What are the similarities and differences between behavioral deviance and the possession of involuntarily acquired, undesirable physical characteristics? Do these generalizations apply to all societies at all times?

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Behavioral deviance refers to actions voluntarily performed by individuals; these actions often inspire societal disgust, condemnation, and disapproval. For example, acts of behavioral deviance can include acts of sadomasochistic sex, animal torture, and bestiality. Such behavioral deviance perpetrates suffering on others; because of this, they invite the moral condemnation of the larger public.

On the other hand, involuntarily acquired, undesirable physical characteristics are only considered deviant based upon individual perception and biases. For example, someone can be born with a physical anomaly that causes him to be excluded from most social interactions. Claudio Vieira de Oliveira was born with an upside-down head due to a congenital anomaly. He did not choose to be born with such a disability. While many people admire his courage and perseverance in the face of his disability, others may react with disgust and horror at what they consider his deviant physical characteristics.

So, those with undesirable physical characteristics (for example, those who are extremely obese, deformed, or crippled in some way) are often subjected to ridicule, harassment, condemnation, and scorn. Those with such characteristics are labeled deviant not because of their abusive behavior towards others but because of the public's perception of their physical appearances.

Both behavioral deviance and the possession of involuntarily acquired, undesirable physical characteristics are similar in that both often result in negative attitudes from the larger public. Someone with a bad hump might be viewed as inept and untrustworthy as well as socially deviant. At the same time, possession of certain physical features may indicate a predilection for certain deviant beliefs, which in turn can cause the larger public to react in distrust and fear. For example, people who look like they might practice Islam may invite greater scrutiny from society, whether they are actually Muslims or not.

After the 9/11 attacks, a Time poll found the majority of Americans (61%) was against building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. These Americans feared the mosque project would not be a gesture of reconciliation, but rather a monument to Muslim hegemony. Fully 70% of Americans felt the mosque would be an insult to the victims of 9/11 (from Erich Goode's Deviant Behavior). So, any Muslim politician or dignitary who spoke in support of the mosque invited public condemnation and anger. Basically, an involuntarily acquired physical characteristic (looking Muslim) can inspire the same attitudes engendered by those who commit acts of atrocity (the deviant behavior exhibited by members of ISIS, for example).

As for your last question, these generalizations don't apply to all societies at all times. For example, marijuana use has been legalized for those 21 and older in Colorado, and consumption is permitted in the same way that alcohol consumption is authorized in the state. Still, there have been and still are people who consider the public consumption of marijuana to be deviant behavior.

Similarly, white supremacy, genocide, and torture have at different times and by different groups of people been viewed as acceptable. Today, most people do not believe so. For example, many Americans believe waterboarding terrorists is an unacceptable practice. Other Americans believe torture is permissible if many lives can be saved as a result of it. For more examples, please refer to the links below.

Source: Deviant Behavior by Erich Goode.

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