In a social context, any behavior that violates social norms is considered deviant. Sociology does not assess deviance in terms of good or bad, but only states that a majority of the pertinent population holds a negative view of related activities. Hostility, condemnation or simple disapproval erupt in response to awareness of such activities, where other cultures may practice them as common acts given no special regard. Naturism (social nudism), openly expressed atheism and hedonism, plural marriage, use or possession of marijuana, are examples of deviance.

Nonconformity with socially approved notions about deviance puts a person at odds against artificially constructed codes about behavior that rose from biases induced in early childhood. Such biases, in turn, rise from lessons received from multiple sources: parents, other relatives, friends, neighbors, school and other institutions. As a child grows, developing biases form from all that absorbed information so that future information gets quick acceptance or rejection depending on how well it fits with whatever has already been learned. The automatic process forms the foundation onto which future knowledge builds, with all rectitude assessed according to fit. What does not fit, considered ‘wrong’, forms a foundation for deviance as seen in others.

Deviants not performing logically criminal acts (see next paragraph) work to forestall the mob response that all democracies threaten by calling attention to personal freedoms lost to legislated morality against activities that offend rather than harm, or those suspected of harm and made guilty by the force of opinion and anecdotal tales without valid support. This gives us one more reason that democracies should not legislate and enforce laws that originate in religious creeds. To inject religion into the legislative process gives harmful power to those dangerous people who play upon mob emotions to gain their own covert ends.

Morality presents in two forms, the secular and the religious. Americans suffer from poor schooling about the secular version, even to the point of denying it any existence. What they know about it, for the most part, has crept into their religious education by dint of personal experience and instructions as a result of infractions made at home.

Religious morality results from institutional decrees about what a god wants as expressed by the religious institution. Beyond that, we can justify defining ‘religious’ as pertaining to beliefs adopted without supporting evidence. In that light, laws written against what legislators believed “might” happen must be religious. We should hope the legislators believed in what they did, and had no chicanery in mind at the time.

Secular morality concerns itself with criminal acts that cause harm or losses to others in the interest of justice. Unless someone can show how an act designated as deviant has caused them harm or loss, a truly democratic government does not serve its constituents by legislating against them. Such acts are matters for the courts, who can apply the scientific method as a test, not the legislators to whom special interests gain too-easy access. When no harm or loss can be shown, the offended must be denied a trial and a fine assessed for the frivolity.

Certain principles give apparent recognition to psychological harm that may result from deviant acts. I would hope that applying those principles would require investigators to trace both sides of a case back to the initial events in the interest of serving justice.

From http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9248.1993.tb01649.x/abstract

  • The primary aims are to formulate principles conducive to safeguarding fundamental civil rights and to employ the theory to analyse (sic) the Skokie affair. The focus is on the ethical question of the constraints on speech. I advance two arguments relating to the ‘Harm Principle’ and the ‘Offence Principle’. Under the ‘Harm Principle’, restrictions on liberty may be prescribed when there are sheer threats of immediate violence against some individuals or groups. Under the ‘Offence Principle’, expressions which intend to inflict psychological offence are morally on a par with physical harm and thus there are grounds for abridging them. Moving from theory to practice, in the light of the formulated principles, the ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court which permitted the Nazis to hold a demonstration in Skokie is argued to be flawed.

The person who wrote that opinion, in the last line, would authorize a prejudiced ruling based on an expectation of harm. However vile, nothing in the Nazi creed incites harm by its mere expression. Attempts to stir an emotional outbreak of violence against parties who would suffer harm make a different threat that must be countered by arrest. This gets tricky when you realize the man on the soap-box may be doing nothing different from the man behind the pulpit.

From http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/paternal.htm to read the entire essay.

