Chaos of Structure: the Importance of Deviance in Moral Conformity

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CHAOS OF STRUCTURE: THE IMPORTANCE OF DEVIANCE IN MORAL CONFORMITY Stephanie Lane Sutton

Humans are social animals. As people, we live in countless social structures, placing a strong emphasis on human relationships. As a society, we tend to separate ourselves from other animals, emphasizing intelligence and moral values. Most sociobiologists would chalk this up to a biological predisposition toward a structure of morals which isn’t consistent in other creatures – indeed, this moral structure has, seemingly through natural selection, encouraged us to build strong relationships in both family and work environments. However, it is likely that these moral structures are completely fabricated through social interaction alone.

After the Holocaust during World War II, Stanley Milgram set out to test morality of humans, hypothesizing that Germans were less moral and more likely to be submissive to authority. He did this by constructing an experiment in which the unknowing test subject would be made to believe that they were distributing painful electric shocks with steadily increased intensity to another person, while an authoritative figure pressured them on. He planned to conduct this study with both Americans and Germans. Milgram and many other sociologists hypothesized that most American subjects would not continue to distribute shocks after they became aware that the victim was in pain. Instead, they found that 65% of the subjects distributed the highest 450 volt shock, and no subject halted the experiment before the 300 volt shock. This experiment disproves a human predisposition to moral values while proving that human interaction is purely social – that people are bred into submission and, therefore, into social structures. Indeed, starting with the family structure and reinforced in kindergarten, people are raised to respond to authority.

This experiment also calls into question the actual value of human moral and social structures, while also questioning the suggestion of evolution and natural selection: that humans want, more than anything, to further the race. Milgram’s experiment proved that social structure trumps not only a moral need, but human necessity of protection of the race (instead of backing down to protect the victim, the subject would rather listen to authority). It also calls into question the Conflict Theory (which states that social behavior is best understood between competing groups) as well as the Functionalist Theory (that society is structured to maintain stability), which both justify trends of conformity, as well as discrimination, in contemporary human society.

Sociobiologists would suggest that a seemingly intrinsic moral value, such as monogamy, has a biological purpose – in the case of intrapersonal relationships, monogamy would secure a mate, making the furthering of the human race a definite. However, sociobiological theories do not make room for certain human behaviors we understand to happen naturally, such as mental illness or homosexuality. In this way, these behaviors are labeled as “deviant,” and considered to be counterproductive to society and/or the human race. In this way, discrimination or, at the very least, a lack of understanding toward these natural human behaviors becomes justified. Sociologists also make the same mistake when working under the Conflict and Functionalist theories. A Conflict or Functionalist sociologist could make the argument that homosexuality needs to be regarded as unethical in order to sustain an emphasis on family structure, which has been integral to most societies since the beginning of social study.

Both sociobiologists and sociologists make the same mistake here, assuming that moral structure is in place (albeit randomly) because it benefits the furthering of the human race, and is accountable for the success of humans as the dominant force on our planet. But the fact of the matter is that it is impossible...
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