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A Quarter-Century of Normalization and Social Role Valorization

Robert J. Flynn
Raymond Lemay

Part 8: The Future

30. Concluding reflections and a look ahead into the future for Normalization and Social Role Valorization

Wolf Wolfensberger

Texte intégral


1In my opening chapter (chapter 3), I spoke about the past, which is much safer than speaking about the future, especially when one owns one of the most extensive historical archives in private possession in one’s field. It is much riskier to boast about owning the archives of the future.

2It would be nice to deliver what people call an upbeat note at the end of this conference, but I have long put realism above feel-good-ism, and I see the future as a very mixed bag for Normalization and Social Role Valorization (SRV), and as rather gloomy for society as a whole and hence also for human services. Also, the future does not care if you like it or not! You don’t need to boo or applaud it; you get it whether you like it or not.

3In my concluding remarks, I have departed considerably from the notes I had originally prepared. The reason is that in light of the radical individual rights position so often presented at this conference, I felt an urgent need to warn participants of where this ideology would lead.


4In the future, Normalization and SRV are apt to encounter both some old problems as well as some newer ones, both to be selectively sketched below.


5In my first chapter, I mentioned some of the common kinds of responses to Normalization from the late 1960s into the early 1980s. A more extensive documentation of early objections, misunderstandings, or misinterpretations had been presented in 1980 (Wolfensberger, 1980). One thing that we can anticipate in the future is that certain earlier problems will continue to persist, such as the following:

  • People thinking that they know Normalization or SRV when they do not.
  • People failing to distinguish between different formulations.
  • Researchers coming up with well-intended simplified “operational definitions” that yield equivocal results and interpretations.
  • People outright inventing their own formulations, thereby sowing confusion and chaos. Of course, the sowing of confusion and chaos is always a bad sign as to what the moral forces at work are.

6A problem long with us, though not much highlighted so far, is the amazing fact that academia has hardly been able to deal with Normalization/SRV. With extremely few exceptions, the academic and research culture (prior to this conference) has dealt with Normalization/SRV at a superficial, low, or simpleminded level. Academic critics have often not even read the core documents of the theory—something they would not get away with in regard to any other topic. Many academic publications that deal with Normalization/SRV issues, if they even reference its literature at all, do so in the most superficial fashion and/or to the less relevant publications; and sometimes, Normalization or its elements are even attributed to authors of secondary sources. Yet Normalization—at least as I have formulated it—and SRV even more so, are very high-level, multidimensional, and subtle schemas of great parsimony and elegance that should be a pleasure and a challenge for scholars to tackle. That they have done so poorly at it gives one little room for optimism.


7By roughly the mid-1980s, some relatively new objections to SRV became prominent, which grew out of four ideological positions, usually with intimate connections to a misleadingly labeled “postmodernist” ideology and to the so-called political correctness (PC) culture, both of which we must unfortunately expect to be around for quite a while.


8One set of objections revolved around issues of racial-conflict ideology, and to what degree Normalization and SRV would be liberating of oppressed racial minorities, or be yet another oppression in disguise. Such issues had occasionally emerged before, but they acquired more steam as time went by. So far, these issues have proven to be next-to-impossible to deal with, for at least two reasons. (a) They often were simply not advanced within a context of rationality. Some of the things that injected and maintained irrationality into the debate included deep personal woundedness, fear, and paranoia—based, of course, in good part on historical realities, habits of casting everything into a conflict model, and, increasingly, an unforgiving counterracism. (b) These issues often proved to be moving targets, with arguments getting rapidly switched as one tried to tackle them. Since these debates have often been oral, the sparsity of a written exchange contributed to a frustrating lack of closure on relevant points, be it in agreement or disagreement.


9A second area of critique came from sectors of feminism. It was also often not amenable to debate—rational or otherwise. What also makes debates difficult is that feminism itself is split into so many different “schools,” which is not quite the same as the “moving target” phenomenon.


10A third type of critique has something to do with various kinds of denials of either the significance—or at least the consequences—of human differences and the way these are viewed, and of human universals in dealing with differences.

11One expression of this has been the elevation (“celebration”) of human diversity to a religion—a willful maximization of diversities or multiculturalism in society.

12A second expression is intertwined with a denial of the very existence of human impairments, or their implications and consequences. For instance, there has been an irrational pretense that there is no such thing as mental competency impairment unless one is “brain-dead.” This denial of reality has also been fed by excesses of social constructivism that would tell us that there is no such thing as unintelligent people, and hence, mental retardation. This kind of thinking has, of course, emerged in all sorts of other derivative manifestations, such as the “facilitated communication” craze that virtually denies mental impairment and about which I will have more to say later. (See Biklen and Duchan [1994] for the constructivist position, and Shane [1994] for a critique of “facilitated communication.”) Another version of this problem has been the interpretation that people are merely “differently abled,” or “temporarily able-bodied.” Valid as this may be in a certain sense, it is almost always accompanied by failure to deal with real human limitations in a realistic fashion and to accept that strategies of image enhancement and/or competency enhancement may have a legitimate contribution to make.

