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?

Not necessarily.

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.


35 responses to “Bullying, Government, Betas”

  1. I had a similar experience in 6th grade. I was picking on a kid a year younger than me on the playground (really just wrestling around with him in the snow in a way he probably, understandably, didn’t appreciate), and his older sister knocked the tar out of me. (Or at least gave me a bit of a black eye with a jab that was extraordinarily proficient for a 6th grader.) At our 20 year h.s. reunion she claimed not to remember, and recently helped a younger sister retain me in a family law matter.

  2. It would seem as though most people today believe that the answer to everything they perceive to be a problem is to criminalize the action. And there are always legislators who are more than happy to appease the masses by creating a new law, or strengthening an existing one. We are quickly becoming one of the most rigid societies in the world and we probably should begin teaching our children to be submissive and not to question authority. That way it will be easier for them to accept the fact that the country where they will be living isn’t anything like the one their grandfather spoke about.

    “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    • “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” Samuel Adams

      “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Patrick Henry

      “The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying group enemies on the battlefield, and resisting tyranny. In fact, it is the only means of resisting tyranny, since a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized.” Jeff Cooper

      While you teach your children to be submissive and not to question authority, I’ll be at the rifle range with mine.

      • Just make sure that they get their pistol practice in, too. The rifle’s an offensive weapon; the pistol defensive.

        For some reason or other, my kids don’t have a lot of trouble challenging authority; I’d expect that yours are the same.

  3. I was fortunate to have parents who told me to fight. I am super small, so I never had to actually fight. But my words were powerful. And I used them freely. We have, already, begun to tell our boys that when other’s say “melanie is not our friend’ that is unacceptable. I would be so proud if one of mine knocks the lights out of someone who is physically bullying someone. For sure.

    So, what I’m saying is, Amen brother. Amen.

  4. I’ve got two problems with this. First, you’ve warped the social animal idea to make it fit better with your point by ignoring the cooperative aspects of society in favor of just looking at the coercive and power-centric ones.

    Second, there has to be a line when it comes to dealing with physical violence by returning physical violence, and I’m not sure where one fits into your model. We shouldn’t give the “defender” free reign to do whatever they want, and just trust that they’ll act appropriately.

    For instance, who’s to say that your brother acted completely appropriately? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. And your recollection of events might be a bit hazy. But even if he was doing exactly the right thing, it’s not hard to imagine a similar situation where the “defender” goes completely off the wall. Their brother is nudged a bit on the bus, maybe falls over, and then they start to beat the offending kids up.

    Anyways, my point is that there needs to be a line, or else we’ll go back to the days of vigilantes, and kids will be bringing guns to school to defend themselves.

    • In other pack animals, juveniles play rough to learn their capabilities and also to learn the rules. Better that our children should learn when they are children (and therefore less able to inflict grievous bodily harm) under what circumstances the use of force is and is not acceptable, than that they should be taught that the use of force is never acceptable.

          • In my experience, which is more recent than yours, the standard is rarely “zero tolerance”. It could be interpreted that way in that most fights will end with some sort of intervention, but what happens is almost always (of course, there are going to be examples where this isn’t true) based on some evaluation of what happened. Schools will do their best not to punish people who were only defending themselves or others; they won’t just apply a blanket consequence to all incidents.

            But anyways, if the government isn’t going to at least play a line in determining what behavior is appropriate and what isn’t, who is? Should the government just allow gun violence on the school yard as an ordinary part of growing up?

          • Your experience in school may be more recent than mine, but my experience defending juveniles is probably more recent than yours.

            Objective lines are fine. When someone brings a gun to school, even the school administrator with the lowest emotional IQ can tell.

          • You’re right, I haven’t been involved at all in juvenile defense for a few years now. But have you had enough cases where the incident was so minor and led to such a drastic consequence that you’re sure they’re instituting zero-tolerance policies?

            The sample you’re seeing is those cases where some form of judicial proceeding, criminal or juvenile, is instituted. And if minor cases show up, it might tend to convince you that all minor incidents lead to dramatically outsized reactions. But in reality there’s a lot of stuff that happens every day in schools that never gets close to that level.

            When it comes to line drawing, what I’m trying to ascertain is your opinion of where the line should be. What you’ve been saying suggests that you didn’t think there should be any line. But now you admit that we shouldn’t tolerate guns at schools.

            You say that “objective lines are ok”, but “zero-tolerance” is also an objective line, and you don’t approve of that. So where do you think the line should be put between acceptable juvenile violence and situations where the state should step in in one way or another?

          • Then you really haven’t contributed to the discussion. No one’s recommending taking away children’s right of self defense or criminal prosecutions for playground roughhousing. If that’s what you’re arguing against, it’s a straw man.

          • You’ve spent a lot of time reading something that doesn’t contribute to the discussion.

            Where should the line be drawn? No farther than it is drawn already. This is the point: people will demand more rules to deal with bullying when fewer rules would serve our children better.

          • I appreciate your concern for my time, but I’m alright, thanks.

