Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Defining Deviancy Down, 2006

What would the Senate’s last sociologist, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have made of this year’s election?

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” the late New York legislator wrote in 1993 in his now-famous American Scholar article, “Defining Deviancy Down,” arguing that society keeps adjusting for the amount of unacceptable conduct it can tolerate.

He pointed out that, in 1929, the killing of seven gangsters in Chicago became the stuff of legend while half a century later “Los Angeles has the equivalent of a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre every weekend.”

Moynihan would have been fascinated by how Republicans embraced his thesis this year in their campaigning while railing against it to terrify voters in their “cultural wars” ideology.

In efforts to elect candidates who would criminalize gay couples and women seeking abortions, politicians doing “the Lord’s work” stooped to new lows.

They tried to pass off Mark Foley’s electronic mash notes to teen-aged boys as “inappropriate” while trashing Harold Ford with a racist “Call me” commercial in Tennessee and attacking a New York Democrat for taxpayer-paid phone sex, based on a $1.25 misdialing of a legitimate call. That used to be called "lying."

If cultural conservatives are going to oppose making what they consider deviant behavior acceptable, they will have to stop using what everybody considers deviant tactics to defeat those who disagree with them.

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