13The extreme of this position is the one that in so many words conveys that “handicapped is beautiful,” and which objects to anyone trying to do anything to ameliorate a human impairment. This position has proven to be unamenable to rational discussion. In some circles, there even seems to prevail outright hatred of nonhandicapped people. One extreme example has been a certain sector of militant deaf people who would—if they could—forbid any kind of surgical efforts to improve the hearing of hearing-impaired persons, or at least of persons whose hearing has been impaired since early age.

14Probably because of their denial of the existence or significance of human impairments, or the fact that virtually by definition, an impairment involves subtraction from a normative and more natural form or function, many objectors to Normalization/SRV who are bodily or mentally impaired have had great difficulty dealing with the situation of people who are societally devalued for reasons other than impairment, or even in perceiving that it is social devaluation of negatively valued characteristics generally, rather than of human impairment specifically, that is the more basic source of the bad things that are done to impaired persons.


15A fourth domain of critique has come out of the modernistic orientation to individual rights, self-determination, and self-advocacy. This is ironic because these were extensively concordant with Normalization in its early days but then began to work increasingly at cross-purposes, at least with the Wolfensberger formulation of Normalization and SRV, and have become major competitors of the latter.

16One criticism—or misunderstanding—of my formulation of Normalization from early days (and of SRV later on) has been that they offer, or even impose, a single monolithic response to a particular situation. This is a mistaken notion for at least three reasons.

17First, Normalization and SRV usually afford many valued action options with regard to any one particular issue, not just a single alternative. For instance, there is usually not just one culturally valued analogue for addressing a specific need, but many.

18Second, recognition of a person’s desires has always been one of the elements of my Normalization and SRV formulations, though admittedly not the only one. For instance, already in the 1972 text on The Principle of Normalization in Human Services, I pointed out that

The Normalization principle can be viewed as being neutral as to whether a specific deviant person or group should be normalized. That decision must be based on criteria and values which exist independent of the Normalization principle. Here it is useful to recall that our society considers it appropriate that normalizing measures be offered in some circumstances, and imposed in others. (Wolfensberger, 1972, p. 28)

19All along, I have been more up-front in pointing out that even the most libertarian society will not allow everything, and that devalued people cannot expect to have “choices” of liberties that are not even granted to valued people. But it is interesting that, hardly anyone ever seems to respond to my systematic analysis of how one might resolve situations where a conflict may arise between a person’s desires on the one hand and Normalization desiderata or societal mandates on the other, an early version of which I wrote (Wolfensberger, 1980) in the book by Flynn and Nitsch (1980).

20More recently, I have achieved even greater clarity that the SRV formulation is merely a heuristic tool of social science and should be considered outside the domain of “religion” (Wolfensberger, 1992c, and in more elaborate form after the Ottawa conference in Wolfensberger, 1995). SRV can tell us what is likely to happen if we do this instead of that, and what we must do if we want to increase the likelihood that a person or class is valued in the eyes of very imperfect other people who will never be made perfect by laws, force, guns, threats, or economic policies. Yet yesterday, I thought I heard it said by a speaker that Caesar’s law is not dependent on all sorts of things, and is something freestanding—again, I guess, some kind of god. What people with such arguments will need is a healthy dose of “if this, then that” therapy (an allusion to the titles of the two above-cited articles).


21It is difficult in this context to present a sufficient response to the many newer objections that have been raised against my formulations of Normalization and SRV. However, I will give a partial reply to at least a few.


22In this context, I will only mention five shortcomings—actually, absurdities—of the radical rights orientation. The arrogation of absolute lordship over one’s life

23There is an attitude of arrogation of absolute lordship over one’s life. In other words, each person is his/her own god and master, and should never be under anyone else’s authority. A related argument is that no one has the right to judge for anyone else what should be done. Accordingly, in this view, human services or advocacy only exist to give (or do for) a person what that person wants, not to seek any (other) goal of rehabilitation, social policy, or individual or social betterment. Thus, in this view, the only legitimacy of Normalization/SRV is in whatever emphasis they give to autonomy and rights, and anything else that Normalization and SRV promote would only be valid and good if it was what (devalued) people themselves said they wanted. Radical separation of the individual from the common good, and a blindness about the antagonism between comitus polity and individualism/“diversity”

24The radical rights position is so totally focused on individualism—and on individualism in the here-and-now—that all considerations of implications to the larger good, to community and society, and to posterity are swept aside. Combined with the radical self-ownership concept, each person becomes an individual unconnected “solo rights bearer.” Relatedly, the radical rights people are utterly illogical about the fact that there is no way in which there can be the diversity that they want to “celebrate,” including radical self-determination, and at the same time exist a society that is characterized by comitas and polis, i.e., that has a reasonably friendly, civilized atmosphere and an at least workable functional political structure. Instead, what there will be is what we are getting this very minute: social and societal collapse and then chaos. No highly diverse society can function well, if at all. This is one of the big reasons that almost every time a society becomes more heterogeneous—usually by imperial expansions and conquests—it eventually either converges upon a shared identity, or it falls apart again into more homogeneous components that share a strong bond, such as language, ethnic identity, or religion. One does not have to like it, but that is the way things are and will be.

25Even more absurd is the notion that any society can have comity with polity if everyone in it claims unlimited rights and is unwilling to surrender their rights for the larger good.

