April 2nd, 2021

Normal Sucks by Jonathan Mooney

We all easily succumb to the lie that there is a thing called normal. The institutions and systems that we interact with help enforce this as we navigate the world1. Learning to forget about what "normal" is and moving to a sense of self that is happy with who you are is what Jonathan Mooney tries to bring to readers with Normal Sucks.

What is Normal Anyway?

In many ways Normal Sucks recaps information I read in The End of Average. Normal or "average" was brought about by studying a bunch of white college dudes and then the world was expected to try and hit this ideal. The word normal is used to judge who is "in" and who is "out"2 often so that we can define ourselves as part of the in group proactively so we don't get pushed to the fringes. The way that normal surrounds us and defines what we do was explored in decent detail in The Second Mountain by David Brooks, who defined it as the moral ecology in which we live3.

While average and normal are often tossed around in an interchangeable fashion, neither is real. No one can fall inside the media measurements that are "average". Sure you might be average height, but maybe you cycle lots and have muscular thighs that are well outside of average for your height. In this case, you aren't normal at all or at best you're normal in a single dimension among many facets of being.

One large reason that average behaviour and education standards was define was to bring conformity to schools so that businesses could have good workers4. While much of North American society has broken out of factory work, we still use education to signal conformity. When we looked at The Case Against Education, the author argued that most of education past early high school is about signalling conformity to future employers. The longer you sit in school the more you signal that you'll sit at work and do what you're told, thus you're more employable.

Mooney spends all of chapter 4 looking at the roots of normal in the eugenics movement. Once you could define normal people started to push for not allowing those too far outside of expectations to have children. Many of these former eugenics think tanks are now our leading university genetic research facilities, and Mooney says that they bear the racist bias that they were founded on into their current research.

Should You Read Normal Sucks by Jonathan Mooney?

Overall, I enjoyed Jonathan Mooney's entry into this discussion. If you're looking for something more focused on the silliness that is "average" in education then you should read The Case Against Education instead. Otherwise, go for Normal Sucks or The End of Average based on whichever one piques your interest more.

Purchase Normal Sucks by Jonathan Mooney


  1. Page 6 

  2. Page 23 

  3. Page 4 The Second Mountain 

  4. Page 32