has always had the mysterious power of unleashing man’s ferocious
pleasure in torturing, corrupting, and befouling.
media – priesthood of the modern state religion – continues to
create fear-objects in whose presence we are expected to tremble
while seeking the divine intervention of political systems for
our salvation. The specter of the "bully" – the playground
tormentor with which most of us had to contend in our youth –
has been resurrected for our consumption. Films, television dramas
and news reports, even a revisit to the teenage years of Mitt
Romney, remind us of the ruffians whose sole function in life
seems to be to dehumanize others. They also provide a vivid example
of one of the more troubling characteristics of a destructive,
conflict-ridden society: the tendency to project our "dark
side" onto a scapegoat, which can then be punished for our
One of the
greatest impediments to our living in conditions of peace and
liberty with one another lies in the failure of most of us to
acknowledge our personal "dark side." It is discomforting
to realize that we have the capacity to engage in dishonest acts,
or violence, or laziness, or cowardice, or racist sentiments,
or any of a number of other traits that do not comport with the
images we have of ourselves. Even though we may consciously reject
any of these negative qualities, and may never act upon them,
we do not like admitting to their presence, particularly to the
critic we fear the most: our inner sense of being. Far better
that we rid ourselves of such characteristics. But how do we do
of course, is to repress the inner voices that tell us
of our shortcomings. If we consciously deny their presence, or
can focus attention on other matters, we can – at least momentarily
and unconsciously – relieve ourselves of feelings we would prefer
not to acknowledge about ourselves. More often, however, we unconsciously
choose to disassociate ourselves from the "dark side"
voices by projecting them onto others (i.e., a scapegoat) and
then punishing the substitute for the qualities we fear reside
Let us suppose
that an inter-racial couple sits down at a table in a restaurant
and, upon their doing so, a woman at an adjoining table gets up
and leaves. At another table, a man says to his companion "look
at that: that woman left because she didn’t want to sit next to
an inter-racial couple." This man is engaged in projection.
He had no way of knowing why the woman acted as she did. Perhaps
she was through eating, or tired of waiting for a waiter to take
her order, or was, indeed, offended at sitting next to this couple.
But the man commenting upon her behavior had only his own thinking
to inform him of her purposes.
"uncertainty principle" reminds us of the inherently
subjective nature of our thinking; that we evaluate what we see
– or even what we choose to look at – from the perspective of
our learned experiences; that the observer is, indeed, an inevitable
part of the act of observation. This does not mean that what our
subjectively-based opinions tell us is necessarily in error: our
interpretation may be correct. The woman who left the restaurant
may very well have done so because of racist dispositions. The
point is, the man commenting upon her actions had no way of knowing
what was at work within her mind; he had only his own thinking
and attitudes to guide him.
be at work in the current media and political campaign against
bullying? The distasteful, harmful, and in some cases deadly behavior
of those who use violence against weaker persons, is worthy of
condemnation. As children, we had to discover our own strategies
for dealing with bullies. The more astute among us soon figured
out that the bully could appear in many forms beyond the playground
brute who beat up the smaller kids for their lunch money.
aversion to bullying transcend our grade-school experiences? Might
we unconsciously sense the presence of the bully in our adult
lives, whose violent ways we struggle to avoid? On the other hand,
do we continue to embrace the strategy learned in our childhood
years of toadying up to the bully? Might the inner voices of our
"dark side" now whisper to us that our lifelong accommodation
with organized systems of brute force has turned us into
If our "dark
side" reminds us that what our conscious mind rejects is
very much alive deep within us; and if we want to live without
having to juggle such contradictory qualities, how can we do so?
