Back to previous post: September 11

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Rapture of the nerds

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 12, 2009

The Bully Pulpit
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:25 AM * 452 comments

We began a discussion last week on another thread. I called time on it with the promise that I’d pull it to the front page. So here we go.

The questions before the assembled multitudes: What, if any, is the distinction between a bully and a person who bullies? Can a [bully/person who uses bullying tactics] ever say anything of use to the conversation? Can such a person be redeemed, or should they be written off and excluded from further conversations?

This is the classic Heisenbergian tension between knowledge of the moment and knowledge of the trend. On the one hand, it is entirely possible, according Bruce Baugh’s theory of the phenomenological internet, to define one’s self as a troll within the space of a single blog comment. And all it takes is one really bad comment to sour the conversation and hurt one’s interlocutors. On the other hand, people are more complex than that. The same person can start a really good conversation and degenerate into spittle-flecked ranting later on. Even within the space of a comment thread, they may go back and forth several times. (Perhaps there’s some Schrödinger in my pseudo-scientific analogy. Can someone be both troll and not-troll until they hit the submit button?)

I’m playing about, but there are two serious matters here, one abstract and one practical.

In the abstract, I find myself growing increasingly allergic to the tendency to blur the lines between what people do and what they are. Because these labels don’t just sit there in the air. The next step after labeling is writing off. Fandom, like any group of people, is full of little lists of people whom all right-thinking people must disapprove of, exclude from con panels, and excoriate at every opportunity. And it can be like the TSA’s No-Fly List: no appeal, no removal. But that process ignores the complex reality that people learn and change; that people are misinterpreted and multifaceted, and that even generally bad people can do good things. I think this kind of labeling is damaging, and I will not participate.

But there’s no denying that there’s a serious practical matter here. How much can we tolerate people who use bullying tactics (or are bullies)? How much should we give them the space to come back and behave well, and promise ourselves that if they cross the line we’ll deal with them then? Every time we do that, we risk excluding the more fragile members of our community and our conversation. And that is expressly against the charism of this site.

I have my own opinions: I try to keep a wide door but good bouncers. The wide door is because I’ve been shunned in the past for excessive mouth-footery; thus will I not shun others. I’ve screwed up in my life and learned to do better; thus will I give others the chance to redeem themselves.

And the good bouncers are a fact of this community, to whom we owe the greater part of the pleasure of this site.


heresiarch:
I think that valuing a bully for his insight is like valuing a mumbler for his rhetoric—it doesn’t much matter what you have to say if you can’t communicate.
abi:
Although that’s catchy, I think it overstates the case. It’s perfectly possible for someone to have good insights and state them, but behave really badly in discussion.
heresiarch:
I think that habitually expressing oneself in a way that discourages one’s audience from listening is at least as big a barrier to communication as a speech impediment. YMMV.
abi:
I think that someone who can say interesting things but not discuss them without being a bully can still say interesting things.
heresiarch:
And someone who can say interesting things but not pronounce them aubibly (or type them legibly, as more fits our medium) can still say interesting things…but who could tell? Maybe someone with really good hearing, or aperosn who is willnig to liek read sum reelly purly riten proeso r sumthin, but a fair number of people will just bounce off. I guess what I’m saying is that communication is phenomenological: what matters isn’t how much insight you start with, but how much gets across to your audience. Bullying hinders that.
Serge:
I don’t think bullies have any problem with communicating their intentions. We just don’t care to hear the message.
Xopher:
I guess my question would be “who cares?” Though I can see why quoting such a person as a third party might be useful, ISTM that it’s a bad idea to listen to them when they actually show up. Just encourages them to keep showing up, when what we really want them to do is Go Away. And IMO no amount of interesting-ness is worth being bullied.
abi:
Well, I don’t want to get into yet another argument on this thread, but I’d just like to say that I, personally, am deeply uncomfortable othering people as “bullies” and then ignoring everything that they say.

I think that there are people who use bullying tactics to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them remind me of the grumbling woman in The Great Divorce, who are so far into the habit of using one particular style that it can be hard to separate them from their behavior.

But we don’t train people not to use bullying tactics by writing them off. We train them by rewarding interesting conversation and only turning them away when they go toxic
Comments on The Bully Pulpit:
#1 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:34 AM:

I want to mention something related to this that I thought of years ago, and still think is valid: if someone is asking for a reset button, they don't get to reset only the parts that are convenient for them. Specifically, they can't demand that we forget about bad things they did in the past, or in a particular piece of the past, and still expect people to remember and give credit for good things they did in the same time period.

I, or you, or anyone may choose to forgive and still generously give credit for good things, but it's not something I'm going to do automatically. People can't expect that I won't mention how they hurt my friend, and also that I will listen to them boast about the good thing they did for someone else the same week.

That said, someone who says "I fucked up, I'm sorry, and I'm going to try to do better" is more likely to get that than the one who says "That was ten years ago, stop bringing it up, everyone should be over it by now." Because the latter not only isn't apologizing, they're not saying that they won't repeat it.

#2 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:42 AM:

Just encourages them to keep showing up, when what we really want them to do is Go Away.

I thought that what we *really* wanted them to do was stop acting like bullies, and Go Away is only what we'll settle for if we can't get the first thing.

ISTM that the underlying disagreement here is between a kind of essentialism (people who bully are bullies, and, it seems to be implicitly assumed, that's what they'll always be) and the ideal of, if the word isn't too ambitious, redemption.

The essentialist position would (I think) reply to your last post above by saying that you don't train bullies not to be bullies *at all*, and that's why it's necessary to write them off.

I've never been a fan of essentialism, and I hope I'm not attacking a straw man here.

#3 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:44 AM:

May have something to add to the discussion later (as I have to be out of the house soon), but am pausing to let Abi know that the link in the first paragraph refers back to this post, not to a different one.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:48 AM:

chris @2:
Yes, I'm pretty much arguing against the essentialist position, though I can see the practical value of taking it into account.

Syd @3:
Good spot. Fixed.

#5 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 12:24 PM:

I'm trying to work out how to define bullying in an online conversation. I've seen it done, and had it done to me, and had it tried, and probably done it myself (I hope not, but I'm surely capable of stomping on toes). But I don't exactly know how I'd define it.

In person, bullying is usually about threatening you with nasty consequences. Do what I say or I'll beat you up. If you play with that girl, we won't be your friends anymore. Kiss my ass or I'll make your life at work hell.

Maybe a more abstract version of this is threatening you with a bad image of yourself. Only a fool could fail to understand this. Only a traitor wouldn't agree with me here. What kind of barbarian are you, to think that way?

But there are legitimate discussions in which there's at least a flavor of those things.

Perhaps I'm just slow, but I'm not even sure I know bullying when I see it. (I suspect it's easier for me to see when I identify at least somewhat with the target.)

#6 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Balance is such a tricky thing. I think about the "How many times should I forgive my brother?" "Seventy times seven" ideal on the one hand, where there is always hope of redemption... And on the other, the abused spouse who keeps going back to the abuse because "No, really, this time I'm sure he/she has changed and won't do it again."

I'm not sure I believe in essential bullies--unchangeable--but I do believe there are people who are habitual bullies, and derive enough joy from it that the feelings and opinions of other people online are never going to be enough to convince them to change. Or even if "never" is too harsh, "in the foreseeable future" seems pretty reasonable.

I have been told by someone who I had considered a friendly acquaintance (up until that point) that she enjoyed argument, she enjoyed forcing other people into argument, and the fact that other people were upset by her argument tactics was part of the fun. "I enjoy watching other people get upset" does, clearly, work as a point of happiness for some people; if that's the case, "You're upsetting me, please don't use that tactic" doesn't discourage them, it only encourages them to do it more. So...what do we do about those kinds of people? And how do we distinguish them from people who want a reasonable conversation, but fall into bullying tactics when personally upset, or have been taught by other places that they will never be taken seriously unless they use those tactics?

I do wonder if it's a reasonable guideline to say that if someone has it pointed out to them explicitly that their means of argument--not even the content, but their arguing style--is upsetting to more than one other person in the thread, and they ignore this or brush this off, it's not worth engaging with them in that place anymore. They've proven that they are, as it were, going to ignore the No Smoking signs and blow smoke in your face, at which point repeating "Dude, I have asthma" another time will not help.

All this said, I burned out moderating a forum (to the point of asking other moderators to remove my mod status, then scrambling my password and deleting the bookmarks just so that I would never so much as read that forum again) because the verbal bullies who didn't quite cross the official lines in the sand upset me so much I couldn't take the job anymore. So I am probably to be chalked up on the more fragile side of things. I do think everyone should be given a chance to apologize for having misworded something, or given offense carelessly; I'm tired enough of nasty online arguments that I am seldom inclined to grant a person more than that one chance to apologize.

#7 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Um, are people clear on what exactly "bullying" behavior is? Hard-and-fast rules, sharp lines? Because people are sure talking as if they were, and as if it was clear to them that everybody agreed.

Let me step back and say, I have a hard time defining bullying. And trying to recall over the years things people have applied that term to, it seems to me to vary a lot. I've seen it applied to "Give me your lunch money or I'll beat you up" (which to me is robbery with threat of violence, not some subtle problem of communication patterns), and I've seen it applied to people who keep coming back to their own examples that don't make sense to some of the other people in the discussion (which isn't an evil behavior at all, merely unproductive).

Fans, my core social group, report a high incidence of having been bullied in the past. I don't have that experience myself, that I noticed (and I think bullying is a thing which, if you don't notice it, is essentially not happening, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator), which is perhaps part of why the term has little precise meaning to me. But if fans have a lot of experience with bullying, and perhaps *especially* if they didn't notice some of it as bullying, they might find themselves emulating that behavior without thinking of it in those terms. Thus I'm a little scared at people talking about being able to diagnose somebody as a bully from one message, and saying that they they know there's no hope in trying to communicate with the person.

I've been going back over the previous thread (which I followed some of at the time, but never particularly thought of in connection with bullying until now), and I agree that Nick was engaging in several behaviors that interfere with discussion, including demanding more good behavior from others in the thread than he offered himself (in terms of dialing back tone specifically, and I think some other areas), and generally not respecting the people he was in the discussion with. So I don't feel terribly strongly "that could have been me!" there, anyway.

I do think that the attempt to associate "bullying behavior" with mumbling is a false equivalence. The implied claim is that one *cannot* understand what a bully says, and that's false. Some people do not wish to; some people find it very triggering; some people don't think it could possibly be worth the time (but haven't, that I see, explained why it couldn't); okay, fine, everybody makes their own choices on how to spend their energy. But I won't go so far as equivalence.

#8 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 12:44 PM:

I certainly find people who won't argue their position among the most frustrating. In my model of intellectual discourse, everything is up for challenge, and refusing to defend a position is cheating. How can I change their minds if they won't engage? How can I learn from them if they won't explain? Also, refusal to engage is often done essentially by saying "You aren't worth communicating with on this topic," which like most people I don't enjoy; in fact it seems rather like bullying to me (threatening me with a bad image of myself, or more than threatening).

What I'm describing is part of the basic fannish (and intellectual) arguing culture, I think.

I understand that some people find it terribly difficult, emotionally fraught, and so forth, and I understand that people get to choose how they spend their energy. I'm just saying, I find the extremes of that position terribly frustrating.

#9 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 12:49 PM:

David:

Yeah, I'm like that on most issues. On some stuff (evolution, say), I can do the rational debate thing, but it's unrewarding, since most people who want to debate it are in the same state I'm in w.r.t. morality of torture. But knowing yourself includes knowing what issues you can and can't discuss in a civilized way....

#10 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:10 PM:

I think a definition of a bully or bullying behavior is one of those things that one could argue about endlessly. Hazarding a guess, I would say it is the attempt (successful or not) of one person to wield power in a social context that the recipient regards as inappropriate.

That definition covers things as diverse as 'Give me your lunch money!' to 'Only an idiot would think that.' But it gets gray in a lot of areas--one man's impassioned discourse may be a woman's 'spittle-flecked diatribe'. The reasoned and ordered opinion of another may be the 'dishrag apologetics' of the person listening, and therefore deserving only of scorn. Drawing a line in the sand strikes me as being, at best, an oversimplification. I'm with Abi (I think): listen first, decide after, and a pattern of behavior says more than a single outburst.

David @8: Is is possible that these extremes are the result of someone not knowing how to defend their position? Fragility isn't just a trait of the meek; someone with a habit of making Pronouncements (tm) may have no real experience with debate, and may not know how to reply to what is, to you, a clear invitation to engage in one. Or they may come out of a social background where engaging in debate is seen as a sign of weakness, and such an invitation might strike them as a serious threat--since it implies that you've seen a flaw where they thought there was none.

Saturday morning thoughts...

#11 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:10 PM:

"What, if any, is the distinction between a bully and a person who bullies?

I draw the distinction this way: a person with an orientation toward social dominance behavior is a bully, but a person who is oriented away from social dominance behavior can sometimes be moved to engage in social dominance behavior under limited circumstances for specific ends.

It's similar to the question of whether having one or two same-sex encounters in my sexual history gives me a claim to membership in the LGBT community. Sexual behavior, orientation and identity are all three different dimensions, and lots of people have differing opinions about how much behavior is required to establish an orientation. I don't think we have sufficient consensus on which to set a standard.

It is the same with bullying behavior and high social-dominance orientation. Can one be a high-SDO person without actually bullying anyone? Never met anybody like that, but I suppose it's unwise to declare it impossible. Can one act like a bully at times without actually having a high-SDO orientation? I say yes, absolutely, because I know people who have learned how to adopt such methods in order to function in authoritarian work environments where bullying is the only way to get the other authoritarian monkeys to make any useful progress. They hate it immensely, because it is not their orientation; it's an adaptation.

And then there is the question of identity...

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:13 PM:

For me, online bullying is often (not always, but in the overwhelming majority of cases) about seizing a power in the conversation that others do not want to give you.

Setting challenges (particularly impossible ones), defining which responses are legitimate and which can be ignored, "scoring" responses, assuming you know what is in the minds of others. Namecalling. Attempting to anger the other person. A true equal does not these things.

Of course, all argumentation includes subtle assertions of power. If I say that the other person is right in some regard, I give them power. Likewise if I say that I am wrong. But those are cases where the transfer of power is not against my will.

(Here's the sneaky clever thing. Being big enough to admit when you're wrong is actually more powerful, in the long term, than winning every argument you're in. But that requires longer focus and a consistent community.)

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Ah, I see Renee @10 beat me to the definition I was groping for. Cool.

#14 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:16 PM:

David @8: How can I change their minds if they won't engage? How can I learn from them if they won't explain?

In terms of identifying bullying behavior, bullying messages seem to convey the wish to only change others' minds, without any appearance of being willing to learn.(Like silverback gorillas asserting dominance.) And that type of behavior discourages people from engaging, which is the crux of the problem for promoting a conversation. As Fade Manley said, some people truly aren't interested in dialogue per se.

But if someone gets het up by a topic, starts crossing the line into disrespect, gets called on it, and then backs down -- great! Perfect. What more can you expect, really?

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:28 PM:

abi #12: Perhaps George Lakoff's metaphors would be useful: rather than seeing debate as a kind of conflict, we should see it as a sort of dance.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:31 PM:

DDB @8:
I certainly find people who won't argue their position among the most frustrating. In my model of intellectual discourse, everything is up for challenge, and refusing to defend a position is cheating. How can I change their minds if they won't engage? How can I learn from them if they won't explain? Also, refusal to engage is often done essentially by saying "You aren't worth communicating with on this topic," which like most people I don't enjoy; in fact it seems rather like bullying to me (threatening me with a bad image of myself, or more than threatening).

Sometimes I have issues I don't want to discuss. It's rarely because I don't respect my interlocutor, though. Often it's because my views on a given matter are complex (and/or painful), and it's a lot of effort to try to lay them out in any clear way. This is particularly the case where I am not likely to change my mind, and am not looking to change anyone else's.

Ask me my views directly on such matters, I'll tell you them, because it's polite. Try to argue them with me thereafter, and I'm afraid I will decline.

Also, I'm a naturally stubborn and conflict-averse person. At a certain point in an argument, what I really want to do is to go away and turn things over in isolation. That's part of my process of thinking matters through. Having someone keep poking at me when I'm to that point makes me irritable and mulish*. It feels like they don't trust me to come to an honest conclusion.

-----
* When this happens online, I just walk away from the keyboard of the thread; when it happens in person things are a bit more complex, of course.

#17 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:33 PM:

I agree that bullying is difficult to define, and that one community's "vigorous debate" could be another community's "pompous browbeating". It's possible to give offense unintentionally, simply by using a tone that was considered acceptable somewhere else.

I particularly value Making Light and slacktivist for their high standard of discourse, even on potentially explosive topics. I think this is made possible in part by:

1. a nonzero intersection between the set of people who have been called down for inappropriate behavior and the set of valued regulars on the site, and

2. influential regulars and/or moderators who will politely explain to someone who's pissed in the punchbowl that that's not actually how we do things here, and that if you'll take the time to learn the local standard, we might all like getting to know each other.

It's analogous to a bunch of friends sitting in the park playing D&D and having some guy wander in and insist on playing improv games. You COULD just tell him to go fuck himself, but it's sometimes possible to recruit him into the game.

Yes, there do exist habitual bullies and some of them don't want to play nice. But there are also people who truly didn't mean to come across as assholes, or who lost their temper that one time, or who accidentally pushed one of somebody's buttons. I've done it, and I'm glad I didn't get kicked out or dogpiled for it (as has happened to me elsewhere).

#18 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Fragano @15:
Perhaps George Lakoff's metaphors would be useful: rather than seeing debate as a kind of conflict, we should see it as a sort of dance.

Here, we dance, and thus am I here.

But it's no good me looking it at a dance when others are doing capoeira, or just taking their partners into shadowy corners and quietly throttling them.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 01:41 PM:

abi #18: That is sheer poe-try.

More seriously: the problem is when people don't understand the rules of the community. Here, the rules (both formal and informal) obligate a sort of dance. As a result, fights rarely break out, and even misunderstandings are generally worked out pretty well.

#20 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:09 PM:

One thing about the more subtle forms of bullying that I've noticed--mainly online--is that it usually helps if a third party can step in to identify the behavior at some point. I kind of hate to say this, because it seems to be putting a greater burden on the moderators, but the cycle of attack-defend-defend-attack can be really hard for me even to notice when I gets swept up into it--until it's too late. Having someone not involved in the conversation say: "Wait a minute. This is (or is close to) bullying," and/or "No, this person isn't bullying, based on my experience and reading of the situation," can be almost liberating. Even if I don't quite agree with the person stepping in, and I don't always, it gives me clearly-drawn lines to use to evaluate what's going on. Whereas if I try to do it myself, I feel either mean or whiny, and am sometimes not sure if I'm justified in either feeling until I'm in so deep that I can't do anything but throw up my hands and leave. Sort of. Does that makes sense?

And I do like the dance metaphor--it seems to me a way of defining civil debate. I'm going to have to go read some George Lakoff, I think.

#21 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:10 PM:

I lean towards Baseball rules: three strikes and you're out. If on first exposure, someone flips out and starts trolling, they have two more opportunities or occasions to offer up different facets of themselves, in case their first impression happened on a bad day. if on a second exposure, they are more even handed and this is repeated on their third go-round, it can be assumed that at least on occasion, they may trip over some latent bullying tendency but on the whole, are trying to be civil. But if they are trollish and obtuse three times running, they get added to the mental blacklist (which can be amended if they later prove in some fashion t hey have reformed their tendencies).

Most people who end up on the troll list though tend to prove repeatedly that they belong there (Michele Malkin, for example). Oddly, some people who were just fine, if a little rough around the edges descend to trolldom over a period of years and require closer observation (i.e. Christopher Hitchens).

#22 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Is it truly bullying when it is one individual? Or is it only truly bullying when there is tacit peer group tolerance of the behaviour? If demanding lunch money with menaces is treated as robbery with violence and prosecuted, it is a different thing from it being treated as 'one of those things' that are part of the environment.
It precisely because the tone of Making Light doesn't tolerate certain kinds of rudeness that they don't persist here, whereas they flourish in other fora.

My wife's essay One man's bully is another man's friend covers the peer aspects of bullying well.

#23 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:19 PM:

A lot of this seems to be dancing around the edges of consensuality. Do I consent to the behavior that's being called bullying? One of the real problems here is that there's no equivalent of a safe-word that everyone will respect. And different people enjoy different levels/kinds of arguments -- what I think is bullying might just be spirited discussion to someone else. Also note that certain people are trained never to lose an argument (lawyers, for example) and others are trained not to press an argument (certain kinds of therapists).

A major difference between bullfighting and football is that the bull has no chance to consent.

Also, in the start of this discussion the word "interesting" is assumed as well-defined. I know that different things interest me on different days, and sometimes the behavior of people who are engaged in social-dominance games is absolutely fascinating to me, whether they're trying to use them on me or not.

I completely agree, abi, on the power of admitting when I'm wrong. It's amazing how often people forget there was a problem when a simple admission and apology are proffered. Being undefensive is powerful (and so often, the lack of defense causes the other person to break his or her own argument). That doesn't mean rolling over and accepting the other person's point as always and completely right. It does mean believing that they're accurate when they report their experience, and that I get to work with what they think happened rather than what I intended. (Remember Shannon's "The value of a communication is the response it gets.")

#24 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:35 PM:

My concern is one I've seen here in other contexts - if you can still be accepted in civilized discourse if you're a sufficiently clever bully, what incentive do damaged clever people have to behave? And more importantly, what argument is there for the people they've bullied to engage?

The bedrock assumption of bullying is that bullying behavior is realistic and inevitable and a sign of the high status of the bully, and that the bullied in some way either deserve the way they've been treated or aren't important enough to be treated well or don't deserve to be protected from it, even by disapproval.

There's no more effective way of making absolutely sure that people won't speak than telling them that it's OK with the community for high-status people to use them as toilet paper, and I can't imagine a better incentive to develop a sociopathic persona if you want to win.

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 02:59 PM:

I think Mary Francis is on to something important, something Kevin Marks's linked story also highlights.

it usually helps if a third party can step in to identify the behavior at some point.

Speaking personally, in the incident that sparked this discussion, it helped enormously when the conduct of the conversation itself became a topic. Having other people tell me I wasn't crazy to feel the way I did, when I was too close to the matter to trust my own judgement, helped me to disentangle myself.

Now, obviously, this can become bullying in itself; telling people that they're over the line is an assertion of the power to judge. Likewise, it can turn into the sorts of brangles I see on Wikipedia*, where the person reporting the trouble all too often shares (or has the entirety of) the blame.

I kind of hate to say this, because it seems to be putting a greater burden on the moderators

That's what we do. That's the point of the role (well, that and foisting my idle thoughts on everyone as Weighty Matters That Are Worthy of Discussion).

-----
* Part of my regular reading is the Wikipedia Administrator's Noticeboard/Incidents discussions. They're fascinating expositions of interpersonal dynamics, all laid out beautifully for anyone to examine.

#26 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Fundamentally, I think that conversation requires trust, and bullies violate that trust. Being willing to learn is an inherently vulnerable state: you have to let down your protections in order to absorb new information. If you can't trust the other people in the conversation to respect that--well, it doesn't make conversation impossible, but it does make it harder.

I don't think that bullies are by definition devoid of insight, or aren't interested in ideas. It's just that they're also interested in demanding submission from their opponents, and because they've become emotionally invested in being right, they are unable to change their minds. This makes it hard, and dangerous, to argue with them, especially if you aren't expecting it.

This is what makes it important to identify bullies. A great deal of the stress and pain of dealing with bullies (or people who exhibit bullying behavior) is being caught by surprise by them. If you're prepared, then you can make an informed decision about it: is this a subject I'm willing to endure discomfort to talk about? Is this person insightful enough to make taking their abuse worth it? Do I care to make a stand purely for the sake of spectators?

And I don't think there's a right answer. It all depends on the individual, their experiences, and not in the least on how they're feeling right that moment. I'm not advocating for black-lists, and I share your wariness of them. At the same time, it's worth comparing notes with others when you're feeling bullied--nothing makes you feel crazier than arguing with a bully you're not sure is a bully.

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:08 PM:

julia @24:
if you can still be accepted in civilized discourse if you're a sufficiently clever bully, what incentive do damaged clever people have to behave?

I don't think anyone advocates letting people bully other people. Not here, anyway. The incentive comes from saying, "We will listen to you if you do this, but not if you do that." My point is that if you say, "You're a bully, piss off," then you really haven't given a the person any incentive to try out new modes of operation.

And more importantly, what argument is there for the people they've bullied to engage?

Well, that is the question before the floor right now. My own impulse is to say that the argument is, "If anyone bullies you, they will be called on it, which will deflate their assertion of power."

#28 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:08 PM:

Some ancient wisdom:

"Treat your enemies like precious jewels"
-Buddha

"When you are angry seek not to blame your enemy but ask instead where his vision failed him."
-Marcus Aurelius

The time when we can no longer allow a bully in our lives is the time when we stop being able to learn from him.

I define a bully simply: somebody who subverts any chance for cooperative growth into an opportunity for dominance.

#29 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:12 PM:

I started off writing a post with a definition/description of bullying, but then others came up with much better ones. So, back to Abi's question: What, if any, is the distinction between a bully and a person who bullies? Can a [bully/person who uses bullying tactics] ever say anything of use to the conversation? Can such a person be redeemed, or should they be written off and excluded from further conversations?

I'll go with her "keep a wide door but good bouncers." and I agree with Mary Frances @20 that it can be easier to spot bullying and call someone on it if you're not directly involved. I guess we all have a duty to be prepared to do that. Of course, it's important to make sure that doesn't become a pile-on...

Like many people who hang out here, whether frequent commentators, occasional, or lurkers, the rules - both formal and informal, as Fragano says - mean this is generally a community where I can feel comfortable, even when discussing things with people who hold very different opinions to mine.

Personally, I think it's important, and polite, to (a) separate fact from opinion; (b) not dismiss someone else's opinions/experiences/feelings/values simply because they differ from your own. Disagree with opinions/values, yes, but once a person starts to say someone else's experiences/feelings are invalid/unimportant, there's a problem.

I think that it is important to point out to people using bully tactics, gently at first, but if necessary very straightforwardly, that their behaviour is bullying, and ask them to change it. If they cannot or are unwilling to do so - then they have crossed the line from "person exhibiting bullying behaviour" to "bully". At what point you pull the plug on them, I don't know. I would think that usually there should be a window by which someone could apologise and return on probation for good behaviour.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 03:35 PM:

heresiarch @26:
I suspect we're substantially in violent agreement.

But I'm still uncomfortable with the amount to which you discuss "bullies" in general, as a species. Pretty much anyone has bullied at one point or another, intentionally or not. We're all capable of it; it's basic primate dynamics.

How much do you regard the state of being a bully as a transitory phenomenon versus an indissoluble characteristic? Where is that line, for you, and how should we deal with people on the wrong side of it?

It's worth mentioning, by the way, that although we keep a wide door here, it is not infinite. There are people who have either proven to the moderators that they are not minded to improve their behavior on thie site, or made themselves so odious to us that we cannot stand having them around. But there are also plenty of edgy characters that we allow to comment even though they occasionally scratch their itches to power in public. (No actual people are to be discussed, speculated about, or referred to in this context.).

#31 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:03 PM:

abi @ 12: "(Here's the sneaky clever thing. Being big enough to admit when you're wrong is actually more powerful, in the long term, than winning every argument you're in. But that requires longer focus and a consistent community.)"

It's important to remember though, that in the end it's not about power. It's about learning and teaching. As long as it's about power then no matter how long your game, you're still a kind of troll.

@ 27: "My point is that if you say, "You're a bully, piss off," then you really haven't given a the person any incentive to try out new modes of operation."

I think that's a very cogent point, and one I'd add in to my list of questions @ 26. But my concern is that in my experience the number and tenacity of bullies far outweighs the capacity of others to reform them. To choose to try to help someone overcome their bullying habits should always be an option, but to turn away should be as well.

Evan @ 28: "The time when we can no longer allow a bully in our lives is the time when we stop being able to learn from him."

I'm uncomfortable with the extent to which this casts being unable to deal with bullies as a personal failing of their victim.

#32 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:12 PM:

As I read over the thread thus far, I'm reminded of a problem I had when I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college and thus, sadly immature, nay sophomoric, at times.

I was over in England, doing a summer program in medieval English history sponsored by UC Berkley, and my fellow students were Americans from all over, of a wide range of ages but mostly "older" post-collegiate types having a nice summer with continuing-ed credits as a bonus (or the reason they were able to be there). I became friendly with a couple of women in their 20's or 30's, teachers on their summer vacation, who seemed intelligent and interested in the same Anglophile's touchstones as I was. And I wanted to be seen as mature and grown up, to fit in.

Unfortunately, as a foolish fannish individual to whom books were the measure of all that was good and to be emulated, I tried to engage my friends in what I thought was a mutually agreeable bout of "witty repartee" after the model of --well at the time I suppose my models would have been Dorothy Sayers and perhaps TS Eliot a la The Cocktail Party or something of that sort. And I made one of my friends cry, because she was feeling attacked.

I can't now recall the details of that discussion, but I still feel the shame that came over me when our other friend called me out about it, and told me what I'd done.

And yet I still feel the urge to play with words as a competitive sport when I come across a group of bright, witty, verbally adept people, even when (as with ML habituees) I can see that I'd be outclassed from the start.

But I wonder whether some cases of internet bullying, or at least inadvertent ML bullying, might stem from the combination of that stereotypical fan's inability to read social signals clearly, coupled with the wish to play with others who seem to be able to wield words deftly, and model memory banks full of decades worth of books where dialog does what the author wants it to, without remembering that rapiers, witty or otherwise, are sharp and pointy and hurt people unless you're very carefully matched and wearing protective fencing gear.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:23 PM:

heresiarch @31:
It's important to remember though, that in the end *it's not about power*. It's about learning and teaching. As long as it's about power then no matter how long your game, you're still a kind of troll.

Being respected is a kind of power. Being right, being a good teacher and a willing learner, being amusing or a good conversationalist are all ways of winning on the internet. I'm certainly not immune to the temptation they represent. I think very few people really are.

Setting up structures or ideals that require water to flow uphill—that require people to act in ways that don't acknowledge their impulses and their dynamics—strikes me as wildly inefficient and probably ineffective.

People want to win. We're built that way, or socialized that way. So the best we can do is to find ways that winning, that getting the kudos of the people around you (and that lovely warm feeling in the pit of your stomach) leads to good conversation and greater harmony among us.

(People want to win, but that doesn't mean that other people have to lose. Remember that Conan was, after all, a barbarian.)

But my concern is that in my experience the number and tenacity of bullies far outweighs the capacity of others to reform them. To choose to try to help someone overcome their bullying habits should always be an option, but to turn away should be as well.

As I said, I think we're mostly in violent agreement. But I still think you're nouning verbal behavior, and writing off people far to easily thereby.

Quite often, the action of reform is as easy as having a good and enjoyable conversation with someone, thus rewarding a different mode of operation. Not everyone who uses bullying behavior is hardened, habitual, and requiring an intensive program of intervention and detox.

#34 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:54 PM:

Great thread! I've found bullying.org to be a good resource on the subject.

@6 - To me, this is a conflict based around forgiveness vs. trust or "believe in God, but lock your doors". Forgiveness can be unconditional as IMO it's about reducing resentment in oneself and not necessarily for the benefit of the offender. Trust, however, must be conditional and as a result becomes subjective to the individual or group which defines the conditions.

