An Expert in “Normal” Deserves Our Attention
Recently I commented on a new, important book on this very subject. A tenured professor at the University of Oregon, Kari Norgaard, has written a book about what is considered “normal.” She explored a small, prosperous, well-educated Norwegian town, and teased out why the population was not taking sufficient actions to discuss and address the climate crisis. For her leadership, she was attacked on national radio by the extremist, Rush Limbaugh.
The moment I heard that many of Limbaugh’s followers were verbally attacking Prof. Kari Norgaard, I obtained and read her book, then had a coffee with this academic leader who is one of our experts on what is called “normal.” I’ll close with a copy of my review I wrote on Amazon.com about Kari Norgaard’s book, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life.
This book has my absolutely highest recommendation on an urgent basis.
While this book clearly meets academic standards of scholarship, I found it very human: The author brings us into a small town in Norway that is prosperous and well-educated, and where iconic activities for Norway such as skiing and ice skating are becoming more difficult because of the climate crisis. We hear stories, and we get quotes.
Why does the local newspaper cover the odd weather, without including discussion about climate crisis?
Why in a town with so much citizen activism, is there so little local activism about one of the biggest threats ever caused and faced by humanity?
This book helps explain what is mistakenly called “normal” in our society. I say mistakenly, because what is generally called normal brought us into the ‘climate crisis,’ which along with other environmental devastation is our generation’s biggest challenge. Why are so many who are fully aware of the climate crisis, and that it is human caused, staying silent and inactive? Why is there this numbness?
It turns out what is called ‘normal’ has a lot going on beneath the surface, like one of the enormous icebergs that is slowly melting before its time.
Ultimately, this is a compassionate book, because the author recognizes the ‘100 percent’ nature of our all being both harmed by the climate crisis, and also having a role in contributing to this disaster as a society. But the author also goes further and calls for us all to hold one another accountable.
When one of the Norwegians interviewed in the book holds up a hand in front of his face and says his numbness comes from protecting himself a little bit… This becomes for me a visual symbol for the poignant denial we all face. This denial is not from ignorance. It is not from ignoring the disaster. The denial is coming from a deep-seated awareness of an unprecedented crisis.
This is my 36th year working as a human rights activist in the field of mental disability, so I am particularly interested in discussions about what is considered “normal.” Along with the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, I consider this to be one of the most important explanations. Professor Norgaard (who won tenure after the publication of this book) presents a rational, analytical approach that recognizes the importance of gut-level emotion.
Simply for speaking about the clearly illustrated stories in her book, Professor Norgaard was targeted by a media personality who has a proven track record of denigrating women leaders with disdain and distortion. Some of this individual’s listeners predictably turned to hate speech against Prof. Norgaard. She is one of the environmental heroes who some are seeking to silence, but thankfully she remains unbowed. The silver lining of this witch hunt, is that this controversy led to a front page headline in my local newspaper of Eugene, Oregon that brought this book to my attention. I had no idea Prof. Norgaard was at the University of Oregon.
Ironically, the media personality apparently thought this book was about him and others who bizarrely and sadly claim there is no human-caused climate crisis. However, this book is actually much more significant. This book is about 100 percent of all of us, including the majority of the population who understand and accept the sobering scientific evidence.
This book is about re-defining being human… Reading this compels us to all ask, “What can I do? What can we do?”
To the extent addressing the climate crisis needs the equivalent of a nonviolent D-Day, this book helps provide research on the terrain, the obstacles, the opportunities for the unprecedented astoundingly enormous response that is now undeniably required… that we may not do adequately… but that is undeniably required nonetheless.
I’ve already gotten several copies to give away, such as to my friend Patch Adams, the physician/clown who questions what is called normal, because of his support for Martin Luther King’s vision of an “International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.” Clearly, this book is one of the handbooks for that IAACM. Get it, read it, get more copies, talk it up… And act on it.
When you read this book, you will not just enjoy learning about a small town’s challenges, but you will be lighting a candle in a mysterious immense cave called ‘normal’. Know you are not alone. We are all there with you. 100 percent of us.
David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International