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Defining Deviancy Down In 1993, one of our greatest statesmen, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D- N.Y.) published one of the most important pieces of social theory entitled "Defining Deviancy Down." Moynihan started from Emile Durkheim's proposition that there is a limit to the amount of deviant behavior any community can "afford to recognize" (called the "Durkheim Constant"). As the amount of deviancy increases, the community has to adjust its standards so that conduct once thought deviant is no longer deemed so. Consequently, if we are not vigilant about enforcing them, our standards would be constantly devolving in order to normalize rampant deviancy. Shortly after Moynihan's article, Charles Krauthammer offered his now-famous response to Moynihan's article in which he argued that the corollary is that society can also "define deviancy up."

Moynihan's theory has been applied to movies, courage, dress codes, sexual indiscretions, corporate behavior, and possibly even to webpages. One might feel compelled to ask, "Do standards even mean anything?" Today, the debate still rages about where we ought to be defeatist about the devolution of standards, or whether we can right the boat by establishing base principles and fight to raise standards up.
posted on Jun-16-04 at 1:35 PM