A Normal Person Theory
- Dedicated to all fellow problematic participants.
For those who know me, this doesn’t come as a surprise: I consider myself - what most people would call - a normal person. I have a semi-steady precarious work. I like YouTube. Fried food. Driving cars. Shiny things. Sex. I spend most of my days on the computer. I like and dislike people. I went through both of the stages of loving people and then hating them. Now I like them the normal amount.
The unusual thing about me is that I live in a village with 22 inhabitants. If I want to eat some potato chips, I have to jump in a car and drive 15 minutes to the first shop. If I want to go to the cinema - 45 minutes. To the doctors or the library - 1 hour.
I wasn’t always living here. I sometimes still think of the times I lived in Ljubljana. During the last year of my studies, I lived in the ugliest and oldest of houses in a beautiful and rich neighborhood, just 5 minutes from the store. But I remember that putting on my clothes, shoes, peeing before leaving - just in case - and dealing with the stairs of the house took me about the same 15 minutes as it does here. Going through the dirty grey snow made me hate winters.
When I had my first heart condition, I walked to the doctor. Ljubljana is filled with medical centers, full of doctors. One of those was around 500 meters away. But I called the one that was around 2,5 km away. I don't know why I did that. And then it just seemed more simple to not call a different doctor and just go to the one on the other side of the city. This is the route I did through the snow:
When they told me I had a condition called myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) they drove me in an ambulance car to the University Medical Center. They said I shouldn't do another step by myself, it can be bad for my heart. They put me in a wheelchair and we drove off. This is the route we did:
There I waited in a wheelchair for about 4 hours.
What I want to say is, that going to the doctor always takes a lot of time. Plus, minus 1 hour - it doesn't really make a difference.
Going to the cinema is now a real event. Putting on my good clothes, polishing the Dr. Martens shoes. After the film, we always go for a pizza. I like it this way, it makes it a special day - a cinema day.
Convincing people that you’re a normal person is not always easy. I thought that writing a book about it, explaining my positioning in the world, for all the interested people to read, would make it easier. But it turns out it doesn’t. Can you remember the last time a normal person wrote a book on the psyché of a normal person? Normal people don’t want to write books with titles such as: (1) On Stuttering Literature and Philosophy: How to Stutter Your Way Through It?, (2) Noli me tangere: How to Fuck the Police and Get Away With it? or (3) A Long History of Decay: Why Do We Hate Putrefaction? But I do think that a book on the normal person is one of the most important books to write, even if it makes the writer be perceived as less of a normal person. That’s the risk philosophers just have to take.
The topic has ethical and political significance and it at the same time also deals with strategy. Philosophers are terrible strategists. Stratēgós in Ancient Greece was the leader or commander of an army; a general. To have a strategy means to be a general. Of the general and the generic. Philosophers who have the most to teach us on the question “how to live?” were all loners, lone wolfs. Exceptional people, in their own ways. The philosophers of life: Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Heidegger. They turned existence into the most fundamental question a human being can pose. But they were all exceptional. And how can an exceptional man pose a question on existence, on the category of being which is spread so democratically among all of the people - most of them ordinary?
Nietzsche went mad after seeing a horse getting beaten one day in Torino. He was more of a philosophical hero - and a great drama queen - than a general. On the common people he wrote: “All very individual rules of life excite hostility against him who adopts them; other people feel humiliated by the exceptional treatment he accords himself, as though they were being treated as merely commonplace creatures.” (Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human, 1986: 180) But it was he who made a hateful dragon out of a normal person, following his theory of heroism: “If a man wants to become a hero the serpent must first have become a dragon: otherwise he will lack his proper enemy.” (Ibid.) In reality, a normal person does not care about the hero. Philosopher’s phantasms about him being disliked because he is extraordinary are just that - mere phantasms. A normal person does not care about him, because he finds him not-relatable.
