Why deviate?

One time a friend of mine, Mike Bishop, asked me an interesting question about the ethics of deviating from norms:

“In what sense is deviance important for its own sake, rather than merely being necessary (perhaps even regrettably necessary) because “the good” is not socially acceptable in all contexts?”

A few ways of thinking about this came to my mind:

1. Deviance is always morally necessary because all (known) social systems are imperfect, so it’s just guaranteed that some good things will come across as deviant, no matter what social context you inhabit. Thus, deviance gives flesh to the inevitable clash between normativity and virtue.

2. Deviance is necessary as a way of demonstrating anti-authoritarianism, that is, as a counterforce pushing back against social discipline and authority. While some kinds of authority are admittedly better than others, every authority structure needs to be reminded constantly that it is not absolute or without flaws. Thus, deviance expresses a primordial resistance to domination.

3. Deviance is a good thing because vast seas of cultural likeness are just hideous. Thus, deviance expresses a basic aesthetic of diversity.

4. Deviance is fun. While I acknowledge that deviant behavior often also entails social suffering and punishment, subterranean transgression is one of the few pleasures left in a commodified world.

5. Deviance is sociological inquiry. If you never break any norms, you don’t really know the limits of what’s socially possible, since social orders are seldom as firm as they appear to be, and so you are failing at being curious. Thus, deviance expresses a basic spirit of empiricism.

6. Deviance is self-knowledge: If you just accept the patterns of individuality and normative behavior that are taught to you, you are not actually an individual, but a drone. Thus, deviance expresses a desire to not be a Borg.

7. Finally, should the objection be put to me that these defenses of deviance just set up deviance as yet another dominant cultural value, let me emphasize that I entirely expect additional deviance from the aforementioned code of deviance. Thus, deviance is its own dialectical force of cultural progress.

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