26In this modernistic age, the very ideas of liberty and freedom are not conceived in the same way as they have been historically—at least in Western thought. Historically, liberty has been seen as intimately tied to responsibility and obligations, and as only able to be exercised by people of strong moral fiber, with good self-discipline, self-control, and the capacity for self-sacrifice. Thus, liberty was largely seen as the freedom to choose the good. However, the modern interpretation of liberty is that it consists of emancipation from any hardship or inconvenience, from religious and church dictates, from human nature, from any secular laws that a person thinks are unreasonable or burdensome, from a community’s standards of morality and public order, from any restraints or restrictions on sex, from the needs and demands of one’s spouse and children, from any reasonable requests from others and even from the laws of nature, as in the expectation that one should be free from any negative consequences of one’s actions, especially ones that take a long time to come to fruition.

27In light of these considerations, one thing that was particularly striking in the presentations and discussions by the Scandinavians (other than Kristiansen) and by Perrin is that I cannot recall that there was any mention of the obligations of the people to whom Normalization or rights would be extended.

28When, on top of everything, a radical individualism and a solo rights bearer attitude is promoted in a societal context in which cultural values and habits supportive of the larger good are collapsing, then such a rights orientation will, in the long run and in a very complex fashion, actually contribute to a rise in social incompetence. Even if it should come to pass that social incompetence becomes less devalued, or even gets “celebrated”—as has, in fact, been happening—it will eventually lead to a decline in societal welfare. After all, a society in which incompetence is normative, and is even valued, will become a miserable, materially impoverished, and dysfunctional society—a bit like the foolish city of Abdera in ancient Greek folklore, with its equivalents of Schilda in German folklore, Seldwyla in Swiss literature, and Chelm in Yiddish lore.

29In fact, I am hereby not only warning, but promising, that those who continue to sow the seeds of a false, deceptive, radical individualism will reap the whirlwind of destruction. And to Bengt Nirje and the Scandinavians I add that there can be no “welfare state” based only and/or primarily on individual rights, in defiance of the realities of what is needed for collective long-term welfare. A naive reliance on Caesar’s law

30What is the source of legal rights? Legal rights are granted by other humans, and that via Caesarean arrangements. This is why those who put their (highest) hopes in legal rights look to the state—i.e., to Caesar—as the guarantor of the entitlements of the solo rights bearers. In other words, they are putting their trust in princes, which is always foolish. Historically, legal rights come and go with the political realities of the moment, and even with the economic situation of the moment. Most societies of the world have never even had a strong, formal, and enduring individual rights basis, and the material wealth currently possessed by the West that has enabled an expansion of individual rights is a very short eyeblink in history that has already begun to pass. On the other hand, even under the most desperate societal conditions, and where legal rights are nonexistent, there are still many things one can do to role-valorize people at risk of being devalued. Nor should we forget that the law may be very much present—but also very disadvantageous to people with weaknesses, afflictions, or of devalued identity, and with little prospect that such laws will change unless things are done first that will change societal attitudes.

31A common corollary of a reliance on law and Caesar’s might is a categoric objection to strategies that would win over hearts and minds, and instead, a reliance on the force behind the law. Decommunitization via radical individual rights is murderous of vulnerable people

32I have a second warning related to the first one; namely, there will always be people who are not capable of competent self-determination and/or who have characteristics or habits not easily tolerated by other people. If they do not have alliances with persons who have greater competence or standing in society or if they systematically reject all such alliances and all forms of “for-speakership,” guardianship, protector-ships, and so forth (even very competent and caring ones), then things will go very ill with them. In fact, there will be genocide of some of these weaker parties. Again I warn that questions of what one likes to feel about this are irrelevant; this is the way it is, as a matter of fact. Alienation of the radical rights position from the realities of human nature

33Actually, it is not only the radical rights lobby that can no longer acknowledge the realities of human nature; it is the culture of modernism behind this position that breeds reality-alienated people, as I will explain later. It is particularly appalling that human services are full of people who are supposed to help others, but who—from ignorance or denial—are alienated from the most basic realities of human nature. How can one help human beings if one functions on the basis of false premises about human nature? I call this normative contemporary mentality “normative insanity.” This is also one of the normative incompetencies of modernistic people I alluded to earlier, and one of many things that put the human service systems into a failure mode.

34Some of the realities about human nature relevant to the debate at issue here are that social and societal devaluation is a universal, despite the cultural differences in their targets or expressions; that all social systems have a limit to their capacity to assimilate dissimilar people; and that for many strategies of winning hearts and minds, the use of force is no substitute, i.e., one cannot bludgeon humans into liking others, being good to them, and wanting them around. Again, one may not like these facts, but denial will not get rid of them.

35Any and all forms of polis are extremely deficient—even the best. Those that take account of human nature are therefore bad enough. But those built on fantasies about human nature are usually even worse!

36In this connection, it is also ironic that the modernists demand that handicapped (or societally devalued) people are accepted the way they are—but do not accept all other people the way they are!


37Of course, all of the above objections combine in various ways, which should not surprise us considering that their roots are largely in the values and culture of modernism, about which more later.

