Aberrant Behavior as a Sociological Expectation


John Wright


An aberrant person is one whose behavior departs substantially from the standard or normal behavior expected within the society in which that person lives. The common use of the word aberrant is found in topics of legal or moral nature as opposed to topics where individual choice is free from scrutiny. This article focuses on the relationships between mores, laws, individuality and consequent major problems found in societies of mixed, yet segregated, social, cultural and racial composition. We will then examine mass media impact on the evolution of laws and mores and the consequences to the society and to the individual.

Lets look first at those structures that normally define acceptable behavior. We have religions, state and national legislatures, local governments and social organizations of many types. With religions, individual participation is expected to be accompanied by adherence to the stated beliefs and mores, for mores are the morally binding customs of a particular group, or, its moral attitudes, habits and manners. With legislatures at either state or national levels, laws are created that reflect, through time, the accumulated decisions of the elected people, and thus the boundaries of legal behavior are variable and are set for the individual within a specific location and time frame in history. Local governments also create laws or ordinances that reflect the mores of the community, as determined primarily by the individuals who are most influential within the community. Social organizations generally attribute their beliefs to some creed and/or purpose that defines limited requirements on the individual who wants to be part of the organization.

Now let us look at the above structures and other social forces from the perspective of the individual. One first exists within a family structure, then within an association of close acquaintances or friends. The mores of the family normally determine the mores and values of the individuals who grow up within the family, and the expected results are common in families that provide careful nurturing of the children. The mores of the friends or close acquaintances also strongly influence the individual during formative years from age two to age eighteen. Socialization of the individual takes place in part in school, and sometimes through participation in religious and social organizations. It is only after consideration of these formative forces that the study of the individual view can reasonably be expanded to include laws from the various types of governments and mores from the larger community. There are, of course, collision opportunities between the laws of governments and the individual in the process of growing up.

One final ingredient must be added to the above considerations to gain a fuller understanding of background structures and events that form the individual. The relative position of the nuclear family in the power and income hierarchy of the community has profound effect on the developing individual in terms of family participation in the issues of the community, the state and the nation. Quite simply, those families who feel like bonafide members of the larger community tend to support community goals. The children, however, may or may not embrace parental goals based on their perception of their acceptance and importance within the family and the community.

Now let us move on to the domain of aberrant behavior, in which we first look at mutually exclusive goals across religions, governments and social organizations. To the extent that religions or social organizations differentiate their members from the rest of the community, we find a divisive effect in cooperative community effort. To the extent that governments create opposing or conflicting laws across communities or states, there is confusion for individuals in understanding or assessing what behaviors are actually okay. We thus begin to grasp the idea that aberrant behavior may be partially a byproduct of a nation-state with internally inconsistent laws, or the application of those laws, and divisive social practices across the states and the communities.

Family nurturing experiences, economic and social caste, and early values exposure of children with their friends may result in willful contribution to the community by the individual, or, the opposite. That which may be deemed aberrant by the laws and mores of the community, the state or the nation may in fact be normal, acceptable behavior in the subset of a family or a neighborhood. It is the expected result that groups of people will react in either positive or negative directions based on their sense of belonging and acceptance. Laws and mores developed outside the family or neighborhood that do not support the internal beliefs may be viewed as oppression or tyranny.

In general, the overriding consideration is that anarchy is not acceptable when people must coexist in communities, states and nations, and for that reason alone we assign dominion for passing laws and forcing adherence to them to governments, courts and police agencies. This requirement for the rule of law is essential to avoid chaos. Mores that do not become translated into laws can have significant positive or negative effects on individuals, based on the fit between the mores and the life circumstances of the individual. Mores that do become part of the system of laws are a serious risk for minority beliefs and sometimes for majority beliefs. It all depends on whether the laws actually reflect the will of the majority of the people or only a powerful subset of the people.

Aberrant behavior is thus discovered to be of relative nature in a legal sense. Laws may be relaxed or repealed. They may also become increasingly restrictive. Mores are somewhat more flexible, in that communities change their definitions of acceptable behavior through time, based on many and varied social forces, like economic growth or decline and population composition. Mores are also subject to change through state or national influence, such as the educational programs for smoking cessation. To point, the very idea that there might be immutable laws or unchanging mores or fundamental freedoms based on immutable social truths is potentially unsound. That truth places the entire subject of aberrant behavior in a strong light where the primary occupant is a very large question mark.

We return then to some basis on which we can eliminate that question mark, for the one thing that we appear to need most is a reliable, comprehensive and fair set of immutable, foundation laws. We need them to base our present and forward decisions on more than current, popular (artificially stimulated) opinion and/or the wants of powerful special interest groups. We find such laws in religions and in constitutions, and in fact, we based our national foundation laws, ultimately, on some of those principles passed on to us from early religions and later governments. But what do we do when we find that our foundation laws are themselves subject to situational interpretation? The implication, once again, is that the fundamental idea of having and reliably using immutable, foundation laws is likely as opposed to potentially unsound. That which reads well as written principles is sidestepped routinely in each generation according to the whims of the powerful.

Evidence of that truth is seen in the example of killing humans, in which the foundation law, "Thou shalt not kill," is applied to individual citizens but not to governments. This relativism destroys the ultimate foundation upon which our descendant laws are based. We do not have any moral high ground, and to our consternation we are forced to wonder about all lesser, questionable behaviors that we might have comfortably called aberrant behavior.

The individual, unlike government, is denied the right to take personal action when they decide they have been seriously wronged. Thus, we find courts and juries as a catchall for hearing anger, attempting to decide truth or fiction, and meting out punishment on the basis of radically incomplete knowledge of plaintiffs and defendants and emotionalism provoked by lawyers.

