Deviance is undoubtedly as old as humanity itself. From the beginnings of when humans organized themselves into groups, or more appropriately maintained interdependence for the sake of survival by creating mutually supporting social relationships, there undoubtedly have been those individuals who either separated themselves out from the group; those who marched to the beat of a different drummer. The question that comes to mind immediately is this: what possible function, if any, could non-conformity, or deviance, play in helping the deviant individual? We know instinctively that human beings are social creatures who need each other for their very survival, and play mutually supportive roles to achieve that end. So, where does deviance fit in, if at all? Sociologists from the very beginnings of the creation of the discipline have been trying to answer that question. While some very interesting theories have been formulated, none necessarily has emerged as the “end all, be all” for theorists and students of social relationships. While deviance is virtually everywhere, the question of what role it plays, if any, in advancing or supporting the survival of the group, or creating a social environment in which the group can thrive, remains unanswered.
I seek to pursue a somewhat different view of deviance. We have looked at Durkheim’s model, the Functional Model, of deviance that purports to provide, for lack of a better set of terms a bad example for use to reinforce existing values systems. There is the Marxist model, in which the deviant breaks with society and its norms because of class conflict created by bleak economic conditions, which is by its very nature destructive and plays no role in maintaining social cohesion—although Marx would have maintained that the deviant is just another means by which the society as a whole could achieve “class consciousness” by watching the individual self-destruct, or by breaking with what is normative for one’s socio-economic status, Marx would say that the deviant actually could serve as a force for change by virtue of the fact that others would see the plight of the deviant as being consistent with a pattern of abuse heaped upon the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie, and therefore might be an agent in the achievement of class consciousness.
What I propose is different from both Durkheim and Marx, but some similarities may be seen in their theories with my emerging theory for the existence of deviance. My concern, as I am a novice in this subject, is that someone else has already thought of this and that it might look as if I’m grabbing someone else’s ideas. I’m sure that someone must have thought of this, but I can’t imagine at this point I can’t imagine who it might have been since, as I have already stated, I’m a novice sociologist.
What I propose is that deviance is actually a dynamic force that comes from deep within the human character, and in fact is socio-biological: it is very possibly a biology driven force that manifests in human behaviors that are at odds with that which is normative. Why a dynamic force? It is a dynamic force inasmuch as it creates alternative conditions within human groups that serve as catalysts for change. That is, change within human groups over time happens not because the majority of people adhere to what contemporaneously normative, but that deviants create anti-normative social phenomenon which actually cause the society to change and, therefore, itself be dynamic. It is very possible that, through socio-biological mechanisms, deviants are responsible for changes in the society as a whole—in both positive and negative ways.
If we use the French Revolution as an example (I use this example because my high school history teacher concentrated on the French Revolution as a force for change at the global level), we can see that the deviants created the force for change in French society between 1789 and 1799. For example, when members of the Third Estate were locked out of the Estates Generale, instead of sitting around thinking about going home, they instead took the extraordinary and deviant step, to take the famous “Tennis Court Oath” and proclaim themselves the National Assembly, and therefore the new and legitimate government of France. This was an act of mass deviance, and it just so happened that it worked and it changed the world. Had the members of the Third Estate simply acted as they were expected to—in those ways which would have been considered normative for their social station—nothing would have happened. Louis XVI would have remained King of France, the First and Second Estates would have kept their wealth and status, and there would have the maintenance of the status quo in France. However, the members of the Third Estate did not act as they were expected to act. Instead in an act of mass deviance their actions set forces in motion that had been sitting idle in France for perhaps centuries. It would appear, therefore, that in this instance, deviance was a truly dynamic and creative force. At the same time, it was destructive and iconoclastic in that it destroyed the old order—the French Monarchy and estate system. This would be roughly consistent with Marx’s view of class conflict. The difference, however, is very possibly in the mechanism. While certainly social forces were at work in setting in motion this massive transformation in French society, where did the impetus come from? Was it “class consciousness?” or something else?
Consider many social movements throughout history. While some, like the French Revolution involved the deviant acts of a few, most often the transformative agents focus on the leadership—the forceful personality of a single individual. Feature these: Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. What do these individuals have in common? They were all either sociopaths and/or complete deviants. They all also led social movements within their societies that were agents of titanic change. Genghis Khan brutally conquered almost all of Asia. Stalin transformed Old Russia from an agrarian society into a world industrial power in less than a generation. Bonaparte spread the “gospel” of the French Revolution and its ideas all over Europe and eventually the world. These were not nice guys, and they were definitely not normal—they were in fact complete deviants. And yet they served as catalysts for the transformation of their societies and affected the world in incalculably huge ways. Psychologists are still trying to understand sociopathy and its origins. More and more it appears that people, about 4% of the population, are apparently born sociopaths. They wreak havoc in the world; they cause unspeakable pain and suffering. Most do their dirty work on a small time level in obscurity, but some move whole societies and change the world. Is it possible, therefore, that deviance of this sort is genetically encoded and is a dynamic source for change in the world, even when that change is very often violent, and incredibly destructive? And does that change come from the most vile and seemingly detestable sources? It is certainly food for thought—disturbing food for thought.
Merryman, John Henry. (1996). French Deviation.
Witt. (2012). SOC. n.p. McGraw Hill.