38For instance, consider that formerly Normalization was often rejected with arguments such as that institutions are not really so bad or could be made better; segregation is good for both segregators and segregatees; impaired people should be given happiness rather than developmental demands; aged people are not devalued in society; and so on. Today’s arguments—and probably tomorrow’s too—are very likely to have something to do with assertions that in order to be (better) accepted by other people, nobody should be expected to need to do anything, or have anything done to them. Again, this argument seems to boil down to a radical self-determination and entitlement ideology, coupled with a reality-segmenting mind-set, as if what such critics demand could ever possibly happen in any society.

39The radical rights position does not merely have shortcomings, it is an outright abomination. It is not only a religion, but an idolatry, namely, one that would make humanity a conglomerate of godlets, each person being a god over his/her own self. Someone has described this situation as one in which there are billions of gods—and each one a very “jealous god” at that.

40That so many people have become too mind-darkened to see these things is one of the reasons for pessimism. However, if one goes over Nirje’s writings of the late 1960s and the 1970s, one will not find that his position was a radical rights one, such as we have heard stated by some people at this conference, and such as Perrin has projected back into history in an act of historic revisionism that is a hallmark of the constructivism and political correctness culture of modernism. One simple reason that Nirje’s early formulation was not based on a radical rights position is that this position did not really become prominent in the larger culture until the 1980s. If the radical rights position is really Nirje’s today, then it needs to be distinguished as a new and different formulation of his earlier Normalization concept. Indeed, he really should not even call it Normalization at all, but simply what it is: an assertion of radical individual autonomy, in disregard of overall societal and long-term welfare. The use of the term Normalization would merely be confusing things.


41Also relevant to the future are two questions that are often asked these days. One is whether Normalization and SRV are—as some people put it—passé. After all, “Beyond Normalization” has become a very popular title for conferences and publications, usually by people who have never embraced Normalization in the first place. For instance, only days after our own conference, there will be a world conference under the theme “Beyond Normalization” in Iceland, and a few weeks after that, a course is to be held in Copenhagen entitled “From Normalization to Inclusion.” The second question commonly asked is whether Normalization is still implementable even if it is not passé. Both questions are addressed below.


42As to the question of whether Normalization and SRV are passé, I have three observations and/or predictions to make.

  1. In my own mind, Nirje’s 1969 formulation, and its various minor later revisions, is passé in the sense that it has been subsumed by my later and broader formulations, as stated by a series of publications starting in 1970(Wolfensberger, 1970a, 1970b, 1971a, 1971b, 1972, 1983, 1991a, 1992a; Wolfensberger & Glenn, 1973a, 1973b, 1975a, 1975b; Wolfensberger & Thomas, 1983; Wolfensberger & Tullman, 1982). A large proportion of prescriptions that derive from Nirje’s traditional formulation (as distinguished from Perrin’s) would also derive from Wolfensberger’s, except that the Wolfensberger formulation would derive yet additional ones and is vastly more powerful in offering resolutions of conflicts between competing or incompatible prescriptions.
  2. However, for years to come we can expect that there will be people in various parts of the world who will prefer Nirje’s formulation and for at least four reasons: (a) For reasons of cultural pride or related factors. It is possible that in parts of Scandinavia, the formulations of Nirje, and/or very similar ones, will be widely preferred for at least some time. (b) For the very reason that it is simpler. After all, once one memorizes and applies the eight major implications that have not changed since 1969, one pretty much knows the Nirje system. In contrast, SRV is vastly more complicated to learn and practice. (c) Because it is not Wolfensberger’s. People who like Normalization, but dislike anything associated with my name, often take refuge in Nirje’s Normalization. (d) Nirje’s traditional formulation, being focused on conditions of human impairment rather than on the superordinate and more relevant reality of social devaluation, permits many people to avoid the controversies that have attended the broader Wolfensberger formulation. For instance, Nirje’s formulation deals almost entirely with what I used to call (see Yates’ chapter 4, in this volume) the “interaction” dimension and much less with what I used to call the “interpretation” dimension of Normalization. This makes it much easier for people to say that they are implementing Normalization because they will not have to tackle difficult—and often still controversial and unpopular—issues of imagery. Also, it is the broader Wolfensberger formulations that have drawn ire (often misdirected) from political correctness circles, feminists, racial minority members, and groups that celebrate unorthodox sex habits. Apparently, even some people who agree with SRV intellectually have retreated from at least some of its broad formulations because they did not want to deal with the wrenching controversies that attend it. In contrast, how many people would argue against access to a normal rhythm of the day, the week, or the year, a decent economic status, and so forth?
  3. My third observation is that many ideas and practices spawned in Normalization/SRV have become conventional wisdom and will continue to be applied very widely, even though they are rarely applied in conjunction with a systematic high-order theory of which they were initially derivatives. We have to understand that a higher mental scheme such as a theory or even a religion can permeate what people do and say without ever being explicated. In that sense, several major elements of Normalization theory now permeate not only praxis in large sectors of human service, but also in larger society. At the same time, one cannot say that Normalization theory is the only reason this has happened, since to each such practice, more than one idea or societal force may have contributed. I believe that we can now point to the following such ideas and practices in the larger culture and human services broadly:
    1. The importance of integration in general. However, Flynn’s (1993) finding that 626 services assessed with PASS and 406 assessed with PASSING scored best on the ratings for access to clients and families shows that these Normalization desiderata related to integration have been the ones taken more to heart by formal human services since 1969 than those related to actual person integration. Social, rather than merely physical, integration is one of the elements where the gap between understanding and acceptance of Normalization/SRV on the one hand, and implementation thereof on the other, is much wider in formal services than outside of them.
    2. The importance of language in interpreting people.
    3. The issue of age-appropriateness. One now finds the term being used not only in the professional literature, but also in the popular one, though it is hardly ever credited to its source, e.g., in the 1973 version of PASS (Wolfensberger & Glenn, 1973a,b).
    4. The according of all sorts of personal rights to all sorts of devalued people.
    5. The need for, and relevance of, schooling for just about all children.
    6. The importance of making facilities and sites accessible to people in wheelchairs.
    7. That families who have handicapped members should receive help.
    8. That vastly less can be expected of residential institutions than people used to think when they saw institutions as “the answer.”