To use a previous example, a beaten wife can forgive her husband: realize he has emotional problems stemming from his victimized childhood, see him as a broken human deserving of pity and help, believe in the possibility of redemption, etc, etc. However, she need not trust that he will refrain from beating her or treat her with any sort of respect. In order for her to go back, she's perfectly valid in requiring that he 1) not contact her for a year, 2) enroll in anger management classes, 3) turn himself into the police and throw himself on the mercy of the court. Those actions can be proof of someone willing to change their habits. Not that he would change, necessarily, but it is something tangible. The quality of those requirements would define whether she would be going back to an abuser, or a recovering abuser.

Someone bullying in a comment thread could be handled likewise. A person can engage in flame-incitement activities. Labeling them a troll and kicking them out doesn't solve the problem. If they are a true hornet's-nest-stirring troll, then they got the reaction they wanted. If not, they perceive being slighted and will continue with the bad behavior elsewhere. Pointing out to them that x, y, and z behaviors aren't tolerated though gives them a chance to alter their behavior.

Unfortunately, there's still the problem of them understanding WHY those behaviors are wrong. It's sort of like trying to explain why an Appeal to Authority isn't a valid argument rather than pointing out that the data and logic don't support the argument, regardless of the arguer.

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 04:58 PM:

abi @ 30: "I suspect we're substantially in violent agreement."

*grin* I wondered if we might be, back on the other thread.

"How much do you regard the state of being a bully as a transitory phenomenon versus an indissoluble characteristic? Where is that line, for you, and how should we deal with people on the wrong side of it?"

I think that bullying is a behavior that tends toward habit. People pursue strategies that bring reward, and bullying can be enormously rewarding psychologically. I don't think it's impossible for bullies to change, but the more extreme their habit, the harder it will be to give up. Addiction might be a good model.

I don't think there is a singular line. I don't know. I have a pretty high tolerance for rough conversation. The point at which I'm sitting in my chair, stomach tight, glaring at the screen and thinking, "I am not being treated fairly," it's not an edge case. It's not someone who's just dabbling at conversational abuse. At that point I'm going to cut my losses, and I'm not going to feel sorry about it. It would be more noble to keep at it, but noble takes energy that sometimes I don't have. Sometimes it's all I can do to be fair.

#36 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:02 PM:

David D-B @8:

Not everything is up for discussion. Few things are always up for discussion (though in the right mood I'd discuss whether 2+2 can equal 5), and some things never are. Most fundamentally, I am not required to--and often will not--engage with anyone who does not accept that I am a person. I am not going to engage in a discussion with someone who demands that I prove that I am worthy of being listened to, and insists that I assume they are. Because I don't agree, and will not accept, that they are so superior that they can decide whether I'm worthy, and I have no right to judge them. Trying to impose that sort of "discussion"/test/judgment is itself bullying behavior. I'm not talking about someone who wants to limit a discussion of a technical point to people who have studied the subject: I'm talking about people who will expect me to kowtow to their opinions on cooking because they have Ph.D.s in physics, or MBAs, or any other non-cooking-related qualification, and I don't. And the ones who demand that I refute their unreasoning prejudices, and they get to judge the validity of the proofs, before I or my friends will be treated as full human beings.

This is relevant to the topic here: many attacks based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or disability involve the attacker not considering the people attacked to really be human, with the same human rights that they take for granted for themselves and their friends. I have to resist and work against that: I do not have to grant their verbal attacks and dominance games the dignity of treating them as discussion or logical arguments that deserve refutation.

Keith @ 21: If it's "three strikes and you're out," is that a baseball style approach, or is it closer to law-enforcement rules that can impose a life sentence in prison for stealing a pizza? That is, suppose someone wanders in here (or any online place), says some cool things, then does something bullying. That's one strike. Then they say some calm and insightful things on the topic. Does that count as a hit, and thus restart the count at no strikes for the next conversation? Or are they out for good after three strikes in a set period (which might be "ever")?

The number is less key here, I think, than the pattern. To what extent is getting it right considered to cancel out getting it wrong? And how do you count, say, someone popping in to say "Yes, that was in July 1993" correctly as their only contribution to a thread?

#37 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:10 PM:

The thread that sparked all this off had several effects on me.

And, on reflection, I think I'll put my comment there.

#38 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:33 PM:

heresiarch @31 "...implies a personal failing on the part of the victim."

Very sharp response, thank you. Allow me to elaborate: The moment we realize we are being bullied is the moment we see the bully's behavior as a pattern rather than a series of individual battles that we feel compelled to engage. That is always a moment of revelation, after which the bully's power goes away.

This does imply that the the bully has given us an opportunity to see where we were vulnerable. That's what bullies do, attack vulnerable spots in others with a vicious, infallible instinct.

Being bullied is a horrible way to learn, but I have done my best in my own past to forge it into a learning experience rather than simply a series of injuries.

There are better ways to get strong, assuredly.

Hmm. I feel like there's still more to spin out of your objection, I just don't know what it is yet.

#39 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:41 PM:

So far as whether a bully can nevertheless say interesting things of value to a conversation, there may well be valuable things at the bottom of an acid bath, but that doesn't mean I'm going to thrust my hand in to find out.

There is a difference between incisive commentary and sneering. Between critiquing a work and mocking its admirers' taste. Between making an argument and setting up an ambush. Nor is it always good to do the former or always bad to do the latter, but a very little goes a long way.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:49 PM:

pericat @39:

The specific scenario I was thinking of was where someone started out by saying something interesting, but then, during subsequent discussions, used bullying tactics to try to "win".

In that case, does the subsequent behavior destroy the value of the initial comment? On a purely factual basis, I would think not. I acknowledge that painful associations may do the job instead, however.

#41 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 05:55 PM:

abi @ 33: "Being respected is a kind of power. Being right, being a good teacher and a willing learner, being amusing or a good conversationalist are all ways of winning on the internet. I'm certainly not immune to the temptation they represent. I think very few people really are."

We value the respect others bestow upon us because we believe it reflects a truth about us that we cannot be certain of on our own. We may think we are right, we may think we are wise and witty and clever, but how sure is anyone who stands alone? The praise of others validates our hopes. If offered a chance to win that praise illicitly, by having another write our comments, to give us witty remarks, we would turn it down because it would render the praise, the respect meaningless.

Some people would leap at the chance to win the respect without working for it. They are less concerned with the essential truth the praise reflects and more concerned with the power it grants. They're the sort who take steroids, take credit for their coworker's successes, or employ primate dominance tactics in conversation. What they want is to be on top, and how they get there doesn't matter.

To look at it another way, everyone would like to win. But that's impossible. So what's next best: losing a fair race, or winning a rigged one?

#42 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 06:08 PM:

Early in Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics," he's on a stage trying to nail down a definition of comics as a medium. A heckler shouts out that it's comics if it has Batman, and that comics means Batman appears in it. Imagine if the heckler had left his dissent at a declaration he simply didn't understand what was being presented to him.

heresiarch seems to be putting the entire responsibility of comprehension on the presenter. This is distressing -- especially when incomprehension is the foundation of an accusation of bullying -- because the recipient claiming incomprehension may be holding onto a misconception as wrong as "Comics=Batman". You can't count on your entitlement to understanding if you protect your misconceptions with a nondescript declaration, "I don't understand you."

#43 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 06:11 PM:

DDB @8: In my model of intellectual discourse, everything is up for challenge, and refusing to defend a position is cheating.

But lifespan, waking hours, and free time are all finite and precious.

#44 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 06:24 PM:

abi @40

In that scenario, if it was infrequent sort of thing, I would say that person had forgotten themselves, rather than that they were by nature or training a bully. The initial made-in-good-faith comment is not (at least for me) tainted.

But if the poster continues to do that sort of thing, then I would start to wonder if the initial posts were not intended as subtle trolling.

#45 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 06:59 PM:

Kevin Marks raises a useful point in #22, that we shouldn't just look at the behavior of individuals, but the behavior of groups. Groups of people have power of their own, and much (though not all) of the power of bullies comes from their being able to get the group they're in to cooperate with their behavior, either actively or passively.

One reason I think this community works as well as it does is that its organizers have found ways to make numbers work *against* bullies rather than *with* them, in most cases. There are several rules that help; not just the calling out of bullies, but the rule I think I've heard Teresa state of cutting things off when *two* people act like jerks at once in a thread (because whether they're partners or antagonists, their behavior becomes mutually reinforcing). And cultivating group expectations not only of what behavior is bad, but what behavior is admired, helps a lot.

This sort of group power is never entirely safe, but it can be controlled. The sheer numbers of majorities can make their actions more intimidating or domineering to minorities than they would be taken as individual actions. (The effect is magnified in larger society when the majority often has greater privilege as well as greater numbers. But even without that, you can still see the effect sometimes. That's one of the reasons I think that a number of folks recognize the danger of dogpiles, and will sometimes pre-disemvowel mentions of topics that are likely to cause it here.)

#46 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 07:56 PM:

Abi touches on what seems to me most important:

Not everything I think and feel is up for discussion at any time. Not everything is up for discussion at this time, in this place, with these people, in that style. Anyone who feels that my any mention of a subject is an invitation to their dissection and attempted debate is wrong.

I notice that as I age, I seem to be using fewer group labels in lots of parts of my mental life. I'm not really concerned with saying whether someone is or isn't a bully, for instance; I'll stick with "I can't keep my composure with X without more effort than it's worth, because of the aggressive way they go about making every response an attempted debunking." I try to focus on what's going on inside me, and how I'm dealing with it, and trust others do what they need and want to in turn.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:05 PM:

chris 2: I thought that what we *really* wanted them to do was stop acting like bullies, and Go Away is only what we'll settle for if we can't get the first thing.

Well, yes, but some people won't stop acting like bullies even after having that behavior pointed out and being asked, in some cases repeatedly, not to. Also, some of us have been bullied enough, and repeatedly by the same people, that we are tired of giving people second, third, fiftieth chances.

Fade 6: Balance is such a tricky thing. I think about the "How many times should I forgive my brother?" "Seventy times seven" ideal on the one hand, where there is always hope of redemption... And on the other, the abused spouse who keeps going back to the abuse because "No, really, this time I'm sure he/she has changed and won't do it again."

There we go. When you've been in the second position, it's hard to uphold the first ideal. And I don't actually see the value in that first ideal; when someone violates your trust, it's up to them IMO to work to regain it, not to you to forgive them over and over, especially if they don't think they're wrong. That is just victimizing bullshit, and I won't play.

I have been told by someone who I had considered a friendly acquaintance (up until that point) that she enjoyed argument, she enjoyed forcing other people into argument, and the fact that other people were upset by her argument tactics was part of the fun.

Yep. I've met people like that. At this point in my life, I don't have time to try to explain to them what's wrong with that. I just mentally label them Toxic; Do Not Engage and try to avoid or ignore them thereafter.

I do wonder if it's a reasonable guideline to say that if someone has it pointed out to them explicitly that their means of argument--not even the content, but their arguing style--is upsetting to more than one other person in the thread, and they ignore this or brush this off, it's not worth engaging with them in that place anymore.

That was my sense of Nick Mamatas, and why I thought getting him to go away was the best available outcome. Not the ideal outcome (as my asking him to dial down his tone shows), but the best one possible after he made it clear that he had different standards for himself than for others in the conversation.

abi 27: My point is that if you say, "You're a bully, piss off," then you really haven't given a the person any incentive to try out new modes of operation.

That's why I asked Nick to dial back his tone. Only when he refused (by, bizarrely, saying "you first" when I had already done so) did I start trying to make him go away.

Evan 28: The time when we can no longer allow a bully in our lives is the time when we stop being able to learn from him.

You know, sometimes I really decide that I don't need to learn from a particular person any more. Or even that, while I could learn more from him (almost always a him), it's too unhealthy for me in other ways.

I define a bully simply: somebody who subverts any chance for cooperative growth into an opportunity for dominance.

That's really good. I'm going to use that. Thanks.

heresiarch 31: It's important to remember though, that in the end it's not about power. It's about learning and teaching. As long as it's about power then no matter how long your game, you're still a kind of troll.

I agree as long as we're talking about power over others. But there's also such a thing as power with others, and you don't have to be a troll to value that. I care what other people think of me, and that they regard me as a reasonable person, and that gives me power with them: if I tell them that I personally witnessed something, for example, they'll believe me. But as long as you're talking about the more coercive kinds of power, I agree with you. Nah. What abi said at 33 is a better way of putting the whole thing.

And thanks for putting your finger on another reason to object to that statement of Evan's. I knew something more was bothering me about it, but couldn't find it.


More interesting comments, but I have to stop now, and go calm down. I'll be back though.

#48 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:05 PM:

Bullies' senses of humor tend to involve or include thinking that humiliating other people is funny, provided they're not the ones ever humiliated. "Ha ha only joking" when called on it, tends to be a clue.

Bullying involves social dominance, attempts to socially dominate, and that gets into territory where there sometimes can be all sorts of differences of opinion of what is and is not bullying.... different people have different communications styles, and different expectations/training/responses/expectations. The same words denote different things to different people...

#17 Lila-- and some of us are wont to sometimes impolite explain or even poesy at those who've pissed in the punchbowl that they have transgressed, and are now meat for ridicule....

As for tolerance, there are people here (I'm one of them as you may have realized) whose level of social clue is severely impaired, but who have generally managed to stay within community standards acceptability.

#19 Fragano
There are some safety valves in here, there are the disemvowelling warnings, there is disemvowelling, and then there is the community play and sense of humor--the community standards include Serge and you and others of us suddenly veering off into punning and/or versification. That brings in gah!... Bergstrom's Theory of Laughter effects--humor of the absurdity type of a sudden change in direction, can do a lot of tension diffusion/defusing. Trying to maintain a severe mad-on or rant-on in the face of poetry of the absurd and abomination puns, is something that most people's dignity doesn't tolerate.

In person that's harder to do, because conversation hog bullies who outbellow everyone and otherwise act rudely, grab the soapbox and stay on it... in a forum such as this one, there is no monopolizing of the posting capability. No matter how fast a rant maniac whacko bully can type, that one person can't post as fast as several dozen irritated and creative retorters, can post their responses.... and I expect that it takes the moderators less time to disemvowel, quarantine, or outright delete posts, that it takes the rant maniac to create the posts.

#49 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:06 PM:

It is extraordinarily heartening to see such vigorous discussion about the problem of bullying (virtual and actual). There is, I think, a great optimism in this thread, a hopeful belief that bullying can be confronted, perhaps even solved. I'm afraid I'm not too sanguine about the idea of changing the ways of the committed bully.

Unhappily, there are *a lot* of people of every stripe, who just enjoy making others feel weak and miserable. A terrific example (not unfamiliar to readers here) is the academic bully, who strides forth, credentials in one hand, monograph on Catalan partisan rebellion in the other and they draw an eye on you and say - "Oho. Here's someone making an educated guess. I can crush them like a bug. Tee, hee, hee." The particulars may vary, but I think we've *all* seen something of this type. This is the nastiest form of bullying that is cogent to a group like this, because you can't just dismiss this character as an idiot. And (frankly speaking for myself here) as a good liberalish type, I have to take all points of view into account. By that point, discussion is succesfully shut down, the topic is changed, the bully gets another notch in his sheepskin.

How to deal with this - I know not. The advice given to me ranged from the sincerely offered but frankly useless ("just ignore it") to the laughable ("clean his clock!"). I have neither the inclination nor the rhetoric to hit back with force, and if I did, then the bully wins, and the argument is now on his terms.

A Gordian Knot, I feel.

#50 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:27 PM:

#22 Kevin
I noticed that a substantial amount of--not all--bullying involves peer pressure. It was the case of bullying done to me, that there were people egging one another on to attack me, and rewarding one another for it.... nasty nasty nasty animal social status game of "pick someone to beat up physically and verbally."

#23 Tom
There is a bullying committed by people perceived as the weak, or bullying on behalf of them or on for the benefit of the bully and the person the bully is being protective or support or furthering of--one of the most vicious behaviors out there, is A attacking C to impress B, or kicking C out of the way running to worship B. or attacking C on behalf of B. E.g., having the doors literally slammed in one's face by males who were trying to get to a female they were interested in and wanted to impress.... Elizabeth Moon gave an example on her SFF.net newsgroup years ago, from when she was a child, of how someone carrying on an affair with a neighbor parked his car in front of the house that Elizabeth's mother and Elizabeth lived in, to "protect" the reputation of the woman he was involved with and instead further stigmatize Elizabeth's mother, who was already stigmatized as a divorcee, by making it look like someone was carrying on an affair with Elizabeth's mother with the car parked there all night. (Elizabeth's mother got irate and used her car to bump the parked car forward to where it was in front of the house of the woman the fellow was sleeping over with....)

Bullying by the apparently weak involves "I'm helpless/sick/discriminated against... and you mustn't do anything that will upset me because that will make me get sicker/more helpless/etc. And then people rush to defend the person playing that ploy... there's a difference between saying, "I'm ill and can't engage in that," and "You must humor me" or "I am now going to beat you up because you aren't humoring poor sick *********...."

#51 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:47 PM:

Paula, you remind me of the old joke "Why did Bush invade Iraq? To impress Jodie Foster." Not that anyone seems to want to impress her any more....

#52 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Paula Lieberman #48: Some of what happens here is that Patrick, Teresa, and the others that they've chosen as moderators (Abi, Jim, and Avram) have worked out a reasonable set of rules for the playpen. Some is that some of us take it as a playpen and play as well as discuss. That's a fortunate mix, I think.

#53 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:53 PM:
Evan @ #28: I define a bully simply: somebody who subverts any chance for cooperative growth into an opportunity for dominance.

Isn't that also most employment situations? Because you accept payment from someone, and you literally do what he or she says. They dominate your time. Also, if some child insists his or her parent is being unfair, it may be completely at the parent's discretion to be unfair, because children can't say yes to everything at their own discretion. Are bosses and parents bullies if they aren't the friends of their employees or children.

#54 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 08:57 PM:

Evan @38: "Very sharp response, thank you. Allow me to elaborate: The moment we realize we are being bullied is the moment we see the bully's behavior as a pattern rather than a series of individual battles that we feel compelled to engage. That is always a moment of revelation, after which the bully's power goes away."

Well, there are at least two issues here. You are talking (I think) about what an individual can do when he finds himself in a "being bullied" situation. Maybe it can be a learning experience. Maybe he can change his attitude so that the situation is no longer painful. Or maybe, as you said earlier, he can decide he doesn't want to learn anything else along these lines and quit interacting with his tormentor. I agree that these are good and useful things to think about.

But most of this thread is about something else. What does allowing bullying behavior do to the community? What does it do to the members of the community who are in category three above - they don't want a learning experience from being bullied. Allowing bullying to continue means that the community is choosing to have the bullies in the community *instead of* the category three people. There are plenty of communities that do this, and enjoy the atmosphere that results. I enjoy it sometimes - I still spend some time on usenet even. But I am very glad that there are also communities where the bullies have to shape up or leave and the type three people can be contributing members.

#55 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:38 PM:

Pericat @ 39: So far as whether a bully can nevertheless say interesting things of value to a conversation, there may well be valuable things at the bottom of an acid bath, but that doesn't mean I'm going to thrust my hand in to find out.

True true. But if someone else with better protective gear has already plunged their hand into the acid bath and pulled a shiny bit out, I don't mind looking at it. That is to say, I'll read the interesting parts of the bully's contributions second-hand.

#56 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:44 PM:

Vicki @ 36 states a very valuable principle. If someone won't acknowledge my right to participate in the conversation as an equal, there's little point in trying to engage them.

One of the places I learned this was in church politics. The denomination has a feel-good statement calling for dialog among people with differing views. But some of us have gotten awfully tired of authority figures dialoguing at us.

#57 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 09:49 PM:

Mike Leung @ 42: "heresiarch seems to be putting the entire responsibility of comprehension on the presenter."

I could be wrong, but that's not what I think I'm doing. Can you point out where I said that?

"This is distressing -- especially when incomprehension is the foundation of an accusation of bullying --"

I'm quite sure I'm not doing that. Calling someone a bully because you don't understand them is like claiming you have brain cancer because you have a headache--there are any number of other, more likely causes.

#58 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:36 PM:

Has anyone known a poster on a forum who ever reformed his or her bullying ways and became an polite, constructive commenter on the forum?

My guess is that kind of reform is extremely rare, and that the bully, troll, or what have you just left.

#59 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:47 PM:

Mike@53: No, I don't think that's a reasonable application of the concept of bullying. The fact that, in the end, if it comes to it, I do what they say or quit (or get fired), that's not bullying; that's a consensually negotiated exchange of value. Bullying can still take place at work, either in social situations that happen to be located at work, and even in the professional relationships; but they aren't all inherently bullying just because of the employment relationship.

My consent, and the negotiation of the terms in a sane manner, are key.

#60 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:50 PM:

As several people said, the degree to which 'things' are open to debate varies more than my initial statement really said. Things close to the topic and relevant to the current discussion are very open to debate. Other things are harder to bring into scope; it has to look profitable, it has to look like the challenger brings something new worth examining, and so forth. Nothing is irretrievably excluded from debate, but in practice going off after random irrelevant things doesn't work very well.

#61 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:50 PM:

Tazistan Jen @ 54

But most of this thread is about something else. What does allowing bullying behavior do to the community? What does it do to the members of the community who are in category three above - they don't want a learning experience from being bullied.

Well, nobody wants a learning experience from being bullied. You only learn from it after you've identified that it's happening to you. And after you've identified it, it's essentially over. Once you know what the bully is going to do, all his (and as Xopher says, it is almost always a he) power is basically gone.

I was teased and bullied horribly in school, and I think back now to it and feel anger that my teachers didn't do anything about it at the time. But, I guess my question is could they have done anything? In a way, being bullied is one of those things where external help can only go so far, or do so much. Is it possible to mentor kids through being bullied? I don't know. It's sort of like mentoring somebody through heartache. It's a kind of pain that you hope to avoid, but that most don't. You only get the essential knowledge you need to survive it after you've barely survived it.

Mike @53

Well, yeah, some part of me feels that the whole power structure of any human society is founded upon bullying, and that there are these pockets where it isn't about dominance: moments of religious awakening, bohemias, some kinds of love, literature, but that most of the time human interactions are about naked displays of power.

heresiarch @ 31

It's important to remember though, that in the end it's not about power. It's about learning and teaching. As long as it's about power then no matter how long your game, you're still a kind of troll.

There a many kinds of power, and valuing power doesn't mean being a bully. Gandhi was a man who was very much about power -- the power of truth, of moral force. It was nonviolent power, but still power, real, physical power that brought down an empire. He played the long imperial game, but he simply had a broader, more liberating vision of it than the British. In the terminology of James P. Carse's most excellent book "Finite and Infinite Games" Gandhi was an infinite player, and the British Empire was a finite player. He turned their blindness against them, at great cost to himself, and won.

Teachers are probably the most powerful group of people in the country, according to some standards. The power they wield is as real as an army of bullies.

I think that abandoning the whole idea of power is what bullies want their victims to do. True liberation, sometimes acquired at a painful price, comes from locating an equal source of power, but one with a longer, better vision behind it. You may still lose according to the rules of the bully, but win according to your own. Any nonviolent protester who has suffered bodily harm, or, in extreme cases even forfeited their life, but has, till the very end refused to play the game according to the bully's terms has won a remarkable victory.

Of course, I sure as hell wish that I could have understood all this at twelve.

I'm lost on this one. What can you really do to help a victim of bullying?

#62 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:52 PM:

@53

An employer/employee relationship or a parent/child relationship is one with differing statuses, yes, where one party has authority over the other, but I would say that it's not the existence of a power dynamic / line of authority that necessitates the bullying but how that power relationship is manifested.

Certainly parents *can* bully their children (sometimes to the point of criminal abuse) and without a doubt employers and supervisors *can* bully their subordinates - but the aggression or forcible dominance isn't inherent to these relationships.

(Okay, parents of little children, yes, you *do* sometimes have to say "Because I said so, that's why" and/or pick up the screaming mimi in a football hold and remove her/him bodily from the location of a public tantrum, but if the parent-child relationship develops in a sane & healthy way the parties involved can usually get to a point, eventually, where they can sort things out sensibly. That's the "cooperative growth" part.)

#63 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 10:55 PM:

abi@33: how much does everybody really need to win? In the definitive "somebody else loses" sense? Aren't most of us really more interested in not losing? To the extent that we are, win / win situations are often possible.

And part of being a social species is that we're wired to NOT always take the top position. This can be bad, people can exploit it; but it can also help deal with situations where, in fact, somebody actually knows a lot more than somebody else. We're naturally competitive -- but we're naturally built to tolerate losing, too. The extreme way to put it is that we have pathways to lose short of dieing; that's a good thing.

#64 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:11 PM:

Okay, so generalizing my last comment:

If you see bullying happening, in any context, what can you do? How can you help the victim or stop the bully?

#65 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:45 PM:

Vicki @36:
Neither Keith Kisser nor I are DDB, but his statement seems reasonable:

But if they are trollish and obtuse three times running, they get added to the mental blacklist (which can be amended if they later prove in some fashion they have reformed their tendencies).

Mike Leung @53:
Employment is a voluntarily entered contract (otherwise it's arguably slavery of some form), and in cases such as management, parenting, wardens, etc. the distinction is between the right to administer (create and/or enforce) rules and the choice to play dominance head games. Even when the latter is used to enforce the former, it's bullying behavior (and arguably weakens the position of the administrator in question in some sense, although sadly it doesn't often in practice).

#66 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2009, 11:52 PM:

Additional comment: I deliberately sidestepped the question of validity of the right to administer; it's a valid question (indeed, questions), but may go too far off topic.

#67 ::: Mark Temporis ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 12:24 AM:

@8: A friend of mine is like you, loves to debate, and sees all conversation as a chance to show off his scintillating debate skills.

Intellectually, I know him to be scrupulously honest. I can't trust him, however, because he's too convincing.

That's how I feel about debaters.

Re: Bullies; really, is anyone who behaves poorly worth that much to have around? I generally refuse to engage with people who annoy me, much less try to bully me. Outside of a workplace experience where I have to engage with them, I see no problem writing them off completely.

#68 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 01:00 AM:

Evan @64: The most effective thing I've seen to work against bullying, online and in real life, is for people who are neither the bully or person being bullied to step up, point out the situation, and say that this is non-ideal interaction. (It helps if they can point out specifically why, but I do realize that in a lot of cases it's hard to pinpoint the exact phrases or what not that are causing the problem.)

This is so far from a cure-all that I don't want to imply I'm suggesting it is. Nor does it address situations where it's not clear to people outside of the dynamic that bullying is occurring. But if not the entire cure, it seems like an important first step. Just having someone else step up and say "Hey, that's not very fair" can reduce some of the frustration; and if someone is engaging in bullying tactics and doesn't realize it, that's also a quick way to get them to pause and think about what's going on.

#69 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:19 AM:

DDB @63:
how much does everybody really need to win? In the definitive "somebody else loses" sense?

I kind of touched on that when I said, "People want to win, but that doesn't mean that other people have to lose. Remember that Conan was, after all, a barbarian."

I think we get the sensation of winning from the praise of people we respect and the pride of achievement. That doesn't necessarily come from other people losing. It may, if that's what garners the praise and is the achievement one was seeking. But that same feeling of winning can come from a clever pun, a well-phrased comment, peace made.

Evan has more at 61 on the same theme.

#70 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:30 AM:

There was a thread here quite a while ago (I think there was, anyway—I seem to be unable to find it right now) on which it was pointed out that if you're writing a sitcom, Insults Are Funny: get one character to say something terribly insulting about another character and it'll get a laugh far bigger than any non-insulting dialogue will. This makes me wonder whether some bullies are doing it because there's a 24/7 sitcom playing in their heads, of which they're the star. When they reduce someone to tears it's for no reason other than to get spontaneous applause from an imaginary studio audience.

Insults Are Funny has given us some great sitcoms but it's made everyday life just that little bit more unpleasant.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:34 AM:

How do you help the [person who is being bullied] and stop the [person who is bullying]*?

By re-engineering the power structure.

Call out the bullying behavior as losing behavior. Not angrily, just calmly and factually. If the person being bullied is up to it, expose the damage that bullying is doing to them to the group, so that that behavior becomes associated with shame.

But you have to break through the power structure, either with your own tone of calm self-confidence or with the ability to persuade enough of the community to reject that behavior and that damage. Otherwise you just give the people seeking power through bullying the power of martyrdom.

-----
* You know, I really am serious about the damage that the casual labeling of people as "bullies" can do.

#72 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 05:43 AM:

The idea whether "everything is up to debate / people who won't engage are cheating" reminded me of a situation I am occasionally in.

I moderate a local Pagan mailing list and try to help maintain an atmosphere in which it's safe to say "I believe this," and "oh, you believe that? How interesting, I believe something kind of like that but not exactly" and so forth. The spectrum of beliefs members might espouse ranges far and wide; as long as no one is advocating hurting others or seems to be hurting themselves, respect for all beliefs is expected--or, at least, a tone of respect for all beliefs.

Once in awhile someone will join the list who seems to believe that Every Statement Is Up For Debate. This attitude doesn't really work well when a significant number of statements made in conversation are statements of religious belief.

I try to head off such impending conflicts by reiterating that, when sharing our personal experiences in matters spiritual, it is more useful to say "My beliefs are different" or "my experiences have been different" than to say "Your beliefs are wrong" or even "I disagree."

It doesn't always take on the first try. Sometimes it takes an exchange along the lines of...

"So do you actually believe that the Goddess's nature is XYZ?"

"Something like that... [clarification ABC]"

"OK, see, that, I totally don't buy."

"YOU DON'T HAVE TO."

Once in a long while someone gets banned. They get given a lot of opportunities, but eventually it becomes clear that they are not likely to change their habit of treating any statement, up to and including event announcements for cryin' out loud, as an opportunity to dissect and prosecute and to demand the original poster defend their statements.

Which is a very long way of saying: There are contexts and situations where it's extremely important that no one feel forced to engage debate over their personal statements, and where attempting to force debate is very much a bullying act. This I believe very strongly.

#73 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:03 AM:

It seems to me that we need some different terminology here. This discussion has been mostly about using less pleasant tactics to win online debates, but with sidelines into school bullying.

My observation is that when a teenager commits suicide as a result of severe bullying it generally doesn't make the news. It's only when two children from the same family kill themselves, an unusually large number of children from the same school do so, or the victim happens to be unusually young that it gets some media attention. Children killing themselves after being bullied seems to be a regular occurrence.

It seems that there is a vast difference between the impact of typical hostile online disputes and school bullying. Such that using the same terminology doesn't seem appropriate to me.

It seems to me that the main characteristic of "bullying" (in the way the word is most commonly used - I've pasted in part of the result of "dict bully" at the end of this comment) is that of a power imbalance. If you are attacked and you feel that you can't defend yourself due to the attacker being bigger, stronger, more skilled, supported by a gang, or protected by authority then the term bully as is commonly used seems appropriate. If two people of equal status are in a dispute and one of them is overly aggressive then that on it's own doesn't seem to be basis for calling it bullying.

Now some online disputes can be called bullying by this definition. But I think that the majority can't.

Maybe we need to have a separate post about school bullying to divert discussion of that issue away from this post.

