The Normalization of Deviance

One of the greatest risks in modern society is what is called “the normalization of deviance”. The concept comes from statistics, but what it means in practice is that it describes what happens when individuals or groups repeatedly accept a lower standard until that level becomes the norm. To take an example from language: some people on TV started using words that were once considered vulgar (such as ‘balls’, ‘prick’, ‘bugger’, ‘shit’, ‘fuck’ etc.), with the result that today they are commonly used by politicians, commentators, actors, people being interviewed and so on. The sense of moderation has gradually been lost, with the result that decidedly inappropriate uses are increasingly accepted.

When we look at the environment, the problems caused by plastics and oil are obvious to everyone. Having accepted their use in everything that surrounds us, we find ourselves in the opposite critical situation: having gradually accepted their ubiquity, now we are obliged to re-establish limits on their use and consumption.

And what about the land? Where there used to be fields and meadows, there are now car parks and buildings. We have passively accepted the use of fertile land for purposes other than farming or the environment in general. The song “Il ragazzo della via Gluck” by Adriano Celentano bears witness to this: in the 70s any street in any city centre soon led in every direction to a landscape of fields or woods. Today those same streets offer a prospect of shops, houses and offices.

As for the soil, it has been transformed into simply a support for food production. Most agronomists have become “agricultural chemists” capable of applying fertilisers, insecticides, and fungicides purely with the aim of maximizing vigorous plant growth. And the soil itself is still regarded with suspicion.

This is not to put forward an attitude of “things were better in the old days”. We are simply emphasizing the fact that by setting limits at the right time we no longer run the risk of encountering unavoidable catastrophes that will destroy the future, as young people all around the world are telling us, following the example of Greta Thunberg.

If we can understand that the normalization of deviance leads to the destruction both of the social structure and the environment, we will understand that the possibility of reacting is in our hands. We are responsible for having allowed the current deviance to take place without reacting. Perhaps we hoped that our elected representatives would do it for us. This has not happened. There is only one way left to respect the future of our children and grandchildren and that is democratic control.

It is not enough just to vote: our elected representatives must be “monitored, supported and guided” by groups of citizens. This is true of politics, but it also applies to the local areas where we live. We have to abandon our isolation, our individualism, and participate directly. There are innumerable examples in Italy and across Europe: from adopting a tree to protecting a lake, or taking care of a river. Some of them have been described in this newsletter. We must all commit ourselves, taking part not delegating.