Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bow, Bow, to the Daughter-in-Law Elect

Predictably enough, the suicide of 21 year old Tyler Clementi, after his roommate published surreptitious videos of Clementi having gay sex, has brought forth hand-wringing, tearful and outraged demands from the legions of political correctness to put an end to "hate-crimes" and "school bullying". One pissed off gay man blogged,

"This is too much. Who cares if you don't agree with homosexuality? It doesn't give ANYONE the right to harass you to the point of thinking THERE IS NO F*CKING POINT and ending it. I've been there and I KNOW how hopeless you feel when it feels like no one is on your side. These kids need SOMEONE to stand up for them and say that this sh*t is wrong. Not even lying, I'm with Queer Supremacist right now. Making nice with these *ssholes is NOT working. Maybe if we tie a couple of them to fences and beat their *sses they'll cut it the F*ck out! *RAGERAGERAGE* RIP BILLY LUCAS." [ Here ]

Of course, the Mizz Marples of Correctness would sternly (but lovingly) restrain our Acting Up Queer. "That's not the way to fight this sort of thing, dear". Actually, "RagerRage" has a point. The prototypical bully is just as prototypically put in his place by a good punch to the nose. The PC Alternative of mandating more social control and repression will only serve to create a generation of even more socially dysfunctional, apathoids driven into the world faux of their iPods and TwitterPads.

Let us begin at the beginning....1913 in fact. That was a good year for dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Websters (1913 edit.) defines "bully" as follows:

A noisy, blustering overbearing fellow, more distinguished for insolence and empty menaces, than for courage, and disposed to provoke quarrels.

To intimidate with threats and by an overbearing, swaggering demeanor; to act the part of a bully toward.

The editors presumably had Theodore Roosevelt in mind. But, by 2010, the definition had metamorphosed into:

Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.

Wikipedia informs that Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when a person is

"exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons." He defines negative action as "when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways."
Wiki goes on to say that

"Bullying is a form of abuse. It comprises repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target."

(Target! Boy, is that clever; those sociologist are sure on the ball ! )

Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal and physical. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion such as psychological manipulation. Bullying can be defined in many different ways. .... Bullying can occur in any context in which human beings interact with each other

How much brain-power does it take to realize that, as currently defined, 'bullying' includes any kind of social interaction. That being the case, demands to "end bullying" in fact constitute a demand to control and repress any form of social interaction; to be sure, leaving the limits up to the wise discretion of your local dimwit school principal or other available authority figure (AAP).

Queer-zine informs.

"Clementi joins a long list of students who have committed suicide after enduring anti-gay bullying at school—and this is the fourth incident this month alone. Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old California boy who was openly gay, was bullied so severely he hanged himself. In Texas, 13-year-old Asher Brown shot himself Sept. 23 after being relentlessly bullied for his perceived sexual orientation. And on Sept. 9, Billy Lucas, 15, of Indiana hung himself for the same reason."
But what actually happened? It was hard to find out. In so far as Brown was concerned,

Asher was tormented for being small. For his religious beliefs. For the way he dressed. And for being gay. His bullies acted out mock gay sex acts in phys ed class.

So what exactly was Asher Brown "bullied" for? Was it a case of religious persecution? Of sumptuary-hate? Height-discrimination? Bad acting in the locker room? One supposes it will depend on which Aggrieved Group gets first dibs on Asher's body.

What pursed lipped, dimwit victimologists can't fathom is that the case isn't made more clear by being made more inclusive. Of course, from the perspective of those hankering after research grants and matters to stick their noses into, the more "causes", "symptoms" and "potential effects" the merrier. But from a legal point of view (and we are talking about demanded legal remedies) the "or" is precisely the problem.

physical or verbal
real or perceived

In other words, a not-objectively real but a subjectively imagined verbal power play constitutes bullying. But not even only that. We are told that bullying is of three kinds physical, verbal or emotional. In other words, there is a kind of bullying which is neither physical, nor verbal but somehow "emotional" which presumably ties in somehow with "psychological manipulation".

Under the victimologists' magic sociological wand, our tall, good-looking, most popular, "swaggering" varsity football hero who gives wimp "that kind of look" has just engaged in an act of perceived, non verbal, emotional, power-play bullying.

It is one thing to one thing to outlaw physical misconduct. It is a Pandora's Box to attempt to outlaw attitudes. The reason for the difference is that physical conduct bears its own clear contours. There is body A and there is body B. The two bodies do not occupy the same space. When part of body A smashes into part of body B, there has been a clearly defined collision that can be outlawed. But where are the borders of "inuendo" and "those kinds of stares" ? Where is the line between "opinion", "insult" and "intimidation" ?

No doubt according to our pursed lipped sociological Mizz Marples, an "appropriate" [this has to be said in the just the right tone of "if -you-don't-really-know disapproval"] opinion would be "a statement of personal belief expressed in other-respecting, non-debasing, netural terms". For example, "Excuse me Asher, but with all due respect to you as a person and to your right to dress as you feel best expresses your inner outwardness, I would like to throw out for your consideration my opinion that your clothing looks like it belongs ....%#&$*(#)!@*%!*"

No wonder kids are drowing their frustrations in iPods.

