it was against proven illusion. It was normal from their perspective but from the perspective of NAM countries, it was chaos. It was forcing the newly independent countries to take a stand in the interests of the superpower. However, with the disintegration of the USSR, a new normal was developed where “liberalism” was the ‘end of history’ or the force behind shaping the prospect of world politics.
Similarly, again a new illusion was created that ‘liberalism’ will be the hegemon power and a new normal for the world. Scholars in the US like Francis Fukuyama in his book “The end of history and the last man” claimed the defeat of communism in a cold war as the end of history. But this normal was again proved as an “illusion” when Islamic civilization attacked western civilization during the 9/11 attack. The surge of new powers like India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and China has created a new normal for the “multilateral world”.
The making of the event in post-independent society
Along with historical footprints and relevance in the world sphere, it has its reflection in post-independent society. Just after independence, pundit Nehru decided to focus on poverty. For this, he adopted the development of agriculture in the first five-year plan followed by industrial development in the second five-year plan through the Mahalanobis model. It led to compromising the defense sector. There was normality that India has no threat. It became an illusion when China attacked India in 1962 and created chaos in India.
Similarly, India was not self-sufficient in producing grains. India got aid from the US through PL-480 under the US food program. It was deemed as normal for the US to extract benefits from satellite countries through food programs for geopolitical purposes. It was proved to be an illusion when the US pressurized India in Indo-Pak 1965 war. Such intent of the US was compromising the freedom and sovereignty of the independent third world countries. This normality was changed by India through the Green revolution.
On the same line, from independence till 1980, the role of the state in developing society was deemed as normal. For example, the government has excessive control over the production and prices of produced goods. It became an illusion when India faced a balance of payment crisis in the 1990s. It created chaos in the process of securing forex reserves and ensuring employment to the people. Subsequently, the government has to open the market through LPG reform. The same trend percolates down in the age of the 21st century.
New strands in the fabric of the 21st century
Apart from taking a leaf out of history and understanding from the perspective of changing order, new strands in the fabric are noticed that are prevailing in our society. For example, the NCRB report says that every 16 minutes a woman is raped. We read newspapers daily and come across such rape cases. It has become ‘banality’ in our society that we turn pages without feeling the gravity of the issue. It is so because continuous rape cases have made it real. However, it is not reality but illusion. For some, it can be normal but for social activists, it is chaos.
Similarly, in the case of ‘mental health’, a large section of society see it as abnormal. People don’t look at it from the perspective of health issues. However, for the doctor community, it is normal. Thus, it is normal from the doctor’s perspective but it is deemed as chaos for a large chunk of people. Along with this, building dams for the process of development is deemed as normal by the government and people in mainstream India. But it is illusion for tribal people for whom it creates chaos due to displacement and harming their tradition.
In the same fashion, in the context of the economy, ‘economic growth’ is deemed as normal for economists like Jagdish Bhagwati on the logic of the ‘trickle-down effect’. However, this normality is considered as chaos for Nobel laureates like Amartya Sen who deemed ‘capacity building’ and ‘economic development’ as the prospect and normal. Apart from the social, individual, environmental, and economic perspectives, it is also found in the political sphere. ‘Criminalization of politics’ is deemed as normal for some people to get their things done in offices. But it is illusion for others because it creates chaos by disturbing administrative processes.
Thus, it is rightly said that ‘every understanding is a misunderstanding’. Nothing can be called normal. It can be normal for a spider but chaos for the flies. It is better to deconstruct the discourse and reconstruct it again over a period of time for updating normality. However, there can be a common plank – telling truth, not stealing, not harming others, etc. They are normal values of society that would be acceptable for all.
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