Class has begun again, and in a few days I’ll be on the other side of the world. It’s strange living this way, and it’s been one hell of a vacation. I left San Francisco for Atlanta, drove back and forth to Columbus, went through rain, fog, snow, and sun, and tomorrow I head back to the West Coast again. I find it weird how many people envy this lifestyle but never begin. I remember reading somewhere about the addiction of a steady paycheck, which was comforting, but still an anchor for me. The problem comes when you have to travel alone.
I know this puts me outside of the norm, but it’s a question of whether that’s good or bad. What my life is, traveling and studying, is complicated and awesome. It’s expensive, and the more responsibilities I have the harder it is to go where I need to be, or to get hired in some places. If you do something that people envy, are amazed by, or simply doesn’t really have any negative consequences, what is it really? Non-conformity, an alternative lifestyle, or just deviance?
One of my new classes this term is the Sociology of Deviance. Deviance, for me, is as often a positive as a negative. There is always the standard deviance, criminal behavior, dangerous mental health issues, and predatory behavior, but I also see it as helping people that have been pushed out by society, going against what the majority believes when you believe it’s right, justice rather than revenge or just resolution, discomfort, and questioning beliefs. I am a traveler, staying a year or so in a place before moving on, studying societies and social groups as I go.
In Mexico, deviance was standing between my friends and the women they were catcalling, it was acting strange in a way that only some found humorous, or questioning why people don’t stand up against the government in mass when they endlessly murder and disappear people, especially women and minorities. Most of these concepts made people uncomfortable, and I would not challenge strangers on these points because anyone can be part of a cartel or the police, and anyone can disappear.
I think that most of my idols are deviants, people who behave in a way that confuses and irritates people. Don Quixote was a madman, and his behavior deviant, but his goal was justice and kindness. Many of the Tibetan monks who struggle to love and forgive their enemies and tortures would be considered deviant when most people struggle to forgive any wrong done to them. On the other side are the true deviants, serial killers and predators like Jeffery Dahmer and Ed Gein. These are monsters who managed to fit into society for a long time before what they did was discovered and horrified the nation. Most people fall into the middle, trying to fit in or trying to abandon their deviations, but most of those people are forgotten. It’s interesting how deviation is remembered so well while conformity is forgotten.
Deviant acts can be as overt as murder and criminal activity, but I find the more simple deviations to be fascinating. The simple act of stopping speaking in the middle of a sentence and staring at people makes them uncomfortable. Moving in a way that is too awkward can disturb them. Add too many of these types of simple behaviors together and you get a social outcast, someone who is reacted to poorly by society simply by how they are perceived rather than any quality of their character.
The most serious form of deviance is a complicated concept for any society. Is it judged by society’s reaction to the behavior or by how much harm the behavior does to people? Crime that targets the innocent typically has the most severe reaction, the people who go after children, the elderly, or women, but those are not always the most deviant acts. In Oregon a group took over a wildlife refuge believing they were right, and society’s reaction to it was mixed. Some people wanted them all removed with any force necessary, but those were not the people on the front line. Others supported the group, calling others to arms against the government of the United States, trying to incite a civil war that would harm far more people than any individual ever could.
The problem with deviance is the reaction to the behavior is never a set pattern, that State sponsored murder and torture through warfare is heroic while individuals who do it are monsters. Even simply waiting a decade can change society’s view of something like smoking, once a regular behavior but now often seen as deviant depending on where and when it is done.
To me, deviation that causes harm without benefit will always be the worst, deviation without value. I see that as predation, when people begin to see others as less than human, allowing them to harm others without guilt or shame. The only problem is that society doesn’t always agree with me, that murder, rape, and torture are tolerated and sanctioned at times by society, even if only through their silent consent. I find myself bordering on deviant behavior more often the older I get as I am less willing to be part of the silent majority.