Bully:
1. A noisy, blustering fellow, more insolent than courageous, who threatens, intimidates, or badgers people who are smaller or weaker than he is; an insolent, tyrannical fellow.
[1913 Webster]

#74 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:04 AM:

David Dyer-Bennett: In addition to abi's Call out the bullying behavior as losing behavior. , I'd add:

Define victory in other ways, too. A winning thread may, for instance, be one in which a bunch of people learn things because those who have info share it in useful ways, and one in which a bunch of people get to draw on their knowledge and experience to illuminate a mystery, and one in which a lot of people make each other laugh and admire each other's craftsmanship, and so on.

And also define some things that aren't losing, like deciding that everyone's had an interesting and useful say and now we're moving on even though disagreements remain.

If we say "this is what we want" and then reward it with praise and attention when we get it, that helps lay a great foundation for dealing with specific problem cases.

#75 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:39 AM:

geekosaur at 65 (and previous thread): The thing about three strikes, though, is that with classic bullying behaviour it's often impossible to tell up front. It takes a pattern to emerge, and then they do something egregious and you think, Hang on. That's another, worse, instance of that thing they do which I hadn't realised before was Bad.

The most successful bullies (in the sense of "people who engage in dominance behaviour deliberately, when they don't have to", not essentialist - she's an accordion player, he's a Rugby League player, she's a bully) just keep on doing it subtly, and as various people have said it needs someone else to draw attention to what's going on, because protracted bullying really does twist and warp your world view, and then it just looks normal.

I recently had to deal with bullying behaviour from a friend; it took me a long time, and several other peoples' help, to confront them on it, and I wasn't even the main target. The main issue was that they were continually positioning themselves "above" most of us socially, as though they were more competent and capable and organised and generally had a right and obligation to criticise and improve us all. Definitely a socially abusive relationship.

DDB at 63: how much does everybody really need to win? In the definitive "somebody else loses" sense?

That's only definitive for zero- or negative-sum situations. I like all my debates to be as strongly positive-sum as possible, and if I find myself in one that isn't I leave it. Regarding defending positions - I'll happily clarify my positions, explain something I didn't before, or reconsider them in light of new evidence, but I won't defend them, because I'm not interested in being attacked. (And yes, I do take it personally; if I care enough about something to state a position around known debaters, then it's effectively Me.)

#76 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:00 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 72: I spend time in a similar but different environment, and I'm often faced with beliefs with which I'm in serious disagreement and which I nonetheless try to respect, and it's hard to find a way to discuss them.

The best I've thought of is along the lines of, "Given what I think, I'd be wrong to believe that. But you have different life experiences, and I can't argue with what you believe." How does a response like that do?

#77 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:12 AM:
heresiarch @ #57: I could be wrong, but that's not what I think I'm doing. Can you point out where I [put the entire responsibility of comprehension on the presenter]?

From what Teresa cites you saying, your position on bullying text-relationships depends on analogies to inaudibility. If this is the attitude confronting bullies, then bullies may feel justified in their behavior by simply making some kind of sense, may they not?

Evan @ #61: [re:] Mike @53

Well, yeah, some part of me feels that the whole power structure of any human society is founded upon bullying, and that there are these pockets where it isn't about dominance: moments of religious awakening, bohemias, some kinds of love, literature, but that most of the time human interactions are about naked displays of power.

geekosaur @ #65: [re:] Mike Leung @53:
Employment is a voluntarily entered contract (otherwise it's arguably slavery of some form), and in cases such as management, parenting, wardens, etc. the distinction is between the right to administer (create and/or enforce) rules and the choice to play dominance head games. Even when the latter is used to enforce the former, it's bullying behavior (and arguably weakens the position of the administrator in question in some sense, although sadly it doesn't often in practice).

[Bolding mine]

With all of these conditions to allow for bullying, it kind of makes it a wonder what anyone should do with the accusation, or even the implication, they're a bully, doesn't it? Especially if the implication is taken as some kind of challege to simply make sense, like it still seems reasonable to infer from heresiarch's thread of reason.

#78 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:03 AM:

Thena @ #62: my perspective as a parent is that childhood begins in complete dependence and ends in a reasonable degree of independence. This calls for an unavoidable component of dominance by the parent, decreasing with time, and ideally ends in the child's being a fully competent adult who is capable of making decisions for the parent if/when said parent is completely dependent.

Bullying in this situation would be a really bad move on the part of the parent.

More generally: I too am bothered by the question of "winning". Most of my favorite experiences, though I guess you could regard them as having winners, don't have losers. (A hike in the woods; a well-performed play, considered either from the performers' or audience's perspective; the construction of a well-written story; the successful treatment of a painful medical condition....)

Evan et al, on what you can do to stop witnessed bullying: What Fade said. Even if you can't control/prevent it, you can bear witness to the fact that it's happening, that it's not the victim's fault, and that it's wrong. This can make a lot of difference to the victim.

#79 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:26 AM:

Evan @ 61: I was teased and bullied horribly in school, and I think back now to it and feel anger that my teachers didn't do anything about it at the time. But, I guess my question is could they have done anything?

I was teased and bullied pretty badly in grade school (came home with bruises all over my arms pretty regularly, was "teased" repeatedly about suicide and "jokingly" encouraged to commit it, et cetera), and my teachers did confront it. They talked to the whole class (well, the whole section-of-the-school, three classes worth, which was a total of 21 kids, because it was a tiny parochial) about it very seriously. (As I read the blog post that Kevin Marks linked to in #22, I was very strongly reminded of it.)

The bullying got worse then. Or, at least, it didn't let up, and there was absolutely no chance from then on of anyone being kind to me in front of other classmates.

Sometimes just living through something is the victory, I guess. Wasn't easy.

I don't know what people can do about it. I do think that being called on it by an authority figure who is not a peer is different from being called on it by a peer who may also have authority/respect/status, though. At least, it seems to have different outcome a significant part of the time. There's probably something in there about the way that being peers involves shared stuff, but I am not coherent about that at the moment, alas.

DDB @ 60: As several people said, the degree to which 'things' are open to debate varies more than my initial statement really said. Things close to the topic and relevant to the current discussion are very open to debate. Other things are harder to bring into scope; it has to look profitable, it has to look like the challenger brings something new worth examining, and so forth. Nothing is irretrievably excluded from debate, but in practice going off after random irrelevant things doesn't work very well.

Are you describing how you do it, or are you describing the social contract you wish other people shared with you?

#80 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:30 AM:

It seems to me that there's a bit of confusion here about the relation between bullying and dominance behavior. When we talk about "bullies", we're not talking about people who are "naturally" dominant in the context, but those who are "misusing" dominance techniques to gain "undeserved" dominance. (Not only does context matter here, but as noted above, do does the difference between contexts.) Thus, Russell #73's 1913 definition, refers to someone who uses various forms of intimidation in contexts where that's not considered appropriate. (Specifically, the culture of the dictionary-writers.) In our modern adult society, physical attacks are almost never appropriate (especially against weaker folks), and even verbal abuse is considered dubious, so that is what gets disparaged as "bullying"....

The big problem with school bullying is that too often, the school administration simply refuses to hold students up to the standards of society. Instead, they dismiss the kids as "little savages" who need to "fight it out on their own". But since the adults are the ones with the real power, that effectively mandates that the kids can only settle their differences by those "little savage" rules, because adult justice is denied to them. (See also, Lord Of the Flies....)

At that point, any kid who does try to seek recourse from the adults gets condemned as a "tattletale" or "suck-up" -- which in this context is an exact mirror to the accusation of bullying, as it's an attempt to challenge the pecking order, by disallowed methods. Given this mirroring -- "bully" vs. "tattletale" -- it falls to those with real power -- the adults -- to decide whose charges are to be supported by their own authority -- which dominance behaviors are allowed. When the adults refuse to intervene (or worse, mock the victim for seeking aid), they're not just neglecting the situation, they're actively supporting the attacks and intimidation as allowable, and denying the kids (bullies and victims both) the benefits of adult, civilized society.

Shifting to the online realm, a great strength of this forum is that the moderators make it clear what's acceptable and what isn't. If appealed to by one of the participants, they never just lean back and say "oh, fight it out between yourselves".... Instead, they rule "fair or foul", and expect those rulings to stand! Note that the backing of the community in such cases is... well, not quite "secondary", but at least "derivative". The moderators really are in charge, and they're willing to fulfill the responsibilities which come with that power. And by doing so over several years, they have built a community that accepts not just their authority, but their standards of discourse. (Hmm... "A friend is another I"?)

Notice too, that "building their own community" isn't what makes our mods special -- lots of people do that. What makes them special is that they were able to build and hold a friendly community, one where not only are the regulars comfortable, but most passers-by feel welcomed -- because the standards of this community are exactly those of civilized, adult discourse. (Usually "literate" as well, but we can be flexible about that part.)

#81 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:38 AM:

Mike Leung @ 42 says:

when incomprehension is the foundation of an accusation of bullying

And heresiarch @ 57 replies:

Calling someone a bully because you don't understand them...

But I don't think that's what Mike is saying, or what happened in the previous thread. What happened there was the supposed bully said other posters had misinterpreted someone else's expository writing. That was the basis of the claim of bullying.

I wish I'd chimed in there and agreed, because despite the way in which the supposed bully's claim was expressed, I thought he was right on the substance. It was a narrow point, but a valid one, and I got both sides of the emotional conversation: I got why the supposed bully was frustrated that more than one person was insisting on a meaning he thought was being read into someone's words. I also got why those doing the reading into were offended by the way the claim was expressed.

Possibly a third party intervening with that sort of statement might have defused, or at least de-escalated, the situation. Possibly not.* I wish I'd tried, though. The whole thread made me a bit chicken, for reasons both public and private.

That's a hard discussion to have about an expressive activity**, because some reactions are personal and intimate. It took me a long time to learn not to take it personal when someone disagreed with a meaning I found. Sometimes I still do take it personal, because there are subjects on which meaning is personal. Anyone who tries to argue with me about what I feel when I hear or sing "This Land Is My Land" can KMA, but arguing with me about what it means is fair game.

*And now, having written this comment, repeatedly previewed it, and then re-read the stretch of that thread under discussion, I see that several people, including a moderator, did take pretty much that position, and it didn't seem to help.

**It's especially difficult when you like the people with whom you're disagreeing, which is the case here.

#82 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:51 AM:

Long ago when I was in elementary school, there were two brat girls who made my life miserable at the bus stop. There came a rainy and one of them had an umbrella, and she kept poking me with it while her buddy participated in beat-up-Paula too--they may have been handing the umbrella to one another and taking turned. I finally grabbed the umbrella from the person and bashed her over the head with it. It caused her to sit down and cry (mostly alligator tears...). But she never harassed me again.

That's not atypical behavior--most schoolyard bullies have negative empathy in their bullying--the line "you can dish it out but you can't take it" applies, if someone abuses them with the exact same level of abuse they abuse others with, they break, and faster than their victims break. "This is what is feels like to be one of your victims/targets of abuse" is something most schoolyard bullies have no experience of--and they don't like it when someone treats them, with the abuse they give others. Some of them even stop, because suddenly what they're getting is pain imposed to them personally and it hurts them, instead of amusement/enjoyment from pain imposed on other people by them.

The people who were at the top of the Executive Branch of US Government are that sort of bully--presiding over torture and rape and intimidation and killings of persons in US custody under torture. They authorized waterboarding and other torture, their appointees effected mass homicidal negligence and worsened devastation of New Orleans in the mismanagement involved in the short and long term federal response activities there (the unPresidential grandstanding atrocity was particularly indicative--the rush to get he-whose-name-I-object-to-invoke * to New Orleans, with the power out in the city and devastation rife, to make a grandstanding speech--the feds brought an emergency generator in to provide lighting and power for the Speech, and then took the generator OUT after, despite the fact that New Orleans' municipal power was unavailable before, during, and after....)

There are lots of people who wanted Cheney etc. waterboarded. I agreed and agree with them... Every person in the chain of command who authorized or rubberstamped or failed to object to the waterboarding, should be/should have been waterboarded. Those deliberately kept out of awareness of and ignorant of such detainee abuse don't deserve waterboarding.

#83 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:07 AM:

#69: I think we get the sensation of winning from the praise of people we respect and the pride of achievement. That doesn't necessarily come from other people losing

That's what is behind my personal definition of an essential (as opposed to occasional) bully: a person who doesn't value any win that isn't accompanied by someone else's loss.

This drives them to initiate conflict even where most people would perceive it as unnecessary or counterproductive. Because if everyone's just sitting around agreeing with each other, what fun is that?

It *does* seem difficult for me to see how such people could be taught to value cooperation, if at all, which seems like support for the "just get them to go away" position. But on the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that I haven't just described a mythical being we humans project onto people who annoy us in order to, as you put it, other and dismiss them.

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:28 AM:

John @81:
What happened there was the supposed bully said other posters had misinterpreted someone else's expository writing. That was the basis of the claim of bullying.

I'd disagree, and say rather that one participant in the conversation attempted to take control of it. That started on his entry at comment 153, with the appeal to authority of his MFA and publishing credits. He had perfectly valid points, but he was also jostling for primacy.

Sean side-stepped, but you can see both Bruce Baugh @186 and Lee @187 signaling that they feel the conversation is going awry.

I'm afraid I cannot, at this stage, bring myself to dissect the way things went after I entered the discussion. Suffice it to say that it was not my reading or his that was the problem, but his manner of setting the challenge and dealing with responses that constituted an attempt to assert power in the conversation, an assertion that I resented.

I don't know that your entry into it would have helped, unless by establishing yourself "on his/the right side", you could then get him to treat his fellow conversationalists as peers. But you'd have had to move awfully fast to do so.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:33 AM:

You know, I think discussing the specific incident is not going to further the peace and comfort of the thread. It's also not fair to the people discussed.

I'm declaring a moratorium on it. John, one rebuttal and then we're done.

#86 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:50 AM:

No rebuttal, abi. I think you make valid points.

No, one moment of response. Sean brought up his degree in creative writing, and Teresa called him a professional writer, well before Nick entered the thread. Given that, for Nick to bring up his degree and his publication history is not unfair.

And that's it. It is a hard conversation, and I appreciate your efforts in facilitating it.

#87 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:59 AM:

abi @71
How do you help the [person who is being bullied] and stop the [person who is bullying]*?

By re-engineering the power structure.

Call out the bullying behavior as losing behavior. Not angrily, just calmly and factually. If the person being bullied is up to it, expose the damage that bullying is doing to them to the group,

They tried that at my school. Didn't work.

(Sorry, but I have the impression that people who went to schools where the school authorities more or less sided with the bullies often wrongly think that if only the school authorities would stop that and try to facilitate understanding between everyone, bullying would stop. Understandable but based on too limited experiences.)

abi @ 27: The incentive comes from saying, "We will listen to you if you do this, but not if you do that."

What if someone doesn't care about what people say about when they will listen to him?


I partly agree with Russel Coker about not conflating schoolyard bullying and being an asshole on the internet, though there's some overlap between these two today.

As for the online stuff- this is perhaps the only blog that routinely gets three-digit numbers of comments where I don't dread looking at the comments, and I think that partly, that's because the moderators here usually don't have too many problems with taking action against people who act as jerks.

#88 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:08 AM:

chris@83:

It *does* seem difficult for me to see how such people could be taught to value cooperation

But we only need them to behave as if they value cooperation, not to actually value it, and that may be achievable. They don't have to prefer cooperation to winning; they only have to prefer cooperation to being disemvowelled and then ignored. `Winning' in blog discussions relies on the bullying tactics being public and visible, so it's practical to try this sort of conditioning. The stereotypically teenage forms of bullying by physical or psychological abuse are much harder to combat, because they don't have to happen in public.

Bullying by moderators is still a problem in principle -- "a wide door and good bouncers" requires good judgement in bouncing, not just the ability to bounce hard. Fortunately we have good moderators, and on the rare occasions when they get it wrong, they are responsive to public opinion.

On the topic of moderation and disemvowelling, I was motivated recently to try out some screen-scraping tools on the BoingBoing comment threads to examine the statistics of disemvowelling (to see if it would make a good class project). I was expecting to find that disemvowelling would provoke arguments about the moderation policy and further disemvowellings on the same thread. There was surprisingly little of this -- some threads are more controversial than others, but there was very little tendency for disemvowellings to occur in clumps. I think this indicates that forceful but consistently-applied moderation is respected even by people who aren't trying to have a conversation.

#89 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:27 AM:

Sam Kelly @ 75 writes:I recently had to deal with bullying behaviour from a friend; it took me a long time, and several other peoples' help, to confront them on it, and I wasn't even the main target. The main issue was that they were continually positioning themselves "above" most of us socially, as though they were more competent and capable and organised and generally had a right and obligation to criticise and improve us all. Definitely a socially abusive relationship.

Yes. I'm currently dealing with this in one particular friendship. Being an alpha-dominant female myself (though of a laid-back, quiet alpha sort), I tend to run with other alphaish types. Sometimes they tend to abuse my laid-backness, and that's what I've run into with this one person. It's hard to do, especially with a relationship defined by wordplay, playful snark, and multilayered commenting. However, when the multilayers start carrying a not-so-hidden agenda of snippyness, that becomes a problem.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:29 AM:

thomas @88:
But we only need them to behave as if they value cooperation, not to actually value it, and that may be achievable.

An excellent point! It's the flipside of the phenomenological internet, isn't it? If you do a letter-perfect imitation of a good commenter...

#91 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Elise @ 79 and Raphael @ 87: Oh, God. Your comments (re: the authorities trying to stop the bullying and either not helping or making it worse) brought a vivid flashback from my high school teaching days. I'm not sure if it's relevant here or not, but--having brought up the idea that third-party intervention does seem to help, online at least--I may as well throw it into the mix.

We had a student, a young man, who was bullied mercilessly from the day he entered as a freshman. We did our damnedest to protect him and put a stop to it, and the net result of our efforts was: we kept the bullying down to a level where we couldn't quite justify taking serious action against the bullies. (Action, yes; serious, life-changing action, no.) That's something, I suppose--but neither I nor any of my colleagues felt that it was sufficient. We finally decided that there was no way we could keep this young man from being a target and got him into an experimental "open campus" program at another school. It got him a fresh start, with new people, anyway. I left the district not long after that, so I've no idea what happened to the student . . . but believe me, from a teacher's perspective, it felt as though we'd failed him.

Maybe sometimes you can't help. I don't know. Maybe times have changed enough that we could do a better job, today. I hope so.

#92 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 01:40 PM:

Is it still common that school bullies are often also jocks, or have the demographics changed since Columbine?

#93 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 01:43 PM:

The only time in all my being-bullied days when I felt any sense of victory was one day when I'd obtained a four-inch thorn from a tree near the school. When my usual bully* knocked me down that day, I stuck it into his calf as far as I could.

Boy that felt good. And he really didn't bother me for quite a while after that (IIRC, but it's been...35 years?).

Of course, I feel a little differently about it now. I wish I'd pounded it in to the hilt.
___
*Sorry, that's all I could see him as at the time, and though he was a human being that's all he was to me then.

#94 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Thomas @88: I was expecting to find that disemvowelling would provoke arguments about the moderation policy and further disemvowellings on the same thread. There was surprisingly little of this -- some threads are more controversial than others, but there was very little tendency for disemvowellings to occur in clumps.

There was a lot of complaint early on. I think the people who are offended on principle by the very idea of disemvoweling were driven off by the continued practice of it.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 02:18 PM:

Also, Thomas, on BB if people keep griping about DV after being told to go to the Moderation thread, their comments elsewhere are simply deleted.

#96 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 02:22 PM:

Earl @92: Most bullying is about physical intimidation still in schools. Bullying is about, imho, using some threat of force - physical or otherwise, for personal reasons. These reasons tend to be selfish or cruel. Bullying is cruelty, moderation is not.

People are how they act I think. That's why you cannot really separate ones behavior from who they are in the vast majority of cases. But there is a difference between bullying and maintaining order in the case of moderation.

Sometimes you need to use very similar tactics because of what you are dealing with. Many times you can just say something and the person involved will back down. But there are cases where you need to use that stick or take off the velvet glove to reveal the fist in side.

thomas @88: That is important, consistency. I think you hit it on the head there. If moderation tactics are consistent across the board it is very different then if it is erratic. That can be seen as bullying behavior.

I don't post here often, but I do read the threads and I don't see what I'd consider bullying. If it were that way I'd stop reading. Like some others I was bullied a bit in grammar school. In HS is pretty much stopped. Why? Well I did not take it, I'd go right back at them if they tried my freshmen year and there were better targets. That is also another distinction. Bullies will back down and move on to easier targets when presented with them.

#97 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 02:41 PM:

David Harmon @80 -- good, solid, thoughtful post. I'd say that the backing of the community isn't quite secondary or derivative, myself -- in many ways, a community creates itself, and it wouldn't be the same without the group taking on the role of supporting the community-as-it-is. This is part of what I was pointing to around consent way back there -- a solid consent leads to mutual support that is stronger than what any individual or small group (small relative to the size of the community) can enforce. The small group influences, but in a real sense can't control -- social norms are discovered rather than imposed. (Which, as I think about it, is why many religious communities end up failing -- they discover that the imposed norms don't actually fit with what the members discover they actually want.)

#98 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:08 PM:

Evan @ 61: "There a many kinds of power, and valuing power doesn't mean being a bully."

Most of what I want to say to this I already said @ 41 to abi. To rephrase a bit, appreciating power that is gained as a result of doing something for its own sake is a very different beast than wanting power for the sake of power. Making friends for the sake of friendship and then doing business with them is quite distinct from "making friends" in order to close a deal. If power is the goal, and friendship or good conversation or learning are merely routes to that power, then you're not playing the same game I am playing.

Ghandi and other non-violent protesters aren't a good model for socialization--they were in it for the power; they were just pursuing it by non-violent means. In their context, there's nothing wrong with that: building on something pericat said @ 39, the problem with bullying isn't the power games, it's the power games in an inappropriate context. Playing to win is just fine under the right circumstances--during a game of Risk, say.

Bruce Baugh @ 74: "Define victory in other ways, too."

For me a won conversation is one where I'm right at the end, not at the beginning.

Mike Leung @ 77: "From what Teresa cites you saying, your position on bullying text-relationships depends on analogies to inaudibility. If this is the attitude confronting bullies, then bullies may feel justified in their behavior by simply making some kind of sense, may they not?"

You're putting far too much weight on a lone analogy, and too little on the rest of what I've written. My analogy meant no more than that domineering conversational tactics are an impediment to communication, one impediment among many others. Those domineering tactics are orthogonal to having something relevant to say, just as being an excellent prose stylist is orthogonal to having good ideas. There are no "if and only ifs" here. One can act the complete bully while demanding that everyone admit that sky is blue and offering unimpeachable scientific evidence that it is true. Yet some people would then be loathe to admit that the sky is blue purely because the asserter is demanding undeserved respect for being right--and that is my point. Employing domineering social tactics makes people less willing to listen to you.

#99 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:45 PM:

Heresiarch: For me a won conversation is one where I'm right at the end, not at the beginning. Yeah! Mom (who's reading this, I think; hi, Mom!) and Dad raised us with an emphasis on heading in the right direction and not worrying so much about where we happened to be at a particular moment. Confirming the truth of something I think I know is good, and so is discovering something new to learn. Thinking of every exchange as having the potential to be positive-sum is a happy way to go.

#100 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 04:52 PM:

@ Earl Cooley #92

I treated a young girl for a fractured arm. One of the jocks at Columbine had thrown her into a fountain. (I think, but am not certain, that the fountain was there to commemorate the Columbine victims.) So even at Columbine, ground zero for Colorado if you will, there has not been significant improvement in the bullying culture. The incident occurred about 4 years after Columbine and my patient's account of the attack was substantiated by a police report she brought with her (for what that's worth).

One tactic I found useful in bullying was to confront both the bully and the victim. I told the bully that if she didn't stop being so mean, she would never have any friends. I told the victim that it was her job to help the bully by telling her to stop being a jerk. Then I assigned two other girls to intervene and protect the victim. I gave the victim a safe place to go. And the bully had to confront three little girls instead of one.

'Course this may only have been effective because it occurred during my brief tenure as a Brownie Scout leader and the girls were only six.

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 05:06 PM:

Throwmearope @100:
'Course this may only have been effective because it occurred during my brief tenure as a Brownie Scout leader and the girls were only six.

Intervene early, before they get a taste for it, and you can make a huge difference.

That's what I'm hoping, anyway, because my son is going to be a magnet for bullying. He's funny-talking...doesn't even speak the language right. He's a geek: skinny, goofy and idealistic, strides ahead his classmates in some areas and miles behind them in others. He's a loner in a sociable culture, and an incomer in a generationally-stable village.

He had trouble with some of the kids in his class last year, when he was 7. And the teachers intervened quite proactively, in a manner much like Kevin Marks links to. It seemed to have worked, not backfired like it did for elise.

His school has a program, best translated as "the peaceful school", which includes scheduled class time for interpersonal skills lessons, discussion of conflict resolution techniques, and so on. When the kids are 9 and 10, they can apply to be trained as peer mediators. My son is keen to be one, but I suspect they pick the cool kids for the role.

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 05:35 PM:

abi @ 101... I think I once read that, when he was in high-school, Harrison Ford frequently got beaten up by fellow students whenever they crossed paths. Sometimes the bullied gets the last laugh. Especially when his/her parents are like Alex's.

#103 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 06:14 PM:

In talking about bullying in schools, we've focused on the students bullying each other. How about teachers bullying children? The topic of time travel came up recently, and someone of my acquaintance lit up. He said that if he had access to a time machine, a certain elementary school gym teacher would be at serious risk of maiming.

#104 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 06:51 PM:

Wow, I go away for a couple of weeks and things explode! :-)

Fade, #6: I've seen similar sentiments expressed in a piece of glurge as "Never give up on anyone; miracles happen." To which I always want to append my own opinion, which is, "But also, don't wreck your own life waiting for someone else's miracle; if it's going to happen, it will happen with or without you."

Also, I've had to curtail my interaction with at least one person online because apparently her entire circle of friends routinely engages in a style of discussion which comes across to me as both hostile and upsetting. I believe her when she says she doesn't dislike me, but that's not how talking to her makes me feel... so I don't, much, any more.

heresiarch, #31: I read Evan's comment to be more along the lines of, "when he has nothing more of use to teach you." I can see where you got your interpretation, but I think the phrasing also permits putting the onus on the bully as being of potential but limited value.

Vicki, #36: I am not required to -- and often will not -- engage with anyone who does not accept that I am a person. I am not going to engage in a discussion with someone who demands that I prove that I am worthy of being listened to, and insists that I assume they are.

Yes, this. That's very much like my opinion on "tolerance", which is that I am not morally obligated to be tolerant of any person or position which does not grant me the same courtesy in return.

pericat, #39: Nicely put!

elise, #79: The experience you describe here is in fact a major component of the Culture of Bullying. The teachers "talked to the students about it, very seriously." And that's ALL they did; there were no consequences stated or implemented for repetitions of the behavior.

As a culture, we give lip-service (at most) to the idea that bullying is bad. Bullies pick up on this very quickly -- just as I figured out early on that most of my parents' threats of punishment for disapproved behaviors* were mere bluffs, and after that paid no attention to them. If, for example, a sports-team member who was seen to engage in bullying were to be suspended from the team for a few weeks, that would very quickly start to make a difference... but it will never happen. Disapproval without consequences is worthless.

* It should be pointed out here that "disapproved behaviors" were generally along the lines of not cleaning my room, or going to the SF Club meetings, or not going to church -- nothing potentially life-damaging, just that I wasn't the daughter they wanted.

#105 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:18 PM:

How much can we tolerate people who use bullying tactics (or are bullies)? How much should we give them the space to come back and behave well, and promise ourselves that if they cross the line we’ll deal with them then? Every time we do that, we risk excluding the more fragile members of our community and our conversation. And that is expressly against the charism of this site.

These are good questions. In my opinion, second, or third chances have to do with contrition on behalf of the offender. I've been a jerk on forums. When I first joined internet bulletin boards, I didn't really get what jerk I was being. There was a vast chasm between how I was coming across and how I thought I was behaving.

It took a few embarrassing moments before I finally got it, and they were really humiliating. Basically, people called me out for being a jerk and it turned into a dog pile. But in hindsight, I saw that I really was being a jerk. Those folks were right! That only added to the humiliation.

Still, I learned over time how to be a nice guy, or at least a nicer guy, on the internet. One thing that helped was a concept I learned in life offline, and that I try to apply to the internet is the idea of making amends.

If I, or anyone else, causes harm online, that person should make amends. Ammends can be an apology, along with a promise not to do the hurtful thing again, and then following up. We all make mistakes, but righting the wrong is part of being a responsible member of a community.

As a former internet jerk, one of the most frustrating aspects of getting called on my behavior was when my valid point was being completely ignored and instead the focus was placed on my brutish behavior. That's the risk one takes when they misbehave. It changes the focus from the topic of discussion to the behavior.

But some folks use a topic of discussion as an excuse to misbehave. That's a different issue from someone who is trying to engage but is being rude and nasty about it. In either case, I do believe people can learn and change. I think making amends is an important part of that change, both for the offender and for the victim.

#106 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:34 PM:

Heresiarch@98 -- have you read Delany's essay pair Times Square Red, Times Square Blue? One of the two essays is about why networking doesn't really work when it's engaged to get ahead. He seems to miss the importance of intentionality in the essay, unfortunately.

#107 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 07:37 PM:

I actually have found the current anti-bullying policies in the schools to be effective. One of my daughters went to the vice-principal when she was being teased by two boys, and they were called in and told to shape up. Further incidents would result in suspensions, etc. They stopped. I know of one kid who was expelled permanently for repeated bullying.

I can certainly see why moralizing lectures to the entire group but no consequences wouldn't be effective though.

#108 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:00 PM:

Sean@105, you just gave me an epiphany. This entire post+thread has, but your last two paragraphs were what really went 'bang'.

See, I recently posted in my journal about a topic that has caused me a lot of emotional pain and that I'm coming to terms with, even though it hurts. A friend of mine who--well, he may be like a brother to me but he can be a real jerk sometimes--commented to quibble about one sentence in the entire thing in a way that took it out of its context, and did so in a terribly condescending tone.

It isn't the first time he's done something like that, either.

Here I was, trying to figure out why he keeps doing this sort of hurtfulness and trying to figure out a way to sum up what he did, because I know he'd just quibble and pick apart any sort of point-by-point analysis.

Tonight I sat down and finally read this post and all the comments and--wow. Wow. Now I have a way to confront him that isn't going to reduce me to tears of frustration. I've got a better handle on what it looks like he's doing (getting caught up in his 'rightness' above and beyond how he's hurting anyone else) and how to handle it. Depending on his reaction, he may get a second chance or I may lose a friend (because I am well and truly fed up), but now I'm not torn up with anxiety about confronting him.

This is yet another reason why I love this place--discussions like this. I'm always learning something. Thank you, everyone.

#109 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:32 PM:

I have a question that has bothered me for quite awhile. And you guys are all very clever, so I am hoping for input. If dull, ignore. If inappropriate, please delete rather than disemvowel.

I don't understand why being able to create something that is wildly popular is bad or wrong. My undergrad degree is in lit, but I confess that 99 percent of my reading now is in genre fiction. (Well, pleasure reading. The tomes I read for work are beyond describing.) It seems to me that there is a certain set of skills and knowledge required to write a mega best seller. The subset of skills may be very different from the skills required to write a book so complex and convoluted that only 500 people in all of America can comprehend the meaning, but aren't they still skills?

I heard a piece on This American Life where 2 New Yorkers were putting down the song Kokomo. They said the Beach Boys knew exactly what pap would appeal to the masses and they wrote it up. The song was a mega hit. The sneer in their voice was amazing. I think they were studying music crit or something.

