Norms are Karens – California Globe
“How’s the world treating you, Mr. P?”
“Like the media treats a conservative.”
“Oof – I’ll have the second one on stand-by.”
We all know who “Norm” is, but we can be forgiven for not knowing what “norms” are, especially because they are currently shifting, being redefined, appearing and disappearing, and being newly minted out of whole cloth. And we as humble members of society are expected to be aware of and adhere to norms or face societal approval, as if it is a personal insult if one does not automatically yell “Norm!” when he walks into the bar after he has dyed his hair, got liposuction, and put on a dress.
Norms are not laws, regulations, rules, unwritten rules, or standards – they have very distinct and malleable impositional characteristics that set them apart from the above, and that makes them wonderful tools for vilification.
A law (in a democracy or functional republic, that is) is something that is created by a group of people chosen by society to do just that – make laws.
Regulations are strictures created by the passage of those laws, often very directly – “the law says X is banned so X is banned,” but also, too often, indirectly based on laws – “the law says X is banned but Y is part of X and even though it is not mentioned in the law we the regulators think it was meant to be banned as well.”
This interpretative stance can create regulations that stray very far afield from the original intent – “the law says X is banned but we heard something odd about A, B, C, and D and since they are letters, too, they must be related to X and are therefore banned as well.”
This issue of the growth of the “regulatory state” has already specifically and will in broader sense soon make its way to the Supreme Court; For a look at this issue from the perspective of the progressive regulators, see this piece that appeared under the headline “The Supreme Court May Soon Shut Down the Regulatory State. Let’s Use It While We Still Can.”
Then there are rules—most everything has rules. Card games, sports, households (“if you cook you don’t have to clean” – my favorite and why I started in the kitchen very young), etc. These are usually spelled out for everyone and carry specific and distinct consequences for failure to comply – three minutes in the penalty box, etc.
Then there are unwritten rules, which do not necessarily apply to society as a whole. These are not spelled out but followed by those initiated into a particular group; Baseball players know that if your pitcher intentionally throws at a batter the other team can, too, though only once and after that it’s bench clearing time.
Then we have standards, which are basically common, well-known, widespread codes of conduct with a societal and (usually) ethical underpinning but can be somewhat situationally malleable, and the basic do’s and don’ts of life – yes you can bring a case of beer to the birthday party of a 21-year-old, but, no, you cannot bring a case of beer to the birthday party of an 11-year-old, etc.
Standards are also set by quasi-voluntary industry groups, like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which sets international standards for everything from film speed to quality management practices.
And then we have norms – and if the recent focus on norms is anything to go by we have a lot of them, most of which we had no idea existed until we just heard from a person in power that we are in violation of them.
Case in point – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the concept of free expression:
“As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech that we value so highly,” she claimed in a recent speech to the United Nations. “But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.”
Note the use of the phrase “we all value.” That term is quite often linked to the concept and is key to understanding the explosion of norms and also protects them with the impenetrable shield of supposedly pre-determined collective action and thought. It’s ridiculous, of course, but can be both alluring and blurring, such as when someone claims to be “protecting our democracy.”
Ardern then went on to compare free speech to “weapons of war” but said there is hope to meet this challenge if the world has the “collective conviction to bring us back to order. We have the means; we just need the collective will.”
Norms are gaining in popularity as tools of societal control because they are, ironically, completely situationally and can be defined by those attempting to impose them in any way they may choose. Also, unlike rules, standards, or even regulations, they are not specific and are not tied to direct preset and known consequences – the consequences are imposed whimsically (and not the happy kind – the “on a whim” kind) and with draconian swiftness and harshness.
Former President Trump violated norms, apparently, every day he was in office, before he got into office, and continues to do so out of office. It was during his administration that “norms” became the go-to buzzword for anyone saying he was bad and evil and stupid and wrong but could not point to anything specific. Like “existential threat,” “norms” were created and then called upon by pundits when they wanted to sound smart and authoritative (figuratively and literally) – instead of saying “I think he’s bad” they could say “He’s bad because he violated norms .” Sounds more impressive, sounds more community rather than personally-based, doesn’t it?
For example: America’s secrets: Trump’s unprecedented disregard of norms.
New norms are being created and imposed with breakneck speed – from Davos, to gender norms (not actual historic societal norms per se – God forbid – but the norm that demands unthinking fealty to whatever is the activist position du jour) to politics – to social media speech regulation to enforce “norms” – to the justice system (conservative trespassers get years in jail, left wing arsonists out on bail, FBI raids rousting political critics and on and on) – all the way to pop culture and entertainment (not even going to try to bother to even start an example list).
And, of course, our own Gavin Newsom is invested in setting and/or creating norms. From ripping up your lawn – to promoting the career of First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom on his taxpayer-funded “Governor’s” website – “Jennifer Siebel Newsom is an award-winning filmmaker, advocate, and founder of the nonprofit organization The Representation Project, which inspires individuals and communities to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and shift norms” – to reveling in the fact that the recall campaign broke norms – like contextualization, moving the puck in the right direction, and period, full stop, norms litter Gavin’s thoughts and speech.
Unlike norm, norms are not rumpled, a bit sad but still happy-go-lucky, fun to have around friends. In fact, norms – as they used currently – are strict yet capricious, imposed by some but expected to be followed by all, and prone to be called upon during moments of fearful over-reaction and ill-informed moral outrage.
Come to think of it, today’s norms sound an awful lot like Karens.