It’s me again, and today I will talk about why and how repressive norms can be useful.
My main motivation was a post by some anarchist guy (you don’t know him, no, I don’t know him that well either) where he was complaining about how the concept of neuro-normality is repressive and thus, must be abolished. Concerning the first part, yes, it’s true. The society defines “normal” behavior, and sometimes is pretty repressive in that concern, the judicial system being living proof. Non-conforming people are marginalized in several different ways, including, but not limited to, public shaming, implicit recommendations etc.
While this includes suffering individuals, and is horrible on a personal level, I have at least one good argument for (sometimes repressive) norms.
The reasoning is rather simple: first, human behavior is largely defined by the society this human being is born in. A human brain is more or less the same at birth, independent on where this individual was born, in Nairobi or in Beijing, and the environment has an enormous influence on this brain, thus, conveying concepts of acceptable behavior. It is not something one can free oneself of, at least not unconsciously. Second, human rationality is bounded, and this bound is not negligible. Thus, it is in the society’s best interests for an individual to behave in a rational way under more or less the same ground assumptions. So, it is more or less straightforward that under these assumptions, it is a good idea for a society to define a notion of “normality” (more precise, a spectrum of normal behavior) which coincides with rational behavior.
Now there are some hippies and Children Of Forest which will oppose me on the general grounds of “you cannot and should not force people to be rational, freedom is more important”. Somehow, everyone thinks that this is an argument coming from the political Left, and Left sometimes seems to embrace this thinking. However, this argument empowers other groups. We must recall that irrational behavior is mostly the reason for most things that are wrong with market economy, such as overproduction of electronic equipment, all those marketing magic, products overpriced on reasons of “exclusivity” and “VIPness”. All this means that telling “you cannot and should not force people to be rational” is a mistake on the goal level, the one of the unforgivable kind.
It is important (for me) to emphasize that I am not talking about paternalism. Paternalism means taking the means of planning and decision making away. I am talking about encouraging making the right decisions, the ones that conform with individual and collective goals, whatever the goals may be.
This all means that there is actually a strong reason for social norms and their enforcement, but not (all of) the norms of the current society. Ideally, the norm should be rational behavior. By rational, I mean, identifying your goals and doing the right thing that serves your goals. Or, for short, being rational means winning. And the problems societies are facing now are far too important to allow for irrational decision making.