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The study of deviance as a subset of sociology has a tendency to focus on the more common forms of deviance, such as petty crime and theft. These examples are plentiful and are not hard to come by. The theories and definitions of these deviant areas differ only slightly and, while theorized differently, ultimately reach similar conclusions regarding the definition of deviance. Scholars define deviance as, “a defiance of commonly accepted societal norms” (Nuncic, 2005, p. 2). A diverging subset of the study, the deviance in the political and government realm, is both unique and intrinsically important to the well-being of citizens around the world. Citizens of the United States, in particular, “continue to be victimized by suspicious incidents that benefit top public officials, and yet Americans have no way of knowing whether the incidents are unavoidable events or, instead, crimes initiated or facilitated by the officials themselves” (DeHaven, 2006, p. 332). It can be contended that deviant behavior on such a large scale as to include politics and government institutions is more dangerous than any petty crime. For this reason, this research is imperative to discovering the true mechanisms behind the theory of political deviance.
This research seeks to investigate deviant actions of governments and international powers within the realm of sociology. As there are many forms of political deviance, this paper will cover the scope of political deviance, the punishment for such crimes, and the diverging branches through case studies that cover examples of deviance within the United States and the global community.
The definition of political deviance has fluctuated with the revolutions of sovereignties throughout the world. A combined definition of political deviance is an act of deviance which has social motives, crimes of passion, including murder, and altruistic conviction (Schafer 1971; Schroeder 1919; and Stark 1995). In Schafer’s 1971 article, he contends that social motives are imperative to defining a crime as political. He cites Enrico Ferri, a distinguished social scientist, who contended that, “political offenders are not criminals, but are ‘honest and normal men misguided by their political ideas’” (Schafer 384). This distinction from Schafer’s argument supports the notion that political criminals are elevated to a higher status than the common criminal based on their perceived motives, which range anywhere from personal wealth to social defiance. This is even further supported by the distinction drawn between the convictional and conventional offender (Schafer). In the analysis of political criminals, he notes that, “the true political criminal is a pseudo-criminal and ought not to be considered in the same breath as the ordinary criminal” (Schafer, 1920, p. 311). Schafer notes that the conventional offender acts in a way that promotes self-interest and tends to lack a significant motivation or justification. This criminal may steal food out of hunger or money and jewelry out of greed, but does not have a higher, overarching social or institutional purpose for doing so. These actions can be defined as short, simple, and small-minded. On the other hand, the convictional criminal strives for a greater social purpose. Schafer argues that the convictional criminal has an, “altruistic-communal motivation rather than an egoistic drive” (Schafer 384). Schafer argues that another difference between conventional and convictional crime is the feeling regarding the action being taken. A conventional criminal will feel anxiety about the execution of the plan, and often restless and guilty after the crime has been committed. On the other hand, the convictional criminal will be eager to commit the crime, and afterwards will seek media attention and fame in order to further promote the social motive (Schafer). This can be attributed to the noble nature of a political crime, rather than the shame and fear of committing a common crime. The noble nature of political crime refers to the greater political and social outcomes that come from demonstration and protesting. Schafer argues that the political criminal seeks fame and attention after committing the crime to maximize the scope and impact on the population of his crime.
While the above definitions focus on a single strategic actor, another segment of the literature highlights state corruption as a political crime. Green and Ward define corruption as, “the abuse of public office for private gain” (11). They also refer to a form of organizational deviance, which implies the use of corruption to reach a set goal. This form of deviance can be driven by profit-minded individuals with the means to interfere with government-civilian relationships or by power-hungry political actors with enough support from corporations and lobbyists to be elected. The difference between definitions of common deviance and deviance on a larger scale, such as organizational and political deviance, is the range of people who are affected. Large-scale deviant activities such as government corruption are partially defined by the number and degree of the afflictions on the population. Green and Ward note that rights can be turned into commodities for entire nations, such as water and education (18). When this happens, commodities tend to be scarce and people have a difficult time gaining access to them without money or political influence. This is an example of a negative effect of political deviance. On the other hand, deviance at this scale can have positive effects. At times, the literature notes that deviance is required to overthrow an oppressive regime or systematic forms of oppression. Japan, “is an exception where corruption favours residents in poorer, rural constituencies at the expense of urban voters” (Green and Ward, 2004, p. 18). This is an interesting dichotomy because while common crime is rarely determined to have positive effects, some forms of political deviance are necessary in order to prevent or delay human rights violations from a state actor. A government may interfere with another government’s work when human rights violations are taking place to protect the citizens of the other nation.
