I'd like to discuss what the word 'normal' means, and how it is often used. Perhaps it is best to start with a dictionary definition: normal (a.): 1. Being usual, typical or standard; not abnormal. 2. In accordance with scientific laws. 3. Being approximately average or within certain limits. 4. Having a normal distribution. Definition 1 is the most common usage. It is rather vague, and questions immediately arise as to what makes something 'usual, typical or standard'. Obviously, we need some kind of sample space to compare to in order to decide whether something is 'typical'. If we're worried about what is 'usual', then there's a temporal element and a implied necessity for repeating occurrences - a comparison between past and present. Something is 'standard' only when a standard has been decided upon by somebody. "Not abnormal" is unhelpful in terms of defining normality, although it suggests perhaps that the category of 'normal' is usually envisaged as being somewhat larger than the category of 'abnormal' (which is also implied by 'typical' and 'usual'). Definition 2 puts 'normal' in contrast with the supernatural or 'paranormal'. Definition 3 invites the question, in particular cases, as to what the limits are, and who is defining them. Definition 4 is a specific, mathematically precise one, but it is not often used in this sense by anybody other than specialists such as statisticians, scientists, and engineers. ---- To get the discussion going, I'll take as an example human traits, both physical and behavioural. The first thing to say is that most such traits exist on a continuum. Even something as apparently binary as whether a person is left- or right-handed in reality exists on a continuum: those who overwhelming preference one hand over the other are at the extremes, the truly ambidextrous are in the centre, and those who use both hands to different degrees are in between. Is it 'normal' to be left-handed? This seems a sensible sort of question, at first glance. But notice that, straight away as we frame the question, the implication is a binary rather than the continuum that is the reality. We've already mentally divided the world into 'left-handed' and 'every other kind of handedness' by putting the question this way. The temptation, of course, is to ignore the centre completely, and assume that there's a true binary - either you're left-handed or else you're right-handed, and just forget about the people who use their right hand for writing and their left for holding a tennis racquet. Now, we are told that predominantly left-handed people make up around 10% of the population. With an apparent nine to one ratio against left-handedness, are we therefore to conclude that left-handedness is 'abnormal'? Is it 'typical, usual or standard' enough to be considered 'normal'? There are 7 billion human beings in the world, and so 700 million lefties. Can a group of 700 million people be 'abnormal'? Here lies another part of the problem with asking what 'normal' is. Maybe 'normal', in common usage, has more to do with a 'surprise factor'. Would you be especially surprised to discover that somebody you were talking to was left-handed? I think not, unless you happened to be at an exclusive convention for the right-handed. So maybe left-handedness is 'normal' after all, in some sense. We are told, similarly, that about 10% of the population is homosexual. Again, we are invited to gloss over the continuum in sexual preference in order to consider a binary - either you're gay or you're hetero, and forget the myriad variations in between. But, in contrast to the case of handedness, which has a similar prevalence in human beings, we seem to hear far more often that homosexuality is 'abnormal'. Why is that? It seems like a different criterion of 'normal' is being applied. Maybe 'normal', in everyday speech, means little more than "what I find acceptable". Left-handedness - probably no big deal, so normal enough. Homosexuality - well, opinions there are more variable. Which brings me to another point I want to raise in this opening post: the fallacy of equating 'normality' with moral goodness. Quite often, I see arguments that boil down to "that's not normal, so therefore it's bad/evil/undesirable". The Romans, of course, had a word for the left-handedness. Sinister. Left-handedness is less common than right-handedness. Therefore, left-handedness is not 'normal'. Therefore, lefties are to be treated with suspicion, by default. If they are not 'normal' in that sense, who knows how many other ways they might be 'abnormal'? Clearly, they are not like the majority of 'us' and they shouldn't be trusted. Is there a cure for the problem of 'normal'? I think there is. For starters, try to let go of the idea that the world is made up of binaries. It's not 'us' and 'them', the 'lefties' and 'righties', the 'straight' and 'gay'. Second, once you appreciate that there is a continuum, recognise that what you have is not 'normal' and 'abnormal', but rather only 'more commonly seen' vs 'less commonly seen'. If 1 in 100 people is over 7 feet tall, they aren't 'abnormal', they are just unusual (but there are still going to be 70 million of them in the world). Third, if you can't cope with the idea of a continuum, try a trinary classification rather than a binary one. That allows for two extremes, and one middle category. Make sure that most of the population is in the middle category: set your limits appropriately. If you do this, you will quickly realise that there are very few raving Liberals and very few arch Conservatives, and quite a lot of people who are centrist (leaning one way or another, if you want to be less rigid about the trinary thing.) Last, if you must pretend that a continuum is a binary, then avoid making moral judgments based on "what is normal is good" and "what is abnormal is bad". If in doubt, avoid 'normal' completely.