Further evidence of tampering with definitions of aberrant behavior is found in the vastly increased number of laws that restrict or eliminate personal freedoms. One might sensibly argue that the evolution of our society demands the addition of new laws for situations that are not and could not have been addressed directly by our foundation laws. Conversely, one might also sensibly argue that the evolution has characteristically destroyed our foundation freedoms, such that the dominion of government over our lives has substantially reduced the quality of our lives.

What then of aberrant behavior as a sociological expectation? Do we want chaos or do we want fair, consistent standards and secure lives? Do we want court interpretations that lead to relativism in applying laws or do we want immutable foundation laws and reliable use of them? If legally defined aberrant behavior becomes an increasing problem in a society, does that mean the foundation laws are wrong or inadequate, or simply that they are being used improperly through biased interpretation and expansion into additional laws by those in power? Perhaps both.

We recognize that our voting record is becoming increasingly dismal. Less than 35 percent of the eligible voters participated in the congressional elections of 1998. Is not this symptom a form of aberrant behavior? Who, in the cold light of dawn, can misinterpret the meaning of lack of voter participation? If roughly two out of three eligible voters choose not to vote, the implication is that they do not believe that expressing their wants, needs and then participating will have any positive effect on the selection of downstream legislative issues and decisions that tend to result in more laws for taxes and reduced freedoms.

This lack of citizen confidence in government provokes dangerous and sad consequences, for feeling powerless in the presence of a parent who you cannot trust leads to atrophy of will (loyalty) and/or aberrant behaviors as defined by laws. We also have undeniable historical examples of other nations who evolved from peace to revolution, based on general acknowledgement within the populations that the existing governments were arbitrary and oppressive. Simply consider our own revolution as a British colony, or the Russian or French revolutions.

We would like to think that we have evolved in a fair and orderly manner, and that we have the means to grow, free of oppression. If we have done that, then we do not see growing numbers of restrictive laws, increased police agencies, major social unrest, or skewing of the wealth distribution. What do we actually see today in the USA? You might want to step back and look at us from a distance. Try to observe and understand our attitudes through our behaviors. Ask yourself if we find most of us celebrating life? Are we expansive in our outlook or imprisoned in the task of economic survival?

The demonstrations at the WTO (World Trade Organization) meeting in Seattle were the first major sign of citizen economic unrest across segments of the population that would not have considered mass demonstrations as necessary or sensible merely twenty years ago. The repetitive school shootings in the past decade clearly indicate that aberrant behavior is increasing in severity and frequency, and the most important question is why? Ultimately, people resort to what we call aberrant behavior, either in the form of destructive demonstrations or random killings, when they feel powerless to achieve security and happiness. These events are a warning that our evolution as a nation and as individual citizens has veered too far away from the foundation principles of individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Finally, you might consider the killings of doctors and nurses by the abortion activists. These individuals reflect the expected results when their personal lives are so limited and biased that they are easily whipped into a killing frenzy.

What of our near term future? We can expect increasing aberrant behavior until our mass population can achieve that level and sense of wellbeing that substantially reduces discord and supports time for nurturing family and life. Our sociological expectations must be based on the reality of what we do see, not on unrealized concepts. We turn to our leaders to effect the necessary changes, with both sides realizing that failure to protect our individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will lead to increasing levels and severity of aberrant behavior.

Mass media can strongly influence our perceptions of self and the world around us. The two essential considerations are the individual perception of value of the provided information and our sense of self opposite that information. If I find my life experiences are consistent with what I see via mass media, I am likely to develop a belief in what the producers deliver. If the opposite is true, then I may feel confused or diminished or angry. This helps to explain in part why program content has become specialized by, for instance, TV channel. The idea is that all of us can find some type of programming that reflects our interests and our most deeply held beliefs. Content is also monitored and limited so as to manage immediate impact on the viewers. We are simultaneously prodded to act (advertisements) and advised, by controlled information content, simply to observe the larger issues that our leaders are responsible to address.

Mass media has a schizophrenic component as well. On one hand, the economics dictate that interest in program content must result in viewers purchasing advertised products. On the other hand, tweaking viewer interest with dramatized, semi-fictional but sensational programs leads to subliminal belief that the viewer is a bystander instead of a participant in living an exciting life. Indeed, one might look at mass media as a medium with a multiple personality disorder, for the third component is that of providing news. Reduced to the basics, controlled topic selection and limited information content of the news, both in accuracy and completeness (objective reporting or the lack thereof) have the direct effect of leaving viewers with nothing to do beyond superficial conversation. The illusion of receiving all the salient facts via the news media generally leads us nowhere.

Thus, reporting of aberrant behavior in civil demonstrations, while assuring viewer interest and likely purchase of advertisers' products, counters goals of maintaining civil order. Conversely, selective reporting of aberrant behavior in school shootings leads to citizen submission in passing yet more inappropriate laws to reduce civil liberties. Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the use of mass media is that it does not provoke us to accurate and deep understandings of real life events that we personally experience, with a commitment to helping us grow. One might conclude, then, that aberrant behavior is in part a byproduct of both what is provided and that which is not provided by mass media.

Finally, we get to the nugget of value that integrates our understanding of aberrant behavior in the context of our time and place in history. To have cooperative growth and the diminishment of aberrant behavior, we must feel meaningful and secure within our society. More punitive laws, more police, news content control, and skewing of wealth are detriments to that goal. Education of our citizens and candor in media are empowering forces. Control of business enterprises on behalf of promoting nuclear family life and wise use of our physical environment is critical.

Destiny addresses all of those topics in the most holistic way. We will find that the success of our civilization and our democracy, instead of their decline, depends strongly on empowering our citizens to know as much as possible, and to participate in our growth. Will you use your voting power to effect the necessary changes? Will you identify political candidates who will work effectively on behalf of these goals, nominate them, and elect them?