Defining Deviancy Down: Lockdown Herd Stupidity In The United States Of Hysteria

crowd herd

In 1993, Senator Daniel Moynihan, a liberal Democrat from New York, wrote a highly influential essay titled “Defining Deviancy Down.” He was referring to the decline of moral standards and tolerance of violence in U.S. cities, which were experiencing rising crime and an erosion of the traditional nuclear family.  Senator Moynihan argued that these deleterious trends resulted in “defining deviancy down,” so that behavior that was once considered deviant was now acceptable.

Moynihan’s concept of “defining deviancy down” comes to mind when contemplating our current sad state of affairs, arising from public policy responses to the pandemic. Since March, we have witnessed unprecedented new forms of deviancy, emanating from the ongoing destructive and unethical experiment that is being conducted on us by infectious disease experts.  The tools of this experiment are a series of “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” designed by our new bureaucratic masters.  We have referred to this experiment as a new state-run religion, which features a variety of deviant mandatory social distancing policies.

Infectious disease experts, their numerous allies in the media, and virtue-signaling politicians with their lengthy press conferences on how they are “fighting” the virus, have feverishly constructed a false and misleading narrative that conveniently fits their never-ending apocalyptic view of a “crisis.”  Every day, newspapers and TV shows are full of stories about a new “spike” or “surge” in “cases” (mostly asymptomatic individuals) and tales of impending doom that the new “cases” will “overrun” our hospitals.  The ongoing existence of a “crisis” and (eight-month long) “state of emergency” justifies the continuance of the experiment and the re-institution of quarantines and lockdowns.

As we write this essay, there is intense pressure on the part of the media and politicians to reinstitute lockdowns, despite mounting empirical evidence that lockdowns are destructive and ineffective.  Note that the same states that implemented the most severe lockdowns are locking down once again.  In sum, the same herd stupidity among governors that led to lockdowns in the spring has resurfaced.

Before discussing the ongoing hysterical overreaction to the pandemic, it is time to take stock of how we have “defined deviancy down” in our response to this manmade crisis. There are numerous deviant aspects of the ongoing grand social experiment of mandatory social distancing.  The first is physical distancing, or the “six feet” rule, which has been indiscriminately applied to every industry and context.  One deviant aspect of physical distancing is that handshakes and hugs are forbidden and religious events and ceremonies are severely limited or entirely cancelled.

Another deviant feature of our state-run religion is the closure of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public institutions for prolonged periods of time. Of course, this constitutes an unprecedented, monumental theft of property and services, as well as major losses in economic, personal, and religious liberty. The theft continues even when these organizations are “permitted” to re-open, since they must also severely limit human interaction to comply with onerous COVID-19 regulations and mandates.

Still another aspect of deviancy is that millions have been prevented from celebrating traditional major religious and secular holidays, such as Easter, Passover, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  Governors are even advising family members not to travel home for the holidays.

Perhaps the most deviant aspect of the state-run religion is its devastating effects on the young.  In a normal world, adults and the elderly sacrifice for the young.  During the Clinton years, many policy interventions (e.g., new federal programs in education and regulation of industry) were justified because they were designed to improve the lives of children.  In contrast, over the last eight months, the young and healthy have been forced to make unwarranted and unnecessary monumental sacrifices for their elders.  If the young resume normal activity, they are excoriated for their “aberrant” behavior.  Of course, even when schools have been allowed to reopen, our youngsters have been subjected to numerous severe restrictions on their contact with fellow students and teachers.  All semblance of a normal educational experience has been stripped away by government authorities.

By defining deviancy down, we have transformed the United States of America into the United States of Hysteria.  We call this hysterical because the science is clear that lockdowns are destructive and that our children should be in school.  According to a WHO report published in October, most COVID-19 cases reported in children were acquired at home, not in school. Moreover, transmission between staff and students is uncommon.

It is clear that our governors are following political science, not real science. The best example of such a politician is New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, the ringleader and media darling of the COVID-19 bedwetters. In a recent interview, Governor Cuomo admitted that he was going to close New York City schools because of a deal he negotiated with teacher unions. Apparently, some “essential” workers are more important than others.  In the same interview, he bragged that New Yorkers would not have access to the Pfizer vaccine in December because the vaccine was developed during the Trump presidency.

How do we end the tyranny of the COVID bedwetters and the mass hypochondria they have inflicted upon society? We desperately need the media and our high tech masters to behave responsibly, as other institutions have.  For example, the Marine Corps recently ran an experiment where some soldiers were randomly required to wear masks and socially distance themselves, while others were not under the same obligation. The experiment entailed military style enforcement of the directives. The results showed that the soldiers in the treatment group, who wore masks and obeyed the social distancing requirements, became infected with COVID-19 at a higher rate than those in the control group.

Unfortunately, such important findings illustrating the ineffectiveness of coercive lockdown policies are downplayed in the press and anyone sharing such stories on social media is likely to have his post removed. The mainstream media must start reporting on the numerous scientific studies showing that political decisions designed to combat the virus are more dangerous than the virus itself. They must also start showing more interest in the victims of the quarantines and lockdowns.  Perhaps then our “new normal” will begin to lose its dangerous characteristic of “defining deviancy down.” Otherwise, who knows what new forms of deviance will emerge in 2021?

Donald S. Siegel, Ph.D., Foundation Professor of Public Policy and Management and Director, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University (

Robert M. Sauer, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Royal Holloway, University of London (

About Donald S. Siegel, Ph.D., and Robert M. Sauer, Ph.D. 8 Articles
Donald S. Siegel, Ph.D., Foundation Professor of Public Policy and Management and Director, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University ( Robert M. Sauer, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Royal Holloway, University of London (