A differing segment in the literature relating to defining a political criminal or political crime is showcased in the work of Stark (1995). Stark posits the notion that given the public view of political actors, politicians and government officials may be charged using the appearance standard with regards to official impropriety. Stark uses the court case WILD VS. US from 1982 to delineate his point. In the case, a United States Court of Appeals ruled to uphold the dismissal of a Chicago Housing and Urban Development employee named Lawrence A. Wild. The offense warranting dismissal was that Wild did not keep up with the rental units under his name, in his private interests, to the point that a newspaper commented on the decaying property (Stark, 326). Stark highlights the standard for United States officials, which maintains that officials may be prosecuted for crimes that they have committed as well as offenses that they have been perceived to have committed. This is an extreme difference in the definition of political criminal activity compared to common crimes. To be tried for a common crime, the prosecutor must delineate clearly for a judge and jury of the defendant’s peers that the defendant committed the crime at hand. For public officials, on the other hand, simply the notion that one may have committed an offense worthy of dismissal can cause a charge of dismissal. There a few reasons for this as highlighted by Stark. The first is that because the public must place such a high level of trust in politicians and officials, perceptions of official impropriety must be kept to a minimum so as not to destabilize the government situations.
Typical punishments for common crimes include prison sentences, house arrest and parole, and fines. There is an established court in each district of the United States that makes rulings on both criminal and civil cases by individual and group actors. When examining political crimes, however, there are significantly less bodies capable of handing down indictments on state and political actors. Ferrari notes that, in theory, “persons whose desire it is to change the social or industrial order, and who commit what would be considered a purely political crime if the act were strictly political [based on the laws at the time] are to be treated as political prisoners” (1920, p. 314). While this has sound logic and thinking, the more difficult aspect of this argument is the execution. For example, in a New York City hearing on the forging of a passport to Ireland, a political prisoner was given a small fine along with a guilty plea because the motives of the prisoner were political, whereas any other perpetrator would have been given a long term of imprisonment (Ferrari 1920). This distinguished difference between punishments for common crime and political crime can be attributed to the motives of the actor. Though Ferrari states this difference markedly in his work, he also posits that, “if today we go into the mind of the political criminal at all, we come out determined to exterminate him all the more firmly because we have found him infected with ideas dangerous to the established order” (315). This quote from Ferrari’s work shows that people would like to see political criminals held to judicial standards, but the judge’s ruling may not always fall in line with the public opinion.
In Matthews’ and Kauzlarich’s case study on a ValuJet flight crash, they examine further the role that corporate-state crime plays in the field of deviant sociology. They note that while the exact definition of deviance differs from person to person, those who specialize in the workings of federal or state crimes agree that they are, “illegal or socially injurious acts committed for the benefit of a state or its agencies, not for the personal gain of some individual agent of the state” (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 281). They even go as far as to claim that government, state, and political crime lend themselves to the tendencies of organizational crime. Examples of state-corporate crime given from the authors include the Challenger explosion, U.S. nuclear weapons, and factory fires. This particular case study focuses on the crash and explosion of ValuJet flight 592.
There are two branching theories involving state-corporate crime: state-initiated and state-facilitated. While both meet the criteria for being classified as deviant behaviors, the mechanisms which accompany them differ. State-initiated deviance when corporations that are contracted by the government engage in deviance with approval from the government. Matthews and Kauzlarich note that in these cases, a government and a private corporation share and work toward the same goal. State-facilitated deviance exists when regulatory extensions of the government fail to recognize and expel deviant business activities. These acts are usually of omission rather than commission, but they are regarded as deviant nonetheless (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 284).