43Further, in specific service areas or fields (such as those of developmental impairment), a number of Normalization-derived ideas have become common wisdom:

  1. The importance of issues of grouping size, and that smaller is usually better.
  2. The importance of not congregating devalued people together.
  3. The importance of personal appearance of devalued people.
  4. That residences for devalued people should at least be homelike.

44Another way of putting this is that many parties and movements these days that reject Normalization and SRV are coasting heavily on the impact that they produced, or to which they contributed and will continue to do so. To many such people, Normalization and SRV are passé, but as mentioned, they rarely considered them actuel in the first place, even as they were strongly shaped by them.

45However, such people also commonly misapply ideas from Normalization/SRV, as we have already amply seen. For instance, Normalization theory played a large role in raising people’s consciousness of the importance of language use, especially about impaired people. But soon, certain idioms and grammars were adopted that are used almost exclusively in reference to devalued people but not in ordinary discourse, as exemplified by so-called “people first” language. Another example is that even people who are not legal-rights or self-determination radicals may mindlessly apply self-determination constructs to people who are altogether incapable of self-determination, or who are capable of vastly less adaptive self-determination than they are expected or interpreted to exercise. Sometimes this is done under popular phrases or schemes such as “supported employment” or “supported living.” Another example is the way the construct of integration was first degraded into “mainstreaming,” and after that craze was worn out, into its current successor, “inclusion.” Things like these are commonly seen and interpreted as being “beyond Normalization.” But it continues to be obvious that as these people treat Normalization/SRV as passé, they are laying themselves wide open to much error. For instance, one of the ironies here is that services claimed to be of a postnormalization or post-SRV nature often score very low on the PASSING instrument that measures the quality of services in reference to Normalization/SRV criteria, and for that matter, on many other instruments as well. Also, if everyone is so beyond Normalization, why are their services normatively model-incoherent, as assessment after assessment has shown?

46In this connection, it may also be instructive to recall the elements of Normalization and SRV that are the least understood, accepted, or implemented: the inevitability of social devaluation, to the degree this is a social science issue; the unconsciousness and hidden systemicness of many devaluing practices and patterns; the conservatism corollary; several image issues, especially outside the language domain; many grouping issues and implications; the need for culturally valued/least devalued forms of protection, to the degree that this is an empirical issue; the fact that devalued people and their advocates need to “court” rather than brow-beat valued society; model coherency; and the boundaries of Normalization/SRV and issues that straddle the boundaries.


47The second question was whether Normalization and SRV will be implementable even if they are not passé. This issue has been a recurring topic of discussion in the North American Social Role Valorization Development, Training and Safeguarding Council, which consists mostly of SRV trainers and other people with a long record of Normalization and SRV leadership (see Thomas [1994] for a lengthier description of the council).

48This issue needs to be examined in relation to the direction in which North American society overall is going, and even beyond this, the direction of Western civilization, the developed world, and to some degree the world order overall.


49As I have spelled out in many presentations and publications, and most recently in a February 1994 article in Mental Retardation (Wolfensberger, 1994a), I am convinced that all three—North America, Western societies, and the world—are “going to hell in a wheelbarrow.” What is happening in the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Somalia, the Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, other African countries, and Haiti, will be recapitulated in many other places. Even Italy is falling apart. In some parts of the world, health collapses are occurring, as exemplified by Russia and equatorial Africa. Even where it does not come to large-scale internal warfare, there will be a collapse of polity and order such as we are already seeing in the former Soviet Union, Haiti, Italy, and U.S. cities such as East St. Louis, MO, Camden, NJ, and so on (see Wolfensberger & Thomas [1995] on the latter two). Both the forerunners and the consequences of such big collapses include the increasing dysfunctionality of all sorts of social institutions, including formal ones, such as human service organizations, and less formal ones, such as families that are collapsing all over the world, even in underdeveloped countries and “traditional” societies (“More Mothers,” 1995).

50One of the things blinding people to the collapsing world order is that in different places, the collapse is taking different forms, at least initially. People do not see the connection between the collapse in rich versus poor countries, African versus Western countries, Italian versus U.S. versions, and so forth. Yet poverty and/or chaos are the common outcomes, with warfare (internal or external) and/or high mortality (for all reasons) being frequent concomitants.

51In order to understand what I see as the collapse of civilization and society, one has to understand what I also see as the new “religion” of our society, and indeed of all societies in the Western world. In other contexts, I elaborate on this value system at great length; here, I can only give the briefest summary.

