Defining Rebellion Up

May 3, 1999

So many words have been spoken in the last few weeks about Littleton, Colorado that it's often difficult to hear sound commentary in the midst of the cacophony. But one voice that deserves a hearing is Jonathan Cohen, who wrote a commentary in the New York Post entitled "Defining Rebellion Up."

Years ago Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a seminal piece in an academic journal entitled "Defining Deviancy Down." I quote the essay on a regular basis when I speak. It was his contention that in the midst of cultural chaos we tend to redefine what is normal. When the crime rate goes through the roof, we say that crime is inevitable in a free society. When the illegitimate birth rate quadruples, we say that maybe two parents in a home aren't really necessary after all.

Jonathan Cohen picks up on that theme and extends it to our current crisis. He says that when America became willing to define deviancy down, it simultaneously defined rebellion up. He says, "Anti-social teens are nothing new, but as deviancy has been made normal, we have made it increasingly difficult for teenagers to rebel."

No longer are we as adults offended or outraged by behavior that would have sent our parents through the roof. We have learned the lessons of tolerance well. We tolerate just about everything from tattoos to black nail polish to metal-pierced eyelids.

We have raised the threshold of rebellion so high that hardly anything is beyond its reach. To get the attention of a parent, teacher, or police officer, teenagers have to go to great lengths. Unfortunately, the Trench Coat Mafia didn't seem to get anyone's attention. Maybe that's why the campus of Columbine High School is behind a police line today.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.