Posted by: vanhoff | April 2, 2008

A Sociological Perspective on Extreme Deviance

Currently enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University, I am finishing a minor this semester in Sociology. I was asked to compare and contrast three extreme deviant groups, which include Alien Abductees, White Supremacist, and lastly EarthFirst! Here is the final thesis:

       Extreme deviance is behavior, beliefs, or physical traits that are serious enough that it casts violators outside of conventional society. Reactions by conventional societies can range from stigmatization to social exclusion depending on the severity of the violation. When a violation becomes unacceptable to a wide range of audiences, it elicits strong negative reactions. However, different audiences induce different definitions of what is acceptable or deviant. Hence, a key point is that once a collective has stigmatized the violator, he or she will enter a subculture due to that attached stigma; therefore, his or her beliefs become the normative. Since individuals who participate in extreme deviance seek like-minded people, they create subcultures that reinforce their deviant identity. Examples of deviant cultures are alien abductees, white supremacy, and Earth First!, that create distinct ideologies that lay outside of what conventional society deems normal. To compare and contrast these three groups is relative to who is defining each group, however by looking at these groups from a sociological standpoint deviance is neither a quality inside or intrinsic to something or someone.

              Alien abductees refer to people who claim to have had a negative, nonconsensual encounter with an alien being. The abductee tends to withdraw from the public, and retreat to groups that reinforce their beliefs.  However, there is a key distinction within the UFO subculture between an abductee and a contactee. A contactee is one that enjoys the experience, and feels privileged to have been selected. Another interesting distinction between the two is their physical description of the aliens. The abductee’s description includes a creature with thin hands, grey to whitish skin, generally short in stature and cat like. These creatures are called Grays among the UFO subculture. An opposite description is giving by the contactees who generally state that the creature is human-like, with white, beautiful complexion, hence called “Nordics.” The two different physical descriptions, one horrifying the other beautiful, can be construed as racial differences and stereotyping among the creature. The horrifying Gray, with dark skin and menacing eyes is a stereotypical description of a white person describing a black or Hispanic male whom committed a crime. The Nordics on the other hand are pure, white creatures that mean no harm. The two varying descriptions fall in line with white America, as race defines the crime. The key comparison of these two groups is that they both believe strongly in aliens.

              Alien abductees retreat and form alliances to create a unit that reinforces separation from the wider culture. The same is true for the white supremacist groups. Mainstream society has clashed with their ideology as they espouse their views against American values and morals. By creating subcultures that align with their values, a sense of belonging and purpose for their ideology helps thwarts the condemnation, denouncement, and rejection that mainstream America has placed upon them. However, some sociologist believe aspects of white supremacy are mere exaggerated beliefs held by a substantial amount of the white majority stated by Kathleen Blee in her article, “White Supremacy as Extreme Deviance.”

  Blee describes four subcultures of white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis, the racist skinhead groups, and lastly the militant racist groups. All four groups align themselves with distinct beliefs about race, the Jewish community, religion and patriotism. The most surprising belief is the ideology that human races are biologically and genetically distinct. Nonetheless, each sub-culture has created their own distinct ideology that differentiates them from other white supremacist sub-cultures. The recruitment process, political association and commitment of beliefs vary from group to group. Violence on the other hand is synonymous with the conventional view among white supremacist; however, some sub-cultures do not practice violence. Violence can create mass hysteria within conventional society. Mass hysteria involves behavior and not perception per say. This is a crucial difference. For example, during the Salem witch-hunting, only a few girls claimed to have seen the “devil” (confessing later that it was nothing but a lie), however the hysteria occurred because those who believed the story put together interrogations, trials, and executions. However, the moral entrepreneurs never claimed to see have seen the “devil” themselves. The typical occasion when mass hysteria can be induced is when an authority or believable source is behind the claim. Most people claiming having contact with alien beings do not tend to induce others in irrational and destructive behaviors, however the white supremacist groups in general believe that ethnic cleansing will allow for a pure, white Aryan race and that in order to succeed, violence is the only measure.

              Another group considered as extreme deviants is Earth First!, and their stance on the environment. The Earth First! movement became increasingly influenced by anarchist political philosophy in the early 1990’s, so in turn they pushed for measures that are more diplomatic as a mainstream movement instead of being deemed as a domestic terror organization. This caused members who refused to abandon criminal acts to start a militant offshoot called Earth Liberation Front. Earth First! in comparison to the aforementioned groups have aligned themselves with mainstream society. As politicians and lobbyist seek to improve our environment, Earth First! becomes more accepted with American values.              To conclude all three groups compare when handling stigmas attached by conventional societies. When condemnation forms by moral entrepreneurs, one will resort to justifying the behaviors by using techniques of neutralization. One common technique is to find like-minded individuals who share common ideologies that bridge a gap from mainstream to a suitable sub-culture. Another commonality is the formation of sub-cultures within each group. For this allows individuals freedom to express themselves in an environment conducive to their set ideology. The three groups also possess attributes that are deeply discrediting to their cause, however many within conventional societies agree that a change in our attitude about the environment is needed to sustain quality life. Another agreement held by many is the belief of UFOs. Staggering statistics show that over 43% of Americans believe in some form of UFO phenomena. The fact is that deviance varies from one social unit to another, thereby demonstrating its socially constructed nature.

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