52This new religion, which I call “modernism,” consists of five major elements:

  1. Materialism, which takes the form not only of obsession with possessions, goods, and consumption, but also (and more importantly), the form of obsession with objects, material processes, and technology; and (most importantly) a de-spiritualized worldview that denies the existence, or at least relevance, of any god or gods.
  2. Individualism, which is an idolatry of the individual human (rather than of a human collectivity, as in certain other value systems), attended by self-maximization regardless of cost to anyone else, as already mentioned earlier, and an uncoupling of the individual from the larger social context.
  3. Sensualism, which has been elevated to a high value in this religion. This means that comfort, convenience, pleasure, sex, “thrills,” “highs,” and a preoccupation with the body and its youthfulness are exalted. Indeed, they are considered things to which people are “entitled.”
  4. Externalism, which I define as the decline of inner substance and the inner life among so many people, and instead, a turning to—and indeed a reliance on—external supports of all sorts, be it other people, guru figures, cults, crazes, the media (especially TV), drugs (legal, illegal, and medical), and so on.
  5. “Here-and-now-ism,” that is, a focus on the moment, an ignorance of the past, and even a denial of its relevance, and a total lack of concern about the future, or at least a totally unrealistic approach to the future, including a denial of the fact that what people do now will profoundly shape the future.

53As many of you have heard me speak before—perhaps ad nauseam—my point is that these are the values and habits of modernistic society, that they are being embraced worldwide, and, most relevant to our point, that they are inherently incapable of sustaining polity with comity. In the aforementioned 1994 article in Mental Retardation, I inventorized which major U.S. societal institutions were in which stage of collapse. (Table 30.1 is an updated version of that inventory.) In the US, chaos is mostly the result of a collapse of values and of competencies, and the rise of new values incompatible with polis and comitas. There is hardly a single social institution or structure in U.S. society that is not in collapse—with the ominous exception of the military!


A. In an advanced state of collapse

B. In an extensive state of collapse

C. On a downhill slope or entering a state of collapse

*Traditional family & home life
*Competent reproduction, & child-rearing
*Many religious institutions & structures
*Many traditional legal & cultural norms regarding human life, sexuality, & morality
*Traditional medical ethics
*Cities, city government, & city life
*Nuclear energy
*Private security forces
*General public education (elementary & secondary)
*Child welfare & foster care
*Criminal justice, prisons, & corrections
*Much of “mental health,” particularly its residential forms
*Much of mental talk treatment
*Medical care to the indigent
*Nursing homes for the mentally retarded

*Financial institutions: banks, insurance, credit systems
*The political system
*Elements of the judicial system
*Hospital medicine
*Public police forces
*Personal safety/security
*Functionality of federal & state governments
*Large sections of infrastructures (roads, bridges, sanitation)
*Rural towns
*Roles & relationships of generations to each other
*Elements of higher education
*Language, & thus the traditional role of, & capacity for, communication
*Labor unionism
*Public assistance/welfare
*Visiting/home health services
*General nursing homes
*Much of the community residential system, not subsumed in other categories

*Drinking water: supply & quality
*Certain agricultural sectors
*The jury system
*The postal service
*Private pension funds
*Professional accounting ethic
*Elements of office/clinic medicine
*Sheltered or “supported” work
*Ambulance & rescue services
*Higher (postsecondary) education

54Aside from the fact that the ascendancy of destructive values is making it less and less possible to implement Normalization and SRV, the same outcome is also derived from the fact that the economies of developed nations have become more and more “postprimary production” ones. This means that their economies are utterly dependent on the creation and maintenance of large classes of (their own) needy and dependent people in order to sustain the livelihood and materialistic lifestyle of the classes of more privileged people. This reality has been extensively analyzed since 1977 by John McKnight at Northwestern University in Chicago (e.g., see the recent compendium of his earlier papers in McKnight, 1995), and by myself in my teaching and writing (e.g., Vater, Scheuing, & Wolfensberger, 1994; Wolfensberger, 1989, 1992b, 1994a). Even if I were wrong about any number of my interpretations, the current postprimary production economy realities could, by themselves alone, totally destroy the overall beneficence of a societal service system.

55At any rate, for whatever reason, the fact is that it is simply no longer as possible as it once was to accomplish anything positive within formal human services, or, for that matter, on any structural level. In some contexts, it has become almost impossible. This has also meant that within structural contexts, such as human service agencies, SRV is only minimally implementable, and the portions that are implementable are largely nullified by the many awful things that get done at the same time. Even Normalization/SRV features that once were relatively easy to implement (e.g., greater life-sharing between service clients and paid staff) have become extensively disabled. Since my views on these matters have been published, and reprints are available, I will not go into further detail here.

56In the good old days, it was mostly myself saying these things, but now even some of the media columnists are shouting it from the rooftops (e.g., Pike, 1994). No matter how real this collapse is, there have been and will be widespread denials of it, and of its calamitous consequences. But then, I am reminded of the fact that 2 weeks before Germany surrendered in World War II, in 1945, there were still millions of Germans who fully expected to win the war. The very day in 1975 before Saigon fell and the U.S. embassy was evacuated by helicopters, the U.S. ambassador cabled Washington that the American presence in Saigon could be expected to endure at least another year (Church, 1995).

