18 February 2019

Prescriptive Norms

Today is apparently a ranty day.

So the unifying thread of various everything to day; whether James Barry's identity as a man should be respected (yes), whether intersectionality is a thing (yes), why conservatives keep doing that, and so on, all come down to the idea of an enforced prescriptive norm.  Pretty much everything that sucks about being alive in the Anglosphere comes down to an enforced prescriptive norm.

That is, who has the power to decide on what constitutes normal and then hurt you for not conforming to it, either until you die or start to conform.

It is not useful to point out that this is terrible.  It copies itself into the future effectively, and has persisted for multiple generations and shows no sign of going away on its own.

It is not useful to try to devise some kind of universal norm to which everyone could conform.  Not only would this require knowledge of the future and an impossible degree of empathy for the present, it misses the point; the utility of the idea of enforcing a prescriptive norm is that it grants power.  (Really a whole lot of economic power.  Look at the amount of money involved in the Pink Tax, as one relatively minor thing in prescriptive norms.)  Definitionally, the test of power is whether or not it is retained.

This returns it to the Basic Problem; how decent can life be for who, and this form of social organization still win fights with the alternatives?

(The notion of what's possible in this respect has been badly skewed in the Anglosphere the last couple centuries by being at the front of a period of technical innovation.)

Anyway; the obvious alternative is to structure society not around norms, but around boundaries.  Inside the limits, it's fine; outside the limits, there are material consequences, probably necessarily quite severe ones.  And it gets tricky to avoid picking unnecessary boundaries and to do so only on the basis of some form of material harm, to keep it from turning back into prescriptive norms with different language.

Can this win a fight with prescriptive norm forms of social organization?  I should like to believe we are going to find out.

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