Kierkegaard was not normal. He never worked for a living: 31,000 rigsdale of his family’s inheritance was enough to be a professional sufferer. The only job he knew was Job, the patron of the depressed. And although he expressed admiration for the common man (“You common man! I have not segregated my life from yours ... So if I belong to anyone, I must belong to you.”), his truly important concept was the one of the crowd: “By seeing the multitude of people around it, by being busied with all sorts of worldly affairs, by being wise to the ways of the world, such a person forgets herself, in a divine sense, forgets her own name, dares not believe in herself, finds being herself too risky, finds it much easier and safer to be like the others, to become a copy, a number, along with the crowd.” But he does not propose an antidote of a general with deep resonation with the crowd; no, he proposes a single individual, similar to a hero, but this time with “a spindly figure, a humped back, tousled head of hair [which] made him look like a scarecrow”. Scaring the normal people away.
And Dostoevsky was a gambling-prisoner-put-on-death-row-heavy-drinker kind of guy. Nowhere near generic. He was the architect of Raskolnikov from the novel Crime and Punishment (1866) who speaks of the ordinary man:
As for my division of people into ordinary and extraordinary, I acknowledge that it’s somewhat arbitrary, but I don’t insist upon exact numbers. I only believe in my leading idea that men are in general divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary), that is, so to say, material that serves only to reproduce its kind, and men who have the gift or the talent to utter a new word. There are, of course, innumerable sub- divisions, but the distinguishing features of both categories are fairly well marked. The first category, generally speaking, are men conservative in temperament and law-abiding; they live under control and love to be controlled. To my thinking it is their duty to be controlled, because that’s their vocation, and there is nothing humiliating in it for them. The second category all transgress the law; they are destroyers or disposed to destruction according to their capacities. The crimes of these men are of course relative and varied; for the most part they seek in very varied ways the destruction of the present for the sake of the better. But if such a one is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can, I maintain, find within himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood—that depends on the idea and its dimensions, note that. It’s only in that sense I speak of their right to crime in my article (you remember it began with the legal question). There’s no need for such anxiety, however; the masses will scarcely ever admit this right, they punish them or hang them (more or less), and in doing so fulfil quite justly their conservative vocation. But the same masses set these criminals on a pedestal in the next generation and worship them (more or less). The first category is always the man of the present, the second the man of the future. The first preserve the world and people it, the second move the world and lead it to its goal. Each class has an equal right to exist. In fact, all have equal rights with me—and vive la guerre éternelle—till the New Jerusalem, of course!
What happens with ordinary people in the New Jerusalem?
Dostoevsky was saddened because of the fact that for normal people he and the intelligentsia who tried to break the chains of oppression of the lower classes were viewed in the same kind of way as the ruling class which provided and locked the chain. Anything out of the normal - above or bellow it - is considered oppressing.
A general and a strategist have to be in an intimate resonation with the generic. One simply cannot speak of politics while disregarding most of the people and putting them into the category of the They. Martin Heidegger, the influential German philosopher, used this clever term of the They - das Man in its original German version - in his magnum opus Being and Time (1927):
In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper, every Other is like the next. This Being-with-one-another dissolves one's own Dasein completely into the kind of Being of 'the Others', in such a way, indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more. In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the real dictatorship of the "they" is unfolded. We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as they [man] take pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the 'great mass' as they shrink back; we find 'shocking' what they find shocking. The "they", which is nothing definite, and which all are, though not as the sum, prescribes the kind of Being of everydayness.
Is this a way of speaking to a normal person? Is bringing Heidegger’s Dasein to extra-ordinary authenticity the smartest way of making it do what it should do, what the They should do? A normal person does things as one does them. In its everydayness, a typical normal person will never be authentic. Impossible. Stating otherwise is a clear case of intellectual dishonesty. An authentic normal person is a contradictio in terminis. But the question remains: Can we think of ways of showing that a higher quality of life can be achieved also by staying true to ourselves, to the They in us?
