This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.
SEVERAL YEARS ago, in a provocative article Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan asked whether, as a nation, we had not lowered too far our standards of normal, acceptable conduct (The American Scholar. 1993;1:30). The article, titled "Defining Deviancy Down," suggested that, through various rationalizations and societal adaptations, "we are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us." Senator Moynihan cites recent crime statistics and other social pathologies that he identifies as being at the heart of current cultural divisions and conflicts in American society.
I cite this article because it points out an important, if little noted, process by which, in accommodating new ideas and new behaviors, we sometimes lose track of norms and standards. Eventually we can find ourselves confronting conditions that threaten our social fabric and our lives.
The senator's cautionary insights deserve our careful consideration as we now rush (or, in many cases,
Johns ME, Niparko JK. Averaging Excellence Out? Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1996;122(10):1039–1040. doi:10.1001/archotol.1996.01890220009001
Coronavirus Resource Center
Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.