ValuJet was a quickly-growing corporation, earning nearly $6.8 million dollars within four years (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 284). Part of their success involved buying and fixing airplanes that were deemed to be problematic. The corporation responsible for fixing these planes and getting them ready for flight was SabreTech, based out of Miami. Several maintenance tasks were requested, including inspection of oxygen generators. In March of 1996, SabreTech crews began to remove and replace the old oxygen generators with newer models, but safety caps were never replaced on the old oxygen tanks (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 287). The Federal Aviation Association explicitly states that while corporations like ValuJet are allowed to outsource to mechanical companies, that final assessment of the aircraft and the materials being transported with it falls on ValuJet. Through a series of miscommunications, a box containing unsecured oxygen canisters was loaded onto the flight from the earlier mechanic work. Just moments after leaving the tarmac at the airport in Miami, the plane combusted and all 105 passengers and five crew members were killed (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 285). This tragedy left family members, legislators, and the American public baffled. Who was truly to blame for the catastrophe?
While the Federal Aviation Association guidelines imply that ValuJet had a responsibility to oversee and regulate SabreTech’s maintenance operations, it is also evident that the Federal Aviation Association itself take some of the blame, as they are charged with the responsibility of regulating the entire industry. This is an example of state-corporate crime that is state-facilitated. Both the private and non-private sector in this instance were working toward a similar goal, which was saving money and becoming more efficient. Upon further investigation of the incident, it appears that the FAA, “had attempted to coax ValuJet into federal compliance rather than imposing stiff penalties” (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 290). By withholding the penalties and fines, the industry itself maintains a sense of financial security. In this quest for efficiency and cost-saving measures, the Federal Aviation Association failed to regulate itself and the industries it contains. It was also found in a closer examination of the corporation that ValuJet and SabreTech both were guilty of cutting corners within their businesses. ValuJet, as a startup likely to fail within the first few years, used procedures including, “using older planes in various stages of disrepair, outsourcing all its maintenance, and providing very low wages and benefits to employees” (Matthews and Kauzlarich, 2000, p. 293). SabreTech blamed the oversight of the oxygen canisters on the fact that every day that the maintenance went past the original expected date, they would incur a loss of about $2,500 dollars. This forced them to speed the process or risk losing the company entirely. Matthews and Kauzlarich blame the pursuit of profit for the failure of all three companies to maintain the integrity of the aircraft. They also refer to this as, “normative corporate behavior,” insinuating that these state-corporate crime acts are frequently executed in the United States, but few realize it. The impact of these examples of political and government deviance is far-reaching, as these governing bodies are responsible for ensuring the safety of American citizens. When they fail to meet their requirements, who is left to regulate them? These acts of deviance jeopardize the everyday American, and attention to the details is unarguably necessary.
Many of the cases of international history are centered around the struggle for power between nations with powerful armies and powerful regimes in charge. An article by Miroslav Nincic discusses the cases of deviant behavior when studying international relations and political institutions. He focuses not on two military mights strenuously fighting against one another, but rather intends to capture the deviant behavior of the underdog, the “outlaws, backlash states, rogues, and renegades” (Nincic, 2005, p. 2). This new take on classical power politics provides an interesting insight into the world of deviant behavior at the international level.
Nincic notes that, “as deviance refers to a defiance of commonly accepted societal norms, international deviance refers to a flouting of key norms of conduct espoused by the global community” (2005, p. 2). Just as each society has its own set of norms, so does the global community. One example of violation of international norms given by Nincic is the French Revolution. In the time of this revolution, the global norm was the monarch, which had been established by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The violation of this norm caused panic and fear to spread within European countries. This sent other governments to declare obligation for monarchs and the stabilization of the monarch within the region. However, this intense drive to stabilize the monarch ended up destabilizing the European continent, resulting in several resulting revolutions around 1815. including the Bolshevik revolution. The Bolshevik revolution was perceived as a direct threat to Western values, and thusly sent a catalyst overseas (Nincic, 2005, p. 10).
