Defining deviancy sideways

About 10 years ago Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a professional sociologist as well as politician, noted that as deviancy grows beyond the bounds of acceptability it is redefined so life can retain the appearance of normality. (See his American Scholar essay “Defining Deviancy Down”.) In fact, however, what we have been seeing around us for the past several decades goes well beyond that process. Deviancy has been defined not down but out of existence. In a society that makes “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” the supreme moral goods there can be no room for any concept of deviance, or indeed of normality. Hence Broadway shows featuring bestiality and celebrating the lesbian statutory rape of a 13-year-old. The only thing recognized as deviant is prejudice against deviance, which is now dubbed “hate” and treated as a sort of demonic superdeviance that must be utterly eradicated at all costs.

Now another sociologist, Anne B. Hendershott, has written a book, The Politics of Deviance, that explores the destruction of the willingness to identify deviance.

Sociologists used to view that willingness as indispensable to social order; now they treat it as pathology. The book looks well worth reading, since in a world run by experts how the experts theorize things matters. It features a number of case studies that expore such topics as the role of political pressure groups like NAMBLA in redefining deviancy, and includes a chapter on “moral panic” as a result of the abolition of any intelligent way to discuss the issues. The latter is an important point. If you make it impossible for people to talk about basic things in ways that make sense the result is insanity. The book hasn’t been reviewed much, so the author has mostly had to promote it through appearances on talk radio, but it’s been mentioned in The Washington Times and in a recent column by Linda Chavez.

One example of practical redefinition of deviancy currently in the news is a court case that has ended in a settlement establishing the right of students who define themselves by reference to deviant sexuality to be “out” at school. A high school student was bullied because he was “openly gay” and school officials did nothing but transfer him and tell him to keep quiet about his sexual orientation. In the settlement the school board paid the boy $451,000, agreed to establish sweeping “antiharassment” policies, and acknowledged that “students’ freedom of expression includes the right to discuss their sexual orientations and related issues.” So henceforth on pain of stiff penalties it is homosexuality that will be normal and dislike of it that will be deviant in Las Vegas schools. A necessary factor in such decisions is the abolition of any public language for talking about deviance, which I take it is one subject of Professor Hendershott’s book.

1 thought on “Defining deviancy sideways”

  1. I return to the point that
    I return to the point that obsessed me prior to September 11th and that has bothered me intermittantly since Septmeber 11th: does a society that publicly rejects the good and embraces deviance deserve to survive? Can it expect to prevail in a war with a dangerous enemy?

    There were at least some signs of hope in the immediate aftermath of the attack that a greater soberness was taking root in the American people. That’s all gone now. The country has resumed its deviant ways. The only hope I can find, in the sense of hoping that God will not entirely abandon us, is that our enemies are so much more evil than we are.


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