After a certain age, we tend to valourize our tribulations as badges of pride. Our struggle needs to matter, and so we glorify it. When we walked to school, it was through five feet of snow, and it was uphill both ways. Now these lazy fucking kids with their global warming barely have to deal with a frosted sidewalk, and they even shifted the laws of the universe so that our proud Escher-like omnidirectional hills have become laughable fantasies.

Of course, it goes beyond the gentle facetiousness of a school commute. You may have heard it said that, “I got beaten as a child, and I turned out okay!” This type of language is used to dismiss corporal punishment in this example, but often is applied more broadly to dismiss criticisms against the status quo more generally.

What does it mean to “turn out okay”? This of course varies. Our protagonist could hold bitter resentment against their father and still claim that enduring corporal punishment was a net “okay”. Is the PTSD overwhelmingly debilitating? No? Then it’s fine. To be fair, the majority of children who receive corporal punishment do not suffer long-lasting psychological trauma because of it, but how many of them maintain the belief that it’s okay to use violence on children to socialize behaviour? How many take it one small step further to believe that violence is justified on anyone in the assertion of legitimate authority?

We are nothing if not topical here at Blog for Chumps!

I think we have a better understanding of the phenomenon of “turning out okay” if we replace the word “okay” with the word “normal”. It was “normal” back in the day to whoop misbehaving children, and this normalcy carries forward in its defenders today. This is where we can see the generalizability of this attitude. “Every older woman was a homemaker when I was a kid, and I don’t hate women today, therefore it’s normal for women to maintain domesticity.” We are basically defending our socialization when we say we turned out okay, in whatever form our “okay” looks like.

If corporal punishment is normal, its socialization is what you could call systemic corporal punishment-ism. I’m using such awkward language to draw a parallel to the systemic socialization of female domesticity which has its own fancy name: patriarchy. You may have heard of it. Our attitudes toward corporal punishment, toward women, toward racialized groups, toward the LGBT community, etc., are all socialized from a young age, and we don’t see the systematization of this process for one, because we’re children, and two, because it’s “normal”. Normalcy may have its problems, and that’s why we don’t say we turned out “amazing”, but it’s at least “okay.” And “okay” is tolerable, so all these whiny progressives are just complaining for the sake of complaining.

What they have in common? Neither of them wear shirts, apparently…

Normal works out okay for some people. It even works out wonderfully for others! Unfortunately, there are those who actually suffer greatly under it. The young girl who grows up believing that abuse is the “normal” way to receive love, or the young boy who grows up to mete it out. Our relationship toward violence is traditionally gendered because our roles within it are just as socialized as the violence itself: men typically commit abuse against women. It doesn’t always happen that way, but society as a whole functions in broad terms.

Our personal experiences aren’t universalizable. You may well have turned out okay! Congratulations! That doesn’t mean that everyone who endured similar experiences did too. Nostalgia is not a suitable justification for an ongoing social practice. Luckily, we have this thing called science now, and you can actually study the impacts of certain behaviours, and it turns out, physical punishment increases the risk of antisocial behaviour, depression, and substance use. A person can smoke cigarettes their whole lives and never get cancer, but it’s generally agreed upon now that promoting cigarette use in teenagers is kinda evil. Similarly, harmful attitudes, behaviours, and social policies toward marginalized groups have an abundance of literature explaining why they’re bad. Using “normal” to dictate how we organize our society really only benefits those who were benefitting from it already.

Inequity Shmim-Shmeck-Shmitty!

As easy as it is to say that our personal experiences are obviously not universalizable or that we should use peer-reviewed studies to guide our social decisions, it’s quite unlikely that my argument is going to be all that compelling to the defenders of normalcy. I’ve hinted at why already. Firstly, there’s the belief that socialization should be brutal and unforgiving. These shirtless, whiny liberals just need to toughen up! A diamond can only be formed under intense pressure after all; just look at Michael Jackson and the well-adjusted adult that he became! Everyone in the world is a pussy except for me!

This is the hazing mentality, and no matter how many freshman literally die from the experience, it is a proud tradition and it’s a fine way to purge the weak from our midst. Meritocratic survival, right? Except that if the winner of the race is the only one that’s allowed to survive, and the starting conditions differ for each participant, it’s a bit rigged, isn’t it? “Oh, but I started the race in this condition, and I turned out okay!” Again, it’s not universalizable, and we can see from science where the inequities lie. It’s not that hard to see where we can add a bit more fairness to society, and the logic used to justify why it always seems to be certain groups that lose at the race contorts itself pretty hard to avoid being overtly oppressive.

Ah yes, the production of the finest merit! And yet, it was Bluto who became president…

My personal belief is that what we consider normalcy is embedded so deeply within our psyche that it becomes a part of who we are. If we criticize the sausage-making process, we’re criticizing the sausage. The social value of “toughness” is vague to the point of irrelevancy, but being “tough” can be a huge part of who we are as individuals. I am what made me, and if I can’t point to anything concrete, that doesn’t matter because I need to feel as though my life has meaning.

If the left wants to abolish student debt, or stop corporal punishment, or give women the space to develop their own meaningful lives, and I had to pay back my student loans, got properly whooped, and Mother certainly never complained, then I might take it personally that others might not want to endure what I had to go through. Humans are very sensitive creatures, and we’re all pretty whiny when you get down to it. Again though, it’s the process and not the person. No one “has” to go through anything, and society can change to become more equitable, and maybe the suffering that has been endured in the past can be less so in the future.