Monday, May 16, 2016

New Class: Survey in Normality*

*We naturally resisted offering this course as long as humanly possible.  But students were curious and admin won’t get off our case about the curricular gap where we ignore a whole swath of human endeavor by pretending Normality doesn’t exist.  Just to be clear, we’re not really interested in this but we decided to throw admin a bone so they’ll leave us alone.

Course Description: 
This course surveys Normality for the entirety of its existence and over the vast cultural and geographic spaces it occupies.  I.e., we won’t nitpick lots of tedious detail about differences between subgroups of Normal and distinct Normal traditions.  We won’t even worry if they are all in fact Normal.  It’s easier just to lump them all together, so that’s what we’ll do.

Topics Covered Include:
Problems in Dating, Origins, and Authorship of Normality
It’s unclear exactly when Normality began, what constitutes a source or set of sources for it, and who started it.  We consider rival accounts including:  Normal origin myths that appear, rather mystifyingly, to count Socrates as the father of Normality; Normality as a later Tokugawa phenomenon (called the “Enlightenment” in the Normal dating system); and Normality as an unintended consequence of professionalization, hyper-specialization, and scarcity of jobs in the post-Mao era.

Normal Belatedness
In which we discuss what cultural limitations and impediments made Normality such a late bloomer on core issues.  We’ll try not to hold it against the Normal tradition that it was a real latecomer to, e.g., the complex phenomena we misleadingly call causation and the instability of personal identity.  Or its weirdly delayed suspicion that rationality just might not be the only show in important human faculties town. 

Exemplars of Normality
In truth, we’re not terribly familiar with even the most important figures of Normal tradition.  Ok, straight up:  Socrates is the only one we’ve heard of and we’re not entirely sure he is Normal.  Whatever.  We’ll just go with Socrates since he seems to be invoked a lot in Normal thought and at least we know how to pronounce his name.  So we’ll read Socrates.  Wait, what?  What do you mean he didn’t actually write anything down?  WTF?

Normal Methodology
In this section, which probably should have been first, we study the tools and techniques of post-Mao Normality.  With exacting precision, we will parse the differences between scorn, derision, and contempt; we will explore strategies for rank ordering complex phenomena in blissfully simple numerical lists; and will conclude by rhapsodizing on the clarity achieved through almost unbearably dry prose and hearty self-congratulation.

Normal Metaphors
Compared to some familiar deviant traditions (looking at you, Upanishads!), Normality suffers from metaphor impoverishment and perhaps even metaphor-incompetency.  E.g., its epistemologies appear to hold that sight is the only metaphor for knowing.  More curious still, contemporary Normality simultaneously derides most metaphorical expression as “unclear” and yet approvingly favors deploying pugilistic metaphor for interactions among Normal People.  Part of this unit will be experiential: we will follow the rule devised by that paragon of Normal, John Wilkins, and be exacting fines for use of metaphor.  Be sure to bring your wallets to class.

The Normal Person
Apparently the Normal Person is conceived as dramatically (shockingly, really) individuated in a way that, frankly, we don’t really understand.  We’ll try to figure this out through exploring questions such as:  Were Normal people raised by wolves?  Students will also be required to try to find themselves in a Normal way.  I.e., no cheating and deciding that there is no self, that your identity is social and relational, or even that atman is Brahman – just because all of these are more plausible, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try briefly to think Normally.

Applied Normality
In which we abandon the more obviously compelling applied topics, such as elder care, and consider abortion instead.  Specifically, why do most beginning Normality textbooks dwell on it especially?  We will discuss how, from Normal Antiquity, the concept of a soul has informed this preoccupation with abortion. (The “soul” is a mysterious entity, to be sure, but if we can’t figure it out quickly, we’ll just decide it’s mysticism, same as all the other fuzzy concepts in Normality).  We will also discuss the preoccupation of Normality with the abnormality of women’s sexuality and reproduction.

Lingering Questions about Normality
Normality privileges clarity, rigor, quality, and precision.  Why, then, we will ask, can’t they build trolleys that won’t mow anybody down?

Field Trip!
For the final class project, we will seek a culminating experience of Normality for ourselves, directly and without the mediating framework of deviance.  Students will be required to “sound smart” while we go tubing on the now legendary Mainstream.  Bonus points for any student who can sink a classmate by skewering her inner-tube with a razor sharp objection, pointedly scornful interruption, or puncturing counterexample. 

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