Bullying (Part I)

“What I don’t know, I don’t like
What I don’t like, I don’t want
What I don’t want, I waste”

“Waste” – KMFDM

The original blog posts on which this was based on can be found on PA’s blog here: (First) and (Additional commentary).

Bullying, stripped of the “current year” political uses, is…

Bullying is the de facto appropriation of power by a party who does not have that power de jure.

No sane society can tolerate handing authority to children, Lord of the Flies was not an instruction book. However, we, as a society, have effectively delegated authority to “manage” other children down to young children, after all, who does the average age-segregated child spend more waking hours around, biological family members, an individual teacher/instructor/day care employee, or other age-segregated children? In the modern litigation-friendly environment, schools, day cares, programs, (Henceforth referred to as “Institutions”) all are limited in what levels of “care, custody, and control” they can exercise, but the same logic applies to other children, after all, if one child hits another, that is obviously not assault in the mens rea sense.

That leaves a vast gulf between the perceived and actual physical power of the Institutions, and more importantly, their front-line personnel. To paint an all too realistic situation, if a child is perceived as troublesome, how hard is it for an underpaid employee to “turn a blind eye” while another child hits them? The victim, whatever their “offense” is, has no review, no appeal, no recourse to the courts, the event never took place as far as our society is concerned. Project this logic outwards and you end up with a “Lord of the Flies” situation.

Before our current social atomization, these situations was partially mitigated by family and traditional neighborhood structures. While it was not quite an interlocking series of relationships like the Roman Clientele system, presumably anyone living in a village or neighborhood had blood or marriage ties to other people, or as our economists might say today, Detection and Reputation Risk. In a socially atomized world, there aren’t any structures other than Institutions, and the State to deal with these situations, to the extent that people even know or are willing to accept that they occur in the first place.

In recent decades, it has generally been understood that avoiding physical violence, outside scholastic or collegiate sporting fields and State employment, is a requirement for status. Since at least the 1940s, one did not get good job offers with a reputation for street fights, making avoidance of any paper trail a requirement. The “Zero Tolerance” movement of the 1990s actually made things far worse, turning into a way for administrators to remove or otherwise neutralize “disruptive” children and blaming higher authority. It turned out that neutralizing “disruptive” students from status-seeking families was far easier when violence against them would result in an administrative proceeding to threaten their future status, or as it used to be referred to as, “The Permanent Record”. For those that the respective personnel did not want to neutralize, there was always appeals, fact-finding, and the simple expedient of never reporting the incident.

In the above examples or situations, there was fairly little malice, as it is commonly understood, by the Institution proper, only decisions, perhaps made in seconds when dealing with children, made by front-line personnel that may or may not be employed by that institution, may or may not have their own legal, moral, and family obligations, and may or may not rely on that institution for their status and/or livelihood. There does not need to be a formal decision on a memo that “we will make Chad king of the playground”, there only needs to be quiet indifference from one or two front-line personnel that Chad may engage in violence without effective response. In fact, if another child engages in defense, that would create an altercation that must be responded to, which makes that front-line personnel’s day more difficult. The incentives are for these problems to go away.

From an individual actor perspective, the issue has been resolved by the simple expedient of not becoming an issue in the first place. From a legal perspective, there is no issue. From Chad’s perspective, violence worked. From a social and systems viewpoint, the de jure authority of the institution has been effectively de facto usurped by Chad without any response.

4 thoughts on “Bullying (Part I)”

  1. “Bullying is the de facto appropriation of power by a party who does not have that power de jure.”

    I think this is not a good definition, or else all violent crime would be “bullying”. I think one of the key elements of bullying is that it takes place inside an institution, often one approaching a “total institution,” so the victim doesn’t have the ability to leave.


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