Saturday, June 14, 2003

The Bell Curve is Cracked

Mrs. du Toit has blessed us with this item on language. It contains a wonderful philosophical exposition at the end. Money quote:
A word that people use quite frequently is "natural." It's a cool word, too. Calling someone "a natural" is a compliment. Unfortunately, too many people misunderstand or misuse the word. Often it is used to imply a value on something, such as, "oatmeal is good for you because it is natural." Ack! That drives me crazy. These same people will use the natural word to describe things such as chamomile tea, ginseng, etc. They are "natural" so they must be good for you. The fact that chamomile is a carcinogen seems to escape them. "But it is Natural!" they say. Yes and cancer is natural--so is arsenic and salmonella, but I don't add them to hot water and drink those either. Death, spider bites, disease, famine--those are all "natural" too.

There are a few words (and their antonyms) that have a tendency to get people twisted in knots:
--Aberrant confused with Abhorrent (I make that typo all the time, even though I know they are two different words--thank Mrs. Malaprop for that one.)

It is natural for some people to engage in deviant behavior, but it doesn't make it acceptable to everyone, nor does it make it normal or natural. It is normal for outliers and abnormalities to occur, such as birth defects, but it is still abnormal. It is normal for others to find aberrant behavior abhorrent. Nature isn't perfect 100% of the time--abnormalities occur frequently. But no one should think that because something is normal for one person, that it applies equally to everyone. They are outliers. It is instinctive to be repulsed or repelled by abnormalities and instinct is natural. It is our brain's first defense to be startled by abnormalities. It triggers our natural fight or flee response. Millions of years of evolution will not be denied. This is not to say that we, as human beings, cannot overcome some of our initial, instinctive, abhorrent reactions, but it is not natural for animals to do this. It is natural to fight or flee. But what makes us human, is that our intellect can overcome some of these instincts, but not all of them, and not reliably. But intellect cannot alter reality.

That last paragraph is a doozy. I don't know how many times I've dismissed some abhorrent behavior as simply "out there on the bell curve". The more fool I.