            So should the line be no further than it already is or less far? Why are you so sure that we’ve already discovered the right about of regulation of the school yard, so that more will necessarily be a bad thing?

      • Oo! Oo! Me! Me! As in a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ‘ism. I own every book he has written. There hasn’t been a political dynasty that hasn’t raised the bar of it’s power over it’s citizenry, only to discover that it can, so it raises the bar again to confirm it’s observation. It seems there is no upper limit until the citizenry revolt.

        From what I read in the paper, the California supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the residency requirements for registered sex offenders. Talk about bullying. 85 to 90% of all new victims are created by family, friends of family or friends, by people who have never been on a registry. Yet, the Government has bullied people who are statistically less likely to re-offend in where they can live and where they may not live. To say that it protects anyone is a lie. Ergo, it is bullying, no more, no less. Yet, the “pack” approves it. I think the entire case is proof that we are not so far down from the trees as we would like to think we are. Ric

  5. One need only examine how laws have eroded our rights in just the past decade to conclude where we’ll be by the end of the next one. Indeed, an act of compassion by a mother toward her son created a family of felons in the eyes of the law last night. I had injured my back doing some chores and my 80-year old mother was compelled to help by driving to her sister’s home and getting two pain pills which she then brought to relieve my pain. I didn’t think of the implications of the law when I agreed that It would be nice to rest the night and avoid a long IR line at the hospital. I was aghast this morning when I thought of what all could have occurred had she been stopped for a traffic violation and questioned by the police. After a search she clearly would have consented to, conspiracy and violations of the RICO statute were among the possible charges along with several felony drug charges. I haven’t decided yet whether to tell Mom about the possible outcome of her innocent albeit felonious act of compassion as I may hurt my back again…

    Another example would be the recent prosecution of a Seattle area mother who was involved in an accident in which her two sons perished. She had taken them to a sporting event and made the mistake of consuming alcohol. Oh, she was below the limit of 0.08 but, that didn’t matter to the prosecutors, who thought they could get an emotion-based conviction since two children were dead. Prosecutorial activism? Be sure to read all the comments submitted below the article which by and large are outraged that she wasn’t convicted, even though she was indeed below the legal limit for driving. I’m sure some legislator read them and is fast at work creating a new law by which to satisfy the masses: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/105919728.html

  6. Mr. Bennett, your previous comment wins the “Most Unexpected Use of a Jeff Cooper Quote” award for the next ten years.

    Back to the topic; I’m worried that the generation that grew up prior to the 1990’s will be the last generation of Americans who have the experience of schoolyard fights that do not involve the criminal justice system. My solution will be private and home schooling for my son. I suspect that, unless something changes, almost no male children in the upcoming generations will make it to adulthood without having been arrested or prosecuted for something.

          • It’s a bad question because a) in the schoolyard, there is no system of communal government that is accountable to its subjects, so kids are learning submission to mere authority; b) after the schoolyard, the system of communal government is only remotely (and arguably not at all) accountable to anyone but those with lots and lots of money; c) whatever accountable communal government we might have now is certain to stop existing in our children’s lifetimes, or their children’s.

            Even if they are going to live under an accountable system of communal government when they get out of school, kids should learn now to resolve their own disputes and take charge of their own destinies; what’s important is not that the trains run on time, but that citizens learn to think for themselves.

          • I agree that authority structures are woefully unresponsive to youth, but you assume that that means that we shouldn’t have the authority structure. That doesn’t really work: it could just as well mean that we need to make the authority structure more responsive to kids.

            As to accountability of government to society at large, there are two issues. The first is similar to that with children: unless you think that accountable government is impossible, there’s no reason that the existence of unaccountable government automatically leads to the conclusion that we should get rid of government. It could just as well lead to the conclusion that we need to make government more accountable.

            The second is that the influence of money in our current system is still largely dependent on the people. As we saw in this last election, those without many resources or much information still have the ability to have a major impact on government. To the extent that that electoral impact is controlled by those with money, it’s because those who don’t have money allow it too. Government is still accountable, people just aren’t bothering to make it accountable.

            Your dire predictions about the death of democracy make nice rhetoric, but that’s really all they are.

            “Even if they are going to live under an accountable system of communal government when they get out of school, kids should learn now to resolve their own disputes and take charge of their own destinies”

            First, as a side note, your use of “destinies” is somewhat out of character given your previous discussions of determinism.

            Second, this again relies on some sort of line-drawing that you haven’t provided a good solution to. Obviously schools shouldn’t be anarchistic, and neither should they be totalitarian. Everyone basically agrees on that. The interesting question is how to balance those competing interests.

          • If we’re not preparing our children to deal with the breakdown, within their lifetimes, of civil society, we’re doing them a disservice. It may not happen, but the veneer of civilization is thinner than any of us like to consider.

          • So we should get rid of civil society for children because we’re worried that at some indeterminate point in the future there won’t be civil society at all?

            Aren’t you worried that making our children grow up in anarchy will create/hasten whatever trend towards anarchy you think is already happening?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.