One of the most interesting aspects of international deviance is the impact one can see rippling throughout other regions of the world. In the case of the French and Bolshevik revolution, the biggest ripple was felt in Western democracies such as the United States. This fear had President Wilson going so far as to send troops into Russia where the Bolshevik regime was clashing with the Japanese in Siberia (Nincic, 2005, p. 10).
When pondering these acts of revolutionary deviance, it becomes of interest the impact. While these acts are not intended to harm or injure a society or individual members of a society, their consequences differ depending upon the perspective. The government in this example is disadvantaged, but the citizens gain all of the power.
A third case study brings the subject back to the United States to the state of Alabama. Richard Arrington was a student during the civil rights struggle in Alabama. He received a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in the 1960s, but returned in the late 60s as a higher education administrator. As literature on the Civil Rights movement in the South will support, the South was full of tension and hatred throughout the region. Blacks were quickly gaining political power, and needed someone in Birmingham, Alabama to spur their progress. This man would be Richard Arrington (Wilson and Lynxwiler, 1998, p. 547).
Arrington was elected Birmingham Mayor in 1979 and was reelected four times further. He was backed by the Democratic Party and was even favored to win a seat in the U.S. Congress, though he adamantly declined the opportunity. He entered into the national spotlight primarily for his ability to hold the seat and garner more and more white support with each subsequent reelection. In the spring of 1989, the situation took a deviant turn.
Arrington’s home was approached by a Robert Mousallem, who was an acquaintance of Arrington’s, and was also a real estate developer in the state of Alabama. It was during this meeting that Mousallem outlined a “3-year ordeal he had endured at the hands of agents for the IRs, FBI, and Assistant U.S. Attorney” (Wilson and Lynxwiler, 1998, p. 549). Mousallem’s notes indicate that he was offered full immunity upon completion of a framing operation, which included offering Arrington and four other black officials bribes and then later indicting them. Mousallem initially accepted the offer, but later rescinded to tell Arrington the truth (Wilson and Lynxwiler, 1998, p. 549). This is a clear example of deviance from the original purpose and function of government. The United States government in particular is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the safety and best interest of its citizens, but what happens when they turn on one of their own? In the case of Arrington, this was not to the only attempt from the federal government to entrap him.
In 1990, another IRS-FBI investigation into the mayoral office was conducted. In this charge, a federal grand jury subpoenaed, “a wide range of records including those of the Minority Participation Program of the city and charities to which the mayor or members of his family had contributed” (Wilson and Lynxwiler, 1998, p. 550). This ended up looking terrible in the public eye, but Black voters ended up turning out in droves to vote for Arrington, resulting in another victory for the incumbent mayor.
Wilson and Lynxwiler conclude their argument by noting that, “the federal government used a number of illegal and quasi-legal tactics, including wire taps, leaks about investigations, entrapments, sting operations, encouragement of creative testimony,” and more (1998, p. 551). These actions are indeed deviant from the routine course of government functions. A government designed to protect its citizens using illegal and quasi-legal mechanisms to entrap those same citizens is deviant from the normal course and then some. These cases delineate the border between normalcy and the deviant.
Throughout this research, several forms of deviance have been examined within the political sphere and international government. One of the most interesting finds in studying political deviance is the wide variety of literature available on nearly every aspect. The field is far-reaching and lends itself to studying one of the most dangerous forms of deviance. Deviance on such a devastating level has one of the most severe impacts on citizens within nations as well as globally. Unfortunately, as this research has demonstrated, this deviance is hard to contain and can be difficult to recognize, especially when government forces are the ones enacting the deviance itself. Further research would be beneficial into the current situation in the United States with President Trump and the 2016 Election, given that Russian collusion is a popular phrase in American culture in the present times. This field of political deviance is critical to being a better global community for those who inhabit the world. It falls to the responsibility of the global leaders to hold each other accountable and respect global citizens.
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