Toward a Theory of Bullying

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Okay, that’s too grandiose a title. But as I mentioned briefly in my entry in Walter Block’s Libertarian Autobiography series, I think one reason I developed libertarian views is “my strong sense of outrage at injustice, which probably developed as a result of my hatred of bullies and bullying. I was frequently attacked by them as a kid, because I was small for my age, bookish, and a smartass. Not a good combination.”

A couple years ago I had a conversation with some libertarians about this, and brought up bullying–many of them had had similar experiences. Maybe there is a common theme here.

Which leads me to my main point here: it’s astonishing, to me, that bullying is permitted and laughed off as some natural kiddie thing. Even in good schools, bullies exist, and they mercilessly prey on smaller, weaker, meeker kids. We are talking serious violent crime here: assault and battery. Physical violence. Beatings. Theft. Why is there no outcry over this? Why is it tolerated? I am not fond of the over-litigiousness of modern American society, but if my boy were attacked by another kid in school, I would sue the attacker and his parents for assault and battery. It’s outrageous. I just don’t get why there are so many bullies: why don’t they teach them never to be cruel to the weak and innocent and defenseless. Followup: Lew agreed with the bullying point, and pointed out that “The creation of the kid culture, separate from parents and other family members, encourages this sort of evil. Thanks, public schools. We will never know the proper educational organization until we allow freedom. Mothers cooperatives, etc. As it is, the government defines what a school is.” For a partial explanation, see Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why, by John Taylor Gatto.

Followup 2: One reader writes:

“This blog got my attention right away. Not pretending to be a psychologist, but having been bullied and done a little bullying myself as a child, let me offer this explaination: a bully bullies because he can. The humiliation of another enlarges the bully in his own mind (and there only). He picks his victims purely on the basis of risk. That is, the lower the risk to himself the easier the target. (Sounds like a few chicken-hawks we know in D.C.)

“The bully is essentially a coward. But the answer with childhood bullying (and probably with occupied states) isn’t litigation or bureaucratic intervention, just plain old self-defense. The easiest way to back down a bully is good right cross to the nose, and that’s exactly what I’d tell my own kid. One shot and he won’t be bothered again. Very laissez-faire I think.

“The problem with our cowardly lions on the Potomac is that they face no personal risk to there own lives, liberty, and property. Until they do they’ll continue to stalk the global schoolyard in search of easy prey.”

I agree in part. However, I think it’s incorrect to think that self-defense is “the answer.” Certainly, kids should be taught self-defense. But sometimes the kid is too small or weak. And in high school, we are talking seriously possible harm now. It’s akin to organized crime.

What interests me most, however, is not the psychology of bullies–there are many reasons some people choose to be thugs, and as they are not excuses, they are not that interesting to me–nor techniques for self-defense, but why libertarians don’t see bullying as aggression. Surely, you wouldn’t say, to women, that “the answer” to rape is self-defense? Surely, they should defend htemselves if they have to, but far better to prevent it and if they do it, you arrest and hang ‘em. Why does a bully get away with it?

In my view, if a kid bullies, he ought to–quite literally–be arrested and imprisoned for a time, and punished with severe pain. And if he does it again, he should be imprisoned for a long time, if not ejected from society. I am quite serious. They are criminals, pure and simple. There is no excuse for it.

11:48 am on September 30, 2003
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