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The Bully Pulpit: The Pervasive Culture of Persecution

The Bully Pulpit: The Pervasive Culture of Persecution

Despite numerous efforts to the contrary, our schools remain hotbeds of bullying.  Cautionary tales abound: the disenfranchised, alienated teen who acts out his pain with a gun – the mocked and taunted girl who hangs herself in despair.  Parents, teachers and administrators wring their hands, blame the system and each other, and launch sensitivity training programs, all to apparently little avail.   Bullying continues, the strong torture the weak and teenaged life proceeds along its Darwinian path.

Of course, bullying is partially a consequence of the herd mentality of adolescence.  Most of us recall those years with at least a few shudders and some astonishment that we got through them, if not unscathed then at least alive.  Bullying is about power; for the young, who must maintain a precarious balance between the known world of childhood and the mysteries of what lies beyond, identity is paramount.  Being part of a group is, for most, the path to the reinvention of the adult from the child, a primary way to establish individuality and purpose. 

This need, to be accepted by one’s peers, is what bullies exploit.  Bullies reduce complexity to one-dimensionality (smart, shy, awkward kid to “loser,” for example) and then attempt to cull their victim from the herd.  They prey on the weak, defenseless or solitary and in doing so, either establish or redefine the group’s values and solidify their own ascendancy.  Bullies are single-minded, unempathetic, and manipulative .  Above all, they depend upon the passive, compliant support of others.  They can’t exist without it.

That said, I find it puzzling that despite the fact that everyone roundly condemns the culture of bullying in our schools and neighborhoods, it nevertheless seems to thrive.  I wonder: could bullying be tacitly encouraged by the current state of political debate? 

You know who I’m talking about. Much has been written about the loss of civility as our national discourse has been co-opted by a particular breed, of which Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (who recently compared the Administration’s criticism of Fox News to the Holocaust) are emblematic: the Professional Bully.  (And now Sarah Palin joins their ranks.)

Self-proclaimed El Rushbo, for example, seldom disappoints.  Last fall, after Olympia Snowe flexed her independence with reluctant support for allowing the health care reform bill to pass committee, I figured this would prickle his ire (and his misogyny).  Yes!  On Limbaugh’s website I discovered not only that Senator Snowe is a ‘joke’ but that the entire state of Maine, presumably for the scurrilous act of electing her in the first place, should be ‘sawed off and allowed to sail out to sea.’  

Professional bullies are schoolyard bullies writ large.  They spawn their following of amateur bullies (often the same people who bemoan the culture of persecution that prevails in so many schools) eager to associate themselves with the Cool Ones and let somebody else do their thinking for them.  (However, they perform their own yelling.)  I suppose there’s a piece of each of us still stuck in the quagmire of adolescence where bravado is easy to mistake for courage, insults seem like wit, pronouncements of infallibility trump informed argument, and shrillness drowns out nuance.

Professional bullying is a growth industry: recession-proof – heck, it’s recession-friendly.  Its prevailing deity is not Principle but Notoriety (as long as it doesn’t come cheap) and the rules are simple: Don’t bother with niceties of persuasion since, god forbid, you might have to concede a point or actually shut up while somebody else opines.  Au contraire. Ridicule is far more effective, and hey, who wouldn’t relish the chance to shout down the opposition at every opportunity?  Now, that’s got to be a rush.

However, perhaps the worst of it is that Professional Bullies knowingly blur the boundaries between image and reality, entertainment and information, and in that (ironically) gray area they hold sway.  Whatever the issue, it becomes all about them. 

For teenagers, bully-charisma might exert a seductive influence since it mimics their black-and-white landscape of winners and losers.  But for adults to succumb is simply laughable…if it weren’t so damned scary.  As parents and teachers attempt to eradicate bullying from schools, try to instill values of empathy, respect for diversity, tolerance of difference and the willingness to be vulnerable as part of learning about the world beyond one’s experience, isn’t it also necessary to identify those bullies who, in their positions of prominence, continue to operate unchecked?  The First Amendment is sacred, of course, but it doesn’t come with an obligation to buy what’s offered, especially when the goods are tainted with egoism.

I believe the ultimate goal of education is the nurturance of children becoming discriminating adults who take an active, positive role in the world.  Growing up means embracing the possibility that one might be wrong, that doubt is part of faith and issues are complex.  Behaving like an adult might be a bitch but it’s no joke.  Perhaps we should be grateful to the El Rushbos for demonstrating what one is.

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Peaco Todd

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101 comments

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10:13AM PDT on Aug 22, 2011

Old post. But still relevant. Bullying is a masculine response to life that came with the rise of the patriarchy, some 4000 years ago, and the elevation of the warrior mentality. The feminine was devalued, and placed collectively in the category of "paganism". Warriors were able to express their warrior egos on battlefields, and in the halls of political power. Great warriors had their egos stroked with songs of great battles sung about them. Bullies are weak kids trying to gain some sense of personal badness, and have their peers stroke their egos with admiration.

This is about the elevation of the masculine ego over the feminine and the weak. And weak people are considered pussies, feminine in some way that attracts bullies. Our present love of masculine war fosters bullies, and to defeat bullying we will need to show that war is NOT glorious in any way, shape or form.

8:22AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

Your article has given me something to think about.
But if putting a stop to school bullying depends on the prominent bullies shaping up and growing up, I think we're in for a long wait.

7:52AM PST on Jan 31, 2010

bullying someone is an act of frustration and insecurity... not acceptable!!!

8:13AM PST on Jan 28, 2010

I agree with Sue O.

2:09PM PST on Jan 24, 2010

But be careful, Care2 support can be very watchful. I've already been criticized for putting :-) as a comment.
It costs money, so they control it. :-(

2:08PM PST on Jan 24, 2010

Connor, that's a great idea of earning 120 credits in one go! :-)

3:32AM PST on Jan 22, 2010

Government, religion, education, it is no wonder that our children grow up with the same bullying ideals.

10:26PM PST on Jan 20, 2010

Thank you for a very thoughtful article, Peaco. Andrea C.'s comment says it best; thank you, Andrea.

11:37AM PST on Jan 20, 2010

Andrea C. I agree

11:22AM PST on Jan 20, 2010

Bullying in any form or by anyone is just wrong!!

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