But why is being able to appeal to a lot of people fluff or evil or something? And why is excluding the whole vast continent of the country because of your erudition such a wondrous thing?

I think Nora Roberts (for instance) must know a lot about how to appeal to women since she's sold 150 bajillion books. Why is that immoral?

Heinlein writing all of his books, some of them still on my keeper shelf for 40 years, had to have talent to appeal to such a broad range of people. I don't get why certain people think that it's cool to sneer at genre lit.

(And if you think SF/F gets bad press, try being a romance fan.)

I see having the ability to create something that a whole bunch of people derive enjoyment from as a bonus, not a negative. Why is genre literature discussed in the same tone of voice as professional wrestling? Leftover from medieval times when the vast unwashed really were unwashed? Any thoughts?

#110 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:34 PM:

Uh, oh, wrong thread. Mega fail.

#111 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:45 PM:
heresiarch @ #98:

One can act the complete bully while demanding that everyone admit that sky is blue and offering unimpeachable scientific evidence that it is true. Yet some people would then be loathe to admit that the sky is blue purely because the asserter is demanding undeserved respect for being right--and that is my point. Employing domineering social tactics makes people less willing to listen to you.

Please don't take this as a specific reaction to you, but instead as a reaction to the many occasions I've seen the behavior you are trying to rationalize: I don't know how to get from where I've ever been to a place where the behavior you're describing makes any kind of sense.

In what thread of reason or causality does refusing to "admit the sky is blue" in such a circumstance discourage bullying behavior, rather than simply make the bully the hero of his world? The first actionable rule of the Art of War roughly translates that you must follow moral law. How do events even unfold to where such a person is standing up for the plain observation of reality, if he isn't challenging authentic bullying him- or herself in the first place? Why should the supposed bully think anything else?

#112 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:46 PM:

Jen @ 107: I know of one kid who was expelled permanently for repeated bullying.

Must be nice, living in a functional school system. I just got done pulling my kid the hell out of a magnet school where their "zero tolerance" bullying policy was actually a zero action policy. Moving her was easier than beating the principal over the head with what "zero tolerance" really means...I expect that would have taken lawyers, which would only have been effective once there were provable damages beyond what I was willing to sit still for.

#113 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 08:52 PM:

abi, is it within the scope of this discussion to reference a specific incident of disruptive behavior, and the community and moderator responses thereto, on a thread that's NOT "Oh Lev Grossman No?" I want to analyze stuff that happened on the Kennedy thread, but I don't know if it would be out of place.

#114 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:02 PM:

Chiming in as the other parent of Mark @112's kid: I found it incredibly frustrating that the way they implemented their so-called "zero tolerance" policy was to punish the bully and the target equally, if the target dared retaliate -- since I, like Xopher and many other commenters here, only ever got relief from being bullied myself when I retaliated as hard as I could. I loathe Orson Scott Card's opinions on civil rights, but I still think he got it right with Ender and Stillson, and I found myself wishing I'd known it in first grade instead of not figuring it out until pressed to the breaking point in eighth grade.

There was one school meeting at the magnet school where I expressed my opinion of their policy. Net result, me nearly in tears, and no inclination on the administration's part to change. I'm not very good at school meetings.

#115 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:05 PM:

@Renauts 108

I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I call that particular behavior 'hairsaucing.'

Years ago, I posted an article on another forum about a Chinese company that was using protein taken from hair clippings as a substitute for soy to make counterfiet soy sauce.

I found the story disgusting and amazing for many obvious reasons. But some of my friends in the thread immediately began quibbling with the idea that eating hair is so gross. They said that people bite their nails and kiss and do all sorts of things.

I was so mad! My point was to gape in wonder and horror at the idea that millions of people were putting industrially produced hair sauce on their dumplings instead of soy sauce, and instead I got into this tedious debate about whether or not eating hair is gross at all to begin with. Nevermind issues of consent, fraud, and hygeine.

It seemed sooooo internet to me. So now, when I present an idea and I find someone ignoring the main point to focus on a minor detail, I say I'm being hairsauced.

#116 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:09 PM:

Oops, sorry I misspelled your name, Renatus.

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:50 PM:

Sean Sakamoto @ 116... You've gotta tell them! Soy sauce is people! We've gotta stop them somehow!

#118 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 09:59 PM:

David Harmon @80 makes a good point about school victims/children being outside the norms of society.

In the normal world the justice system sorts out most things that comprise school bullying. But school seems to be an exclusion zone for the justice system. When I was young I had the impression that the police would not want to do anything if a child called them to a school, I'm not sure if I was correct - but even if I was wrong that wide-spread impression helps keep schools away from the justice system.

A large part of the bullying problems of which I have first or second-hand knowledge was sanctioned or encouraged by teachers. I believe that the book "Lord of the Flies" was a poor book and that if abandoned children would generally act in a more civilised manner without teachers. It would not be fun living in a tribe where teenagers make all the rules, but if they had to do practical things such as obtaining enough food to survive then the rules wouldn't be too bad. Bullying reduces the overall effectiveness of the team, when there is nothing useful to do (schools don't seem to do much teaching, they are just day-care centres) then there is no reason for the organisation to stop it, but if there are real goals that must be met then efficiency becomes important to everyone. The use of Lord of the Flies in school English classes seems to be a form of propaganda.

I am not inclined to believe anyone who claims that teachers tried to stop bullying but couldn't. It is routine for children to be manipulated by adults without realising it (for both good and bad reasons), a typical child has little ability to recognise when adults are manipulating them or manipulating others to attack them.

In the context of trolls on the net, as discussions on blogs etc are not essential for most people (IE blog discussions are way down Maslow's hierarchy of needs) there is little pressure to behave. Compelling the use of real names so that future employers could Google the people in question might alleviate that - but in most cases checking identities is not viable for online discussions.

#119 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:21 PM:

Throwmearope, #109-110: I have a response back on the Lev Grossman thread.

#120 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 10:53 PM:

Elise @79: I'm with Lee #104 on this, "they talked to the whole class" doesn't cut it without consequences and actually looking out for you afterwards. Throwmearope #100 gives an excellent example of how to go about that.

Rikibeth #114: policy was to punish the bully and the target equally, if the target dared retaliate... meaning the grown-ups couldn't be bothered to pay attention beyond "they were both fighting, who cares who started it"... and of course, it's that much worse for the kid who wants to keep a good record!

Tom Whitmore, #97: Thanks for the props! It occurs to me that my point about the crowd-support online being derivative, is actually a bit conditional. Here at Making Light, the moderators include the true owners of the forum, who not only collected and winnowed the community, but they have ultimate power over the forum -- to fire a rogue moderator, or even shut down the forum if everybody goes berserk. It's different for a forum that's attached to some larger entity such as a newspaper. Then the community is gathering around "something" rather than "somebody", and the moderators are employees or volunteers rather than the prime movers. It's worth noting how nasty newspaper and magazine forums can get!

Russel Coker #118: I am not inclined to believe anyone who claims that teachers tried to stop bullying but couldn't. It is routine for children to be manipulated by adults without realising it...

Unfortunately, the reverse is also commonplace -- that is, children learn easily to manipulate adults! This gets a lot easier for them when the adults aren't paying enough attention (class sizes, inadequate supervision) or have conflicting agendas (say, wanting to avoid "trouble" with administrators or parents).

In America at least, the partial segregation of many school systems from the "regular" justice system is largely a matter of protecting the kids (mostly in white, middle- or upper-class schools) from our increasingly confrontational police forces. It's certainly true that professional educators could handle a lot of problems better than the cops... but that takes a fair bit of training for the teachers, and more staffing, neither of which has been forthcoming. (And when things get really out of hand, you still need cops who can deal with children appropriately!)

#121 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:01 PM:

#117 Serge

Serge, you missed one! Euwwee, it's Soylent Brown Soy, instead of non-Soylent Green brown soy--which includes the kosher product, Soy Vai! [That last, I did not invent, Trader Joe's is one of the places which sells it.)

#115 Sean
Euwwww!!!!!!!! Yes, I am suitably revolted!

#122 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:53 PM:

One thing that doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this discussion is that bullies often have fans and followings. There are rewards for being part of a gang, of course, but there's also something seductive about the power some bullies achieve, something that gets some people to identify with the bully, and not with the victim. Perhaps its an extension of hominid group-identification behavior.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2009, 11:54 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 121... Dare I ask how Soylent Green could be kosher?

#124 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 12:13 AM:

Russell Coker @118: I am not inclined to believe anyone who claims that teachers tried to stop bullying but couldn't.

Maybe part of the problem in the situation that I described @91 was that we were trying to break a long established pattern; these were teenagers and not small children, after all. Maybe it was that the consequences we could offer just weren't important enough to this particular set of bullies, who, as it happens, were part of a group that probably wasn't planning on graduating from high school anyway and didn't much care what happened in class. In addition, much like Mark and Rikibeth above, we didn't want to let things go to the point where we would have had justification for calling the cops or expelling the bullies. Maybe--and this is probably as likely as anything--we, the teachers, just couldn't figure out what to do. I know I couldn't. But we did take the situation seriously, and we did try--and I've never been able to figure out what else we could have done.

As I said, it still bothers me.

Before anyone asks--at that time, anyway, and I believe today, expelling a student from public school required criminal action on the part of the student, pretty much, and usually the police were involved. And if the students were under a certain age, the district still had to figure out someplace else for them to go (even if they would have been happier dropping out).

#125 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 12:16 AM:

John Arkansawyer @81, I've been short on words recently, but reading assiduously. I think the big problem in the original thread was that the narrow slice of argumentation upon which the (arguable) bully was correct was, by the time he made it, a small part of the ongoing discussion. More importantly, the way he chose to discuss that matter was at odds with the existing tone and purpose of the discussion. He is not a habitual commentor here, and his behaviour upset the culture of the place.

My private definition of bullying, online, includes making oneself the focus of a thread which was originally not about one. Contradicting others who are carrying on a conversation, not lurking long enough to understand the culture of the place and demanding that culture be changed to fit one's own preferred debating style, not lurking long enough to realize you've drawn negative attention from a mod, indicate, to me, the contempt for individuals qua individuals which is a hallmark of bullying behavior.

#126 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 12:57 AM:

Serge@123: I've discussed it with someone, and the sense is that it's not covered under the dietary laws per se, but that it would fall under the same rules that prevent Orthodox Jews from having organ transplants. It's more about respect for the dead than about what categories of food are allowable.

#127 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:08 AM:

David Harmon@120: blogs attached to larger entities have people with exactly the same powers as the moderators and owners here have. They choose to exercise them differently. Any newspaper could close down its blog whenever it wants -- mostly they choose not to. And the moderators spend a lot less time cultivating a particular feel in such fora -- which leads to, in general, less conversational posting and less active posting. There's less of a feeling that people are listening, and more of a feeling that people are pontificating. And that's a culturally mediated phenomenon -- it's guided but not created by the moderators. There's an active, visible feedback loop around here, the kind that creates a real sense of buy-in by participants who believe that how they act affects others. It's an internal feeling of what Howard Rheingold says: "What it is --> is up to us." Which means that people here will sometimes, politely, disagree with a moderator; and sometimes, that changes the moderator's action or stance. Power may be absolute, but it's not wielded absolutely or arbitrarily.

#128 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:11 AM:

Hmm, that last one posted while I was changing it slightly. Imagine a paragraph break at the sentence "There's an active, visible feedback loop around here..." and it may flow a little better.

#129 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:18 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 126: Carefully carving off only one limb at a time, to keep the meat for each meal fresh, wouldn't necessarily (at least initially) mean a dead body . . .

Then there are the somewhat variant issues involved in, say, gnawing one's own foot off, under conditions of sufficient humger.

However, I rather doubt that either process would be within either the letter, or the spirit, of kosher (or halal) practice.

#130 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 08:27 AM:

Tom Whitmore #127: blogs attached to larger entities have people with exactly the same powers as the moderators and owners here have.

Yes, but those aren't the same people, and consequently they have different agendas all around. A newspaper's owner could close down its blog (maybe, given business considerations), but their hired moderators couldn't. More, the latter are much more subject to corporate interference, and lack an "ownership stake", which is why they "spend a lot less time cultivating a particular feel in such fora". Basically, I'm invoking a subset of the reasons why corporations can so rarely be "morally responsible".

#131 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 08:42 AM:

Rikibeth @113:
abi, is it within the scope of this discussion to reference a specific incident of disruptive behavior, and the community and moderator responses thereto, on a thread that's NOT "Oh Lev Grossman No?" I want to analyze stuff that happened on the Kennedy thread, but I don't know if it would be out of place.

I'm afraid it would be out of place, for several reasons:


  1. One of the participants in that conversation can't participate in this one, since he's been banned from the site.

  2. Much of the background to that particular incident predates this site, and indeed the Internet itself. Some of it is also private, from what I gather. So it would involve hauling in a bunch of old and personal stuff, at best muddying the issue and at worst creating whole new conflicts.

  3. Patrick and Teresa, who were moderating that thread, haven't been around much these past few days, and I can't guarantee their attendance at—or consent to (see reason 2)—such a conversation.

If you have specific concerns, feel free to email me (abi at sunpig dot com), and I'll see what I can do to address them.

#132 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 08:43 AM:

Leroy @ 129

Eating the limb of a living creature is so very not-kosher that even we non-Jews are supposed to refrain from doing it, and we're not expected to follow the rest of the kosher laws. It's one of the Seven Noahide Laws that are supposed to have been given to Noah to give to all his descendants (i.e. everyone on the planet). Genesis 9:4.

The other Noahide laws are: Don't murder, don't commit idolatry, don't steal, don't commit adultery, don't blaspheme God's name, and a positive law: set up courts of justice to enforce these laws.

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:12 AM:

I suspect that school bullying (with which a lot of us had some personal, still-painful-in-memory experiences) is a quite different phenomenon than a bullying style of argument on internet discussions. The differences are big enough that I suspect it's very hard to have a coherent discussion that covers both.

As far as the school bullying goes, there are a couple dangers with the zero-tolerance policies:

a. You can be mandatory-minimumed into inappropriately harsh responses for fairly minor stuff. Sometimes, this even translates into school administration using zero-tolerance policies to get rid of someone in their school they find annoying for dumb or evil reasons.

b. It's not automatically easy to work out what exactly is going on in some conflict between kids, any more than between adults. Increasing the penalties for a crime doesn't make the crime any easier to catch. Decreasing the evidence needed for punishment to happen makes innocent people more likely to be punished.

Some school bullying happens despite the best efforts of the teachers, I think. Some is done with their willful ignorance. Some is encouraged by them as a way of keeping order. I experienced some of each of those when I was in school. (The only thing that really helped with that was getting big and strong enough to make bullying me expensive.)

#134 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Lee at 104

"when he has nothing more of use to teach you" Yep, that is what I meant. I guess I was trying to be as gnomic and efficient in my language as Marcus Aurelius. My point was that, in my experience, the bullied individual has to come to the awareness on their own -- painful, but true. In that sense, the bully becomes a kind of "teacher" in the way that all adversity can teach. You don't know the lesson is over until just after it's over, until it has no more power over you.


heresiarch et al,

for the entire thread: A book that I really wish I could use to discuss bullying with all you clever people:

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.

Basic premise: there are (at least) two kinds of games. Finite games, in which the players seek to end the game by winning, and infinite games, where the players seek to keep the game going at all costs.

Premise for debate: Bullies are always playing the finite game.

#135 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:51 AM:

Evan #134:

I haven't read the book. But one intersting connection here is that the iterated prisoners' dilemma game allows for cooperation, as long as neither party knows when it's going to end. If we both know when it will end, we have no incentive to cooperate. (That assumes various other stuff, like no time value to the payoffs. Mathematical models can teach you about reality, but they're not reality.)

An interesting example of this is the phenomenon of lame-duck presidents. In your last year or two as president, you lose a huge amount of power, because your ability to repay friends and enemies in the future is running out.

#136 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 11:52 AM:

Cally 132: I thought that was "don't spill wine to other gods than YHWH," rather than "don't commit idolatry." To me it makes the difference between being a Righteous Gentile and not (since my practice is quite definitely idolatrous, but spilling wine is not part of it). Well...depending on how you define "blaspheming God's name." So...are you sure? It might seem like a nice distinction to you, but I'm going to have to stop telling the Lubovitchers in their Mitzvah Tank "No, but I'm a Righteous Gentile" when they ask me if I'm Jewish.

By the way, my Irish ancesstors were not righteous by the "no tissue from a living animal" thing, for the same reason traditional Masai are not.

albatross 133: (The only thing that really helped with that was getting big and strong enough to make bullying me expensive.)

I succeeded in developing a reputation for sufficient viciousness eventually. The time several guys ganged up to try to stick my head in the toilet ended with my head still dry and bite marks on more than one of them.

One principle of adult assaults that I think applies: if someone is attacking you, and you believe your physical safety is in actual danger, any level of force you need to apply to escape the situation is appropriate. That means that if the guy has your arm twisted painfully behind your back, if you can stomp his foot and break his toes, that's entirely OK in my book.

Evan 134: Premise for debate: Bullies are always playing the finite game.

Could you explain a little more? Because that seems backwards to me. In my experience it's the person-bullying who wants the game to continue (bullying you over and over as long as possible), while the person-bullied wants to end it once and for all. In my own case, I wanted to end it by ending the lives of the people who were bullying me, which strikes me as a pretty finite game.

I think I must misunderstand these concepts, or be misapplying them. Could you elaborate a little for those of us who haven't read that book?

#137 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 12:07 PM:

David Harmon@130: Yes, indeed -- it is part of why corporations end up not being morally responsible. But that's the difference between a community and a (possibly captive) audience, I think.

I'd still say that the moderators here have, in a sense, less power than I read you as saying they have. I think the community would likely re-discover itself elsewhere if this particular group got shut down.

#138 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 12:51 PM:

I confess that I find some of this discussion confusing, since my experience of bullying is rooted in the face-to-face world of physical confrontation rather than on-line verbal argument. (There's a kind of bullying that can emerge in face-to-face verbal argument, but even that seems to me to hinge on the possiblity of rhetorical conflict becoming physical.) When I do a mental search for words and phrases associated with "bully" I come up with items such as "push around" or "in your face" or "shake a fist"--all part of the fine old repertory of grossly physical primate dominance behavior. I realize that there are verbal and rhetorical extensions and analogues of these, but I've always seen them as pretty attenuated, perhaps because even when I was a rather small person and fairly easily pushed and punched, I was more than a match, intellectually and rhetorically, for the entry-level thugs of the playground. It's difficult to bully someone who is willing and able to fight back, and in situations where they couldn't get at me physically, I couldn't be dominated. (Out on the playground, of course, I learned circumspection, tact, and the art of the retreat.)

Much of what is under discussion here strikes me as metaphorical rather than actual bullying--the kind of thing that the talking heads on TV engage in, such as Larry Kudlow's braying style of argument (shout over your opponent, use your control of the venue to dominate). I realize that some participants in an open discussion might feel put upon or put down by debater's tactics and general rhetorical loudmouthery, but unless there is threat rather than, say, mockery or cheap shots or the rest of the ad-hominem collection, it doesn't register as bullying to me. Just asshole-ism or maybe inadequate socialization.

As to how one deals with sphincteroid on-line behavior, that's a matter of the local culture. The fora I frequent have evolved explicit mechanisms (moderation here) or implicit protocols for coping with individuals who get out of hand. It does require a sense of community, which implies a stable core population. Most groups I've hung out with have included one or two volatile or opinionated or competitive or merely stubborn arguers, and while we usually put up with them, we do occasionally have to make them feel unwelcome and hope they leave. They often do.

#139 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:03 PM:

Tom Whitmore #137 : I think the community would likely re-discover itself elsewhere if this particular group got shut down.
I’m not sure that it would.  This community has grown because of TNH and PNH, and because of Abi and Jim and Avram and others.  I think their personalities define this community’s style;  when it’s shut down (as, one day, it will be – nothing is eternal, not even Nielsen Haydens), elsewhere will be quite different.

(off-topic, sorry)

#140 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:03 PM:

Xopher @#136: I suspect that you're looking at it from the perspective of a relationship. The bully isn't; from their perspective, each interaction is its own little "game", and they want to "win" it by being nasty to the target. There's only a relationship in that the bully knows this target is always available for a quick game of bullying.

#141 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Way late, but a reminiscence from an old, now moribund forum: even facially perfectly reasonable requests for information can be a form of bullying in the right context, if they act to force (fsvo force) the participants in a conversation to repeatedly put aside the things they were interested in talking about so that they can educate the requestor. You also sometimes see this in corporate settings when someone insists that a particular subject be explained from first principles before any more substantive work gets done.

#142 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Evan, #134: I disagree with your premise -- or rather, I think bullying contains elements of both types. Yes, bullies want to win individual confrontations, which is a finite game; but they also want to accrue and maintain social power (which tends to be described as "being respected") by doing so, and that is definitely an infinite game.

#143 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:31 PM:

paul #141:

Is that bullying, exactly? It seems like that's not quite the right word, somehow.

#144 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 01:39 PM:

Carrie 140: So you're saying that people-who-bully treat each instance as a finite game that as far as they're concerned ends when they walk away laughing from the locker or the trash can or the crying kid with his lunch all over the floor and no money to buy another?

You mean they have an even lower regard for the humanity of their victims than I thought?

I'm actually feeling vaguely queasy at the thought. Part of me wishes I had killed a couple of them.

The rest of me knows better, fortunately. Remember the guy whose calf I stuck a thorn into? Saw him at my 10-year reunion, and funny, he didn't appear to deserve to die. In fact I had considerable doubt he'd ever deserved to die. And that was the first time since he took up bullying me in junior high that I hadn't wanted him dead.

#145 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:10 PM:

even facially perfectly reasonable requests for information can be a form of bullying in the right context, if they act to force (fsvo force) the participants in a conversation to repeatedly put aside the things they were interested in talking about so that they can educate the requestor.

I can't dig it up at the moment, but I'm sure YouTube includes the clip of Buffy in which Willow goes to the college "Wicca"1 group. Tara's there as well, and at one point (after saying nothing so far) tries to express an opinion in the midst of a general scrum of talking. The leader of the group makes a huge point of shushing everyone so Tara can talk, which of course puts Tara on the spot and she wilts into shyness.

There are all sorts of ways to bully people.

You mean they have an even lower regard for the humanity of their victims than I thought?

Yeah.

The only excuse for youth is that kids grow out of it.

1: From a Buffy perspective, the college group is not actually Wiccan because they, well, don't do Real Magic. This led to one of my favorite Buffy quotes ever, the one about "menstrual life-force power thingy".

#146 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Mike Leung @ 111: "Please don't take this as a specific reaction to you, but instead as a reaction to the many occasions I've seen the behavior you are trying to rationalize: I don't know how to get from where I've ever been to a place where the behavior you're describing makes any kind of sense."

It doesn't make sense, really. It's a gut reaction, and it's the flipside of bullying: digging your heels in regardless of of whether you're right or wrong, just as bullying is pushing for the "win," regardless of whether you're right or wrong. Its virtue is that it's defensive rather than offensive, but shields and walls don't make the crops grow any faster than swords and catapults.

A far better solution is to realize what's going on and either call out the bullying (which tends to reduce its power) or to walk away. But it's surprisingly easy to miss bullying in a conversation, in a way that doesn't happen with a knife at a chess match.

A lament that I've heard in several conversations where bullying has reared its ugly head is "I wish we'd had the chance to discuss the interesting point that total jerk brought up, rather than spending our energy running her off." Bullying drags everyone else off topic too, and worst case makes the conversation about who is the winner, and best case about calling out the bullying, but in neither case is the idea being forwarded for anyone. (See, dlbowman76, I got your poem eventually!)

In general: I think one of the stumbling blocks in this conversation is that calling out bullying is a claim about people's intentions, which are notoriously impossible to prove. Another thorny issue with a similar problem is racism--strategies developed for calling out racism might be good models for calling out bullying. So, lesson one: How to tell people they sound like bullies. Summary: Don't tell them they are bullies; tell them that what they did was (and here I confront the fact that bully doesn't have a natural sounding adjective form) domineering.

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:39 PM:

How about bullyistic? "Klytemnestra, you went a little bullyistic there."

#148 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:45 PM:

(This will be a three-part comment. Apparently all my thoughts on this thread wanted to come out at once.)

paul @ 141: That kind of behavior is, sadly, far from old and moribund. These days it's considered a form of derailing. I wouldn't call it bullying, but it is manipulative.

The worst of it is that it poisons the well -- can lead to what feels like bullying to newcomers who don't realize that their questions are now presumed to be attempts at manipulation, rather than honest requests for information.

This often takes place when the basis of a conversation is not considered debatable on the forum in question, but is considered debatable outside that forum. Endless requests for basic information can be a sneaky way of endlessly debating the same topic.

Leads to all kinds of sticky situations, on which my opinion changes in direct relation to how debatable I, personally, think the topic is.

#149 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:46 PM:

(Part the second: defining bullying)

Bullying, in my opinion, is more about the raw exercise of power. In the schoolyard it's either about physical power -- pushing someone around, beating them, hurting them -- or social power. On the internet it's all social power (since the good Lord has not yet granted anyone the ability to punch people in the face over standard TCP/IP).

(Physical bullying is also about social power, of course -- it depends on whether "I can beat you up" is a form of social currency in your world.)

The main method is to threaten someone with loss of respect or reputation among people whose opinion they care about. Sometimes, this works by making the victim care about your opinion, love-bombing them, then tearing them down. This happens in abusive relationships, for example.

Sometimes you can force the victim to care about your opinion by having people whose opinion the victim actually does care about on your side. These people are most likely jockeying for social status themselves. Here, you get "You can't be friends with me if you're still friends with her" and internet variants. It's like a bullying pyramid scheme.

Sometimes you can assert your power over the victim even if they don't much care what you think, and even if you don't have an army of followers who branch into people the victim does care about, simply by being relentless in your harassment. Stalking falls into this category. This can be, and is, undertaken by groups as well as solo bullies. It's not quite the same as the above paragraph even when done by a group. The previous method involves the victim's relationship to members of the group. In this method, the victim has no relationship to the group other than to be the group punching bag -- to provide an activity to reinforce group identity.

It gets slippery because these methods combine, and sometimes masquerade as one another. I had a person using the first method claim that all our mutual friends were on his side, for example. I've had people using the third method assist their attack by first making me believe I was friends with a few of the group members, then all turning on me at once because it had never been anything more than a group entertainment.

#150 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:53 PM:

To all who responded to my post about Finite and Infinite Games, I didn't mean to create a thread where I explain Carse's book. I've responded below, but I'll point you to this amazing talk, where Carse does a much better job than I can of explaining his ideas.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-962221125884493114#

Reading his book, which is pure philosophy and not self-help, actually did help me deal with some grown-up bullies who were spoiling a part of my life.

Lee @ 132

Carse defines social prestige as a kind of prize, and prizes are always the reward for winning a finite game. Infinite players are always willing to mess with the definitions of victory. Finite players want their victory to last forever.

Xopher @ 136 and Carrie S. @ 140

Yes, Carrie says what I would've said.

However -- and I just remembered this -- another characteristic of a finite game is that both players in some sense have to agree to it. Carse says "Those who are forced to play cannot play." It's another way of phrasing that most infuriating statement: "Well, you wouldn't be picked on if you didn't let them." Both the bullied person and the bully have to share the same conditions for victory -- otherwise the bully wouldn't be able to win because there would be no game.

albatross @ 135

Fascinating. I never thought about the lame duck predicament as a function of reduced capacity to wield punishment and reward. Essentially, reduced power to successfully conclude a series of short, finite games. I wonder if a president could succeed in playing with the rules enough to retain power in those final months ...

#151 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 02:54 PM:

albatross #143:

It might make more sense to call it trolling, but in large part it comes off as "I have the status to interrupt your conversation and call you out as rude/intolerant/hypocritical if you refuse to devote yourself to educating me me me."

It's a variant, I think, of the "not all things are up for discussion all the time" subthread above, and sometimes of the "prove to me that you're human" bullying gambit, only more respectfully couched.

One probably sees it more at some political-ish sites, where "please explain to me how laws against same-sex marriage differ from laws against incest" might pretend to be an honest question.

#152 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:01 PM:

(Part the third: on dealing with bullying)

I have had people whose ideas and analysis I had valued start to use bullying tactics. Absent a change of heart and behavior, the bullying tactics meant I no longer valued their ideas and analysis -- at least, once I got over the jockeying for social status when I convinced myself I was on their side and they were totally justified in their tactics.

I think the way Making Light handles it is good. This is my general view of how it works here: Someone who is rude or starts bullying -- whether that be a regular or a newcomer, and whether the target of their rudeness or bullying is a regular or newcomer -- is asked to stop. If they do not stop, they are asked to leave the thread. If it's particularly bad, they may be asked to leave the site for a while. If they are capable of coming back and not bullying, they are welcomed. If not, they are perma-banned.

I think the emphasis on behavior rather than on identity works well here. At other sites I've frequented, there's a sense that regulars get a near-infinite pass on bullying newcomers. If a newcomer is rude, there is no limit on how rude you are allowed to be in return, and the more clever your comeback, the greater social capital you earn. If you're in-group, you can't be a bully. If you're out-group, you are under suspicion until proven otherwise.

Here, it is generally about behavior. Regulars and mods who resort to bullying tactics are called on it (politely) by other regulars or mods, who are known to them and whose opinions they value. Newcomers who use bullying tactics are generally treated the same way. If someone does resort to rudeness or counter-bullying at a bullying newcomer, they are generally called on it rather than egged on.

Mods do not tend to applaud true rudeness or bullying behaviors, and they tend to damp down applause of these behaviors from other people on the thread. This tends to stop the formation of an in-group where bullying others is a form of group bonding, which means newcomers don't feel the need to bully in order to be accepted.

Of course there are counterexamples. (I can name at least one time when I, myself, went off the deep end and was rude -- possibly even bullying -- to a newcomer whose thesis I disliked. I still feel bad about it. I was showing off for the group and I knew it.) These are generalizations. Conversations here have tended to go best when these have been true, in my experience and opinion.

#153 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:09 PM:

paul #151:

And yet, as abi's fond of saying, we take our conversationalists as we find them. Just because you have resolved that question in your own mind, and I have, doesn't mean that some new person has done so, or agrees with the way we have resolved it. It is possible to take over a conversation asking questions that derail it, but that doesn't feel at all like bullying to me. And sometimes, those questions are worth asking and answering--sometimes, the consensus opinion or explanation isn't actually right or satisfying. (In general, one person walking into a forum and asking unwelcome questions has a hard time doing much bullying.)

Now, that doesn't mean it's appropriate in all fora. If some people on an economics forum want to talk about the right monetary policy to get us out of the current recession, they're probably not too interested in running a basic macroeconomics class, followed by a basic money-and-banking class, before they can get on with their conversation. But asking questions in that sense might be trolling, is more commonly just cluelessness in an inappropriate forum, but doesn't seem like bullying.

#154 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:21 PM:

Tom Whitmore #137: I'd still say that the moderators here have, in a sense, less power than I read you as saying they have. I think the community would likely re-discover itself elsewhere if this particular group got shut down.

