Listening to the news yesterday, I heard the story of a secretary of an infamous local scoundrel, who agreed to serve as a witness for the state at his trial. At first, I was frustrated and disappointed that the secretary, who was his partner in crime, would be able to avoid punishment. But then, I realized that this was part of the game, and what had to be done to successfully prosecute the senior criminal. This brought to mind thoughts I’ve been having lately, about the values of our society. It seems everything is relative these days.
I often wonder about the character of this age of ours… what it is that characterizes our particular period of history. Historians and philosophers refer to this period as ‘post modern’, but I see that name more as a place keeper, until historians looking back, will give it a name worthy of our time. Certainly, the great leap forward of present day technology… the move from analogue to digital instruments and memory has influenced our world to such a degree that it is the first thing anyone thinks of, when contemplating the unique qualities of our time. But there are other characteristics too, that are worthy of consideration.
Pluralism is the hallmark of the politically correct attitude in the west. After ideological wars, and the cold war of the previous century, we are trying to exercise tolerance and understanding in our meetings with different cultures, traditions and languages. We’ve learned that there are an infinite number of grays between black and white… and in fact, have embraced color too, in an attempt to reach a higher level of awareness. We acknowledge the possibility of many variations on any theme. It seems somewhat ironic that this philosophical attitude has become popular at the same time that our world is being restructured through the use of digital technology based on the binary code, a series of two letters, 0 and 1. On the one hand we have a language which is rather black and white, and on the other a culture that reflects an infinite spectrum.
The same can be said regarding our social mores. In principle, we are tolerant of deviations from what was once the standard of social behavior. We are willing to accept differences between people. But at the same time, because of our desire to legitimize every sort of behavior, we have begun to categorize almost every deviation from the norm, often as a syndrome which hints at some sort of genetic accident. For some time now, a child having difficulty reading is categorized as dyslexic. With the passage of time, we’ve learned of the growing ranks of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), bipolar disorders, ADD (attention deficit disorder), and ADHD (attention deficit hyper activity disorder). Why the need to label every departure from the norm?
As it happens, the proponents of democracy tend to embrace the idea that all people are virtually the same. The belief in this thesis promotes empathy towards our fellow man. And if someone just happens to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, he can’t be judged for his inability to keep up with the class at school, or to produce as much at work as his fellow employees. Yet at the same time, the very classification of the syndromes makes society more aware of a growing variant citizenry. Like the apocryphal family that has two and a half children, we may eventually realize that there are very few normal people around. And then we may finally find our salvation in the recognition that it is normal to be different… maybe even different without a label. But let us leave such thoughts for tomorrow.