Actually, everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition

Priests and clerics—good men of ‘God’—were required to attend seminaries where they were taught how to inflict the most pain possible on another human being. This is how important it was to them that people publicly confessed and recanted their beliefs in order to reinforce the social rules. Torture to gain the confession was often […]

Why public executions are a great idea

What use was getting a confession out of someone in private, why put someone out of view in a penitentiary that no-one ever wants to go to and let their punishment be prolonged and purposeless? It’s just plain costly to keep them incarcerated. No…the people of the middle ages were nothing if not economists. They went for […]

Murder vs. Heresy

There was no crime greater in the middle ages than to be accused of heresy. People would rather be accused of murder.  Why? Murder was a violation of a social law. You were punished and could potentially re-enter society after it. Murder also came with a bunch of evidentiary requirements. Heresy, on the other hand, […]

The difference between ‘bad’ and ‘evil’

One of the three key ways to look at social deviance is absolutism – the idea that there are some tenets or rules of existence that are immutable and universal regardless of culture, gender or persuasion. Absolutists believe that there are no conditions under which deviating from these norms is acceptable. Generally, deviance within the […]

Measures of ‘normalcy’

The people or groups establishing ‘norms’ generally have social power (either through numbers or authority) which makes them automatically prejudiced. Normally you would turn to statistics to help inform societal norms but the issue here is that any statistical study of deviance is already prejudiced by our societal norms. Who decides that drug-use is more interesting, statistically, than toe-length? […]

Kids are brilliant deviants—until they’re not

Most people learn where the boundaries of social norms are by testing them. Children spend their entire childhoods learning where the social norm ‘walls’ are. It’s their job. And the comparatively high length of the human juvenile phase (aka. childhood) is reflective of how socially complex human society is. There are so many formal and informal […]

Taboos, conventions and mores

The latest in my Learn Something Every Day series of lectures, taken from The Great Courses’ Explaining Social Deviance Lecture 1: Asking the Right Questions Our societies have stated, written and/ore formalised rules called ‘laws’ but they also have bunches of unwritten, informal ways in which we agree to interact with each other. Entire books […]

Deviance: the darling of popular culture

Deviance from societal norms may engender anything from a vague discomfort/awareness that ‘one of these things is not like the others’ through to outright intolerance and demonization, but at the same time it is regularly celebrated in our art. Popular culture tends to be full of movies and books and tales featuring characters that could […]

Rule-breaking: it isn’t deviance

Importantly, deviance is not rule-breaking, that’s way too simple. Some deviants break no formal rules at all but find themselves outside of the unspoken rules of society a hundred times a day for reasons outside of their control. Take a person with Asperger’s who may faithfully follow every rule ever communicated to them, yet constantly […]

The relativism of murder

The latest in my Learn Something New Every Day series, taken from The Great Courses’ Explaining Social Deviance – Lecture 1: Asking the Right Questions Some behaviours or actions are totally accepted in one culture yet sanctioned in another; only a comparative few deviant actions are universal.  You would expect (and absolutists absolutely do) that the […]