57As I have been saying for years, one of the reasons that so many people fail to see that formal services are already bankrupt in terms of their overall impact is that tidbits of occasional benefits to selected individuals keep dribbling out of it, and people are so dazzled by these tokens that they can no longer see the service atrocities and form a valid overall judgment. This source of error in judging a reality is very similar to the many others in making decisions and the judging of probabilities that Tversky and Kahneman (1974) began to inventorize in the 1970s under the title, “judgment under uncertainty,” which started a new subfield of inquiry into such phenomena.

58In the aforementioned SRV Council, there is much agreement on the verbal-intellectual level (though less on other levels, I suspect) that not much good can be expected from formal services. This would, of course, include, but not be limited to, SRV implementation. There is also extensive but not full agreement among council members on the extent and definitiveness of the societal collapse, and therefore on what can still be expected from societal structures, or even from most members of society. Outside of the SRV Council, and in the circles of Normalization/SRV opponents, there is even less agreement with my assertion that the direction in which society is headed is a very bad one indeed. In fact, some people see what I have interpreted as decadence to be progress, and they see even better (i.e., more decadent) things ahead.

59However, in the SRV Council, there is total agreement that there is much that anyone can do in their personal lives outside of formal structures. But, of course, to the extent that community (including the family) is collapsing within society, even the good that can be done in the informal domain will be a drop in the bucket as compared to the need, which will get bigger as societal collapse progresses. And in a collapsing society, there are simply not enough people to role-valorize all the people who need it, nor will there be enough good things available to convey even to those in valued roles, as mentioned in the presentation by Susan Thomas (chapter 15, in this volume). The material goods of the world will probably end up extremely disproportionately in the hands of those with greatest material power, as we have recently seen in Somalia; nor will there be much—if anything—in the way of legal rights. But even the people who end up with the material wealth will experience severely dysfunctional lives.

60None of this is a sound rationale for calling for material empowerment of all devalued classes as an overarching “solution” or even strategy. I am saying this because a prominent source of critique of Normalization/SRV in recent years have been proponents of a certain kind of materialistic philosophy, which seems to me to be old Marxism put into new clothes because these proponents have been discombobulated and are ashamed to profess Marxism in the face of its sudden collapse around the world. These parties might assert that if my dire prediction were true, it would be merely one more reason to pursue a policy of material empowerment of the devalued classes. I want to pre-empt this kind of argument right away: Except in ideological fantasyland, there will be no army divisions, no air forces, and no navies of retarded people, of senile people, of blind and deaf people, of people in wheelchairs, and so on. When polity and comity collapse, these classes will not be the ones who end up in possession or command of the wealth, the communications system, the armies, the cannons, the planes, the ships, the ammunition, or the food depots. Instead, these people will be in the same situation in which they have always been throughout history, and their only securities will be in whatever deep relationship commitments have been made to them by others, and especially by people who do have competencies and/or resources, including those who are willing to share their last slice of bread with them.


61However, even if we assume for the moment that civilization does not collapse and that human service structures still have more functionality than dysfunctionality, the prevailing cultural values are nonetheless inimical to many features of Wolfensberger’s formulations of Normalization and SRV. Among the many bad things that the values and habits of modernism do to people, four are of special relevance to my point. (a) They engender a mind-set that segments reality and that cannot relate elements of reality to each other. (b) They create a mentality of entitlement. (c) People look to technology and medicine as a source of miraculous achievements that deliver the means for satisfying one’s entitlements. (d) People expect results and the satisfaction of their entitlements in a here-and-now-istic fashion, and nothing less will do.

62As I have elaborated at greater length elsewhere (in workshops, and in Wolfensberger, 1991b, 1994b), all this contributes to a craze mentality both in the larger society, the sciences, and in human services. This mentality is now vastly more prevalent than it was in the early 1970s, as pointed out by Susan Thomas and Deborah Reidy in their chapters in this book on the impact of Normalization/SRV training. Now, anything that does not have the lustre of novelty does not appeal to the vast majority of human service workers, and to some extent others as well.

63There are at least two good reasons why a craze mentality in relation to the address of human problems is profoundly inimical to Normalization and SRV.

  1. SRV and at least the two major traditional formulations of Normalization apply very high-level interrelated universals, i.e., laws of human functioning that transcend culture and are timeless. But crazes are extremely cut off (segmented) from such considerations and deploy the most superficial, isolated end-point tactics. For example, people are cracking left and right because of the larger cultural realities, and what do human service people give them? Things like what I call “hand-before-eyes-shaking therapy” (legitimized by the fancy term “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing”), “massage at a distance” (legitimized by the incongruous term “therapeutic touch”), and similar crazy, perverse, or merely ineffective things.
  2. SRV and the above two kinds of Normalization yield action strategies that, by the very nature of their being strategies, require patient long-term application, often of a difficult nature, with eventual benefits often not being traceable back to any specific action. But anything established that has universal and enduring validity gets viewed as “old,” outdated, and uninteresting, and long-term delay of gratification is also not tolerable to modernistic people. So they turn to the crazes that tickle their ears by promising quick and easy results. When a new craze comes along, people drop everything else—often including things that they have done all their lives and that “worked”—and jump on it. Obviously, these crazes are counterproductive to Normalization/SRV, or at the very least, extremely displacing thereof.

