Bullying, Government, Betas
We are social animals. Where we fit into the pack is important to us. We are biologically programmed to seek standing in our pack. Like other social animals, we evolved ways of negotiating that standing. As we became civilized and our packs grew too large for one alpha to manage harmoniously, we developed ways to form alliances to maintain order: when one member of the pack became too powerful, two or more members allied to restore the balance of power; when those members became too powerful, more less-powerful members of the pack banded together; eventually enough members of the pack were allied that the balance of the pack could join them or submit to them, and the pack had turned into a democracy.
Adults today, in our society of vast resources, can largely opt out of the contest for standing (they couldn’t 15,000 years ago; check back in 100 years to see if they still can). Children, closer to the state of nature, less able to recognize the struggle for what it is, and—probably most importantly—enclosed involuntarily in an environment in which standing is important to everyone else, generally cannot. Bullying is a symptom of an imbalance in power. The bully exploits perceived weakness. The victim submits to the bully, proving him right. The bully continues bullying, to keep the victim in his place. There’s no risk to the bully, and he maintains his status.
So government (through school administrations) should, for the sake of balance, step in and stop bullying, nu?
The appropriate response to physical bullying* is to hurt the bully. Make it so that bullying is no longer risk-free. This is a lesson that Dad taught me and my brother Russ, and that I saw work first-hand when I was in middle school. I was in about sixth grade—11 years old?—and the biggest, roughest (but not toughest) kid in school, who was probably sixteen years old and had been in and out of reform school, decided that I looked like a good victim.
He probably would have been right, except that I had a brother a year older and a good deal stronger than me who, when the bully started picking on me, knocked the bully into a wall. It was a clean hit, and entirely righteous, but Russ got suspended from the school bus for defending his little brother.
Unfortunately, that’s only a taste of what you’ll get when you trust the government, through school administrations, to make rules against bullying. Parents who teach their kids the appropriate response to physical bullying risk having their kids punished for doing the right thing. As penalties for bullying become more severe, the penalties for defending oneself and others also become more severe. Because, even if those enforcing the rules are moderately socially competent (not by any means a foregone conclusion), they can’t observe every interaction between kids to accurately judge who was the bully and who the defender.
Maryland criminal defense lawyer Mirriam Seddiq, mother of two three-year-olds, doesn’t want bullying to be criminalized:
I am decidedly against school turning my kids into giant weenies who won’t know how to stand up for themselves, or for others. How will my kids know right and wrong if they never see it, if they never hear it or have to fight against it? Are we just going to perpetuate this ridiculous idea that all of the world is friendly and nice forever? For how long can we keep this up and what happens when the fantasy breaks down? Who will take care of my kids when they face meanness as adults? What school will step up to make it all better then?
If parents let their worries about their kids getting suspended or expelled from school stop them from teaching their children to do the right thing, children will grow up, as Mirriam writes, “giant weenies who won’t know how to stand up for themselves, or for others.”
And here’s the thing: That is not an unintended consequence of criminalizing bullying; that is the whole idea. Government is the ultimate alpha, and it wants everyone in the pack to be a beta (or lower). You think government wants people to stand up for themselves? You think government wants people to stand up for others? That’s exactly what government doesn’t want people to do, because if people are willing to stand up to bullies, they might realize that they can also stand up to government.
An alpha does not have to be a bully, but he can be. Government, the ultimate alpha, tends also to be the ultimate bully because, other than its constitution, there’s nothing to stop the government from exploiting its citizens’ weakness to keep them subservient. We parents have an obligation to our children and to the Republic to teach our children to damn the consequences and stand up for themselves and for others. If we don’t teach our children to stand up to others, there will be nobody left to stand up for our children.
If hurting the punk who’s picking on your little brother is wrong, I don’t want my kids to be right.
*Mean-girl “bullying,” in which alliances are formed to create an imbalance in power rather than to restore balance, are a separate problem solvable without violence. Unfortunately, school administrators are as unable to distinguish the solution from the problem in the realm of the social than they are in the realm of the physical: our children are being taught that bullying includes, among other things, “not talking to” someone. So disengaging can be viewed as bullying; there’s something Vonnegutian in that idea.
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