Monday, 14 June 2010

(2/4) Norms and identity

Second part in a series. First part here: Accepting and justifying traditions.

So humans have a tendency not to question established norms and tradition, not to become overloaded through them. In this post I will discuss when this becomes a problem. Accepting normativity can lead to opression or foreclosed identity. First, let's look at opression.

Norms and opression
First of all, structures can confer power to some people, and we then might consider this power natural and not something to question. Patriarchalism and gender roles for instance; There are heavy expectations on gender roles, especially the female role. These gender roles disempower women, but we consider this role something naturally feminine, and thus it needs not change.

Secondly, people may be refused their way of life if it deviates from the norm. People become very, very provoced when other people prove to them that another way of doing things is possible, and thus cognitive dissonance prompts them to stop the deviants. Same sex marriage and adoption for instance - What if you don't need a man and a woman to make a family? Then what is our traditions and norms good for? What if they are pointless?

Humans must have clear borders to live within, our the anxiety over what to do will become too much. Some people will fear these borders and measures of how to live will shake and crumble when we challenge them. Even the opressed people may promote these norms to avoid the cognitive dissonance of realizing they're accepting abuse from other people.

Identity and mental health
Finding your own answers and forming your own identity is preferable to accepting normativity.

Again, let's go back to my model of mental health. In this model, I have put health above normality. (As did Lucien A. Buck) I stated that it is better to find your own answers to who you are, what is moral and how to do things than to uncritically accept these from society, parents or other authorities. The process of "finding oneself" is described by James Marcia (epigon of Erik H. Erikson), who outlines four states of identity. Once again, I'm quoting Wikipedia.

A) Identity Diffusion, is the status of individuals who have not yet experienced a crisis or made any commitments. Not only are they undecided about occupational and ideological choices, they are also likely to show little interest in such matters.
B) Identity Foreclosure, is the status of individuals who have made a commitment but not experienced a crisis. This occurs most often when parents hand down commitments to their adolescents, usually in an authoritarian way, before adolescents have had a chance to explore different approaches, ideologies, and vocations on their own.
C) Identity Moratorium, is the status of individuals who are in the midst of a crisis but whose commitments are either absent or are only vaguely defined.
D) Identity Achievement, is the status of individuals who have undergone a crisis and made a commitment.

So, what is the problem with foreclosure? Well, the first is that by not challenging and scrutinizing societies' norms and answers, you might allow yourself or others to be oppressed, as outlined above. Secondly, withouth properly thinking through who you are and how you wish to live, experimenting and searching during a moratorium, your sense of self won't be as stable. I'll elaborate:

When searching yourself for answers, you get to know yourself. You feel more at ease with yourself. By working your answers through, you reach a deeper understanding of them than the hollow granted-at-surface of foreclosure - You can present rationals for the choices you've made, rather than justifications.

Furthermore, as you walk the metaphorical landscape of your inner world to find your place, you learn your way around these landscape. You know them, and thus you can change your position if need be. You can adapt. These are the reasons I've put Health at a greater sense of security than Normality.

In contrast, if you have just decided on a position and stuck with it, rather than exploring it, your understanding of it is more shallow. You cannot backtrack and adapt so to speak, so instead you must defend this position. 

A note on normality
Normality and normativity is something powerful. We fear and condemn the abnormal. To be called unnormal is to be denied you humanity and fellowship with other humans, and it stirs up powerful emotions. The "abnormal" and isolated people, such as schizophreniacs and autists who are unable or unwilling to participate in human society, reject their labels and diagnosises. But do they reject them to maintain their sense of belonging with other people, or do they (in the case of severe symtoms) reject them simply because they've do not care what other people think of them, and thus the concept of insanity holds no meaning to them?

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