Bad taste: Beyond decency and conformity

How do you define certain human behaviour as acceptable while chucking others as objectionable? 

Social norms or controls dictate how we dress, talk and conduct ourselves. The textbooks identify decency in social norms: those which are recognised as a matter of communal concern, and those which are endorsed by the legal system. This issue always sticks out with a hiccup but often the words get choked behind the creatively drawn grawlixes. 

For a brief introduction, there is a theory that we are a culmination of genetic and cultural evolutions. Both of them are again a product of a Darwinian selection process, which arises from the interaction of individuals in a group/community. Now, people protest and the problems persist in the conformed belief; while the bulk of this antagonism is carried on by individualistic behaviors that affect the norms. We have a premise: the main idea behind social norms is that we are a clothed, perceptive and talking animal. No questions, but how discerning or logical are we as human beings? And how do we reduce the unacceptable to a tolerable level, and replace the accepted yet repulsive beliefs with new ideas? 

A sense of reward and appreciation moulds our behaviour; however, there is another problem just in discussing the truth and ethics. It should be a thought but there are people who are so action minded. On being decent or not, it needs a mental framework that determines the right or wrong but there are the so-called culture police who would mar the discussion. We know no view is final and there should always be room for improvement. But it means another thing to these guardians, especially those right wingers. In the end, what we aspire for is a peaceful and just society and how we bring about such a community of people. 

Besides a new structure of human relationship means finding better ways on how we communicate among ourselves and further our aspirations for better living experience. We should also remember that criticism plays a vital role in our thinking.

Take the example of profanity. Research findings are sometimes too funny to believe. Psychologists advise people to blurt a couple of the choicest words when they are hurt. The shrinks say it is a pain reliever but swearing in the breath of say, the blueline bus drivers and conductors in Delhi, reduces the effect [Read Natalie Angier’s "Cursing is a normal function of human language, experts say" on SF]. But whether beneficial or not, the cuss words are always flying thick in the air. The problem is when people are around; we feel it’s inappropriate in front of them. It is not necessarily a face-saving behavior but we don’t want to show others our darker side. Or it is simply not acceptable. What is wrong if we show them? Is it the fear that they would not accept us? Is it just the way to express we have some courtesy… some human behaviour? Or is this what people call social behaviour? 

I can feel the air disturbed with tirades against blasphemy and egoistic individualism. But there is a desire to evoke the ethical nihilistic view, in which positive social and emotional pressures would mould our values. We have to be able to define a set of beliefs in which our values, mannerisms and social mores can be marked either good or bad, and that possibility can only remove the doubts we have about decency or improperness. Quite pessimistically, the society is always littered with filths of our greed and lust. No wonder, why prostitution is considered the oldest profession. 

In normal circumstances, we don’t have to be hypersensitive nor possess over-self-esteem. These matters also give rise to terms such as deviance, that is, the action or behavior that goes against societal or supposedly reasoned rules. Society means conformity. Sometimes there is no logic but we are a shackled animal: we have to act within the boundaries of expectations and preferences. We act and behave with our assumptions about how other people think. From the principle of extensiveness, though, a societal norm is only as good as its power to bind the people together.

What could be the result if we behave beyond the boundaries? And what if that particular society has been already mired in sociopolitical conflicts with the consciousness of people in the drains? Imagine a failed state with an adopted religion. How would the people delineate the rights from the wrongs? Even in life generally, it is ironic that the effort to be social can be extremely asocial. The beliefs have already mapped a deep contour that reacts against anything alien.

I have a conviction that framing an iconoclastic outlook on social mores is one of the most indispensable aspects of a peaceful social revolution. It’s not about committing a murder or a looting a bank but we have to interpolate the elusiveness of our cognition. The utter hypocrisy we have when we come together as a group or a community, on the other hand, becomes stark naked. We are afraid to talk about sex. And this statement is again bound to kindle a cultural-bias debate. We are fretful what people might think about us. And we blare, trying to tell apart what and how our tradition is shaping us. While on the other hand, the spiral of silence, as put forward by Noelle-Neumann, inhibits us from speaking out our likes and dislikes. Let’s just see the things around us: We are not that rational as evinced by the scientific and technological advancement. It’s because of this fact—of our absurdity, in fact—that the question of social justice and authoritative social control makes sense sometimes in political discourse. So are the concepts behind mental hospitals and prisons. And it is also because of this very fact that allows us to follow our conscience, with or without the uniform rules of the society. 

The realist in us will agree that there is no end to our destination. Personally we would say: Ok guys, let's stop cursing each other, now let’s talk some sense. But that would not stop the problem. There is no day that would dawn on us when human beings would become perfect. We are always in an evolution. That’s why idealism appears merely indulging in building castles in the air around the ever-changing world, while pragmatism decides the ways out of human predicaments. But it’s not necessary that the latter should always lead our path. 

Philosophers and psychologists have made a great career out of this issue. Morality, according to them, is quite relative. Here it is notable that iconoclasm and nonconformism portend not to the blind adoption of materialistic western ideas, but the acceptance of favourable and purposeful values that are attuned to moral relativism. 

Still we have a penchant for the sense of right and wrong. Even if we structure new lines of thought regarding morality and ethics, we have seen from moral science that we would create another unknown relation in which we are associated with other fellow beings and as a whole. In it, proper education—with its two-pronged missions for individual growth and social development—and a liberal mentality can be the light in leading us out of social darkness and can get us rid of dystopia. 


These opinions are personal. 


Grawlix It is a sequence of typographical symbols used to represent a non-specific, profane word or phrase.

Moral relativism
( It is the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person's individual choice. We can all decide what is right for ourselves. You decide what's right for you, and I'll decide what's right for me. Moral relativism says, "It's true for me, if I believe it."



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