Not exactly -- as noted by John Stanning #139, this particular grouping was formed by both relationship and contingency. That is:

  1. If (heaven forbid) the NH's imploded and shut down the entire thing, people wouldn't forget everyone else's name -- but they wouldn't be checking the blogs of everyone who'd posted here!
  2. If they then gafiated for even a year (much less 10 or so) and then started up a new forum, they'd get a slightly different collection of people -- not everybody would come back, but new folks would show up.
  3. Some sorts of breakup would fragment the community -- for example, the notable mailing list "kin", already weakened by dilution and disclaimed by its founder "bandy", was finally done in by a love triangle involving core members, and split into two main lists and a few tiny ones.

But of course, this isn't an isolated group, in fact it overlaps quite a number of "Doonesbury circles" including various fandoms, writing groups, knitters et al.... These act as "backup", so that if one of these interlinked communities breaks up, the people involved shift their attentions to other groups, largely according to the connections they have! (In the case of "kin", the heavily overlapping "suspects" and "elbows" lists were basically unaffected.)

#155 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:24 PM:

Xopher @ 147: The only problem with bullyistic is that it sounds like too much fun, like a cross between balletic and ballistic. =)

Evan @ 150: "Both the bullied person and the bully have to share the same conditions for victory -- otherwise the bully wouldn't be able to win because there would be no game."

The problem with this is you assume the bully is playing the game with the bullied, and only the bullied. In my experience the bullied often isn't anything more than a piece in a social game being played with other people entirely, and never are the bully and the bullied the only two relevant people. Bullying is all about positioning one's self vis a vis a larger social hierarchy.

#156 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:38 PM:

I'm struggling toward a clearer picture of online bullying in this kind of forum. (As opposed to the myspace suicide sort, which seems very different.)

There's a kind of person who comes onto a thread here or somewhere else, and who is not engaging honestly. That is, he's not trying to discuss, he's trying to win, to score points, to make himself feel powerful or important, even just trying to get a rise out of people. That's a garden variety troll, right? He may or may not care about what he's discussing, but there's no intent to communicate.

Then, you can also have someone who has something to say, something he cares a lot about and has thought deeply about, but his style of discussing it is all sharp elbows. He may be dismissive or intimidating. He may infer evil motives or beliefs, or a lack of intelligence, or a lack of ethics, on the part of people who disagree with him. He may be insulting. But he is actually trying to discuss something.

I think it's this second description that fits the bullying that may have happened elsewhere on ML recently. I think this is the kind we're mostly concerned with, right?

Now, most of us have multiple reasons for whatever we do, many not even things we're always aware of. So probably, when someone is all sharp elbows in a discussion, it feels good to him when other people have to back off because of those elbows. He may see himself as smiting down evildoers, or educating the stupid/unenlightened with a good healthy smackdown. But this is still kind of a hurtful way of discussing things.

The funny thing is, thinking about this, that kind of snark is mostly not welcome here (at least not against anyone present), but it's very common on the net. Many of us link to that sort of thing, and laugh when we read it. I'm not sure what to think about that--sometimes, it's quite entertaining to read a good fisking of some fool. But damned if I can see the difference in style between that and bullying in an online discussion--there's a difference in when and where it happens, but not in the style.

Hmmm. I need to think about this, and how it relates to the times I've felt bullied in an online discussion.

#157 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 03:43 PM:

heresiarch @ 155

Another interesting wrinkle. Even if the game has more than just the two players, there is still, shall we say, a shared horizon, a shared gameboard between the bully and his victim. I am in no way exonerating the behavior of the bully here, but I am saying that in order to be a victim of bullying, you have to buy into the (always impoverished, oppressive, or otherwise odious) terms of play as the bully defines them. The bullying can be done to defeat the victim or exalt the bully in comparison to others, but the play must still be engaged in by the victim.

Example:
Two people enter a room, where they are told by a third person, quite unexpectedly, that they can either choose between a fine or a physical punishment. The victim chooses one. The non-victim simply leaves the room. Whether the performace was enacted for the benefit of an observer does not change the dynamic.

99 people out of a hundred will stay in the room, and every bully knows this.

#158 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:00 PM:

Evan, have you ever been the victim of physical bullying? If someone trips you so you fall on the floor, scattering your books everywhere, how do you "choose" not to engage that? How about if he chases you down, twists your arm behind your back, and slams you against the row of lockers several times? How does your buy-in, or lack of same, matter at all to that situation?

In my experience, he and his friends laugh at you either way, and if you didn't "buy in," they wouldn't even notice.

#159 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:03 PM:

In fact, that whole idea is beginning to sound an awful lot like "just ignore them and they'll stop," which has already been discussed and rejected as nonsense.

#160 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:04 PM:

In fact, that whole idea is beginning to sound an awful lot like "just ignore them and they'll stop," which has already been discussed and rejected as nonsense.

#161 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Oops, sorry for the double post.

#162 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:09 PM:

Coming late to this discussion. I was hesitant to check it out because I thought it might be too contentious for my taste, and am pleased to find that it's not.

Three things occurred to me as I read through the thread.

The mention of bullying as a desire for power, and the ensuing discussion of whether desire for power is a general human want, reminded me of Cordelia Vorkosigan's line in Barrayar: "I don't want power. I object to idiots having power over me."

Second, nobody has mentioned Suzette Haden Elgin's "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Being written pre-internet, it deals mainly with face-to-face verbal hostility, and I don't agree with all of it, but it is well worth reading for its advice on how to recognize when you are under attack and how to respond.

And third, I think that part of the reason that school interventions sometimes fail is that they come across as requiring everybody to pretend to positive feelings they don't necessarily have. ("You don't want your friend to feel sad, do you?" "He's not my friend and actually, yeah, I get a kick out of making him cry.") It seems like they might get farther by taking the position that "You don't have to like everyone equally, but you do have to treat everyone with basic respect."

#163 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:18 PM:

Evan @157 --- What if a clever bully, who knows how this works, has blocked your exit from the situation in some way? For example, the primal girls' locker room bullying sequence where the bully has thrown the victim's clothing in the trash can and she and her allies won't let her near. I can pretty much guarantee no victim in these circumstances will walk out of the locker room naked. If she has the presence of mind to take someone else's clothes, perhaps she can escape; but that just fobs the bullying off onto another victim, which is not a particularly ethical way to escape. OTOH, I do see the value of educating bullying victims to always keep an eye out for an escape strategy; being prepared can prevent panic, and even prevent the victim mentality bullys seem to be able to smell.

How this applies to the Internet I'm not sure. It's a lot easier to escape bullying online -- just step away from the site.

#164 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 04:58 PM:

Xopher @ 158

I have scoured my memory, and though I can come up with a host of moments, none of them are of such physical bullying, no. I can remember the threat on several occasions, but never the reality. Thank you for your candor.

By invoking the world of children you've done two things:

1) Uncovered a thicket of questions which I need to take some time to think about.

2) Awakened some strong emotions which I need some time to process. I was never physically bullied, but I suffered all the other kinds for years. It's amazing how gulfs of time can be erased by this issue.

And for some reason I can't stop thinking of Ursula LeGuin's short story "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas." There might be some answers there. I'll reread it tonight.

Any theorizing I've been doing in this thread is in the interests of figuring out how to liberate ways of thinking about (or remembering) bullies. I don't mean to trivialize what you, Xopher, or anybody else has suffered.

Whew. This is the first conversation I've ever really waded deep into here at Making Light (though I've been a lurker for years), and the candor, rigor, and civility of this community are indeed singular in my internet experience.

#165 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:02 PM:

OtterB @162 Here's a link to the GAVSD's internetsy form, if anyone's curious. Like I was.

#166 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:11 PM:

David Harmon @154 -- that leads directly into the question of what "the same" is, in regard to ongoing communities, which would probably get us both regarded as the type of bully who wants to make sure our definitions are clear. Sometime remind me to tell you the story of the different definitions of monthly oil imports into the US used by two different branches of the government....

#167 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:16 PM:

re 80: As someone who had to deal with bullying at every level of schooling from grades 1 to, oh, about 9, not to mention a bit of the neighborhood variety, this is just not what I experienced. In private middle school and high school, bullying was heavily discouraged, and bullies weren't invited back. That didn't, however, prevent bullies from appearing. In elementary school the situation was a lot more ambiguous. However, a great deal of the bullying (e.g. playground stuff) was conducted under the true-to-a-great-extent theory that the adults were unable to act as enforcers.

Meanwhile, re 156: Albatross, every instance of real online bullying that stayed in simple message exchanging (as opposed to moving into stalker-ish stuff such as sending harassing emails) was done with the complicity of the moderators of whatever forum the exchanges occurred in. The typical course was that a cohesive group set down a particular viewpoint, and someone else disagreed who hadn't accrued enough in-group points to force normal social group rules to apply. Often that expression was less than totally tactful (by some standard), because after all a lot of online exchange isn't all that tactful. It thus became acceptable to treat the dissenter as a disruptive outsider and to gang up on him, and the moderators failed to some degree to enforce standards of conduct because after all they were being invaded by a "troll". One person generally cannot compete with an aggressive crowd, and it was easy for the moderators to tell themselves that the person in question could not be tolerated because, after all, he was disrupting the forum. So if he had a thick skin, they eventually banned him, and if not, they eventually drove him away by treating him abusively.

#168 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:27 PM:

Xopher @ 159 and Janet Croft @163

Gandhi could do it -- offer up his own body to physical harm until his abusers had a moral awakening. A non-violent adult religious martyr can do it, choosing escape from the game through death, even.

In fact, despite the spicy, seductive quality of Carse's thought, which aims to transform abuse into voluntary suffering through thought alone, I am beginning to wonder how all ennobling philosophy, Christian, Buddhist, etc. applies to the suffering of children at all. Even Taoism, with its cult of unrefined virtue, demands adulthood to really work.

I will just go ahead and say right now that while I think Carse's reading, and the general idea that we can learn from bullies, is potentially very powerful for grownups with memories of bullying or with grownup opponents, it just doesn't work for young people. Can you sit down and teach a nine-year old how to be a stoic, or a Nietzschean, or a Buddhist?

#169 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:27 PM:

Evan, I'm really sorry for what I'm about to do. I'll make it quick.

I've been following along rendering as little judgment as possible, because this thread has been SERIOUSLY triggering for me. I am firmly in Xopher's camp; I have a little list, and there are some administrators as well as some peers on it.

So I'm just going to say, briefly and then leave again, that at #157 you have gone off the rails. You are exhibiting the victim-blaming behavior that put those administrators on my little list, and demonstrated that you are coming to this discussion from a position of unacknowledged privilege.

One of the key characteristics of bullying situations is that the fucking door locks behind you. Maybe you've never been in that room, so you wouldn't know, or maybe you've been so rarely that you've forgotten. That is your privilege. Many of us do not share it.

OK, I'm done.

Evan, and Abi, again I apologize.

#170 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:28 PM:

albatross at 156: One thing occurs to me, thinking partly about the person I mentioned at 75, who actually admitted during the course of our discussion that they were engaging in that behaviour to maintain their own self-image. The phrase they used was "I would feel bad about myself if I didn't try to improve the people around me" or something similar. So that seems to feed into the whole "not about the victim" problem, and can in theory be remedied by forcing the person who was bullying to recognise the mutual humanity. The problem is, that's not a responsibility anyone can pin on the victim.

On a larger social scale, Walter Wink talks about the same sort of issue - standing up to entrenched social monoliths by (amongst other things) naming them for what they are and establishing a separate identity. It's hard, and some situations make it much harder.

#171 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:32 PM:

...Evan, I was composing and stupidly didn't hit refresh, so I didn't see your walk-back at 168. I can't delete, so let me apologize once more.

#172 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Mark @ 171

No worries at all. I think for a lot of people in this thread, myself included, what started out as an illuminating discussion got heavy very quickly. And it is true that, in my desire to look at the issue from every angle I could think of, I was getting dangerously close to "blame the victim" land. Xopher and you made sure as hell I didn't stay there though! :) Seriously, thanks to you both.

How quickly and how close I strayed into that territory, though, is part of what is rattling me about this whole topic. I was bullied, and maybe I've just come across another scar from it that I never noticed before.

I'll quiet down on this topic for a while, maybe go read about spaceships or something cerebral for a while and then come back and see what y'all have come up with.

#173 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Guys, I've been watching this topic grow and blossom with real interest and admiration. I don't have half the stuff to say about it that others do, but I'm learning a lot by reading.

I appreciate the honesty and trust that everyone is bringing to the conversation. That makes exchanges like Mark and Evan's possible.

I think the Making Light community is really neat. Just sayin'.

#174 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:02 PM:

Mark and Xopher

Apologies to you both if what I said trivialized your experiences. I did not intend to do so.

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:12 PM:

Evan, that's actually very interesting. Perhaps that tendency to blame the victim is more universal than we think. Maybe the teachers and administrators who give kids ineffective solutions are former victims themselves, thinking "if only I'd done thus-and-so," and consciously or unconsciously trying out that solution with the kids who complain of bullying. I'm aware that the solution I wanted when I was a kid (various horrific methods of killing my tormentor) would have led to much worse outcomes than my continuing to be bullied did, but perhaps some of these adults have less extreme solutions in their fantasy reworkings of their childhoods.

Perhaps by blaming the victim (or, less extremely, suggesting things the victim can do to fix things), we attempt to put power in the hands of the victim, and by extension our long-ago powerless selves. I still think that's wrong, but I can understand it, and even recognize the seeds of such a tendency in myself (though my advice to victims of bullying might run to "carry something sharp").

I'm reminded of two things: one, Miles' combat flashback in Komarr, when he realizes what really would have happened "if only" he'd done what he's long tortured himself for not doing; and two, a story Isaac Asimov told, wherein a woman complained that her mother made her take years of piano lessons even though she hated them and had no talent; what she really wanted to take was dance lessons.

"I hope you're not making the same mistake with your own daughter," said the Good Doctor.

"Of course not," replied the woman. "Whether she likes it or not, my daughter is going to dance!"

#176 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:13 PM:

Evan, while I disagreed with (some of) your formulations pretty forcefully, at no time did I think you intended to trivialize my experiences.

#177 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:14 PM:

Second that, abi @ 173. I haven't thought about the bullying I endured in school for decades. And having home-schooled my daughter, I was mostly spared reliving it vicariously through her. This discussion is bringing it back, but in an environemnt where we can all feel relatively safe exploring the issues. Viva Making Light.

Mark @ 169, "the fucking door locks behind you" is a chillingly precise way of putting it. That's exactly what I was trying to get at. I still remember the absolute terror I felt when bullies broke my glasses at a crowded basketball game in high school -- that's what it felt like. No way out -- blind and trapped in bedlam.

And this brings us back to that distinction between a child and an adult being bullied. Could I handle it now? I'd like to think I could -- experience would tell me I have options. But a bullying adult boss has other, more subtle ways of getting at you. I've recommended this book beofre and will do so again -- _The No Asshole Rule_ by Robert Sutton. Lots of stuff on handling workplace bullying, and how to prevent a corporate environment accepting of bullying.

#178 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:16 PM:

Argh, add "...or think you had done so." I did think you didn't understand some things, but I didn't think you were trivializing them, just that you didn't get it. And now you do, and you've said so, which is terrific.

abi, I quite agree, and I'm really glad Evan has joined the conversation.

#179 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 06:23 PM:

Xopher -- BTDT -- and I have a little list too...and the unattractive trait of wishing that the victims would go proactive and permanently remove their abusers from this mortal plane by the most painful method at their disposal -- if only to make an example of the bullies.

There are times when I am not a good Buddhist, much less a good Pagan. If it weren't for the Law of Three-fold Return, I probably would have done something about my past tormentors. I have reached the point where living well seems to be the better revenge.

But the pain in the heart, soul, and mind is still there, and it is fresh in my memory as if it happened yesterday, though it was many years ago -- there is a reason I do not go to my high school reunions.

Public school IS Hell -- nor yet am I out of it, it seems...

#180 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 07:00 PM:

This has been a fascinating thread to read and think about. In particular, I have been thinking about the difference between engaging in bullying behavior and "being" a bully.

I was not physically bullied in school. I was treated with a withering and what seemed to be constant (and inexplicable, to me) brutal contempt from my peers. In response, I withdrew, read books instead of making friends, engaged in a rich fantasy life, and developed a strong defensive talent for cutting remarks which did not serve me especially well, i.e. I used it frequently, habitually, and so made enemies. In fact, I may even have participated in some verbal bullying of my own. I was disliked, and feared. This was pointed out to me around the middle of tenth grade by a teacher I deeply respected, and when I realized (painfully, remorsefully, repentantly) that I had made myself into a tormentor, I curbed my nasty speech and began, slowly, to make friends, something which I had previously thought myself unable to do.

I wonder if my youthful experience might apply at all to the people who show up on ML or other sites, and who appear to the community to be bullies, or at least, who manifest such traits as showing contempt for others, engaging in repartee and argumentative ranting which borders on abuse, and generally pushing boundaries. It seems to me that some of those folks may have the social skills and self-knowledge of me at 16, i.e. damn little, but they may be smart and/or sensitive enough to recognize that they are being assholes when this fact is calmly pointed out to them by someone they respect. They didn't mean to engage in bullying behavior; they didn't realize they were doing it; they go away, think about it, and when they come back, the community can see, while they may slip at times, they're working hard to modify their verbal habits.

The ones who don't respond to being told, "You're shooting yourself in the foot, here,", or respond with more contempt, verbal abuse, more argument, or rage; well, those are the bullies. They may be reachable by professionals, but I suspect, not by us: their habits of behavior are too deeply internalized. And if they're not willing to respect the boundaries the community places on unacceptable behavior, well, that's what websites have moderators for.

#181 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 07:19 PM:

Xopher brings up an interesting point at #144 which I'd like to explore a little bit:

Remember the guy whose calf I stuck a thorn into? Saw him at my 10-year reunion, and funny, he didn't appear to deserve to die.

IOW, some school bullies eventually grow up and stop doing it. Which brings us back around to the question of, why do we ALLOW children to get away with behaviors that, if engaged in by an adult, would result in arrests, trials, and jail time? What happened to Xopher (and many other people here) wasn't bullying of the emotionally-abusive type, it was physical assault and battery. Why does that get a free pass if the perp and the victim are classmates? And is it more or less likely for the emotional-abuse type of bully not to grow out of it, but to become an abusive spouse or partner or boss?

#182 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 07:54 PM:

Evan, I think a crucial point comes from Caroline above: Very often the game the bully is playing isn't with their victim. The victim isn't a peer, or a rival, or an enemy; the victim is an object, a prop to be used in an exchange with someone who does matter to the bully. This is crucial because it changes what the victim can and should do. The strategies available to an under-powered, under-protected player don't matter if the bully isn't playing with the victim in the first place. The victim has to do something to change the entire terms of engagement - all the stories of victims striking back work, in part, I think, because they are about the victim making themselves into a player.

This applies very strongly to a lot of online bullying and related intimidation. Take the archetypal cases like the vandals of alt.syntax.tactical or 4chan.org's /b/ board. They're playing a game with the other members of their community, not with their target of the day.

There are exceptions, of course, but it seems to me that this is really, really, very important.

#183 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 08:59 PM:

Janet Croft # 163

In addition to the issue that others have pointed out about whether people can walk away from bullies, there's also the big question of whether walking away is a workable big-picture solution. The fora in which people get bullied are also the ones in which they discuss matters of importance to them, in which they have learning and teaching experiences they care about, in which they form and maintain lasting friendships. Depending on how a forum is organized and how the other members respond to seeing bullies, disengaging may mean walking away from a significant chunk of one's life.

#184 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:24 PM:

Lee @181

I believe it is crucial to not allow bullying children to get away with it, but calling what they're doing "assault and battery" is to label their behaviour as felonious. It's not a fair response.

We have to treat them differently. They're not mature enough to be felons. They're children. They may be the nastiest, most odious little monsters spawned, and dangerous in the bargain, but I don't think it helps to erase the distinction between child and adult, if only because it elevates the child-bully's status too high.

#185 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:24 PM:

Evan #157: There's also the point that a "classic bully" is also likely to abuse animals, likewise with "positive reinforcement" from their in-group, as per Bruce #182 et prev.

Tom Whitmore #166:that leads directly into the question of what "the same" is, in regard to ongoing communities, which ...

"what is the same group" is a mobile point of negotiation -- it would be intellectual bullying to insist on an exact definition. ;-)

That said, I think "I know it when I see it" applies here. Even when groups stay under the same name and flag, they can change so much (turnover, leadership, crises) that members recognize it as a continuity change: "it's not the same place anymore". Indeed, that's about what happened when Andy Beals left "bandykin" and took his logname with him. Both the group and its founder had changed over time, and he no longer recognized that mailing list as his online "family of choice". (Not to mention how his announcement to that effect changed the social structure of the list itself!)

#186 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:46 PM:

albatross @ 156: "I think it's this second description that fits the bullying that may have happened elsewhere on ML recently. I think this is the kind we're mostly concerned with, right?"

I think that for the intents and purposes of this conversation, it's not a distinction that's relevant. Intentions are always debatable, and from the point of view of a community or an individual who is confronted with this kind of behavior, it's the behavior that matters, not why. Any solution will have to work equally well for both cases, because there's no way to sort them out beforehand.

(That's why I think calling bullying out is a good start--in the case of a purely malicious individual, it puts everyone else on notice, and in the case of a genuine misstep, it gives the misstepper a chance to change.)

"The funny thing is, thinking about this, that kind of snark is mostly not welcome here (at least not against anyone present), but it's very common on the net. Many of us link to that sort of thing, and laugh when we read it. I'm not sure what to think about that--sometimes, it's quite entertaining to read a good fisking of some fool. But damned if I can see the difference in style between that and bullying in an online discussion--there's a difference in when and where it happens, but not in the style."

I've been having the same feeling. I enjoy reading a scathing takedown of some deserving target as much as the next semi-anonymous non-gendered internet persona, but I can see that that's the same sort of thing I'm protesting here--or at least a very near cousin. The only distinction I can put my finger on is a possible difference in purpose: the ostensible purpose of bullying is communication, and yet it functions as humiliation and conflict. Tirades and takedowns make no pretense at dialogue. No one reads Sadly, No thinking that what they're going to find is a genuine effort to engage conservatives in a constructive dialogue. If you go into it honest about your intentions, then I suppose humiliation and conflict are, well, at least arguably legitimate goals. The illegitimacy of bullying comes from waging no-holds-barred mortal combat when everyone else is expecting constructive conversation (or to walk to class in peace), not the concept of combat itself.

Hopefully that's insight and not rationalization speaking.

In general: Thinking about bullying and racism, I've come to the conclusion that the best way to discuss the problem and the best way to confront the problem are very different beasts. It's all very well to discuss the psychology behind bullying, or behind racism, and why people find it rewarding, and how it works as a social signifier and so forth, but that doesn't really help much in the work of actually ending it.

#187 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 09:59 PM:

Three comments on this really interesting side thread about the role the victim plays in the bullying:

a. Many bullying situations are resolved using the common advice often given to kids, or with some minimal level of teacher intervention. That advice doesn't deal with more serious situations, but it does resolve some, probably most.

b. I think the role of the victim in the bullying is an important question. In the kind where it's an interaction involving the victim, I suspect there's often some kind of way to turn the situation around that doesn't involve either violence or power intervening. In the kind where the victim is just a prop, I suspect a different sort of response is called for. But that doesn't mean that the victim of the bullying, who's typically a small child, knows how to do that.

c. Nobody has a good way of handling bullying in all cases. At some point, it's a matter of naked power. Perhaps you're being beaten up for being black, or white, or gay, or whatever, but there's not some adult insight that can fix this, other than "stay out of those situations if possible, and if not, try to bring better weapons than the other guys will have." This happens to adults, sometimes to whole communities. (cf lynch law, pogroms)

#188 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:27 PM:

Xopher @ 178

Glad to hear it!

Bruce @ 182

Animals, yes. Their treatment as the surest indicator of a person's character.

Two examples from fiction spring to mind:

There is an amazing moment near the end of Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan where Takeshi Kovacs encounters a dog. If you've read the book, you'll know what I mean. I won't summarize, because it's too horrific.

And there is the moment in Crime and Punishment where Raskolnikov falls asleep under the bridge and has the nightmare about the emaciated horse being driven harder and harder and saddled with heavier and heavier loads, all to the merriment of the humans in the dream.

heresiarch @ 186

on "in general." The question of how to end it, especially among children, seems like a near impossible one to answer. As I said earlier, the kinds of ethical or philosophical insights that help adults bear up under or even end bullying just aren't available to young people.

Incidentally, I feel like this subject, the frustration with power and hierarchy as a perennial underpinning of every human society, is one which SF deals with particularly well. In fact, one could argue that it is one of the core obsessions of the genre. At the risk of suggesting that any form of literature, especially SF, should be didactic, are there any books out there that folks remember reading that gave them either consolation or advice in the face of bullies?

#189 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:32 PM:

abi @131, that's fine. My focus was going to be appreciatively discussing the community response, and my reactions on seeing the responses, but I can respect your reasons for considering it not under discussion.

#190 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:38 PM:

As a somewhat socially inept person (whose self-image is even moreso) I would normally have absolutely nothing to say on this topic. I would probably have given up reading within the first ten comments, if I even made it to the cutline, on the grounds that this discussion is in some dialect that I've never been able to decipher. But by some accident of synchronicity, I've been examining my own behavior on ML, due to a suspicion that one of my recent comments was not terribly appropriate. So I decided to brave the incomprehensibility in hopes of understanding a little of what sort of posting is being deprecated here.

I've had two or three warnings from PNH in years past about the "huffy" tone I sometimes assume. I never really knew what he meant by that, except that the objectionable comments were ones in which I had to admit I wasn't thinking too thoroughly about what I was saying and how I was saying it. This topic, though, provides a description of an academic/authoritarian bully that is an embarrassingly good match for me when I'm being huffy. It has helped me understand both the insecurity that triggers the tone and the poisonous results of using it. Most importantly, it gives me a more explicit description of what kind of writing I need to guard myself against using. With this I have a chance at catching myself while I'm writing, rather than after I've posted.

So thanks, abi, for leading us to this discussion. Thanks, commenters, for the insights that have made it through my perceived-social-incompetence filters. And thanks to the whole fluorosphere for having put up with my occasionally semi-toxic writing pending the latest object lesson, which I sincerely intend to be the last of its kind. I look forward to repaying your patience.

I still don't find this stuff easy reading, but I guess learning stuff is hard.

#191 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 10:53 PM:

Bruce Baugh @182:

The victim isn't a peer, or a rival, or an enemy; the victim is an object, a prop to be used in an exchange with someone who does matter to the bully.

Yes, precisely. The five boys who encircled me and assaulted me in the Hebrew school parking lot didn't have a direct disagreement with me; they were acting at the behest of Lauren Dorn, who'd decided I'd offended her somehow in class that afternoon, and THEY all thought Lauren Dorn was all that and a bag of chips, so they were more than willing to assault me to please her.

Yes, I named her. Let it come up when people Google her. Let it.

#192 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 11:00 PM:

Evan @188:

The question of how to end it, especially among children, seems like a near impossible one to answer.

"Hit the soft parts with your hand. Hit the hard parts with a utensil."

#193 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Dan Hoey at 190: thank you.

#194 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 11:37 PM:

I'm deeply uneasy with the consequences of telling children "hit back harder" in order to prevent bullying. I don't particularly want children learning that violence is an effective way of dealing with their interpersonal problems--it seems likely to breed more, not fewer, bullies.

#195 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 12:16 AM:

Back in the other thread, there's been some discussion of Let The Right One In, and now that I've finally watched it, it's got a number of aspects which bear on this directly or obliquely.

All the reviews of the movie mention that the main character, Oskar, is being bullied in school but there's more to it than that. In particular, bearing on heresiarch's just previous comment - mild spoiler rot-13ed but shouldn't ruin the movie: Gur obl Bfxne trgf gur nqivpr zragvbarq nobir ba svtugvat onpx - "uvg onpx uneqre guna lbh qner!" - naq nccyvrf vg jvgu grzcbenel fhpprff. Ohg va gur pbagrkg gung ur'f erprvivat gung nqivpr sebz n inzcver, naq gung fur'f gur tehrfbzr oybbqguvefgl xvyyre glcr abg gur tynzbebhf ryrtnag glcr, vg irel zhpu punatrf vgf zrnavat.

Discussion of the other things the movie implies about that advice would probably go too far into spoiler territory for anyone who hasn't seen it.

#196 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 12:38 AM:

Xopher @ 136, a long time ago

I've never heard it formulated as "don't spill wine to other gods than YHWH"; just "don't commit idolatry". I'm perfectly happy to believe you (in fact, I'll be thrilled if you're right!), but I'd really someone who reads Hebrew to chime in here, if one would be so kind. It would be useful information in my ongoing debate with an anti-Gentilic Orthodox Jew I know. (He quite literally thinks that all non-Jews are out to massacre all Jews, and would if they could only get away with it, as far as I can tell.) And he bullies every non-Orthodox Jew, too.

#197 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 12:43 AM:

heresiarch @194: I have to disagree with you. If you teach a child, "Never INITIATE physical violence, but if someone else tries it, hit back harder and make them sorry they started it," you're giving them a tool to apply negative feedback to the use of force. Bullies STOP when the results are painful and disagreeable to them, regardless of what punishments the authorities mete out.

I never felt the need to initiate force in school, only to return it. And when the boys learned that snapping my bra or grabbing my ass would result in a math book to the skull or getting slammed into a locker (yes, I weighed ninety pounds soaking wet at the time, but do not underestimate the ability of someone who's in fight-or-flight mode deciding to fight) -- THEY STOPPED DOING IT. Which no amount of "ignoring it" or appealing to adult authority had done.

Self-defense is LEGITIMATE.

#198 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 12:44 AM:

Note: I've been avoiding this thread since it opened up because I wasn't sure I could handle it. Now I find myself with too much to say in several different directions. If I end up making a whole series of posts on different related topics, please believe it's not because I'm trying to dominate the conversation. Just too much to say...

#199 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:07 AM:

David Harmon @185 -- If it's not the same to you, then it's not the same to you. Same for anyone. Sameness is always measured up to a specific criterion, if it's useful.

It might be the same to someone else who's using a different criterion for same. But then, I have a sneaking fondness for 'pataphysics.

Dan Hoey, thanks for 190. It's difficult to say things like that, I know.

#200 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:23 AM:

Rikibeth @ 197: ...when the boys learned that snapping my bra or grabbing my ass would result in a math book to the skull or getting slammed into a locker (yes, I weighed ninety pounds soaking wet at the time, but do not underestimate the ability of someone who's in fight-or-flight mode deciding to fight) -- THEY STOPPED DOING IT. Which no amount of "ignoring it" or appealing to adult authority had done.

I wish I'd heard that advice in junior high. When I think back* to those days, it really pisses me off that I didn't do more to protect myself. It never occurred to me to complain to authority -- I guess I didn't want to be a tattletale.

*not that I do think back very often, mind you.

#201 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:08 AM:

janetl @200: I wasn't advised to take that course of action. I just DID, out of sheer desperation and rage. I got in a fair amount of hot water for it, too, and I am forever grateful to my parents that they came in and backed me up, essentially saying, "Oh no, you're not going to punish her for defending herself, when you should have prevented them from touching her in the first place."

My experience led me to formulate the advice to pass on.

#202 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 03:24 AM:

Rikibeth @ 197: "Bullies STOP when the results are painful and disagreeable to them, regardless of what punishments the authorities mete out."

And what if they decide to escalate instead? What if they bring in a weapon, a gun? What if, given a physically larger bully, they simply decide to throw their weight around and pound the crap out of their victim? What if the victim simply isn't comfortable with violence, can't bring themselves to initiate it? What if the bullying is verbal, and throwing punches will just identify you as a psycho? What advice do you offer then? Fighting bullying with violence is playing their game, by their rules, and hoping to win. In the best case scenario, someone (the bully) still learned that fear of violence is the sum of why you're nice to people.

