By Manfred Svensson, IES
In the introduction to his work Limits, Robert Spaemann noted a singular advantage that being born in the 1920s had given him: although vaguely, he had managed to forge a memory of a normality prior to the rise of Nazism. People born just shortly after lacked it: for them normality was life under Hitler, and thus rejecting the Nazi past became almost synonymous with rejecting the very idea of normality. The idea of normality was, so to speak, hitlerized. There is hardly any discussion that is not tainted by that crude identification today.
But being freed from that lens does not only depend on when it is one’s turn to be born, but on what one does with memories and formative stages, and what ideas one feeds on. After all, in Chile we have been touched precisely the opposite of what Spaemann saw in his younger contemporaries: those who think that we live in little less than a dictatorship are not a generation formed under a disgraceful tyranny, but those who have lived the period with less tension of our history. The poison that identifies normality with oppression, however, has long run through the veins of some.
This mentality can be seen in every order of things. For now, in the tendency to think that it is only in the rupture and heterogeneity that there is emancipation, and in the consequent difficulty to think of a freedom under rules. It is not the type of mirror in which we like to look at ourselves, but subjects like Rojas Vade give us some idea of how someone who thinks this way can end up. And this inclination also extends to the way in which the unique times that we live are processed, with their fatal combination of outbreak and pandemic. It is a matter of seeing the reaction that, a year ago, occurred when a first plan of gradual reopening was baptized as the “new normal”. Many received that name with enormous scandal, almost as if it were a form of denial or a return to the Old Regime.
The most destructive effect of this mentality is obviously the enormous number of schools that were closed for about a year and a half. That the closure was justified in a few months of true exceptionality is something that no one disputes. Nor does anyone dispute that for countless schools normality itself is tremendously adverse. But the alternative, that of never taking decisive steps back to face-to-face education, of imagining that all risks are excessive, is a true fantasy world. That fantasy is fueled in part by our aversion to risk, and the College of Teachers developed an unparalleled ability to exploit that parental fear. But it is not only fear that gave them power: everything rests on the illusion that we can live in absolute exceptionality without having devastating effects, effects that in this case fall on the education of the poorest.
It is not very different from what has happened in our discussion about the successive withdrawals of the pension funds and the Emergency Family Income. Here there are many who approve measures that they themselves would no longer know how to justify, even granting their pernicious character. But the scandal that this should produce largely manages to be diluted in the discourse about how exceptional our circumstance is. Of course this normally produces inflation, and of course it normally hits the poorest; Of course, these meager funds must normally be preserved to finance pensions. But, somehow, it is possible to believe that the norms that usually govern can be ignored here.
Today we need a good dose of thought and action in the opposite direction: a renewed appreciation for normality, an open recognition of the benefits of ordinary life, a careful but firm return to our routines as a whole. It is not a bad thing that our idea of the normal becomes challenged and expanded, that we wonder if what is defended in its name is correct. But it is not just the idea of normality that can be oppressive. After all, those who present life today as completely exceptional use it as a weapon to suggest or impose their exceptional solutions on us. Making exceptions in favor of oneself – Kant considered – is the very definition of immorality. It would not hurt to extend that warning to the way we think about our own times and our own generation.
Manfred Svensson, Instituto de Estudios de la Sociedad, Chile