Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Real Bully Pulpit

Bullying is in the news -- especially as it has, allegedly, resulted in a rash of teen suicides… all connected, of course, with the arguably borderline-psychotic atmosphere of the public schools. When you have a system that is crushed by political correctness and which preaches “consideration for others” -- but where the teachers are deathly afraid of the students (and the parents are deathly afraid of the school administrators) -- bad things are bound to happen. It’s like any other highly-stressed, and stressful, environment -- it brings out the worst in all parties. And imagine the distress of those targets of bullying who have gay or lesbian tendencies -- here the teachers, and the media, and the entertainment industry, have been telling them for years that there is nothing wrong with their “tendency”… that it is, indeed, something to be “celebrated” (along with all other forms of “diversity” -- except, of course, being a white male heterosexual -- that’s a form of diversity that we can’t tolerate!). So after being told all this, and reassured over and over again that “you’re fine just the way you are”… suddenly this posse of dominant, alpha-type heterosexuals -- your peers! -- goes out of its way to assure you that, in fact, there are all sorts of things wrong with the way you are, and that you deserve only contempt.

And what sort of message does it convey when this sort of thing is, to all appearances and despite claims to the contrary, tolerated by the system? They preach one thing but have an attitude of benign neglect when people start behaving in a primitive, atavistic way in the hallways and stairwells of our hallowed public schools.

So what does it mean? What it means is something primitive and atavistic indeed -- which is that the “bullies” are, in fact, the dominant social group in the school/neighborhood/town… and that everyone, from the school board down to the janitor’s assistant, is scared to death of them. Because, even if they are junior sociopaths, they nonetheless have “rights”… and you can be certain that they have parents who will not hesitate to invade the principal’s office if they detect the slightest threat to the self-esteem of their little gems. For this is also a meme, inculcated by the public schools -- that everyone deserves “esteem” -- that all have won and all deserve a prize. But now they are experiencing blowback from that impossible position.

But here’s another way of looking at it. The facile assumption is that these bullies are outliers -- antisocial, hostile, undesirable… and if they would only mend their ways, life would be so much better. But I say, au contraire! They only _seem_ to be outliers; in fact, they are the designated enforcers of the social norms of the larger group -- the school, neighborhood, town, whatever. And by “social norms” I don’t mean the ones that we pretend to have -- the ones that are reinforced (supposedly) and given lip service non-stop by the schools, the media, politicians, etc. I’m talking about the _real_ social norms -- those primitive motives by which the group has always protected itself against “the other”, the stranger, the alien. Every subgroup, group, or society has these real (vs. claimed) norms, and every group has its enforcers -- and they are never well-liked by the community, but they are deemed necessary and hence tolerated, if not actually encouraged. When I was a kid it was the village gossips - say what you want, they kept everyone else on their best behavior (in public and often in private as well). One of my mother’s (bless her soul) most oft-repeated expressions was “They say...” And there was always a “they” -- which meant everyone else in town… or at least the polite people… others of our kind, in other words. And believe me, the people who worried about “they” could become, in a heartbeat, one of “they” if the situation warranted it. Or vice versa. So yes, the community was self-policing in that respect.

The thing is, the unstoppable migration from small towns and rural areas to the cities -- and the corresponding migration from cities to suburbs -- has made severe inroads in the mission and reach of the gossip. They still exist, believe me -- especially in the suburbs (“desperate housewives” country) -- but they have been significantly de-fanged and de-clawed by the great number of social options (which is to say, competition among various sources of social approval). Even in the ’burbs, if you offend one group, you can probably move on to another group -- whereas in a small town, there really is only one group… at least only one to which any given individual has a credible claim to membership.

So who gets to step in an fill the gap? Who takes on the burden of enforcing social standards that was formerly the property of little old ladies with a bun on their head peeping out from behind lace curtains? Why, public school bullies, and none other! It is, in fact, a strange evolution and an anachronism of sorts, but it is occurring, and has occurred, in virtually every corner of the nation -- including, I have to assume, the most isolated and out-of-the-way.

And this, I hope, helps explain why nothing is done -- I mean nothing of consequence (as opposed to hand-wringing and mouthing words and expressing “concern” and “regret”). It’s not that nothing _could_ be done; it’s just that the dirty little secret of the “society” that is represented, in its rawest form, in the public schools is that we need these people. We may not like them -- because they are, after all, a threat and represent a tyrannical ruling class. But we need them, because without them who is to enforce the real standards?

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