The default method is found in the crude practice of projection:
we will attribute the bullying disposition to those whose actions
do not require us to confront our institutional commitments. The
modern grade-school and high-school hooligans who brutalize their
classmates will serve this role nicely. In condemning the behavior
of children, we can pose as defenders of civility without,
at the same time, having to confront the ever-increasing brutalities
that inhere in the adult systems to which we are so firmly
pummel a helpless boy or girl into a state of unconsciousness,
the wrongdoers will be sought out and severely punished; they
may even be prosecuted as "adults" to reinforce our
make-believe commitment to ridding society of bullying. But what
about police officers who gun-down or taser innocent, non-threatening
people – some of them the elderly in their own homes? What about
these strong-arm bullies of the state who have been videotaped
beating unarmed men to death, or pepper-spraying college students
as they sit quietly on the ground? To Boobus, such ruffians represent
the law-and-order without which, they have been trained to believe,
society would become violent!
hormones of an adolescent get the better of him, and he reaches
out to touch the breasts of a female classmate, he will be charged
with "sexual harassment" and, whether convicted or not,
will spend the rest of his life with the label of "sex offender"
tattooed upon his identity. But what of the adult gropers, fondlers,
and viewers of enforced nakedness employed, by the state, to assault
airline passengers? Should they – like Hester – be forced to wear
a "SO" designation as well? "Oh, no," intones
Boobus, "those people are there to protect us from terrorists!"
who break into private homes in the night and kill the inhabitants
will be prosecuted "to the full extent of the law,"
we will be told. But if such men are American soldiers, and engage
in such acts in foreign countries, their wrongdoing will not rise
to the level of moral condemnation. Instead, Boobus will put another
"support the troops" bumper-sticker on his car, and
perhaps an American flag as well.
What of the
urban street-gangs who have turned so much of our inner cities
into battlefields as they violently compete with one another for
sovereignty over various territories? How does this differ from
the war-making of the American government that disguises its terrorist
behavior (remember the "Shock and Awe" bombing of Baghdad?)
as "foreign policy"? If street-gang members adorned
their cars with "support the Crips" bumper-stickers,
the similarities would become evident to many.
This is how
"projection" works, and why its energies are essential
to political systems. Projection provides us with the illusion
that our "dark side" fears can be assuaged by shifting
them onto safe targets (i.e., a scapegoat). College courses, high-school
assemblies, television network "specials," legislation,
anti-bullying T-shirts, and other superficial expressions, will
create the appearance that "bullying" is being confronted
and ended. The Brutus Hulks of society will be sought out, drugged,
prosecuted, gunned-down, or otherwise severely dealt with – at
least as long as they act without apparent political authority.
But that’s as far as the "war against bullying" will
go. Inquiries that implicate the institutionally violent nature
of our well-organized world will not be undertaken.
order will be certain to clarify what it sees as the dividing
line between "bullying" and "law and order."
Following the Trayvon Martin shooting, the media was quick to
point out that his alleged killer was not a police officer, but
only a "neighborhood watch" volunteer. Likewise, the
high-school Mitt Romney who, it is alleged, helped to forcibly
restrain and cut the hair of a classmate could be distinguished
from the modern GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Had he
engaged in such behavior while governor of Massachusetts or, worse
yet, while currently campaigning, it might cause Boobus some discomfort.
It would be difficult to harmonize the Mitt-as-Delilah charge
with the image Boobus has of a president. Bomb and torture innocent
persons abroad; assassinate and imprison, without trial, Americans;
and loot the treasury for the benefit of his corporate cronies:
yes, that’s the vision Boobus embraces, not that of someone who
engages in bullying!
is important to observe two points about projection:  the power
of the state depends upon the scapegoat, whose presence is necessary
to disguise and diffuse the conflicts, corruption, and contradictions
that underlie all political systems. Economic depressions, wars,
police-state brutalities, the wholesale plundering of taxpayers,
and a more general cultural collapse, must be seen as the evildoing
of persons outside the establishment. In this way, petroleum company
greed – rather than Federal Reserve policies – can be offered
as an explanation for rising gasoline prices.  The scapegoat
need not be innocent of any wrongdoing. It is only essential that
the substitute be seen as a wrongdoer, and that his or
her role not be attributed to any established institutional interests.
Soldiers who commit vicious crimes during wartime are guilty of
what they have done. They can also serve as scapegoats to deflect
the greater crimes of the war system itself. Thus can a Lt. Calley
be convicted for his wrongs, while shielding Lyndon Johnson, Robert
McNamara, and other fomenters and conductors of their murderous
If you want
a career in politics, just be certain to keep a regular supply
of scapegoats at your disposal, and to learn the fine art of quickly
fabricating more in case of an emergency. The article of faith
of all politicians – "never let a crisis go to waste"
– demands this skill!