The issue of normalcy is arguably a complicated one. Does the idea of normal change over time or is there something constant that mankind can always refer back to?
A compelling argument against the idea of a transhistorical normalcy is found in poststructural thought. Postructuralists point out that different cultures regard normalcy differently, both now and throughout history.
For example, in Biblical times and the Middle Ages abnormality was often associated with demonic influence or possession. Not a few individuals were literally burnt at the stake when defined as abnormal heretics.
Today, however, it seems both abnormal and cruel that anyone would burn another living person, for any apparent reason whatsoever.
In contemporary society, we see a shift away from religious to medical explanations for abnormality. Violent criminals, for instance, are often said to be mentally ill instead of ‘possessed by Satan.’
Another difficulty in ascertaining the normal as a moral good is the issue of hypocrisy. In sociology, power and labeling theorists suggest that individuals and groups possessing social power often label other powerless individuals and groups as deviant for engaging in practices that members of the high-powered groups profit from.
Although today’s social scene shouldn’t be reduced to such a simple formulation, we should point out that in medieval times there was a high degree of reliability among witch hunters when classifying targeted individuals as witches. And in contemporary society there’s a high degree of reliability among psychiatrists in defining so-called mental illnesses.
However, one could argue that, in both instances, a high degree of reliability in assessment does not necessarily relate to a high degree of validity for that assessment.
In other words, just because a powerful social group says something is so, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it actually is so. This is a basic philosophy 101 point certainly overlooked by witch hunters and sometimes by contemporary psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, along with anyone who unconditionally accepts a particular worldview that happens to be hegemonic or perhaps just in vogue.
Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn expressed his own views on normality in the song, “The Trouble With Normal” (1981; released 1983):
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
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- Abnormal Psychology: Understanding Cruelty and Absurdity (socyberty.com)
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