Two words I’ve heard plenty of in the last few months: resistance and normalization.
Advocates advise the public to resist the agenda of the new administration. Commentators worry that the administration’s unusual tactics (and more overt expressions of the same old tactics) might reset the typical center and become the US’ new normal.
But humans are nothing if we’re not adaptable. We can adjust to almost anything, and usually do. I came across Dostoyevsky’s line about the adaptable scoundrel today. According to Umair Muhammad, this society reveres “freedom of choice” but rarely encourages people to question the range of choices available. We typically won’t request biscuits if offered banana or an apple. Instead, we usually adjust to the terms provided—in that case, fruit.
US politics demonstrates this because it is currently structured as a debate between two options. Rather than seriously questioning why televised debates only include those two options and seeking to change that custom, we instead focus years of our time on which representatives of those two options should participate. One party offers a policy proposal; the other rebuts with its own ideological alternative; and there’s no room in the public square for options outside that range. We’ve normalized those binaries.
Having been conditioned with a certain set of expectations, individuals may be quite happy with meeting them. —Umair Muhammad, Confronting Injustice
Our unjust and consumptive society is an edifice that needs restructuring, but millions of dissatisfied people marching in major cities aren’t the proof. Our adaptability means that we’ll adapt to evil as well as to good: society would still need restructuring even if all those people were content with the status quo.
The conditions that society continually produces—the poverty, the violence, the hoarded resources—these are what prove it needs restructuring.
What we can count on is that if there are humans around, we will normalize the conditions available. We will normalize this next administration, and inasmuch as any of us lose our capacity to be surprised about what the new government does, we’ll know that we’ve finally adjusted.
But if we can’t avoid adjusting altogether, we can still do some good. Through independent media and beyond the A vs. B cable news issue format, we can keep working to keep the options broad: exploring kinship structures and not just marriages; life-long cooperative communities, not just a year or two of civil or military service after college; broad-based programs of education, training, and labor, not just unpaid internships and unemployment benefits.
The best thing we can ask at this time, then, is not “Is this normal?” but “Are there more options?”
Because the answer to that is always “Yes.”