Self defense is legitimate, but it's not a panacea. That was the sense I got from your comment @ 192, that you felt "hit harder" was a sufficient anti-bullying cirriculum. I think we need to address the problem before it gets to that point. Self defense should never be more than the last option in a long series.

#203 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:04 AM:

I don’t have much to say on this topic, so I’ve kept out of it;  but perhaps it’s worth mentioning Kipling’s short story on the subject of bullying, “The Moral Reformers” in Stalky & Co.  Being out of copyright, the text is all over the Web.  Its underlying mores of course reflect the author’s England 110 years ago, but the story may still have some relevance.  It seems to reflect Kipling’s own experience (he is “Beetle” in the story).  Happiest days: the public schools in English fiction, by Jeffrey Richards, has a relevant paragraph of criticism (p.149)* which makes more sense than anachronistic critics who talk about imperialism and sado-masochism as if Kipling was writing about today’s society.

* I haven’t figured out how to copy-and-paste text from Google Books – no doubt they don’t want me to.

#204 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:08 AM:

heresiarch @ #202 writes: Self defense should never be more than the last option in a long series.

As adults, parents, teachers and so on, we should not rely on kids physically defending themselves to prevent bullying, and in an ideal environment it should never be necessary, but for a kid being assaulted, self defense shouldn't be an option at all, it should be a reflex.

#205 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:45 AM:

heresiarch @ 202

I don't think anyone here is suggesting that violence is a panacea. In fact, Rikibeth wrote the following in her post:

"THEY STOPPED DOING IT. Which no amount of 'ignoring it' or appealing to adult authority had done."

So she TRIED other options and violence was the last resort. No one is saying that violence is the first resort and the default solution, that's a straw man.

If you don't think Rikibeth's solution was appropriate, than what do you think she have done? Put up with being touched inappropriately? Run every time she saw a boy? Dropped out of school? Transferred to another school? All of those solutions give the bully power, let them win, and give them every possible motivation to keep bullying.

I've never had to use violence to defend myself, though I did once use the threat of a slightly less unfair fight to keep a friend from being assaulted. In a similar situation to Rikibeth, my friend was being surrounded by six girls who were angry at her because she talked to the wrong boy. I stepped into the circle and said, brightly, "Are we gonna fight? I wanna fight too!" These six girls looked at my friend, (5'0 and 105lbs) and me (5'2, glasses, a bit chubby) and decided it wasn't worth it. I later wondered if that was because I was generally thought of as a crazy person. It might have been; high school is a lot like prison.

Your suppositions about escalation also neglect one other key factor: most bullies are able to continue doing what they do due to an intricate knowledge of the rules and of what they can get away with. Something that can differentiate a bully from someone simply committing an act of violence is the ability to get away with it for a long period of time. My greatest failure as an authority figure was allowing a bully to remain in the organization and continue bullying based on the fact that she always kept just barely within the rules, and never committed the exact same offense twice where anyone was watching. She had a few dozen probations and last chances before we threw her out, and then we watched her do the exact same rule-skirting with several other organizations.

You say that violence should be the "last resort in a long series." Well, what is that long series for a student in school? I can think of a short series:
1. Ask the person to stop
2. Tell teachers, parents and other authority figures
3. See if it is possible to avoid contact with these people without sacrificing your quality of life
4. Retaliation.

What other steps in there should constitute your "long series?" In cases where the first three choices are non-viable (you are already being physically assaulted in an area where no escape or help is available) is it all right to skip to option 4?

No one is arguing that violence should be the first response. I am willing to argue this: If you can reasonably conclude that you are unlikely to find any other remedy in a given environment it is all right to defend yourself physically. It is also all right to train kids to assess these situations and make decisions based on the probability of other options working.

Do you disagree?

I think my bolded statement above is closer to what those who have told stories of violence working are arguing than your "violence is a panacea" interpretation. Hopefully they will correct me if I am mistaken.

#206 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 08:33 AM:

Dan Hoey@190: Definitely, some learning isn't fun. The good part is that if you actually do learn, and it sounds like you are, then you don't have to keep hurting that particular way and get to move on to more interesting things. Best wishes on it.

A side note about terminology: I notice myself labeling things less lately, and focusing more on describing actual experiences as best I can. Samuel Delany's take on genres is very much an influence on this. Thus, for instance, I don't really worry about whether it's best to call a particular rhetorical tactic a style of bullying rather than some other sort of failing - I'm good with saying "That's not dealing with what others are saying, that's just reaserting your original point again and again and ignoring questions and responses, and I'm bored of dealing with it." Or whatever.

This thread is useful, to me at least and apparently to Dan and others, precisely because we're talking about actual stuff. Good work. :)

#207 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 08:43 AM:

Leah Miller@205: Something that can differentiate a bully from someone simply committing an act of violence is the ability to get away with it for a long period of time. My greatest failure as an authority figure was allowing a bully to remain in the organization and continue bullying based on the fact that she always kept just barely within the rules, and never committed the exact same offense twice where anyone was watching. Oh, golly, yes.

This is really, really a problem for any community where a lot of people are not especially graceful in social interactions, or where a lot of people come from widely varying backgrounds. Rules lawyering can let a lot of abuse go on. I like the formulation I encountered some years back, though, that the authorities for a community (formal or informal) should be concerned first and foremost with the well-being of those who are making a sincere sustained effort to abide by the rules and their spirit, to keep the community healthy and happy. Those bent on pushing boundaries should feel that they are on sufferance.

I've seen way, way too many good groups go down because the authorities bent over backward trying to appease those who clearly weren't actually interested in (or capable of) good-faith cooperation in the first place. There are some group collapses I look back on with real regret for having been one of those authorities myself. These days, whenever I'm involved in the management of a group, I make it very clear that people who aren't happy with it and can't be easily satisfied in ways that leave it working and enjoyable for others should go ahead and leave now. The world is full of groups - they don't have to be in this one. And if they say they really want to be there, particularly because there are other people they want to associate with, then I say that they have an obligation to knock off the stuff that makes those others angry, unhappy, and uninterested in participating any more.

Groups are, first and foremost, for those who want to take up the shared responsibility of making them work. Everyone else is there only insofar as the ones joining in feel like dealing with them.

I'm not sure of the intellectual history of this ida that troublemakers actually deserve more attention and coddling than well-behaved supportive participants. (I will not be surprised if someone here does! Link, link, if you do!) It seems part of the same ambient cognitive smog as ideas like "smart people have better judgement than stupid people, so because I'm smart you need to favor my ideas about everything". Nasty stuff and escaping from it is hard work of just the sort Dan was talking about, at least for me. It shouldn't be such effort to decide, and to act on the decision, that the group members with demonstrated good will take priority, but wow, it really is sometimes.

#208 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:07 AM:

heresiarch @ #194: I'm deeply uneasy with the consequences of telling children "hit back harder" in order to prevent bullying. I don't particularly want children learning that violence is an effective way of dealing with their interpersonal problems--it seems likely to breed more, not fewer, bullies.

Well, the policy in our local school district is that if you're being beaten by another child (or children) and you throw even one punch, or even block one of the blows, you are punished equally with the person/people who are beating you up.

Bullshit. (Note: that was specifically directed to the policy, NOT to heresiarch's uneasiness!) I told my kids "escape if you can; if you can't escape, fight back. You are not required to get beaten up." This is a horrible example of simultaneously holding the aggressor to a much lower standard than adult law requires (i.e. not charging them with assault) while holding the victim to a much higher standard (no such thing as self-defense).

Fortunately, only one of my 3 daughters was ever physically assaulted in school (she was suspended for "using karate" when she blocked a punch; the kid who punched her was not punished).

They HAVE all three been verbally harassed, but since they've tended to respond with comments like "let me know the minute your second testicle drops" in response to crude sexual advances, such overtures have not been repeated and my daughters have gained a certain notoriety. Unfortunately, this is more of a gift than a strategy, so I can't really recommend it as a solution for anyone else.

#209 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:42 AM:

I study karate at a school that does a lot of self-defense and anti-bullying teaching, for both kids and adults, and the shorthand we use for the decision-making process is "Think, Yell, Run, Fight, Tell" - "fight" is pretty far down the list, but the order definitely precludes just taking it until you can find someone to appeal to.

#210 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Bruce Baugh #207: this idea that troublemakers actually deserve more attention and coddling than well-behaved supportive participants.

No links here, but I suspect that's more about psychodynamics than "intellectual history".

Consider that the troublemakers certainly tend to get more attention, both in terms of actual interaction and behind-the-scenes discussions. But both actual children, and those who've "failed at maturity", may consider even this negative attention to be a prize in itself. (So much better if it's softened with "self-esteem padding", concern for the offender's fate, etc..) That applies to both bullies themselves, and those watching them to learn the local rules....

#211 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 10:56 AM:

Lizzy L @ #180: You've nailed it. I was a small, fat, totally unathletic smart kid who got beat up all the time. With the wisdom of more than a half century of hindsight I'm no longer completely sure who was doing the bullying, because what I got beat up for most of the time was being a smartass.

As I got older, taller and thinner (but still the same old me inside) I never acquired any physical aggressiveness, but it took a hell of a long time for me to stop beating people up intellectually, and I'm by no means out of the habit even now. I have to force myself to step back and shut up. This is not good for personal relationships.

Evan @ #180: Animals, yes. When I learned that the child George Bush enjoyed putting firecrackers in frogs and blowing them up, it explained a lot to me.

#212 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Lila @ 208

Sarcasm and wit are good weapons in many cases, though I agree that they can't be taught. There are a lot of weird solutions to bullying, the problem is that most of them aren't teachable or don't work consistently.

After I completed my post, I thought a little more about the fact that I was considered crazy. Really, the more people thought I was crazy the less people messed with me. Now that I think of it, one of the things that may have caused my "reputation" wasn't violence per se, but a bit of a freak out. In high school I was sick with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder that made me sleepy all the time. A girl called me dumb and lazy, and shoved me in the hall. I screamed "Don't you shove me," and put all my body weight into pushing past her, resulting in both of us stumbling loudly into the lockers nearby. The whole time I was ranting that I was sick and she didn't know me, 'til this girl I barely knew from drama came and offered to walk me to my next class. I still consider that girl to be some kind of crazy angel.

My brother had a similar thing happen to him: in junior high a large group of boys began to constantly call him gay and steal things from him or break his stuff. One day he snapped, punched a kid, and then, after he had punched the kid, burst into tears. The fact that he was crying and the kid he punched was a known bully led to the teachers not even suspending EITHER of them, and the fact that he burst into tears only after punching a guy led to him being thought of as "crazy" by all the bullies. They stopped messing with him after that. I think the crazy idea was far more productive than just the punch; the bullies hit each other all the time, but you don't mess with crazy.

A few younger friends have similar stories that don't involve anything remotely resembling violence. They would just dress really bizarrely and say things that sounded unbalanced and no one would mess with them. I really think this "crazy" thing has legs. Despite the positive effects, neither I nor my brother were "trying" to seem crazy or to manipulate the system in any way. We were just at a breaking point and broke in a way they were totally not expecting.

That's... part of it I think. The bully thinks he knows how the world works, thinks he knows what to expect (tattling, capitulation, bargaining, or defeat). Surprising and confusing him may be enough. Self defense is one way to do this, and I think it may be the most useful simply because it is the most teachable.

#213 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 11:24 AM:

Evan @ 188, re: treatment of animals in fiction -- the example that comes to mind for me is Heinlein's "Gulf", in which Joe Green decides to trust "Kettle Belly" Baldwin based on the latter's gently putting a small spider out of the way of danger.

What's the phrase about the way to judge a person's character is not by how s/he treats his/her social equals but by how s/he treates his/her social inferiors?

#214 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Joel Polowin @ 213

This is probably not the quote you're thinking of, but it's the one I'm most familiar with:

"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person." - Dave Barry

#215 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Lila 208: Well, the policy in our local school district is that if you're being beaten by another child (or children) and you throw even one punch, or even block one of the blows, you are punished equally with the person/people who are beating you up.

Even without the bolded portion that's a pretty bad policy. With it, it's mind-bogglingly, jaw-droppingly wrong. Yours is a very bad school district. And did your daughter break the kid's arm with the block? Short of that, I can't imagine how any even marginally sane person could justify such a policy. What the hell is WRONG with those people?!?!

Also...since the punishment is going to be the same, it really encourages kids to kick the living shit out of anyone who's assaulting them, once they begin to defend themselves. A policy of "block, don't retaliate" can have that consequence, too. But with the policy as stated even crouching with your hands over your head is grounds for punishment, so you might as well put the bully in traction.

David 210: Since I stopped wanting him dead, I've come to wonder who was putting the pressure on my former tormentor. I expect he was being beaten regularly by his father for not being sufficiently masculine (since he acted hypermasculine and his excuse for maltreating me was always my lack of butchness). But also, not getting ANY attention is much, much worse than getting negative attention. The "cold pricklies" don't feel as good as the "warm fuzzies," but they'll keep your back from shriveling up.

Leah 212: The bully thinks he knows how the world works, thinks he knows what to expect (tattling, capitulation, bargaining, or defeat). Surprising and confusing him may be enough. Self defense is one way to do this, and I think it may be the most useful simply because it is the most teachable.

I dunno, I think maybe teaching kids to act crazy is a good idea too, and it's probably something you can teach, if you start early enough (reward them for surprising you, starting when they can talk). I think that may have been part of the reason my biting my bathroom assailants worked as well as it did.

#216 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Xopher @ 215: Speaking as someone with experience in teaching high school, yes. The policy Lila outlines @ 208 is not just bad and--as you put it, "mind-bogglingly, jaw-droppingly wrong," it's downright stupid. Basic policy in the district I taught in was: the aggressor who initiated first contact, whatever it was, got the nuclear-option punishment, while the student who responded with a punch (not just by trying to shield himself, that didn't count at all) got . . . oh, a very minor punishment, by comparison. Sort of the equivalent of sending someone to a neutral corner to take a deep breath and calm down.

It didn't always work--nothing always works, and I was involved in at least one case that I still remember guiltily, where the policy went spectacularly wrong--but at least it was plain that the administration knew who was really to blame, and I think it kept the physical bullying to a minimum. Now, how we handled non-physical abuse . . . that was a lot less clear-cut, I'm afraid. One of the reasons I'm following this thread is to try to get some insight on how that kind of viciousness might be countered or prevented. Maybe.

#217 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Leah Miller @ 205: "No one is saying that violence is the first resort and the default solution, that's a straw man."

While I'm certainly open to the possibility that I'm misreading it, Rikibeth @ 192 gives me the impression that "hurt them" is by itself a one-step solution to bullying. I pointed directly at where I think that claim is being made. I could be wrong, but I'm not building out of straw. Notice how I didn't react this negatively to anyone else? That's because I don't have a problem with, say Xopher's recounting of his experiences.

If someone said "The question of how to end sexual violence, especially among college kids, seems like a near impossible one to answer," and I said "Buy them handguns and teach them to aim for the groin," would you think I believed that gun ownership was a panacea for sexual assault? I think that's a fair read.

"If you don't think Rikibeth's solution was appropriate, than what do you think she have done?"

I think that by the time that retaliation is anyone's best option, then society has already failed. Now the world is an imperfect place and if it comes down to self defense, then so be it. I firmly believe that when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce a person under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Bullying, and to provide new Guards for their future security. But I think that we, sitting right now in the comfort of our own homes, should aim for a higher ideal than punching back harder.

I was rarely involved in violence but the verbal abuse rained down like a biblical plague for every grade from second to tenth, and do you know what? I learned to fight back. I learned to fight back so well that I didn't know how to do anything else. I remember one time a boy asked me why I made fun of myself so much, and I thought in irritation what else is there to say? And I did bully other people with those skills, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes on purpose. It took me a long time to unlearn those patterns, a long time to stop assuming that every conversation was a warzone. I'll never be entirely free of those skills; they will always be a ghost at my shoulder whenever I get angry or upset in a conversation.

This is where bullies come from: by learning the skills to fight back, you learn to become them. I don't think I'm the only one here who had that experience. It's not something I'd wish on any child, not unless it was absolutely necessary. Even then, I'd rather change the rules so that it's never necessary.

Bruce Baugh @ 207: "I'm not sure of the intellectual history of this ida that troublemakers actually deserve more attention and coddling than well-behaved supportive participants."

The Prodigal Son?

#218 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Agree with Rikibeth here. My fiancé stopped getting beaten up in middle school when he learned how to fight. This did not teach him that physical violence solves all problems. He's an extremely nonviolent person; he doesn't even bang things, slam things, or so much as yell when he's angry, much less threaten to hit anyone. It was simply the only language the bully could understand, the only way to earn any measure of his respect.

He views fighting as a last resort -- when there's no way to leave the situation or otherwise defuse it. That pretty well describes a bullying situation. The bully is not going to be satisfied with anything but beating you up. You can't give him something else he wants and have him leave you alone. You can't reason him out of it. You can't just walk away and never see him again. It's highly unlikely that teachers or other authority figures are going to be able to protect you all the time.

You pretty much have two options: just take the beatings, or hit him hard enough that he no longer views you as an easy target.

#219 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:35 PM:

pericat, #184: I disagree with your argument that assault is not assault when it's committed by a child. I do not disagree with the idea that the appropriate response may be different*, but this whole framing that it's not the same thing when kids do it is a large part of why bullying continues to be an okay thing in our culture. We don't call it assault, so we don't teach kids in any meaningful way that it's not okay to do it, so why should they stop?

heresiarch, #202: Self defense is legitimate, but it's not a panacea.

Yes, exactly. You're noticing the same problem I have with the argument that women should learn martial arts and/or carry guns in order to avoid being raped. By the time it gets to that response being necessary, there has already been a major failure in the system -- actually several, among which is the assumption that the victim has control over the perpetrator's actions. (Incidentally, I consider bullying and rape to be two expressions of the same basic mindset.) Any "solution" that doesn't focus on the perpetrators is only dealing with half of the problem, at best.

Bruce, #207: I'm not sure of the intellectual history of this idea that troublemakers actually deserve more attention and coddling than well-behaved supportive participants.

It goes back a lot further than you're likely to be able to trace; otherwise "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" wouldn't be an aphorism. IMO, there are two ways to interpret that statement, a legitimate one (if something is bugging you, speaking up about it is more likely to get it changed than fuming in silence) and a non-legitimate one (agitating and pushing the boundaries is a good way to get special treatment).


* Or may not, depending on the age of the child and the severity of the offense.

#220 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:46 PM:

Lila: My sympathies for the situation your daughters have been put in. Nobody should have to face that situation. I think children need to be taught - preferably before they are ever bullied - several methods of defence. Lack of response may be effective, if used on the first occasion, but not once you've reacted (because the bully, having had a response once, will keep poking until they get another response). Telling the teacher or another authority figure (but it can be really hard to explain that the other kids are looking at each other and smiling in a nasty way if you get an answer wrong in class). And yes, defending yourself physically if necessary.

There's a lot of onus put on the victims of bullying: to put up with bullying, to work out how to stop it by themselves. Children are taught/absorb that telling an adult is "telling tales" and is wrong. They may also (like me), when first asking an adult for assistance with psychological bullying, be told the old lies (1) "sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you" and (2) "if you just ignore them, they'll stop."

I think the psychological effects of bullying on the victim are played down: "s/he'll get over it"; "one day you'll look on this as a learning experience"; "it's just part of childhood"; "you just need to grow a thicker skin".

I was relatively lucky (reading what some posters here have been subjected to). I was never physically bullied worse than being tripped occasionally - probably because I was at an all-girls' highschool where punching would have been highly visible and frowned upon. Psychological bullying however, which can be quite subtle, I experienced a lot. Again, luckily, once I managed to explain the situation to my parents and they in turn explained to the school, the teacher intervened with a "certain people have been bullying, you know who you are, this is unacceptable, and you will stop now" address to the class which was fairly effective in stopping the worst of the bullying. Nevertheless, that bullying had an impact on my behaviour and achievements for years to come - and still impacts on my self-confidence in some situations.

#221 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 01:48 PM:

Leah Miller @ 214: I think the quotation I was thinking of was "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." -- Sirius Black, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

But I also found: "Keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good." -- Ann Landers

I think I've encountered the Dave Barry comment before. A bit of digging for details suggesets that the line is also attributed to Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson, who may have plagiarized it from UCLA professor W.J. King.

#222 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:02 PM:

Leah Miller @205:
...one other key factor: most bullies are able to continue doing what they do due to an intricate knowledge of the rules and of what they can get away with.

As a born rules-lawyer myself, I know exactly how this goes. My parents used to ask, in any conflict, "Who struck the first blow?", and the answer was inevitably that my brother had. It took them a while to twig to the amount of entirely legal provocation I had generally subjected him to before said blow was struck.*

With my moderator hat† on, I read up from any unexpected explosions, trying to find the places where that kind of subtle needling might have occurred. It's a behavior that comes with distinctive markers, such as "I was [just/only]..." And when I'm watching a thread start to tangle, I often find myself recalling something Teresa once said. When you find yourself murmuring, "Their foot shall slide in due time," it's time to bring the hammer down.

Of course, in a rules-bound structure like a school, it can be very hard to catch the numerous non-violent ways that people are cruel to one another. I did have one teacher who was really effective at dealing with it. He had only one classroom rule: be appropriate.‡ Killed the rules-lawyering stone dead.

-----
* My daughter, who does exactly the same, is somewhat annoyed that she gets punished for egging her brother on when he gets punished for whacking her one.
† It's a red leather skullcap embroidered with silver and pearls. Metaphorically.
‡ His teaching career ended badly for other reasons.

#223 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:04 PM:

heresiarch @217: I see where our disagreement comes in. I was talking about how targeted individuals can stop bullying when they're experiencing it. You're talking about wanting to find a solution where the bullying doesn't start in the first place. Analagous to the feminist goal of "changing the rape culture," a goal I share.

It's funny, I have a LOT of ideas about ways to talk about sex so that the underlying concepts that support rape culture aren't promoted... but I have no idea at all where the starting point is for changing the culture so that people -- children -- never get the notion to bully others in the first place.

In online displays of verbal aggression, I've observed that if enough bystanders jump in and say the equivalent of, "DUDE. Not cool!" the aggressor will sometimes back down and change their tone, or retract a hurtful statement. It's a gratifying thing to see that happen.

Is it possible to teach children to spot when others are being targeted with verbal aggression, and to encourage them to jump in with a "DUDE. Not cool!" when they see it? Especially when it's very possible that this will make them targets as well?

I mean... I've been taking my teen to concerts for a few years now, and one of the things I've tried to teach is "if you really want to be in the pit, expect to get shoved around, but if you see someone go down, you HELP THEM UP." In a mosh pit, this works. Can it work in the verbal equivalent? And how do you teach them to do that?

And it still leaves me clueless as to how to discourage aggression before it starts.

#224 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:08 PM:

Bruce Baugh @206/207 -- I've recently been involved in a discussion online where I think both sides feel "That's not dealing with what others are saying, that's just reaserting your original point again and again and ignoring questions and responses, and I'm bored of dealing with it." How do you work with a conversation (one small part of a large community) where that dynamic has taken hold?

I don't know the history, but I'm always a bit chary of the fallacy I call "mistaking the mean for the range" -- believing that because something is generally good means that it's always good. That goes places I don't want to go.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:17 PM:

Another quote about judging someone's character by their treatment of less-powerful people:

Mr. Bunter was professionally accustomed to judge human beings by their behavior, not in great crises, but in the minor adjustments of daily life. He had seen one lady threatened with dismissal from his lordship's service (including all emolumentsand the enjoyment of an "appartement meuble," Ave. Kleber) for having, in his presence, unreasonably lost her temper with a lady's maid...
Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L Sayers
#226 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 02:21 PM:

heresiarch @ 217

I think we just read Rikibeth's posts differently, sorry for flipping out. I do want to address something in your new post.

"This is where bullies come from: by learning the skills to fight back, you learn to become them. I don't think I'm the only one here who had that experience. It's not something I'd wish on any child, not unless it was absolutely necessary. Even then, I'd rather change the rules so that it's never necessary."

I find there is one specific difference between what you describe here and the ideals of self defense: in self defense you never initiate the behavior. Learning pro-active violence or pro-active verbal aggression is not the same as learning that such tools are only to be used reactively. I too learned to be sarcastic, but I do not share your experience, I do not feel it made me a bully. I never developed it as a reflex. I learned both physical and verbal defense mechanisms but inherent in those lessons was one principle: "This skill for defense only. To use it on offense dishonors you and your masters." While that was only explicitly laid out for me during my training in the hitting-people arts, I generalized it to my skills in the sarcastic arts.

I have two friends. One of my friends I banter sarcastically with, one I've pretty much never insulted. The friend I make fun of once asked me why I left the other friend alone entirely

"Because she never started it." was my reply. And it's true.

I am also quite self-deprecating, but I was certainly self-deprecating before I learned to be sarcastic or learned physical self-defense. I know a lot of people who lack any capacity for sarcasm or verbal abuse who are really self-deprecating. The most self-insulting people I know couldn't mock a fly without apologizing for ten minutes. I'm not willing to correlate self hatred and ripping on yourself with learned verbal abuse. I'm not saying that isn't your root cause, but I don't think preventing kids from learning to insult others will make them stop insulting themselves.

And yes, I'd rather live in a world where violence or verbal abuse never came up, or where it was always dealt with by a force for perfect justice, or where kids were just kinder to each other. And while I believe it's possible to work toward that ideal, training kids to live in a fantasy world rather than the real one is very dangerous.

I still remember the breakdown one of my friends had in middle school. It was because she had been taught to always be nice, that being kind to others would almost always beget kindness, and that adults would help in situations where things went wrong. Finding out what the world was really like was devastating. For a long time she believed that she had to be doing something wrong, that if people were being mean to her she must be bad herself.

I think what finally snapped her out of it was someone trotting out the old idea that "Jesus was the nicest guy ever, and a lot of people hated him."

My philosophy is this: teach the kids about how the world is now, but also teach them to be better than average, and teach them to dream for a better future. It's a much more solid plan than teaching kids to live in a fake world that their parents invented.

#227 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 03:38 PM:

heresiarch #217 et al:

The Prodigal Son version of the squeaky wheel proverb is particularly pernicious, because the answer to the nonprodigal son is basically "suck it up". The generic squeaky wheel story can be read as a that's-the-way-the-world-is fable, but the prodigal son version is more "The Lord thy G*d really couldn't care less about you non-drama-queens, because face it, He doesn't have to."

You can see how it would be a very attractive story, along with the laborers in the vineyard, for attracting converts to a fledgling religion, especially a persecuted one, but as a tenet of a mainstream religion or culture it really encourages manipulative acting out.

I think the modern incarnation came with the "recognition" that bullying and other forms of delinquency may be a "cry for help".

#228 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 03:46 PM:

Years ago I joined my wife in a self-defense-for-women class taught by a black-belt/ex-Army-Ranger friend, who emphasized that flight is preferable to fight, and then taught us how to defend and respond in the conventional ways when it became necessary. That struck me as a good general rule, though it assumes a single encounter rather than, say, a playground or locker-room situation where the same people have to be dealt with daily.

Caroline @218 describes a classic response to the problem of garden-variety kid bullying, the same one my father advocated for me when I was a rather small small boy, and which did work for me in one situation I recall clearly. In 1957, when Terry Dirks (a year older and a head taller) would not stop punching me in the shoulder, I took my father's advice and socked him right in the nose. I can't recall if I bloodied it, but his response was to call me a little bastard and take two more swings at me. One hit a friend who was standing next to me and the other hit the wall. My friend was annoyed to have been collateral damage, but Terry hurt his hand and he never punched me again. This I take to be a standard example of how to handle a low-grade bully, but it is not failure-proof, particularly when the bully is a seriously pathological type or when there is a culture of bullying--if Terry had been part of a gang or a member of the football team, that probably would not have been the last of it. But this was, after all, more than fifty years ago, and I suspect the social environment has changed enough that my father's simple "fight back" protocol is no longer adequate. (I note with interest that fifty years later I still remember Terry Dirks' name--this was the sum of our relationship.)

#229 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:06 PM:

paul #227:

That's sure a different set of lessons than I got out of the Prodigal Son.

#230 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:07 PM:

On the subject of adult/online interactions: Has anyone had any experience with Marshall Rosenberg's "Nonviolent Communication" for use in the adult, verbal confrontation world? And did it work? I've had it recommended to me and have considered buying the book but would be interested in other people's experiences.

Rickibeth @223: "And it still leaves me clueless as to how to discourage aggression before it starts" Isn't part of the problem, unfortunately, that we're taught from a very young age that shouting and swearing (and by extension, hitting) are more "acceptable, "adult" behaviours than crying? Seriously. After all, you the child are not allowed to swear and the adults are... If, as an adult in a confrontation, you start crying because you've been put under too much stress, this is "weak" "childish" etc., while raising your voice, swearing, making aggressive gestures, while it may be frowned upon in some circumstances, is "forceful" - and that is classified as more acceptable. After all, how often have you seen a confrontation between adults such as workmates where the one who is speaking aggressiveely is told they are being childish and the one who has been reduced to tears is told that's okay, they are the one being an adult by not responding in the childish agressive manner?

#231 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:08 PM:

heresiarch @ 217:

I learned to fight back. I learned to fight back so well that I didn't know how to do anything else.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like this was something you figured out on your own (unless someone advised you to do that?) If you were not getting any useful advice, you had to figure out how to deal with bullying in the best way you knew how. And maybe you overcompensated a little, but that's human.

From what I read in this thread, and what I remember of my own experience, adults don't seem to have figured out a good solution to bullying. Which is kind of strange? We know a lot of solutions for various common problems, but not this one. I'm afraid it's because too many people believe that it's necessary to have a pecking order, and if you end up at the bottom, too bad. Or maybe it's more comfortable to ignore someone's pain (your own and other people's.) That was my coping mechanism, actually.

This is where bullies come from: by learning the skills to fight back, you learn to become them.

And bullying is socially acceptable/tolerated. That's a big part of it too IMO.

#232 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:24 PM:

heresiarch (#217), Leah (#226), some of this reminds me of a sig-saying I've constructed from bits in Dune:

"The greatest victory your enemy can have is to make you a mirror of himself."

dcb (#220) Years ago, can't remember where, I heard a saying along the lines of:

"The lash of the whip leaves a mark on the skin; The lash of the tongue will break bone."

#233 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 04:39 PM:

Tom Whitmore@224: So far, the best thing I know to do is to promote a shared interest in giving up on unrewarding exchanges. "We seem stuck. How about we stop and move on to something else?" "Sure!" That's a very healthy kind of exchange to have, a lot of the time.

#234 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 05:02 PM:

LDR:

I think it's because there is no completely general solution. Sometimes, ignoring, avoiding, calling on authorities for help, or fighting back work. Sometimes, they don't.

Adults are subject to bullying at times, as well. Not as often as kids in school, partly because we have legal rights and courts, but also probably because we can move away and kids usually can't. But there aren't simple strategies that always work to stop it.

#235 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 05:05 PM:

Rikibeth @ 223: "It's funny, I have a LOT of ideas about ways to talk about sex so that the underlying concepts that support rape culture aren't promoted... but I have no idea at all where the starting point is for changing the culture so that people -- children -- never get the notion to bully others in the first place."