The sorry fact is that human beings are not very nice, and that among the un-nicest of all are teenagers -- especially the ones in middle school. In fact, "innocent children" make a pack of wild dogs look civilized. They are merciless with one another; so merciless in fact that all of them have bad memories about how awful it was growing up.

The reason it is so awful is that they are learning how to play, and learning involves mistakes. A child begins its play with little square blocks and other things that involve manual dexterity. He makes mistakes; things fall down; things break; he cuts himself. As he grows older the play things become more involved and complex. Eventually they include word-games and social interaction. We realize we can swear and use dirty language; and that this, almost magically, hurts and provokes people as much as if we had run up and kicked them. Better still, we can use words to avoid responsibility and cheat people. Words are the best toys ever. It is inevitable that adolescent will act worse than beasts who don't have words to play with.

Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better with age. As James Madison put it,

"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; .... A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts."
In other words, noisy, overbearing, swaggering behavior -- bullying -- is built into human nature. Sad but true. But for all that, we don't outlaw non-physical bullying; and for anyone who is already out-moting outrage and passive aggressive dissapproval, let me remind him and/or her that James Madison is one of the Founding Fathers, a principal architect of our Constitution, the Author of the Bill of Rights, and this is what he had to say:

"There are two methods of removing the causes of [bullying]: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency."

In short, if we wish to be free we have to suffer jerks. But this is too much for our outraged victims and safe-T mavens. They will have us all agree to The Agenda or be gagged once and for all.

That said, the Tyler Clementi case is disturbing not only because of the disdain and disrespect shown towards him by his roommate but also because it is a paradigmatic example of how iPhone, Facebook and Twitter have blurred the lines between "public" and "private". Everywhere we see people who are locked into their little box and almost entirely disconnected from the world around them at the same time are connected without limit to the entire world with whom they have no other connection. As a result, they have no grasp of gradations of privacy. What 40 years ago would have been restricted to essentially private snickering and teasing in the dorm, now gets blasted about on the World Wide News of Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village". The further result is that what used to be a bullying brush fire now becomes a bullying firestorm.

It is always possible that Tyler Clementi already --- in the current lingo -- "had issues". People generally do not turn the Life Off on a dime. This will seem likely to straights, particularly those male sex-jocks who would be more than pleased to have their bitch-humping prowess displayed around the globe. But being straight and being gay are not the same. The opprobrium and condescension still attached to being gay by society in general makes any "outing" a terrifying thought. When actual gay conduct is captured and broadcast to the world, the thought is mortifying.

Thus, the "bullying" -- if we still wish to call it that -- in this case derived its destructive force both from the means by which it took place and from the poisonous reservoir of sexual intolerance that regards gays as something to be derided, despised and rejected.

The temptation here, even among those who are not sociologists, is to say that the solution is to outlaw derision, spite and rejection. But that is not the answer and it will not work, just as making a desert and calling it "peace" is not real peace.

The beginnings of an answer, it seems to us Chipsters, is to go back to 1913 -- to those days when every Dad taught his son how to deal with bullies. The focus has to be on building up strength and resilience on the part of the "potential victim" [arrrghh]. The fact is, the world is nasty place and throughout our lives we are all going to run up against jerks, assholes and bullies. What all of us need -- and what disadvantaged or disapproved of people especially need -- is inner strength to make it through.

This inner strength is only partly self-generating. Putting aside our fetish for Robinsonnades, "alone" man can accomplish little or nothing. Inner strength must be refreshed from outer support -- from loving family, from understanding friends, from a forgiving [oh won't that be the day!] Church. Last in the support line -- if at all -- is Daughter In Law Elect.

With the first two factors alone, a young man like Tyler Clementi can make it through life's storms, and it becomes almost irrelevant what society does to or with his tormentors.

This is not to say that society should do nothing to deter the bully. It is only to say that it should not destroy freedom by attempting to achieve the impossible. Society should by all means punish any physical aggression anywhere it takes place. By analogy, it should punish invasions of privacy such as occurred in the Clementi case. In addition, because an institutional setting (be it work, school or military) involves a joint and several undertaking to engage in and promote the activities of the institution, it is legitimate to warn people that whatever they might think, whatever value judgements they have and have a right to express they cannot do so in a way that impedes the functioning of the institution or the participatory rights of others. But that, it seems to us, is the outermost limit of what should be undertaken with respect to bullies. To do more would be to turn society into a mass of stupified drones who are all indoctrinated with the same opinions. For that, we should wait until we get to Heaven.

©Woodchipgazette, 2010


ellin barret said...

I agree with these comments, and enjoyed historical perspective on bullying. It is true that in ages gone by we were taught to stand up to bullies, (who are often cowards at their core) ... but the public domain has spread to all corners and where does one find some peace?

Chip said...

Hi Ellin -- :) Yes I agree that there is a problem in the fact that today small incidents can get instantly magnified by "facebooking" or "twittering". Remember how McLuhan said that in the global village everyone will get their 15 minutes of fame? But I think that problem has more to do with the confusion of public and private spaces than with bullying per se. I find it beyond belief, but over and over again we read about some poor girl or boy who posted their diary thoughts on line.