The first time I heard the term “normalized deviance” was at a Project Management group meeting when one of the members (an aviator) described how dangerous it was to fly with multiple equipment waivers. As he described it, once you got used to a piece of equipment not working, it eventually just became accepted, and that lowered the drive to get it fixed. He called that “normalized deviance, and he compared it to smoking marijuana. Twenty years ago, most people considered smoking marijuana illegal. Now? We’re likely to see it legalized in less than ten years throughout the country.
Normalizing deviance comes from constantly doing something that is supposed to be wrong or illegal, and by constant exposure, cause people to accept that behavior. Marijuana use is a great example. If you attended college in the last 20 years, you probably knew someone that smoked marijuana, and they probably were an OK person. Soon it was easy to question why marijuana was illegal. Dangerous substance? So is tobacco and alcohol, but we allow those. “Gateway drug?” Probably not, according to plenty of other studies. Combine that with health and even medical benefits, and soon it is OK to openly support marijuana use.
Normalizing deviance, although it sounds bad, isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s what broke down barriers to inter-racial marriage, or rampant anti-Catholic bias among new immigrants to America. Unfortunately, in the areas of abortion and open support to President Trump, its a troubling trend. In the case of abortion, its accepted that you can’t support women’s rights without also supporting abortion. This flies in the faces of the millions of women that are pro-life, yet its simply accepted in a large part of society.
The other normalized deviance is physical altercations on any Trump supporter. It’s accepted by too many people that if you put up a Trump sign in your yard, or wear a MAGA hat in public, you’re likely to get vandalized or attacked. That shouldn’t be the case. As a young boy during the 1996 Presidential election, I remember getting signs from all three Presidential candidates, mainly because I thought it was interesting. Rampant sign destruction didn’t happen, and when signs were damaged, people didn’t justify it. That’s not the case anymore.
If conservatives continue to allow this normalized deviance, it’ll be near impossible to openly speak about abortion or support conservative candidates. While plenty of people will simply stay quiet and vote conservatively anyway, it’ll be nearly impossible to raise enthusiastic support, especially among young people who are more inclined to be open about their beliefs and opinions.
It’s not enough to simply push back. Making movies like “Unplanned” and scoring legal victories like Nick Sandmann did are good starts, but that can’t be the end state. It not enough to be grudgingly tolerated in the background. The baseline has to be that you can be a woman and be pro-life, and that you can put a sign in your yard and reasonably expect it to stay up. Until that happens, we haven’t normalized enough conservative deviance.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.