Deviant Behavior of the Past in now the Social Norm

Christyl Rivers's image for:
"Deviant Behavior of the Past in now the Social Norm"
Image by: 

Anything goes.  This is the song title from a musical of the early twentieth century by Cole Porter.  It seems more true, now. Yet, that is just because what shocked in the old days, fails to shock anyone now. For the better, and in some cases for the worse, society updates every generation that which is considered normal and that which is deviant.

What is considered deviant behavior changes over time.  A hundred years ago racism was the norm.  The N-word was used by everyone. Women seldom wore pants. They struggled to get to vote. Homosexuality was almost never acknowledged, much less tolerated. Even people who did not attend church believed in God. Men smoked and women began to smoke cigarettes. Portrayals of sexuality in public entertainment were considered extremely shocking. What jokes are told today on Family Guy or South Park would not be possible even as recently as twenty years ago. Pregnancy among teenagers has actually decreased, but acceptance of it has increased. 

In the big picture of societal evolution, tolerance of what was once considered deviant is for the better. The more people accept variation and diversity, the stronger a social fabric becomes.  For example, acknowledging racism and homophobia  as societal attitudes of intolerance promotes compassion. It allows more people to have dignity and acceptance, as well as belonging.  When included, more people get along.

But exploitation is still the leading cause of unhappiness in the world. It occurs when any dominant group decides any other being, entity, or system is there for use and even abuse. The most recent example, of course, is runaway consumption, greed and addictions. The young of today know nothing of a world with a thriving middle class, living without debt or  "common" nuclear families.

Clearly, not every new acceptance of formerly "deviant" behavior is for the better.  There are some things once considered the norm that are rare, and the loss of these behaviors makes society less cohesive.  People today are much more tuned in to their electronic devices and manners are less evident.  There is less community ritual or  a sense of the shared sacred. More people are fat today, but standards of  youth and beauty are still in demand.  People are more rude in public places. At public functions people are more likely to talk loudly.  They may behave aggressively at athletic and other events with trash talk and sneering looks. People do not dress up as often, nor do they take the time to notice when others do.  Entertainment is shallow and trashy. People ignore neighbors and sometimes even family. These are all behaviors that would once be considered deviant, but are now all too commonplace.

On the whole, ending intolerance is good.  Having things like child abuse and molestation discussed is better than living in denial. So is growing awareness that Earth is finite.  Having rights for women and minorities is better too. There are fewer teen pregnancies, not just due to contraception and tolerant attitudes, but also because people do not marry under age girls much anymore.  But there are also very real concerns having to do with people's sense of entitlement and their expectations. That the world and its life and people are still treated as possessions and commodities is very problematic. 

Shame and ostracism are still very powerful social pressures that affect each person regardless of whether they even realize it. This is because humans beings evolved to thrive best as cooperating social tribes. Solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment that many consider it torture.  Changes in deviant behavior continue to be shaped by the common standards that people hold to be acceptable. Changes over time are expected, but those looking back over whole lifetimes are often surprised that "anything goes." And it does lead one to wonder, what is going to "GO" next?

More about this author: Christyl Rivers

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow › SHRM › HR Topics & Strategy › Technology