I know--it's not an issue that's talked about much. I think that teaching kids to step in even when it's not them or their friends being bullied is a good idea, and doable. It will require a huge change in school culture though--the "don't be a tattle-tale" mindset is a pretty perfect breeding ground for bullying. We'll need to start young.

Leah Miller @ 226: "I find there is one specific difference between what you describe here and the ideals of self defense: in self defense you never initiate the behavior."

Initiate? When you're being chronically bullied, it's never not happening. Even when someone isn't obviously bullying you, you're still planning and acting as though it is, or that maybe they just haven't sprung the trap yet. You're always looking for escape exits, or noting down vicious retorts. It's initiated when you wake up in the morning.

Needless to say, this makes it difficult to make friends.

I think it's the same mindset that the initiator is operating in, too: maybe they come from a background where constant competition is the norm, and so when they get to school they try to make sure they're on the dishing end, rather than the receiving end. Maybe they learned it at school themselves.

"Learning pro-active violence or pro-active verbal aggression is not the same as learning that such tools are only to be used reactively."

I don't think it's as different as all that--throwing a good punch is throwing a good punch, no matter if it's the first one thrown or the second. I've done a fair bit of self-defense and I value the teachings, but there's a reason why "Use in self-defense only" has to be emphasized so vigorously--it's not an intuitive part of learning martial arts.

"It's a much more solid plan than teaching kids to live in a fake world that their parents invented."

I'm not planning on inventing a idealized fantasy world. I'm planning on teaching people how to make it real.

#236 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 05:26 PM:

Bruce Baugh -- tried that. Tempers are still high enough (on both sides) that it hasn't worked. Even when one of the moderators stepped in and suggested things calm down. It may work in the long run.

#237 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 05:52 PM:

albatross, #229: I was certainly taught the standard interpretation of the Prodigal Son, but that didn't keep me from noticing that the child who did all the right things got the short end of the stick when push came to shove. Now, I also went on to read that as a flaw in the parents and concluded that it was no excuse for me to go off the rails -- but it would not surprise me one little bitty bit if other people failed to take that second step, and took away the lesson that "being irresponsible pays handsomely in the end".

I suspect also that any individual's personal relationship with their parents is going to color their reaction to that story in distinct ways.

heresiarch, #235: Ideally, it should start before the child even gets to school; it should be one of the preschool-level lessons, right along with large-muscle control and learning to share. By middle school, it's almost certainly too late, and the only cure (which doesn't work even then in all cases) is growing up and moving into the adult world.

#238 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:01 PM:

Mez @ 232: "The lash of the whip leaves a mark on the skin; The lash of the tongue will break bone." Thanks for that - nice to have a counter to that other, oh-so-stupid saying.

#239 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:15 PM:

albatross @ 234:

Adults are subject to bullying at times, as well. Not as often as kids in school, partly because we have legal rights and courts

Does that mean that adults have a right not to be bullied, which is denied to children?

Most "solutions" to bullying seem to involve advice to the victim. I guess I'm more interested in the question of how people learn to bully. I mean, that is the real problem, right?

You try something and it's fun, so you get positive reinforcement. Or maybe you model your behavior on that of some adult, or some other person who bullied you. (But not everyone learns to fight back, so there might be more to it than that.)

How would we teach someone not to bully in the first place?

#240 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 06:15 PM:

Tom, it has to be a sustained, active, sometimes aggressive thing. "We're not doing that now." (Actually, for an example of it done firmly but not aggressively, see abi's comments in the earlier thread that led to this one here.)

#241 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Okay, this presses a lot of buttons...and this post may be triggering as well. I also note that it's somewhat incoherent and very rambling.

My school was 1-12, classes of 17-21 (my entire grad (three classes) was 51 people, a near-record for the time), total school population 500. Oh, and 45 minutes out of town, so *everyone* was bussed in, and there was nowhere reachable "off-grounds". For me, that meant 0750-0910 and 1530-1710, 180 days a year, locked into a room with the same 44 people and one bus driver (who, frankly, sided with the 44 people, and if you think she could see everything, check for vandalism the next time you ride a bus); and the time between locked onto a campus with the same 500 students.

THERE WAS NO WAY TO LEAVE and stay at the school at all (a choice that wasn't really up to me). THERE WAS NO WAY TO LEAVE the bus for three hours (well, except for the one I tried to take one day. Three metre, head-first drops at 80km/h are not generally recommended).

The problem with the "fight back as self-defence" response, over and above what I read here (note: _Carrie_ was reality television and wish-fulfillment fantasy for me. Not horror at all. Still might be), is that "hit him hard enough that he no longer views you as an easy target" (Caroline, 218) simply projects the problem to the next easy target. Sure, it's no longer a problem for *you* - you might even learn to enjoy it, even commit it, if you're not the one it's aimed at. I've seen it happen to others (and, in some ways, to me), and that's what heresiarch is worried about.

Let's face it - humiliation of others is *funny*. At least it is to a large part of the population. I can't watch most situation so-called comedies, because they rely on it - and it's not funny to me. It hurts - 25 years later - even to watch it happen, knowing it's not real.

The bullying finally ended for me after I graduated and I took a year at another high school to age and to take non-academic courses. Not that people didn't try - but they weren't as good at it (whether due to lack of practise, lack of intelligence, or just a smaller gun v. armor race), and I could not just ignore them, I could project that what they were doing wasn't important enough to even disrupt what I was doing. And yeah, I'm sure they went off to an easier target - and I'm not all that happy about that. When I hit university, I found I wasn't alone in my weirdities and things ostensibly changed. But:

The results of the bullying haven't ended to this day - it was 6 years ago, almost to the day, that I stopped being a suicide risk; the less dramatic problems are taking more time to work through. The confidence issues may never completely go away, to the point where I can say something without double-checking to ensure that there's no way to send it back hurtfully, or not say it at all if it can't be safed. It's still impossible to trip me without using martial-arts training, 25 years after people stopped trying (including at the top of the stairs, with a full bookbag, yes - and there were several witnesses afterward to the fact that I pushed over the guy with the crutches; rather fewer that I didn't exactly have control of what I was doing on the way down. Fancy that).

The other issue with "hit him harder" is that it works if the bully's alone - if you're "that one" in the class, that might be true. If you're "that one" in the school, then the bully's going to be able to get help. Learning how to "hit him harder" != "becoming a dreaded Shaolin Master" (at least in a few weeks); and 6-1 odds are a bit harder to deal with. I read the Ender/Stilson lesson as well - "the only reason I was able to win this is because I'm smarter and prepared, *and* because he needed to do it himself in front of his friends. If I don't make this the final win, next time he won't make that mistake". Learning that lesson isn't the best thing for a person, either; even Ender didn't think much of the person those lessons created most of his life.

On felonious assault - yep, that's what it is. And if you make excuses for it, it'll continue to happen. That's why we have rules for young offenders - the crime isn't less bad for being committed by a juvenile, but the punishment is, because we believe they can learn their way out of it. The rare cases we believe that they can't, there are procedures to treat them as adults. But how the offender is treated doesn't change the nature of the crime; it is felonious, and needs to be considered such in everyone's eyes for anything to be done.

Nobody's brought up Physical Education, except for the one teacher that might need to be wary should cheap time travel become possible. I've got one of those, too (although he was brought to frustration by my passive-aggressive resistance, I can see, what he did was still unacceptable). However, in my school:
- Volleyball with spikes aimed at the head;
- Rugby (we didn't do Football), where there's all kinds of opportunities to put that little extra into the tackle, and
- Wrestling, where the *object* is, as the teacher put it, "to cause your opponent to do what you want by making it too painful to not do it" (wow. What a license for people who already enjoy inflicting pain on someone two years younger and fifty pounds lighter than themselves).

Of course, there's all the fun tricks possible in a locker room. Yes, I know the garbage bin, the showers, how to get cut out of (two kinds of) lockers, and why middle-of-bank, lower-bank lockers are the worst for escape routes.

I'm sure I've missed a lot (I haven't mentioned the habitual verbal assaults, to begin with).

The good news about going through this in school was that I felt right at home in the two companies involved in Death Marches when I was a programmer. I felt right at home.

Re: the Prodigal son: the thing to remember about the dutiful son was that while the one that left was treated as family, and long-lost family at that, his reward was run. What he got was solely what the owner of the farm chose - before, *and after*, the father's death. (I realize that doesn't necessarily apply to the Father of the allegory, but it does here). The dutiful son, by law, gets everything. That won't make him feel better *tonight*; it might in future.

I also, among other things, want to differentiate online bullying that is strictly virtual dominance games from online bullying that is just a continuation of an RL situation to online media. The latter is simply a new wrinkle on the kind of crap I and others are talking about here; the former is no better, but a different beast.

#242 ::: Douglas Henke ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 08:26 PM:

Leah Miller @ #226:
>in self defense you never initiate the behavior

That is a noble principle, but only actually works on the macro scale, not on the micro scale.

My parents taught me to only use violence in the case where someone else had done so immediately prior.

By so doing, they painted a target on my back.

Bullies don't start fair fights. They start fights where they have obvious advantages in numbers, armament and physical strength. They attack when your guard is down. After being hit hard enough, from behind, pain and shock limit how effectively you can fight back.

And once they figure out that you have moral limits (which they do not), they can attack with impunity.

Go read Sun Tzu. Go read Ender's Game. Go read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_McElroy .

Then, if someone is attacking you -- on a day to day basis, not a moment to moment one -- and every other possible recourse has failed, set up a situation where you have every advantage. Hurt them as badly as you possibly can.

I stopped being bullied the day I came to this realization. I never had to act on it, for which I'm exceptionally thankful.

I'm also very thankful that this maps into the adult world only vanishingly rarely, and never into the online one.

On the Internet, I can make you cease to exist (in terms of my personal perception) with the press of a key.

Yes, some online bullies are redeemable. Some have something valid to say. Some, we might learn from.

Why bother?

Trying to redeem, rehabilitate, forgive -- these have opportunity costs. Why spend time trying to reform an obvious provocateur when there's not enough time to interact with all the reasonable, personable, well-socialized people out there?

Clickety-click, and Mr. Troll is out of my life forever. My time is a precious non-renewable resource, and I shall spend it where there's a better expected return on the investment.

#243 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:12 PM:

Mycroft W @241, I hear you entirely on the volleyball spikes. To this day, I can't play volleyball; if something is coming at my head, I can't try to hit it back, even if I had enough coordination for a good chance of connecting. If something is coming at my head, I DUCK. And cover.

When news stories started circulating about schools banning dodgeball, and people started reacting with dismay that the Anti-Fun Brigade was banning a happy childhood pastime with their overblown concerns about safety and well-being, I was not among the complainers. I wished they'd banned dodgeball when I was a child. What an evil, evil game for the permanent target.

I still defend "hit back harder" as a tactic effective even against groups. The bra-snappers and ass-grabbers didn't work alone. They still backed the hell off when I grabbed the nearest one by the shoulders and slammed his head into my locker. I don't know if it changes things when it's a boy vs. boys fight, because I've never been in one of those, but they didn't expect me to fight back physically at ALL, and it worked.

The other thing that worked against groups, at least temporarily -- and ALSO got me in trouble with the school authorities for "behaving inappropriately" -- was to scream. I'm talking a head-back, open-throat, bring-it-up-from-the-diaphragm fortissimo scream with a fermata over it. It didn't stop them repeating the behavior the way that the locker head-slam did, but it backed them the hell off long enough that I could run away.

When I took a Model Mugging one-off class later, when my high school offered it, I was the only one who didn't have trouble performing their advice to scream at the attacker. It was already familiar territory.

#244 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:19 PM:

If 241 is unuseful to the discussion at hand - delete it. The catharsis was necessary, and I think could be educational, but may also be a little derailing of the topic, so may not be necessary here.

One other thing - there's something that will, easily and quickly, rile me. No, I won't mention what it is, except to say that I've arranged it so that it's not really possible here (See? Even 25 years later), and that it requires active disinterest in my wishes. It's purely verbal, and explainable as "sorry, I forgot", too (but I can tell the difference). One day, someone who knew better (and who had been trading this kind of needling with me for months) did it to me, *again*, in a competition (where rattling the opponents will improve your score, true, but where this kind of rattling is illegal). He sat rocked back in his chair, balancing on the two back legs only, so in response, I grabbed a front leg and, keeping control of it, gave it a bit of a push up. In response to that, he punched my glasses off my face, requiring 4 stitches. In response to that...well I don't know what happened in response to that. The next thing I know my teammates have run 5 metres from their table and are trying to pull me away from the wall where I've trapped him shouting who knows what. I'm sure some physical contact was involved getting there.

So, what was "in response to violence immediately prior" (self-defence) and what was active? One would think the punch, but that was in response to what felt like (and what was intended to feel like, but not be) an attempt to knock him over. That? Well, I never touched him, I kept everything under control, and he was playing mind games, attacking me where he knew I would react. He wanted me to react, just not in that way. But that could have been in response to what happened the day before, or the day before that, or...

And more than that (as anybody who watches hockey or soccer can attest), when all the referees see is the final retaliation, the retaliation can be the only punished (possibly, the only punishable; it was just fate that the punch caused my glasses to cut my eyebrow on their way off. Without that, there would have been no mark on me) offense. Certainly, when the witnesses (not these, mind you, but in other cases) all say that "yeah, A hit B, once, lightly, but then B just kept on pounding A, even after he'd apologized and was helpless" (whether or not that was true), the words "inappropriate response" come to mind...

The reason for some of those stupid zero-tolerance policies (and zero-tolerance policies are stupid; they're written with no room for judgment to avoid people saying that what happened to me and others in this thread are "just part of growing up, he'll learn from the toughening", but they take away the room for judgment of "this guy has been picked on all year in ways that fall just short of the policy, and he finally snapped" or "she got him with a nail file, but that's because he was sticking his hand up her skirt - again.") is because you can't get those situations right all the time, and punishing any physical response equally Solves The Problem for the school (at what cost to the people involved, well, that's another story). People, schoolchildren in particular, are Very Good at Rules Lawyering, and if there's zero tolerance for X, they can be very good at doing everything up to X-1, and then when they get X as a response, "it's all his fault - I didn't do anything". I don't know what the answer is - in Real Life, the answer involves lawyers, a judge, and 12 of your peers, and still frequently gets it wrong.

#245 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 09:31 PM:

Rikibeth, 243: maybe that would have worked for me, too. I wasn't able to be that violent, I guess. And screaming might also be gender-dependent; had I done that (and I'd had 8 years of singing lessons by that point; I CAN PROJECT when I want to), they would have backed off, sure - so that they could enjoy the reaction they were trying to get out of me that much more. It might have got me out of the situation, I guess, but it would have set me up for weekly repeats (I guess that's the difference between that and Model Mugging, too - a) loud noises is not the response the mugger wants, and b) I don't expect to run into the mugger ever again, never mind being locked into the same bus with him every day for a New York to Boston run (with a 6 hour layover in Hartford CT).

#246 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 10:18 PM:

Mycroft 241: O my gods, Mycroft. BOY does that sound familiar. This:

Let's face it - humiliation of others is *funny*. At least it is to a large part of the population. I can't watch most situation so-called comedies, because they rely on it - and it's not funny to me. It hurts - 25 years later - even to watch it happen, knowing it's not real.

THAT's why I can't watch comedy, I'm sure of it. I didn't make the connection until you said this. Thank you.

The rest of your post...I need to think about. I don't think I was as severely bullied as you were, or for as long, but it rings on and on in my mind like an excellent bell. Thank you for writing that.

Douglas 242: Yes, some online bullies are redeemable. Some have something valid to say. Some, we might learn from.

Why bother?

This. Yes. Right on.

Mycroft 244: If 241 is unuseful to the discussion at hand - delete it.

I wouldn't describe it as "unuseful," exactly. More like "absolutely a critical breakthrough, watershed post," in fact.

#247 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 10:54 PM:

Mycroft, Rikibeth, and Xopher, in particular, and everyone else in general: I appreciate how difficult this conversation must be for all of you. Thank you.

#248 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 10:56 PM:

Mycroft W @ 245: The screaming was only a temporary solution for me, too. It backed them off long enough to let me run for another location where they couldn't grab me again quickly, but it didn't discourage repeats. It was after I'd done the screaming tactic several times, and gotten reprimanded for it, even though I was avoiding physical violence, that I moved onto the math-book-to-skull and slam-into-locker responses.

I had an advantage in junior high (when all this happened) in that I wasn't riding the bus any more, and my tormentors didn't walk the same route that I did. I had my first Walkman-knockoff then, and I listened to the White Album every day while I walked, for comfort.

I'd ridden the bus in elementary school. That was bad enough. When I was in sixth grade, I took to sitting with a second-grade girl, who liked having attention from a Big Kid, and that made a lot of the harassment stop, because nobody had anything against the little kid and didn't want to hassle HER.

#249 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2009, 11:11 PM:

Mary Frances, thanks. It's not, perhaps, as difficult for me as you might think -- if it were difficult, I couldn't tell the stories so publicly. Apart from a tendency to overidentify with Professor Snape, it's mostly not a problem for me any more. (I used my school bus experiences to write a fanfic description of first-year Snape trying to find a seat on the Hogwarts Express that a friend said was "so real it made my teeth hurt.")

Well. Mostly not a problem. I do have a fairly vicious startle reflex left over from those days. But since MOST people are polite and don't try to grab me from behind, this is not a big deal. (Anyone who might interact with me in person? Don't play that "Guess who?" game unless you want to risk injury. I'm not good at squashing that reflex.)

And, if I hadn't had that incident in Hebrew school -- which was dramatic enough that the teachers HAD to take notice -- they wouldn't have pulled me out of the regular bar/bat mitzvah prep classes and had me go to the semi-recreational "Hebrew high school" classes while doing my bat mitzvah prep with the rabbi. And so I wouldn't have met my best friend, who was a year older than I was and so already in the Hebrew high school classes. And she was a second-generation convention-going Fan, and brought me to my first Boskone the weekend I turned 14, and fandom (along with going to a private high school instead of staying in the same school system as my junior high tormentors) gave me a HOME, and peers, which I had never had much of before in my life. It probably didn't hurt that a reasonably cute 14-year-old girl who could pass for 17 started out way the hell near the top of the fannish social structure. That was a new experience for me, and rebuilt my confidence like anything.

It all works out. Even if I still have a few names on the list.

#250 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:04 AM:

heresiarch@235: I know--it's not an issue that's talked about much. I think that teaching kids to step in even when it's not them or their friends being bullied is a good idea, and doable. It will require a huge change in school culture though--the "don't be a tattle-tale" mindset is a pretty perfect breeding ground for bullying.

It's kind of a natural result of compulsory education IMO. Schoolchildren are captive and generally understimulated (which is why the worst bullying horror stories are always from prison). The former tends to make them see themselves as an oppressed group and unite against the teachers, and the latter has them looking for convenient distractions. Combine with still-developing superegos and you have a recipe.

I have a could-be-more-assertive five-year-old who'll be the only half-Japanese in his not-particularly-cosmopolitan Japanese elementary school in a year and a half, so I'm looking for ideas here myself.

#251 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 05:28 AM:

Mycroft W @ 241. "Sitcoms". Me too. I find it excruciatingly painful watching other people being put in those situations - and then other people laugh at them! I can just about enjoy an old episode of "The Good Life" but even parts of "To the Manor Born" have me cringing and more modern series - no way.

#252 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 06:12 AM:

This is going to be a multi-part comment, like Caroline's.

Part the first: Defining bullying

It's worth noting that schoolyard bullying doesn't just have to be about physical power ("Can I make you acknowledge my existence even if you don't want to?"). It can also be about social standing, and social power - "can I make your reaction into social capital for myself?". Given I spent twelve years of school being bullied in one form or another, I can testify that this second form of power play is often more popular among young women than among young men, and often played by them to devastating effect.

It's this second form which is starting to metamorphose from the schoolyard into a more widespread format with the assistance of communication tools such as the internet. There was a case in Australia last year which involved a couple of schoolgirls posting schoolyard rumours about a couple of mutual acquaintances on Facebook, and then being surprised when they were expelled from the rather exclusive private school they'd been attending. (My own less-than-charitable opinion was they'd committed at least one crime - libel and/or slander - and they should have faced the full criminal consequences of same, but my viewpoint is, understandably, skewed).

Like Mycroft, I find one of the scars I'm left with is a slightly less tolerant sense of humour than others. I don't find most US-produced "comedies" to be funny, since they tend to be based strongly on the culture of bullying, where the physical and social discomfort of others is regarded as being humorous. I tend to empathise with the target too much for it to be comfortable.

Caroline @148 - I'd argue all bullying behaviour is manipulative at heart. The aim is to get the victim (and often the bystanders) to acknowledge the existence of the bullying person, even if (or especially if) they don't want to. It's why "fixes" for bullying such as "ignore them; they'll get bored and go away" don't work. By forcing this acknowledgement, the bullying person obtains power in the personal sense. If they're able to get bystanders to either participate in the bullying, or to avoid interfering for fear of being bullied themselves, they've obtained power in the social sense. Their victim loses power, and since persons who bully tend to see power (and attention) as a zero-sum game, they'll keep taking power from an individual victim as often as they can.

From the victim's perspective, the best way to deal with bullies is hard and fast, in the first instance - hit back, and hit back hard. This will establish you as a harder target than the bullying person thought you were, and they won't try again in a hurry (or without a lot of reinforcement).

#253 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 06:13 AM:

Part the second: Dealing with bullying in the long term

I think the question isn't so much "what do we do about bullies?" as "what sort of space/community/society do we want to promote here?"

A lot of the time, this particular question isn't asked, and so people aren't asked to reflect on their behaviour and whether or not it should be acceptable. But where that question is asked, there's a certain amount of reflection going on, and people who are willing to become part of such a community are willing to turn around and look at what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. So in a community which is, for example, seeking to establish a safe space for people who are members of disempowered groups (women, LGBTIQ, non-white, non-Christian, differently abled, etc), there is generally more of a willingness to reflect on which "normal" behaviours are acceptable, and which ones are part of the entire social framework of privilege and disempowerment which is designed to keep the disempowered "in their place". Contrariwise, a community which prides itself on being "edgy" and "avant-garde" may examine the same set of behaviours, and decide some are more expressive of conformism, while others are more acceptably "out there".

It's probably worth noting that in each case, some persons will be privileged by the choices of the community while others will be disadvantaged - although it's likely different people would be affected in each case.

In the community of Making Light, my experience is that the space which is created here is one where civil discussion is valued - where listening to another's opinion is valued far more than having the correct opinion. So part of the examination of our own behaviour we've each made in contributing here is whether we're capable of viewing the opinion of someone else as something other than a personal attack on our own thoughts and values. In the majority of cases, the answer is "yes". We've also examined ourselves, and generally come to the conclusion that we don't need to respond immediately to every perceived attack on our thoughts and values - instead, we're willing to compare our positions, ask questions to clarify matters we don't understand, and agree to disagree where necessary.

However, the important question we've asked is "which behaviours are appropriate in this space?".

This is why I'd like to see the introduction of social skills classes as a standard part of schooling - even if it's just things like "this is the socially accepted definition of good manners". I feel such a group of classes might help people to start thinking about the "why" of their behaviours, as well as the "what" and "when". Every so often, society as a whole needs a bit of a shake up, I feel - and one of the things we as a culture need to be doing now is pruning the behavioural tree a little. Get rid of the dead wood, find the stuff which is just clutter, and figure out which bits we want to encourage, which bits we don't, and which behaviours we'd like to bear fruit.

#254 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 06:19 AM:

Part the third: Dealing with bullying inside schools

Pericat @184 said: They're not mature enough to be felons. They're children.

I'll agree with that, right up until the end of primary school (approx age 12 in Australia). Where I take issue is in high school situations. The people you have there (in the Australian context, between the ages of 12 - 18 years) are no longer children. They're young people growing into adulthood.

One of the detrimental consequences, in my opinion, of legal adulthood being acknowledged at age 18 is the presumption of some sort of "magic switch" which gets thrown at midnight on the day of the person's 18th birthday. The "magic switch" argument means someone who is 17 years and 364 days old tends to perceive themselves as able to get away with crimes they'd be prosecuted for the next day, because one day they're a legal child, and the next they're a legal adult.

My own experience with the "magic switch" was in the shift from high school to university study - a shift which caused me a major degree of culture shock and a breakdown. Why? Well, I'd gone from an environment where being good at learning wasn't socially rewarding, and where being seen to be good at learning was an invitation to be victimised into an environment where being good at learning was a social good and something to be encouraged. I knew I hadn't changed that much in the three months between the end of high school and the beginning of university, and I really don't think any of my peers had, either. It's just that it wasn't as socially acceptable to bully the geeks any more, so the pretty people didn't do it. Once I realised the difference was one of whether or not the behaviours were tolerated, I realised I needn't have suffered at least the final two years of school bullying, and possibly a lot more, and that made me extremely angry.

My ideal solution would be to have a legal and social acknowledgement of the reality of young adulthood - such that high school bullying would be treated as a legal offence, and the persons involved would be cautioned and charged with the offences they have committed, if necessary. Assault, battery, stalking, rape, libel, slander, sexual assault, sexual harassment, etc - there should be a clear acknowledgement that such behaviours aren't considered acceptable within our society, and they aren't considered acceptable for a reason.

I'd also argue that, as formulated by both Rikkibeth and Leah Miller, the occasional application of physical force on the part of the bullied is necessary to assist in such explanations of why these behaviours aren't acceptable. There are people who genuinely cannot understand appeals to the collective, but can understand such things when phrased as an appeal to the individual. "Don't try because it will hurt" can act as a deterrent where "don't do it because it isn't nice" doesn't.

#255 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 06:20 AM:

Part the fourth: The Prodigal Son and the Squeaky Wheel

I have to admit, I've always interpreted the tale of the Prodigal Son as being part of the standard biblical preference on the part of God for annoying younger brothers over older siblings (as demonstrated from Abel on down). But then, I've always wondered how the bible was used as an authority to promote the notion of primogeniture (ie oldest son inherits the most). This may well have been influenced by being an elder sibling with an annoying younger brother, of course.

#256 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 08:12 AM:

Many Christians will tell you that the story of the Prodigal Son should really be called the story of the Forgiving Father.  It’s about repentance by the younger son and (most importantly) forgiveness by the father who has no hard words for his son’s failure but simply welcomes him home;  with a side-part for the resentful elder son.  Forgiveness is better than resentment, for both sides.

Curious etymology, by the way:  “prodigal” and “prodigy”, apparently from the same root, have diverged to totally different meanings.

#257 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 08:19 AM:

Meg Thornton @254 My ideal solution would be to have a legal and social acknowledgement of the reality of young adulthood.

I agree. But it's got to be more than that. Really, to get rid of bullying we need a cultural shift. Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn said in an interview in Time magazine in 1989 "But we have two lungs. You can’t breathe with just one lung and not the other. We must avail ourselves of rights and duties in equal measure. And if this is not established by the law, if the law does not oblige us to do that, then we have to control ourselves. " and added that in Western culture, rights have been developed at the expense of duties.

Problem is, children learn best by "monkey see, monkey do" so they are not going to learn this unless they see adults living by it, as well as telling them to do it. I was raised (taught/absorbed) that everyone is deserving of courtesy. Obviously not all children are raised that way, and they see evidence all around them of "might is right". Suggestions?

#258 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:01 AM:

This American Life recently re-aired an episode that is quite apropos. Titled The Cruelty of Children, it has a Dave Sedaris story about homosexuality and bullying and then a really disturbing piece of short fiction about children refusing to help a man in a well.

But the really interesting part is the third act (starts at about 46:50). It's the story of a teacher who instituted a rule that actually reduced bullying and cruel behavior in a Kindergarten class. I'm tearing up a bit just thinking about some of the stories she tells, especially concerning one girl who might have been a bully, and how the rule continued to guide her later in her life. The segment is only 12 minutes long. I just listened to it a second time, and I find myself teary-eyed again.

The rule? It was simple: you can't say you can't play. If someone wants to join your game, you have to let them.

Now this was the kind of bullying I experienced the most: "you can't sit with us, you can't play, you can't be here." Compared to the stuff that a lot of other people had to put up with, it seems so minor. I did have friends, I just never saw them at school: they were either too old, too young, from another town, or not on the same academic level as me. Still, I had them and saw them maybe once every couple months. And the really bad stuff only lasted about eight years, from fifth to twelfth grade. (I should have realized what I was in for when my Gifted program teacher told me in 6th grade that 'College will be Better.') Still, to this day I have trouble sitting down at a table without an explicit invitation, inviting someone to lunch, or tagging along with a group activity. A lot of the time I muscle through it, but my default assumption in any social situation is that I'm annoying and intrusive.

This broadcast is over 10 years old, and I'm honestly shocked that the results of this experiment haven't been used more extensively since then. It's such a simple idea, and in this lady's experiment it worked. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff out there that works, it's just not prioritized like it should be.

#259 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:18 AM:

With respect to comedies and bullying, another heartfelt "yes!".

I was bullied actively by someone who targeted me, with physical attacks whenever she felt she could get away with it. I learned to not get trapped in corners and to not be alone in isolated areas. Then in 7th grade, we had both PE and lunch together (in that order), every day. The attacks during PE were nearly constant, as all her cronies joined in.

When my mother noticed I was withdrawing, and getting sick to my stomach every morning, she got the details from me and went straight to the administration. To their credit, things happened (although the principal coming to my PE class to talk to me in public was Not Smart, and I knew it while he was doing it). My enemy, Penny Rogonia, and all her cronies were expelled immediately, for a number of violations including bullying.

There were others who passively bullied anyone not of their group, but I wasn't specifically targeted by them, and they just ostracized anyone who didn't belong.

When I left public school in the 8th grade, I went to a much smaller private school for a year; I made some friends, but I preferred my friends to be older (i.e., not classmates). I went to a different private school for 9-12th grades, and again all my friends were not classmates. I didn't start allowing classmates to be friends until veterinary school.

I've never liked certain types of comedies, and now I know why: the bullying, aggressive "humor" is just not funny. I've never like "Candid Camera" either, and for the same reasons: I don't like public humiliation. My fifth grade teacher engaged in that kind of bullying, and I was one of her targets.

One bully from high school, who pushed me down a short flight of stairs (because he thought I was a boy and he didn't like me), ended up dying in a car accident. When I read his obituary, I smiled. I have my list, too.

Over the years, the rage has been changed (due to a number of other life-changing events), but there's still enough of it that I manage myself very carefully when I see or feel the triggers getting close. I don't want to be that angry, and I don't want to remember those feelings. I have other things to focus on.

So my comedies are smart and not about bullying; my relationships are between equals; my fiction is light-hearted and not depressing, or has a good ending.

As for fighting back, it's entirely context-dependent. For some, there's no way to fight back without getting into deeper trouble -- I used to get cornered on the bus by my early enemy, and there were too many of them to fight against. I was lucky that none of them really knew how to throw a punch, so I could duck, dodge, and take a punch without showing any emotion. I didn't need fighting skills until much later in life, and now I have the automatic blocking skills that come with PTSD plus martial arts training.

Oh, and I eliminated one problem by not hanging out with the girls. From second grade to seventh grade, I hung out with the boys. After the initial phase of discomfort ("she's a girl!!!"), they allowed me in and I was safe. Now all my socialisation is masculine, and I had to change my behaviors when I went off to a women's college.

Sheesh. I'm rambling like everyone else. This is a major hot button topic, and I've been learning lots from other folks' experiences.

