Article of the Day: The New Normal

Recent work in cognitive psychology has shown that our sense of what is normal is influenced both by what we take to be statistically normal and what we take to fit prescriptive norms. In other words, what people consider to be normal is a function of both what they consider to be widespread and what they consider to be good. Thus, a call to avoid normalizing a particular attitude or behavior (e.g., imprisoning people on the basis of their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion) is, at least in part, a call to avoid acquiescing to the view that this is how we should behave.

hateMoreover, there is other work in social psychology that suggests that what we take to be normal influences what we do.  The basic idea here is that one will be less likely to inhibit a desire to do something that is usually socially unacceptable (e.g., make a racist joke) in a context where it appears that others won’t frown upon it. Thus, normalizing prejudiced attitudes and behavior can have very real and terrible consequences.

It makes sense to be concerned about the normalization of attitudes and behavior one believes to be deeply wrong. This is because it makes sense to be concerned about such things being both widespread enough and acceptable enough to be considered normal. And given recent events, it should come as no surprise that liberal Americans are increasingly voicing their concerns about normalization.

Repudiation of these prejudices by the editors of the newspaper would signal institutional support for the liberal ideals they transgress. This will make it plain to all that this prejudice is not normal— it remains unacceptable even if widespread. This would reinforce the message that one should not hold these views and thereby reinforce prohibitions against acting on them.

Anyone with deep concern, in this moment, about bigotry and bad behavior has good reason to loudly voice concern about its normalization.

Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, Ph.D.
is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Sam Houston State University.

This is an extract of an article that appeared in on 15 December 2016


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