64The so-called “facilitated communication” (FC) craze of the early 1990s, mentioned earlier, is a very good example of these points, and a heavy warning. History may soon tell us that it was the most crazish craze that ever hit services and relationships concerned with retarded, so-called autistic, and, to some extent, cerebrally palsied people. It swept through these fields like a flu epidemic. That this should happen in the autism culture is not surprising because it has always been an irrational craze territory. That it should hit cerebral palsy hard is also understandable, because the people there have always been wondering about “locked-up minds.” But as limited as the embrace of Normalization/SRV has been in mental retardation, it has been more extensive there than in any other field. Therefore, the fact that people in this field jumped so precipitously and uncritically on the FC craze tells us that they (a) were deeply frustrated and dissatisfied with what they had been doing, and (b) were overripe to believe in quick-and-easy miracles. Even some people with extensive background in Normalization/SRV, and other solid training, cracked and fell to FC. Maybe one thing we can read from this is that people are saying that they have taken Normalization/SRV as far as they are going to, or have been allowed to, and they consider the payoff of this limited implementation very unsatisfactory and frustrating. This is even worse news for SRV than for Normalization, because SRV asks far more. This tells us that the as yet vastly unrealized potential of SRV is not likely to be pursued and realized by many people, or taken very far. Instead, we can expect craze-craziness to continue, though in forms different from, and usually less dramatic than, FC, because FC has been one of the most extreme human service crazes in those fields where it found its greatest acceptance.

65The balancing good news is that SRV grounding also preserved a great many people from falling to the FC craze, but that does not mean that they are not also very frustrated, and vulnerable to falling for some other exciting new thing that is thrown before them.


66I also see little reason to be optimistic that what I deliberately called the “shrink field” will embrace Normalization/SRV. One very straightforward reason is that such an acceptance would deprive an immensely powerful sector of human service workers of most of their power, economic advantage, and prestige. To a large extent, the field of mental retardation got away from the long-enduring stranglehold of the shrink people, and they will not let the same thing happen to the field of mental disorder.


67All the foregoing also raises the distinct possibility that there will be a reversion to the futile or chaotic conceptual situation that existed prior to the early 1970s that I sketched in my earlier chapter, and that largely still prevails in the mental field, with many low-level, and a few high-level, crazes attracting large followerships concurrently and successively. Admittedly, concepts such as absolute individual self-determination (which is one of the postnormalization concepts widely promoted) are not low-level, but they are three other things: (a) totally destructive; (b) totally irrational; and (c) in many ways, devoid of consciousness of context, in that we live in a world in which individual options of a positive nature are rapidly being taken away, while the realm of so-called “choice” consists increasingly of immoral things of greater number. For instance, we may soon be able to watch TV with mostly vacuous or outright morally decadent content on 500 channels. That is the kind of “choice” that modernism promotes and celebrates!


68One major source of pessimism for the future is that there is no one single outstanding personage or strongly established entity or institution that has made the preservation, elaboration, or application of Normalization/SRV a major focus of its efforts. There are entire institutes with vast funding devoted to all sorts of crazes, or to possibly valid but low-level ideas, schemes, techniques, or technologies, but none to Normalization/SRV. There are professors and entire university departments that have and share a major theoretical focus—in some cases that of “inclusion”—but not one on Normalization/SRV, though it is of a higher order and subsumes other things that many people have taken up as their cause. For a while, what used to be called the National Institute on Mental Retardation (later the G. Allan Roeher Institute, and now the Roeher Institute) in Canada was a major institutional base for Normalization publishing, training, and promotion, but it has abandoned this role in favor of both certain cultural values that I referred to earlier, as well as the craze culture of human services.


69In contrast to the above point, one of the most positive developments in the last few years has been the establishment of largely informal bodies devoted to the promotion and safeguarding of SRV and its dissemination. Of greatest promise has been the establishment and evolution of the aforementioned North American SRV Council. Its discussions have been tremendously helpful to all of its members, and through them to many other people. We have all been able to clarify many of our thoughts about SRV, and several members, including me, have been stimulated by it to expand and refine SRV theory, and to write on various topics related to it. Stimulated by the council, the new bilingual International SRV Journal was launched in 1994. Also, it would have been difficult to hold this conference without the council, or to hold it at the same level of quality. However, most of all, I see the SRV Council as one of the major safeguards on SRV work for some years to come.

70Also, one modestly reassuring thought is one that recent SRV teaching by members of the SRV Council has increasingly emphasized, namely, that even where the structures fail, those with SRV knowledge will have many things to fall back on in their human relations that they might otherwise not have known; but ultimately, how one comports oneself in dire circumstances will be more determined by one’s religion, one’s character, and one’s personality. But many of us have been strengthened in all three of these through our engagement with Normalization and SRV, and our efforts to teach and promote them.


71In conclusion, let us remember what Chou En-lai said when he was asked in 1989 what he thought of the French revolution of 1789. After a long pause, he said, “It is too soon to tell.” I must admit that I feel much more confident in predicting all sorts of things, including the collapse of viable polity in the world, than in predicting the future of Normalization and SRV.



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