How can a radical position be presented as a normal one? These writings will therefore also speak of a more specific question I was - and still am - sporadically thinking about in the past couple of years, the question of city-quitting.
What Is a Normal Person?
There are of course numerous typologies of a normal person, as Raskolnikov mentioned before. Most of them don’t take strong positions and don’t have strong opinions. But contrary to the belief, they do have opinions. I can already smell the critical philosopher getting closer, his breath stinks of criticism: ‘’The normal person is responsible for the rise of the radical right-wing politics of the last decade! Down with the normal person!’’
Not true. Some of the normal people don’t vote. Normal people don’t believe in voting. Normal people don’t love or hate and those two are exactly what makes you go and vote. But if they do go and vote, as the educated normal people usually do, they do it because deep down they know that voting will not change the game. And I don’t think that they think this in a cynical kind of way. They just know it. And they are fine with it. Normal people are OK with what they have. Actually: they feel great with what they have! They are not stoics. They feel good with what they have, regardless of what they have, and especially because of what they have. A normal person likes to feel comfortable. Sometimes they’ll deny the upper diagnosis, but that’s also what normal people do.
If a normal person is born in a city he will most probably also die in the city. ‘’No reason to move. The city is a comfortable place.’’ They don’t say that, but they know that. I respect that.
In a philosophical tractatus, now would be the perfect time to initiate the critique: ‘’Being comfortable is not what people should strive for! People should strive for greatness and love between all that is! Sing with me: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!’’ I also respect that. A normal person is inclusive when it comes to ideas, he understands all of the positions. He is happy for there being extra-ordinary people with strong opinions, doing extra-ordinary things. Again, he is not a cynic. But he will simply not follow. Extra-ordinarity is either (1) something others do or (2) something to only think about. Dream about. Extra-ordinarity is a dream-like place where you at the same time wish to go and not wish to go to. It’s like going to the spa. You like the hot thermal water, but you just hate the screaming children.
Keeping with the spatial analogies: There is this dream-like place in the mind of a normal person. And then there is the real life. Real life is the quintessential space of the normal person. It’s the space they always return to. It’s there. And in reality, real life may seem tough and hard, but normal people find it soothing. It is the stuff out of which the void between people is made of.
Are you a normal person? To give a simple ‘yes’ would be to underestimate yourself. Because there is also a ‘no’ to this question which resides in a normal person. Normal people are a complex system of simultaneous yay-and-nay saying. With some the ‘yes’ prevails, with others, the ‘no’, but both are there at the same time. Don’t downplay yourself by saying ‘no’. We all know that the most normal of the persons denies being a normal person. That is a tactic normal people use to not fall into the mass of the they. And don’t simply say ‘yes’. We know you are just trying to hide the ‘no’ behind the ‘yes’. Because remember, there is a dream-like space in each normal person.
Everyone is a normal person. Some are just a bit more crypto than others. It’s the same with sexuality. When I was at a summer school of Danish language a couple of years ago, I had a Polish flatmate who thought a lot about sexuality. He told me that at least 50% of Polish men are cryptohomosexuals, stating it as a firm fact. As he was obviously also one of them, I figured that the meaning of the word crypto is not only in not being sincere about one’s own sexual preference to the outside of the others but also to the inside of the self. Some of the cryptohomosexuals were homosexual and they didn’t even know about it. It’s the same with normal people.
But the one thing I want to avoid is making a superman out of a self-proclaimed normal person. He cannot change the world - he can only change himself. Are there is another reason why a normal person is not superman-like. There is nothing hidden behind the surface of the normal person. To use one of Slavoj Žižek’s overused jokes: This person may seem like a normal person, he may talk like a normal person, eat, drink, shit, write, love, and think like a normal person. But don’t let that fool you: He is a normal person.
But a normal person can, despite all of this, still do the right thing. Strategies are needed to make him do that.