Deviance: Absolute or Relative?

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First and foremost, deviant acts are utterly relative; it's not possible to isolate certain acts and find them universally condemned by all societies as deviant. Deviant acts, furthermore, are relative to time and place. That is, behavior–past and present, and the across the cultural spectrum–in one society may not be deviant in another society. For example: Was Nelson Mandela a deviant? For years, the ruling white-minority party in apartheid South Africa viewed him as a "dangerous political deviant" and, in fact, even deployed government-sponsored terrorist squads of ex-Special Forces operators (many of whom were veterans of guerrilla wars in sub-Saharan Africa) to track and hunt him down. To most black South Africans, on the other hand, Mandela is a revered leader of the freedom movement.

For another, if I may say so, deviance continually undergoes redefinition–that is, for what is deviant today may not be deviant tomorrow within a given society. For example: Is killing wrong? Usually it is. But–and this is a big but–according to Thorsten Sellin, author of The Conflict of Conduct Norms, cites an example in which a father kills the seducer of his daughter. "In Sicily, killing a seducer is acceptable; in the United States it is considered murder" (pg.70-74). Or is killing wrong when it's done in self-defense as, for example, a woman being viciously raped? Diana Scully and Joseph Marolla, in Convicted Rapists' Vocabulary of Motive: Excuses and Justifications, focus on rape. Their basic assumption is that, contrary to many of the individualistic motives that are used to explain it, rape is behavior that is learned in interaction with others. And a portion of this learning entails, as one might have expected, acquiring the attitudes, motives, and actions conducive to the sexual assault of women. Or is killing wrong when its executed in "total war" as, for example, in 1982 the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina? Or what about the British Army's elite,...
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