The state is defined by some as being the entity that has a monopoly on violence.
But there’s more to a society than just who has the guns. There are other forms of control.
I’m more interested in the entity that has a monopoly on normal.
And that entity is not necessarily just “The State.”
What is acceptable?
What can you do?
What can you think?
Who is it that you can criticize? And who is it that you can’t?
And who makes these rules?
There’s this tendency, which I find laughable, of constantly deriding the 1950s as an era of overwhelming, stifling conformity, a boogeyman to be invoked every time we beat our chests and crow about “how far we’ve come.”
And while certain things are better–many, in fact–in other ways thigs today are just as stifling.
Every era has its problems. And every era has standards that you will be nudged to comply with–at first gently, and then with increasingly greater force. Until, eventually, the guys with the guns, threatened or actual, will come pay you a visit.
(I got a response to this on Twitter, snidely purporting to take me to task for ignoring the plight of African-Americans during this era. This response so egregiously missed my point and clearly did not read the whole thread while subtly insinuating sinister things a about me and my intentions that it’s not worth acknowledging beyond this parenthetical).
We’re all wearing uniforms and conforming to some standard, whether you admit it or not.
The only issue is: WHOSE standard?
Are there now more opportunities for you to make a go of your life outside of the lines that society sets for you, or fewer?
If you want to reinvent yourself in America, where can you pack up and go to?
How are those student loans or that huge mortgage working out for you?
Are you licensed enough to earn your living however, wherever you wish?
Who set these rules, anyway? And who convinced us they were good for us?
History is written by the winners, right? Yesterday’s normal is today’s abhorrent. Today’s normal would make you a pariah yesterday.
It’s why we see art and literature from the past either being modified or forgotten.
And why we see art and literature today being forced into little beige boxes.
And why once-beloved historical figures are now today’s villains.
And why your entire livelihood can be ruined simply for holding the wrong opinions…you know, the way it’s always been, in the 50s and today.
Whomever has the monopoly on normal, the gatekeepers, the tastemakers, have more power than the people with the guns.
The people with the guns control your body.
The people who define normal control your mind.
There is just as much conformity now as there has ever been in human history. It’s just different and imposed by different people.
There is a citadel that dictates your life. It just happens to be different than the citadel of old. And in the future, people will speak derisively about our time the way we do about the 1950s.
What a trick to make us think we are any more mentally free than we’ve ever been.
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