  • “Paternalism” comes from the Latin pater, meaning to act like a father, or to treat another person like a child. … In modern philosophy and jurisprudence, it is to act for the good of another person without that person’s consent, as parents do for children. It is controversial because its end is benevolent, and its means coercive. Paternalists advance people’s interests (such as life, health, or safety) at the expense of their liberty. In this, paternalists suppose that they can make wiser decisions than the people for whom they act. Sometimes this is based on presumptions about their own wisdom or the foolishness of other people, and can be dismissed as presumptuous. But sometimes it is not. It can be based on relatively good knowledge, as in the case of paternalism over young children or incompetent adults. Sometimes the role of paternalist is thrust upon the unwilling, as when we find ourselves the custodian and proxy for an unconscious or severely retarded relative. Paternalism is a temptation in every arena of life where people hold power over others: in childrearing, education, therapy, and medicine. But it is perhaps nowhere as divisive as in criminal law. Whenever the state acts to protect people from themselves, it seeks their good; but by doing so through criminal law, it does so coercively, often against their will.

Maternalism seems irrelevant to this discussion as currently defined. Unlike paternalism it is seldom given space in a dictionary. Online searches elicit articles more about feminism and women’s rights than about how Maternalism affects the cultures it inhabits. I would guess that results from its rarity of presence in a pure form in the modern advanced world. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternalism:

Maternalism refers to an attitude that “exalt[s] women’s capacities to mother and extend[s] to society as a whole the values of care, nurturance and morality”, meaning to improve the quality of life of women and children.

In my view, caring, nurturance and a sense of morality tied to justice, guidance and personal growth that fosters innate drives and talents would benefit entire societies far better than tight control. We cannot, after all, all become broom pushers in grocery stores.

I would submit that under a hedonic system derived from Gaian-like principles, gathered data could render estimates from which to predict future costs to a society which any deviant behavior might incur, including any psychological damage that may be done to those offended by it. If a healthier and healthier-minded society should result from permitting a deviant behavior, thus removing a burden from society, the society may consider promoting it. As it now stands, one person’s right to mental health gets validated and another’s denied in a political game that puts a majority against a minority whose rights may be denied.

Further, that American society suffers from negative stress is common knowledge about a condition the average person seems to consider normal. Much of that stress may be induced by deviance—whether confronting it or by its thwarting. Acknowledging psychological damage as related to deviant behavior forces us to recognize the victim on both sides of any deviant incident, and cries for the guardians of our morality to, themselves, act accordingly.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_moralism:

  • Legal moralism is the theory of jurisprudence and the philosophy of law which holds that laws may be used to prohibit or require behavior based on whether or not society’s collective moral judgment is that it is immoral or moral. Legal moralism implies that it is permissible for the state to use its coercive power to enforce society’s collective morality.

I believe that ‘theory’ has not been fully tested and remains a collective opinion at best, and to label it as a theory attempts to equate it with theories that have been tested and proved should not be justified. Though common, such usage diminishes the importance of real theories such as evolution, germ theory, or the Big Bang. Popular opinions remain only opinions, whatever high-sounding words we may choose for labels. The word’s status as a popular opinion held by a majority makes my opinion about it deviant.

That I may feel offended by that counts for little. I can use it as an example that you may also experience in reverse by reading it, so you can assess the amount of damage you suffered because of it. If it caused you to think, you likely gained from it, even if only as a bit of data ported to your information pool that will, from now on, apply itself to your biases. By itself, it will have little effect on your future choices. It likely lacked the force of an unexpected insight that made you gasp from recognition of how wrong you’ve been about using the word ‘theory’. At most, you checked a dictionary and saw that it approved your misuse of that word, and that a thesaurus offered ‘conjecture’ and ‘speculation’ as synonyms. Verification of my deviance made you feel good about it and will most likely lessen any inhibitions you may have  about continuing what I see as a deviance. I will at this point offer to stop complaining about your deviance if you will agree to never seek legislation against mine.

If you think that is absurd, think also about many other deviations from normal behavior against which legislation has been made into law. Criminality can as easily be a fault of overzealous legislation as from intentional misconduct, or insistent exercise of a right that has been made illegal without showing actual harm. Overzealous legislation converts good people into criminals. Converting innocuous behavior into crimes creates criminals.

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