Common Is Not Natural

Society is far too accommodating for humanity’s countless addictions. Just because over a billion people drink two cups of coffee a day does not make it normal to not be able to function without your 8 AM cup of joe — but in the affluent countries where 50, 60, 75% of people drink coffee on a daily basis, it can seem weirder to skip it than to sip it.

Different addictions become socialized in different geographies. A friend from Brazil once told me that in South America, everyone is extra-addicted to their phone, particularly Instagram, and therefore obsessed with their looks. In Bavaria, annual beer consumption averages out to half a liter per person per day. Take out the non-drinkers and more casual consumers, and you’re left with a lot of alcoholics, no matter how high-functioning they may be.

Germans have endless jokes about beer bellies, relationship bellies, and traveling salesman bellies not because those bellies are normal but because two thirds of men and more than half of women are overweight — and about a quarter of adults is outright obese. Common is not “normal.” We apply that word to whatever we frequently see, and we use it to make ourselves feel better about what’s really an untenable situation.

The next time someone tells you something is “normal,” ask yourself: “Yes, but is it natural?” Our ancestors didn’t have a flat rate for soy milk lattes, and they got out of bed just fine. Beauty wasn’t a contest but an indicator of natural selection, and alcohol, like other high-calorie foods, was a rare indulgence.

This isn’t to say we can’t enjoy today’s abundance of these goods, but we must not pretend that depending on them is healthy, even warranted. Skip your coffee for a day. Quit drinking for a month. Look around your town, your office, your country, and dare to question the masses.

There’s a difference between what’s common and what’s natural, and we ought to remember it.