People from the (rapidly splintering) “mainstream” of society in Europe and the United States today take a peculiar pleasure in considering themselves “normal” in comparison to legal offenders, political radicals, and other members of social “outgroups.” They treat this “normalcy” as if it is an indication of mental health and moral righteousness, regarding the “others” with a mixture of pity and disgust. But if we consult history, we can see that the conditions and patterns of human life have changed so much in the past two centuries that it is impossible to speak of any lifestyle available to human beings today as being normal in the natural sense, as being the lifestyle for which human beings have adapted over many generations. Of the lifestyles from which a young woman growing up in western civilization today can choose, none are anything like the one for which our ancestors were prepared by centuries of natural selection and evolution.
It is more likely that the “normalcy” that these people hold so dear is rather the feelings of normalcy that result from conformity to a standard. Being surrounded by others who behave the same way, who are conditioned to the same routines and expectations, is comforting because it reinforces the idea that one is pursuing the right course: if a great many people make the same decisions and live according to the same customs, then these decisions and customs must be the right ones.
But the mere fact that a number of people live and act in a certain way does not make it any more likely that this way of living is the one that will bring them the most happiness. Besides, the lifestyles associated with the American and European mainstream were not exactly consciously chosen as the best possible ones by those who pursue them; rather, they came to be suddenly, as the results of technological and cultural upheavals. Once the peoples of Europe, the United States, and the world realize that there is nothing necessarily “normal” about their “normal life,” they can begin to ask themselves the first and most important question of the next century:
Are there ways of thinking, acting, and living that might be more satisfying and exciting than the ways we think, act, and live today?