Michel Foucault is one of those certain talents where a quirky mix of genius, talent and savantism all congeal in the mind of one person to shed the powerful glow of meaning and context on the rest of us One of Foucault’s passions in life was his love of words and his research into the power of labels.
The greatest power, Foucault argued, was to be in a position to name or to re-label an idea. By defining something unknown or by re-framing a known entity with new words — you were in control of the definition, the meaning, and the provenance of the idea.
The power of the name itself is what gives the name giver the ability to set agendas and close discussions by saying, “that isn’t what that word/label/name/idea means.” By naming, you give an abstraction form. You are a God that walks the earth.
Words can also reduce established ideas to ash.
“Wars” become metaphors for “police actions.” “Holocaust” becomes a ribbon to attach to any generic atrocity. “Heroes” can be found in any playground and living room. Yesterday’s discussion about savantism led me to continue to wonder on the power of naming that discriminates and punishes under the guise of simple labeling when it comes to defining what is “Normal” and what is “Average.”
When we categorize people against each other — we use “normal” as a cudgel to punish those unlike us and to shield the majority power from criticism that they are tamping down the ugly and the disabled. What is “normal?” The expected? 51%?
“She isn’t normal size” isn’t a compliment, it isn’t a fact; it is a qualitative value judgment meant to corner and dissect. Those who care about people and naming and words have started to use “Average” instead of “Normal” because that label punishes less, brings more meaning to the comparison and is quantifiable instead of qualitative.
“She is average height” is less punishing to those who are not than “She’s not normal height.” In our shared, social, memes, “Normal” has come to have greater meaning beyond truth and fact. Normal has an emotional attachment for us that indicates safety and levelheadedness. Those who are “not normal” are tainted, broken, dangerous and of lesser substance than those who are in the normal power majority.
Most people will fight to be labeled “Normal” while few have the same emotional and aesthetic attachment to “Average” — and that’s the point — using “Average” causes an immediate re-thinking of the labels we use to create accurate representations of meaning and context that do not tickle mystical feelings semantically created to instill fear in the middling mainstream mind.