It seems that a tipping point is reached in various social contexts after which an acceptable norm is inverted by sheer volume of transgression.

Trivial examples would be: switching from queuing to queue-jumping; from taking a single biscuit to a handful from a shared tin; from waiting for a turn to speak to talking at the same time; and so on - because enough people seem to be doing the same thing.

Less trivial examples might be the acceptance of non-heterosexual relationships, or willingness to engage in adulterous behaviour.

Is there a name for this phenomenon?

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    Hi, welcome to philosophy SE. Terminological questions are better suited for English SE. This is called social normalization.
    – Conifold
    Feb 4, 2020 at 12:06
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    How about 'fashion'. My mum would have called it 'loss of standards'. But it could also be called 'evolution' or even 'progress'. It could be all of these depending on the details. I suppose one phrase is 'voting with your feet'.
    – user20253
    Feb 4, 2020 at 12:57
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    Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously described it as "defining deviancy down". Feb 5, 2020 at 0:20

2 Answers 2


There is more going on here than an individual's attitude. At least in some of your examples.

A queue, to some extent, involves an implicit shared agreement that queues will be respected. If a significant number of people disregard the queue and simply push forward, then this agreement is invalidated. Indeed, those who continue to respect queues when the bulk of people around them do not will be punished for it.

There is, at least in some cultures, a degree of formalization of rules around a different set of attitudes. In China, for example, there is a very different attitude towards queues. If a queue is not enforced by some authority, it will not exist. If it is enforced, then people in the line will immediately understand that there is a game to be played. There's this maneuver where the guy behind you engages you in conversation, and little by little, manages to find himself in front of you.

It is possible to construct many examples of this. The words we use to designate various things are easy ones. Words and phrases that were considered unacceptable will sometimes become acceptable. And words that were previously acceptable will become forbidden. To some extent this is an implicit shared agreement.

A non-trivial part of whether some actions are acceptable or unacceptable is the attitude of your neighbors. We drive on the right (in countries that do) because everybody drives on the right. Driving on the left would be drastically bad. But in countries that drive on the left, the reverse is true.


There is the bandwagon fallacy; but that only applies if you are arguing something is ok because everyone is doing it.... which is different than arguing it wasn't wrong when everyone was against it. Relatedly, arguing something is wrong because it has been considered wrong in the past is another fallacy known as an Appeal to Tradition.

Basically, arguing for or against anything on the basis of accepted social norms is a fallacy.

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