#260 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:22 AM:

While waiting to review the proof on a print job, I spotted this print hanging on the wall. There's a lot there that applies to this discussion. (For those who can't make out the image: that's the Georgia Bulldog applying leads from a car battery to the LSU tiger. The battery is labeled to show that, though Georgia won the SEC championship, the Tiger is being punished because D.J. Shockley of LSU was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship. This copy is only signed by the artist, but the one I saw in the print shop was autographed by Georgia's coach.)

(Note to those not living in areas where Football Is A Religion: this is absolutely typical iconography. High school teams when I was growing up not infrequently hanged/beat/buried their opponents in effigy.)

#261 ::: so anonymous for this ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:27 AM:

I was bullied at home (by my older brother) and at school (by students in my class), never physically, but mentally and emotionally on a daily basis.

The worst part of that combination was that there was no respite. Everything cruel that was said to me at school was repeated and reinforced at home. And because it was repeated at home and allowed to be repeated without much in the way of response, I never felt that telling my parents about what happened at school would accomplish anything. If they let my brother be that cruel, why would they do anything about people who *weren't* related to me?

To this day, I get absolutely enraged by people whose advice to the bullied, abused, or put-upon is to "Learn not to engage" or "Don't get so emotional" or "Don't let them make you overreact."

I am quite sure that all of that past added up to my being, eventually, in an emotionally abusive relationship as a young woman, and to my staying in it far longer than I should have.

I never talk about this other than jokingly..you know, the way one does. How could I?

I hope, though, that if my daughters face bullying at school, I will do better at addressing the problem and at talking to them about my own experiences.

#262 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:37 AM:

Oh yeah, and another hearty "me too" on the unfunniness of humiliation. I can't watch most comedy. (Not just "modern American comedy" either. What happens to Malvolio in Twelfth Night is almost too painful for me to watch.)

#263 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:39 AM:

(Note to those not living in areas where Football Is A Religion: this is absolutely typical iconography. High school teams when I was growing up not infrequently hanged/beat/buried their opponents in effigy.)

I live in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a couple of traditional rivals, such as the Cleveland Browns. The Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Last year, when it became clear the Steelers were Superbowl contenders, a couple of pictures showed up on an office door I pass frequently. Most of them were the typical football action shots, but one was of a raven--a real, flying, feathered raven--obviously dead and hanging from a wire.

There was another of a cardinal that had been run over by a car, because the Cardinals were playoff opponents or some such.

I wince every time I see those pictures.

#264 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 11:31 AM:

Ginger @259 -- your point about preferred types of comedy leads me to a speculation. "Cruelty to animals" is one of the classic markers of a psychopath; could "preference for Candid Camera and America's Funniest Home Videos" be a similar marker for bullies?

And another thing -- I had no idea why I was doing this at the time, but in junior high I too started to hang out with the boys at lunch and gym class. Looking back, I was probably trying to do exactly what you were doing -- get away from bullying girls in the two places they were most likely to bully. It WAS empowing to be the only girl accepted into the long-running guys-only "I refuse to do what the gym teacher wants" volleyball game...

#265 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 11:42 AM:

Leah Miller @ 258: Still, to this day I have trouble sitting down at a table without an explicit invitation, inviting someone to lunch, or tagging along with a group activity.

So I'm not the only one. Now you've stated it and I've had a chance to consciously recognise where my problem comes from, maybe I'll be more able to resist that feeling of not being welcome - or of not being sure of my welcome - at gatherings of my peers. It would appear (based on this small sample) that one of the problems with having had this sort of experience as a child is that, even as an adult, you can retain the "default" that you're not welcome, so you need an explicit indication that you are welcome - while most adults have a default idea they are welcome unless they get strong indications otherwise, so they don't bother giving welcoming signals, because they don't realise anyone needs them? The link to school (peers) would also explain why this is much less of a problem for me in social situations where I'm mingling with e.g. my parents' friends.

#266 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 11:46 AM:

Janet @264: I'm not sure the choices of humor will correlate closely with bullying in the same way that cruelty correlates to pathology -- but it would certainly correlate to a lack of understanding/empathy towards bullied people. Folks who were never bullied or didn't get the social humiliation version would not be discomfited by Candid Camera-type behaviors. For them, we would need another way to explain the problem.

The boys -- it's funny, I just realized that the boys in my class year never bullied each other (differences of opinion and fights, sure) and the girls constantly bullied each other. With very few exceptions, the girls were toxic. We had some really small boys and they were just as much a part of the group as anyone else.

#267 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 12:11 PM:

my default assumption in any social situation is that I'm annoying and intrusive.

Yikes that sounds familiar.

I think one problem with defining/discouraging bullying is that it is very closely related to the behaviors that are/provide group definition and maintenance. (And I'm ideologically quite committed to the notion that if you allow entry and exit, your group can have whatever internal rules it likes.) The Stalky story mentioned above (The Moral Reformers) captures that pretty well. And I've heard it from teachers, and it's a routine part of Army training, and it's an important part of why the internet sites I frequent are the ones I frequent; group enforcement of group norms is by far the most effective way to get and maintain a useable group.

But the problem is, the behaviors that made me feel like a permanent annoyance were group-enforcement-of-group-norms.

#268 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 12:20 PM:

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with an issue with embarrassment comedy. I think it really is a bully trigger - either the other characters are setting this person up to humiliation, which we are expected to find funny (traditional), or the character is prone to doing stupid things all on his own, which we are supposed to find funny. Which means that the writers are being the bully, no?

Thanks, Mary Frances, and yes, it does require courage - but not as much as it may look. After all, in order to (if you're not an admin here) find out who I really am, you're going to have to do some work (not a lot, but some) - and my nym got associated to me after all of that happened, so it's unlikely that the people involved at the time will find me here.

Two things that came to mind on Xopher's comment. First, for many reasons I pattern gay (I'm not, but that's neither a value statement or particularly relevant to the behaviour) - so yeah, I'm not particularly surprised that my stories trigger his memory. I certainly have experience with gaybashing, in the non-adult (read: survivable) form.

Second, despite saying that, in many ways I had it easy. White, male, smart, reasonably prosperous (this was a private school, after all) and while some of the physical and verbal abuse was sexually-themed, there was no sexual abuse, at home or at school. At All. Also, there were no worries about knives or guns (not that a good set of stairs can't mess you up). And while some of the teachers' attitudes to me made it clear that they didn't care what happened, there were those who made it clear that this was wrong - and not by me going to them and complaining, either.

Second-and-a-half, "getting off easy" doesn't mean it's okay. If getting off easy can and did lead to twenty years of not having a reason to live (having a reason to not die, yeah, I had that. I'm still here, after all. But the last thing I thought before going to sleep every night, for years, was a hope not to wake up) then it's still too much.

#269 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 12:43 PM:

On the topic of "bullying behaviour in discourse", I came across an amusing definition in a BBC article today. Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, defined a "rant" as "high sounding language unsupported by dignity of thought".

Struck me as appropriate.

#270 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:01 PM:

Talking about someone else's psychological makeup is more than tricky, but I can speak to my own social diffidence, which seems to me to be rooted not so much in early social exclusion as in how I am wired to respond to group activities in general. I suspect that any population will have a distribution of basic preferences and reaction-sets, from the gregarious to the solitary, and I locate myself at somewhere around the three-quarters mark between (statistically) "normal" sociability and "rather solitary." Experiences in childhood and adolescence certainly affected the way I turned out as an adult (insert anecdotes here: not sitting with the cool kids, being excluded from this or that activity, being labeled a grind or an oddball, etc.), but I doubt that anything could have turned me into a happy-in-a-crowd guy.

I suspect that the dominance and in/out-group games of childhood and adolescence are unavoidable--I can't shake the idea that we're a lot like our chimp and baboon cousins, which means that competition for social position is going to go on no matter what (I recognize the competitive components of my own behavior, however transmuted they might be) and that the problem is how to shape the way it procedes. The simple no-exclusion protocol mentioned by Leah @258 sounds promising as one way of socializing tiny primates, though of course it won't work with the entire range of personality types, let alone neurologically damaged children. (I was hearing horror stories about children born to meth addicts last weekend.)

Not to hijack the thread, but just a thought on Twefth Night: a fully competent production will show why Malvolio is treated so harshly by the rest of the household as well as why that treatment is deeply unkind--and that it does not change him. It's one of those wonderfully multiplex Shakespearean constructs that undermines the easy and comfortable resolution many of us might wish for. As for the comedy of discomfort--what are we to make of Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous?

#271 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:16 PM:

Russell 270: As for the comedy of discomfort--what are we to make of Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous?

Can't stand 'em. For me it doesn't matter if the person deserves what they get; I feel their humiliation anyway. And the daughter in AbFab emphatically does not deserve the terrible things the two senior women do to her (for example, they manage through sheer vanity and selfishness to disrupt her wedding to the point where the relationship fails).

There's a certain amount of wit in both shows, and some great lines ("Just once I'd like to take off my clothes without being marked by them!"), but I literally cannot endure watching them. What I know about them I know due to brief excerpts and occasional attempts to watch AbFab, but once I realized that no one was going to have the simple common sense to push both of them (I can't remember their silly names) under a bus, I gave up.

Note that I would have been OK with someone pushing them under a bus, but I can't stand to watch them being humiliated, even though a reasonable person would conclude that they deserve the latter but not the former. This is not a rational thing we're talking about, it's a visceral reaction. Almost literally visceral; if I watch AbFab for too long I get so upset that I feel queasy.

#272 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Xopher @ 271... Much as I liked John Cleese, I was unable to watch even all of the first episode of "Fawlty Tiowers". Seeing someone try to better his lot and yet things get worse and worse? Not funny.

#273 ::: Erin C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Leah at 258:

"Still, to this day I have trouble sitting down at a table without an explicit invitation, inviting someone to lunch, or tagging along with a group activity. A lot of the time I muscle through it, but my default assumption in any social situation is that I'm annoying and intrusive."

I empathize to an almost painful degree -- I have the same baggage due to my own experience being bullied in junior high. I recently started attending a local anime club at age 30, and the thought of asking the other members if I could join them at the post-meeting dinner literally gives me stomach cramps. My rational brain tells me that it's almost certainly open to all attendees, and in any case I've chatted amiably with the other folks there on a number of occasions, but the rest of me is screaming not to do it on pain of flat rejection and mockery.

Despite having ruminated over past bullying more than is healthy, it wasn't until reading this thread that I realized why I get the cold shakes over something that's so easy for what sometimes seems like practically everyone else.

#274 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Leah Miller #258: And the really bad stuff only lasted about eight years.

For a child, that's a lifetime.

Try being one of only three children of colour at a school. Or the only one who uses the library regularly.

#275 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:43 PM:

Oh dear. As soon as I posted, I reflected that what I wrote might be construed as seeking to put down Leah's experience. It wasn't. I was simply adding a gloss, and making a note regarding my own. My apologies to Leah if I caused offense.

#276 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 02:20 PM:

Leah at 258:

"Still, to this day I have trouble sitting down at a table without an explicit invitation, inviting someone to lunch, or tagging along with a group activity. A lot of the time I muscle through it, but my default assumption in any social situation is that I'm annoying and intrusive."

Kind of a side note, but useful in the discussion of how to deal with the effects of bullying, I guess: One of the reasons I immediately felt so at home at the first Mythopoeic Society conference I attended is the way that old hands actively watch out for and INSIST that newcomers join them at meals. Not a bad way for a group to behave at all. Then the newcomers become old hands and perpetuate the tradition, and we all go home feeling better about ourselves.

#277 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 02:20 PM:

heresiarch@202: Let's be sure we keep "self-defense" and "retaliation" clearly separated. But if somebody assaults you, that's a great time to hit back. With anything you can grab. At that point there's no time to change your behavior, avoid the area, or even run away. Self-defense is, by definition, a RIGHT NOW sort of thing.

general comments:

Schools with a zero tolerance policy are a bit like Niven's "free park" concept. A bully shouldn't survive long, since they tend to have multiple targets. If in fact a bully and a target are ejected for each attack, the school should run out of bullies fairly soon. This is not wonderful for the targets, but it ought to keep the bully population down. And, as has been said, if the punishment is in fact the same for kicking their kneecaps off as it is for blocking a punch, GO FOR IT! Sometimes I wonder if that's what schools that do the zero tolerance for violence thing are actively looking for.

In general, there will ALWAYS be some people who don't respect the limits. Schemes that are based on there being NO predators around are unworkable.

#278 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 02:46 PM:

David Dyer-Bennett: The zero-tolerance bullying policies don't work in practice the way you've described. Schools are very reluctant to expel students. Instead, what happens, since they've declared that they have zero tolerance for bullying, they define what happens as not being bullying, and effectively ignore it.

#279 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 02:47 PM:

And, as has been said, if the punishment is in fact the same for kicking their kneecaps off as it is for blocking a punch, GO FOR IT!

"Guess what, brothers? We're late."

#280 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:11 PM:

elise@79: Wait, there's a difference?

Um, in that particular case I was modifying my description of my own personal policies. However, I do perceive the modified version of the policies as being very common with in any kind of intellectual discourse in general, and in fandom in particular.

#281 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:20 PM:

Rikkibeth@278: There are often these differences between stated policy and actual policy (the one they implement), yes.

#282 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:21 PM:

Russell, Xopher, Serge: I always wanted to like Fawlty Towers, but I can't watch more than about five minutes at a time without cringing. Nice to know I'm not the only one. There are some fantastic moments that I've been told about and shown - and even enjoyed - but I can't cope with a whole episode. "Absolutely Fabulous" I never wanted to try watching.

#283 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:23 PM:

I just idly googled my old junior high school and found a find-your-old-classmates site with a couple of hundred people from the place (which was converted to condos back in the eighties), and running down the list who should I see but one of the guys who used to bully me!

The weird thing is he was expelled for putting a pipe bomb in the desk of the school's only black teacher, which would have killed him if he'd been sitting there when it went off, so you could say he left under a bit of a cloud. But there he is, happy as a clam to claim alumni status.

Had to leave a message, of course.

#284 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:24 PM:

Briefly sticking my head in as a moderator, I'd like to point out that it's not necessary, on Making Light, to slam anyone's head against a locker. One crucial difference between this and high school is that there is no place on this site that is out of sight of the teachers, or the supportive community.

Although I said I wouldn't discuss the Kennedy thread, I will point out in a general speaking-to-the-air way that I thought it was a difficult situation well handled. The beleaguered were supported and attempts were made to constructively engage the difficult party. When that didn't work, the angels with the flaming swords arrived.

(*descends from cathedra*)

I, too, find humor derived from awkwardness almost entirely unbearable. I also find certain kinds of suspense that rely on social pressure really difficult to take...give me a swordfight over psychological torment any day. Quite often, when Martin is watching something on TV and I want to watch too, I bring the laptop into the living room and distract myself from scenes I can't quite take.

#285 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:25 PM:

Count me in as another person who could not watch AbFab. Just not funny to me.

#286 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:29 PM:

Another data point from YMMV-land: Candid Camera bothers me. America's Funniest (at least the Tom Bergeron version) mostly does not. This may be because CC involves people deliberately putting other people in embarrassing situations. AFV, on the other hand, has a lot of clips in the following categories:

1. random weird stuff (babies making odd faces, strange animal behavior)

2. unlucky circumstances faced up to with good humor (picnickers in the rain getting drenched when their awning gives way)

3. people deliberately doing really dumb things (the kind of thing that starts, "Hey Bubba, hold my beer and watch this!")

The stuff in category 1 is mostly funny with occasional exceptions (e.g. dog with obvious neurological problem can't stop chasing his tail).

The stuff in category 2 is funny if and only if the people involved seem to find it funny (and they usually do); this kind of thing isn't painful when it happens to you. (Like the time I unexpectedly encountered a very lively garter snake in a park bathroom; it was flailing away trying to get a grip on the tile floor and I shrieked and tried to levitate up the wall--I cracked up at myself immediately, and I still snicker at the memory.)

Stuff in category 3 is funny in proportion to how cool the person thinks he's about to be, with severe point deductions for actual injuries and/or any suspicion that the person is less than fully functional to start with.

But as I said, YMMV. This may all just be my own personal quirk.

BUT WAIT--there's a fourth category. I mostly do not find clips of people scaring other people funny--but the one where the guy jumps out of a trash can wearing a monster mask and the co-worker (?) he's scaring immediately and accurately punches him in the mouth--that one is funny.

#287 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:29 PM:

I just want to say that this is a wonderful topic, and I admire all of you for posting in it. I can write about some of the things that resonate with me (having difficulty with comedy of embarrassment, or joining a group without an explicit invitation [which has a skewed mirror of being reluctant to invite others to join me, for fear of "Like I'd want to hang out with you!" in those tones familiar to too many of us]), but dear gods, this is both reassuring (it wasn't just me) and horribly depressing (it happened to so many people I know), and I keep choking on my words.

I'm glad we all made it this far.

#288 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:38 PM:

You know, the discussion of Fawlty Towers intrigues me. I was never a fan of the show--there are very few situation-comedies that I can watch, British or American--but if I'd been asked, and based on the few episodes I have seen, I'd have said that Basil/John Cleese was most often a "bully who gets his comeuppance" character. Apparently, many of the people in this thread don't read the show that way (so to speak). Maybe--the scars run so deep, even seeing a bully get bullied is too painful? (Or maybe I'm completely off in interpreting the admittedly-loud-mouthed Basil as any kind of a bully . . . as I said, I'm not really a fan of the show.)

#289 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:49 PM:

Lila @286 I also don't care for candid camera any more. I don't like the AFV segments where someone is deliberately scared or tricked. In fact, I put my family on notice that anyone who ever tries anything like the "fake winning lottery ticket" joke on me may well never be spoken to again. But as you point out, there are a number of other types, and I find many of them funny.

It's interesting that this highlights a subset of TV shows many of us dislike for the humiliation humor. There are books that fall into that category too. I'm thinking of some of the styles of "chick lit" but I'm sure there are others.

I wonder if opinions about the dinner party scene in Bujold's A Civil Campaign track with the dislike of that type of humor? I love Bujold in general, and I like much of that book, and Miles sets himself up for it ... but I still hate that scene and skip it when I reread the book.

#290 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:53 PM:

abi, if it's ok to discuss the Kennedy thread in a general sense, i was going to point out the same thing, as a difficult situation effectively defused by group reaction.

When I saw the words directed at me, I'll admit, my heart rate went up and my breathing got faster. Because they were words on a screen and not a physical attack, I was able to compose a non-frantic response pointing out that this might not be the most effective way to have a discussion.

And then? A whole lot of bystanders jumped in, going, essentially, "DUDE. Not cool!" And, what's more, a high-level version of it -- not, "Hey, leave Rikibeth alone, she's nice," but "Hey, that's no way to talk to anyone around here, and it's worse than what you were complaining about, back off."

And after crowd reaction and moderator intervention, the person had abandoned the confrontational tactics, and had returned to discussing the merits or faults of Henry Clay. Which was what I'd been trying to get him to do initially, when I pointed out that he'd failed to address a substantive objection to his argument and instead criticized the objection's tone, and so became a target myself.

The subsequent fallout and banning had other factors involved in it, I gather. I can't address those and didn't want to.

But the crowd reaction (even before the moderator intervened) struck me as a positive example of how to handle online bullying behavior: calling out the behavior worked to stop it.

#291 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 03:54 PM:

By the way, here's a good example of someone calling out bullying behavior.

As the person at the receiving end of the bullying said, "I was standing on the stage and I was really excited because I had just won the award...And then I was really excited because Kanye West was on the stage. And then I wasn’t so excited anymore after that."

Man, I know that let-down feeling.

#292 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:03 PM:

OtterB @289: I don't like that scene in A Civil Campaign either, but I can read some of it because it's a fictional character. If it were a tv show or movie, I'd be leaving the room or pulling out my iPod to distract myself.

And now I know why.

#293 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:19 PM:

When a stand-up comedian bounds onto the stage in a small comedy club, he does a small bit of introductory banter and then peers around the audience to find someone, or a table full of people, to take the piss out of... I've no strong feelings about stand-up comedy—I quite like it but ultimately can take it or leave it—but this thread has thrown into sharper relief the cringing feeling that always comes over me at that particular moment in the performance. Perhaps he doesn't mean the insults that he fires at the hapless victim (whatever 'mean' means), and the victim will soon have the opportunity to laugh when it's someone else's turn; but there's something wrong and twisted when you're watching the chap in the privileged position in the spotlight whimsically deciding who to have a go at. (That bloke over there's fat! She's wearing funny clothes! Look, he's ginger!) The notion that you shouldn't have gone along to the club if you can't take a joke feels instinctively wrong to me, like a preposterous EULA.

Perhaps this is not so much bullying as using a very small amount of prestige to pull rank on the audience; but I've never liked it and now I think I have a better idea why.

#294 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:23 PM:

Adrian 283: The weird thing is he was expelled for putting a pipe bomb in the desk of the school's only black teacher, which would have killed him if he'd been sitting there when it went off, so you could say he left under a bit of a cloud.

So a mere expulsion was the penalty for a racially-motivated attempted murder? I think that's excessively lenient even for a juvenile offender.

What message did you leave? "Hey, glad and/or interesting to hear from you...what prison are you in?"?

abi 284: One crucial difference between this and high school is that there is no place on this site that is out of sight of the teachers, or the supportive community.

That's what makes this a safe place. I don't understand why so many sites don't even ATTEMPT to make safe space.

OtterB 289: I wonder if opinions about the dinner party scene in Bujold's A Civil Campaign track with the dislike of that type of humor? I love Bujold in general, and I like much of that book, and Miles sets himself up for it ... but I still hate that scene and skip it when I reread the book.

I suppose that scene is intended to be funny, but the nice thing about it is that the consequences of it are very serious and last the rest of the book. I find it absolutely excruciating. Also, though I liked A Civil Campaign, it's the only book in the entire Vorkosigan saga that I've never reread.

#295 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:31 PM:

Also not into humor of embarrassment. Never tried to watch Fawlty Towers, and as a Cleese vehicle I should have. Often skip the dinner party scene in A Civil Campaign.

However, the dinner party scene is by no means played only for humor, either. It's a major, major disaster for Miles, and very painful in that way, and he basically does it all by himself, and none of that is funny. And it probably needs something at that level to get his attention and get him to move past full-on forward momentum assault as his approach to problems. That dinner party has important character impact! Enough to fully justify the pain, I think.

I still mostly skip it on rereads.

Heinlein has Mike discover in Stranger that human humor is a defense mechanism we use because things hurt so much. I've never believed that; that's one narrow channel of humor, not the mainstream, and not the part I like. Still, there it is in the book, being propounded by one of the characters who is really coming to a deep understanding of humanity.

#296 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 04:50 PM:

"A Civil Campaign" dinner party. Yes, I sometimes skip over it on rereads. I also skipped the first section of "Memory" about the second to sixth times I read it: rather like watching a slow-motion train wreck; I keep wanting to yell to Miles not to do this!

Rikibeth (290), Abi (284) Xopher (294): absolutely. The fact that this is somewhere to read and post knowing bullying behaviour is not acceptable is part of what makes this a nice place to spend time.

#297 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Fragano @ 274-5: Every one of us has a story that's the worst damn thing we've ever been through, ourselves. We're all here sharing them to 'try being' this or that and understand thereby. Thank you for including yours.

Xopher, Mycroft, Ginger, passim: It seems in certain areas at least, progress is being made on gender and orientation bashing in school. My kid who's no longer at the magnet school goes by a male nickname, thinks of herself as gender fluid and mostly presents male, and her classmates at the new school have so far been completely accepting. Only one person in one class had to be taken aside and spoken to for nasty comments and that wasn't even in PE. She's enrolled in men's choir and is a valued member of the tenors section. And for the first time in years, she's happy about school.

Liberal suburban privileged upbringing is a minefield of cluelessness and potential for social injustice, but on this issue it seems to be doing the kids some good.

#298 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 05:35 PM:

I've never managed to read the dinner party scene in A Civil Campaign word for word, although the first time through I skimmed it closely enough to know what happens. Since then, I usually skip over everything from the arrival of the last guests to the departure of Ekaterin.

It's not just "humor" that pushes my buttons, it's any depiction of social embarrassment. In Battlestar Galactica, I could never watch the scenes where Baltar is observed talking to Six. Those were literally stick-my-fingers-in-my-ears-and-hum for me. Closing my eyes was optional.

#299 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 05:51 PM:

I'm curious about how people react to the original (i.e., British) version of The Office. David Brent is a bully, and we get to see the pain that he causes... but the sympathy of the show is with the victims.

I enjoy the show when I'm in a slightly-antisocial mood, not so much otherwise. It's a bit like listening to Tom Lehrer -- I enjoy the recordings when I'm feeling cynical, and less when I'm feeling more positive.

#300 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 05:58 PM:

Thank you, Fluorosphere, for explaining why I've never read The Reverse of the Medal in one go. In fact, I think there are large chunks of it I've never read at all. And now I know why.

Furthermore, in case Vickie Womack is reading this: I hope you eventually figured out that what you did in the fifth grade was wrong. I don't want you dead--I want you to feel guilty for the rest of your very long life.

#301 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 07:12 PM:

Xopher @ 271:

Much of what's on television here in the US is some form of embarrassment humor; I don't watch any of it if I know about it in advance (sometimes it takes less than a minute to decide never to watch a new show again). But I react against embarrassment even where it's important to a dramatic story so badly that sometimes I just turn off my hearing aids until the scene is done. Right now we're watching reruns of "Tru Calling" on Chiller; in some of the early shows the main character gets rather embarrassed when trying to get enough private information about people to prevent their future deaths. Even this bothers me.

#302 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 07:47 PM:

The important thing about the dinner scene in A Civil Campaign (at least to me) is that it's not played for laughs. IMO, that moves it out of the realm of "humiliation humor" (which I also hate with the heat of a thousand flaming suns) and into "character development". It's still uncomfortable for me to read, and these days I tend to skim or skip it, but it doesn't make me hate either the characters or the writer. I think the nearest Bujold gets to "humiliation humor" in that book is Ivan's initial reaction to Lord Dono, and that isn't really very close -- because Ivan sets himself up for it, rather than having it done by someone else with malicious intent.

I am frequently accused of "having no sense of humor" because I refuse to watch (or listen to people talking about) sitcoms. They're not funny, and most of them (as others have noted) rely far too much on people deliberately hurting and humiliating other people. I have to wonder, now, whether that accusation isn't in itself part of the bullying spectrum -- it certainly feels like being bullied because I won't participate (indirectly) in bullying others.

#303 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 07:53 PM:

Steve with a book @ 293:

I have a cousin who does stand-up comedy, I gather more as a social thing (to hang out with the other people who do amateur stand-up) than because she expects to start making money or become famous. A few years ago, I was hanging out with Velma and a few other people at a piano bar. My cousin was performing upstairs, which I found out because she came into the downstairs area to get a drink. She convinced me to come up and listen.

It is disconcerting to listen to someone do a string of jokes based on talking about their relatives, when those jokes were written on the assumption that the audience would be strangers. Janet didn't say horribly offensive things, but I kept thinking "that's my aunt she's talking about." (I don't think I'd have found it terribly funny if it had, instead, been about someone I didn't know, but there's no way to be sure.)

#304 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 07:55 PM:

In case the previous wasn't clear: the jokes were written (and, I think, rehearsed) on the assumption that the audience would be strangers, and of course I wasn't a stranger, and in fact had known the people she was talking about for my entire life. So it wasn't a generic "my aunt the scientist," it was a specific person who I love.

Not the same as having the comedian pick me out of the crowd to joke at/about, but still odd and not my idea of pleasant.

#305 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 08:34 PM:

DCB #257:

I strongly suspect a lot of school bullying comes from the combination of:

a. Enforced togetherness, with little choice about which other students to spend time with.

b. The wide range of sizes, maturity levels, interests, and intelligence among kids at a school.

Maybe you can raise kids to never bully, even design a society where that never happens. But I have my doubts.

#306 ::: Douglas Henke ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 09:13 PM:

David @ #277:
>Self-defense is, by definition, a RIGHT NOW sort of thing.

I have composed and deleted more frankly uncivil replies to this than I care to admit. You have, I am sure completely innocently, pushed what is perhaps the largest of my many pushable buttons.

With all respect, I disagree with your assertion in the strongest possible way, in every possible sense in which it is possible to disagree.

Self-defense is what makes the attacks stop.

Period, full stop.

If you have the luxury of defining it more narrowly, then congratulations: your situation is enviable. But it is hardly universal.

If aggressors -- with whom you are locked in a confined space, day after day, from whom you cannot run or hide for long, and against whom you can usefully appeal to no authority -- deliberately and systematically narrow your decision space to 1) die or 2) survive, well, you pick one.

If you tell me I'm wrong for picking (2), then you're telling me I should have picked (1).

You're entitled to that opinion, and to state it.

You'll pardon me if I don't share it, and if I don't let your statement of it go unchallenged.

#307 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 09:25 PM:

Another person who's never really liked the humor of embarrassment. Which is why I watch very little television, and why I've always liked the Flying Karamazov Brothers. I don't have as strong a visceral reaction as many, but I never got what was funny about (e.g.) Seinfeld at all.

#308 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:12 PM:

Ah, Seinfeld. A show entirely about people all of whom I wanted to shove under a bus. The only good episode of that, not that I watched it, was the last one, and that was good because a) it was the last one, and b) they all went to prison and it ended with them still in prison, which served those reprehensible people right.

I did see part of it. I was glad they went to prison, but it still wasn't funny.

#309 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:23 PM:

Douglas, I read David as saying primarily that in a self-defense situation you often don't have time to think, plan, and find the optimum level of force. I don't think he was discounting longer defensive strategies, even of the "burning bed" type.

David, correct me and accept my apologies if I'm wrong.

#310 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Xopher, the show caused such distaste to me that I noted that it had ended (newspaper note) and went "Feh, good riddance."

#311 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 11:38 PM:

A little humor for a serious subject. QOTD from this evening's dinner:

"If people minded bullying, they'd stop playing World of Warcraft!"

#312 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 01:25 AM:

Xopher@294: So a mere expulsion was the penalty for a racially-motivated attempted murder? I think that's excessively lenient even for a juvenile offender.

No no, of course he will have done some time in juvie hall or whatever it was back then as well, it's just we never heard about that.

What message did you leave? "Hey, glad and/or interesting to hear from you...what prison are you in?"?

No, just "Hmm...don't really know what to say here." Looking back today I appear to be a member of his "communities" as a result of doing that, this will not do.

It's one of those relentlessly positive sites, don't think they want to hear about members' pipe-bombing pasts at all.

#313 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 01:56 AM:

The mention of Let The Right One In in conjunction with the "hit back harder" philosophy is interesting. That movie is what came to mind immediately when I read the comment "But what if the bully comes back the next day with [deadly force]?"

So I really appreciate the very recent post defining "self-defense [as] what makes the blows stop." But what does make the blows stop, when the bully doesn't have the prescribed "oh shit this kid is not a safe target!" reaction to the victim hitting back? What if instead it's "I'm going to grab my buddies tomorrow and we'll put him in the hospital to show him he's not allowed to do that"?

I endured some bullying as a kid - some very clear instances stand out, along with a low-intensity long-term pattern of "make the crybaby cry" that mostly lost its influence when we got into sixth grade, split up into "regular" and "advanced" classes, and I discovered the society of geeks. What I never endured was physical bullying. Oh, sure, some of the more unpleasant girls exercised their nails at recess during the ready excuse of a game of tag, but no real getting beat up or felt up or any of that.

So when I read Ender's Game and got to that scene early on with whatsisbucket, Peter maybe (it's been a while) telling Ender, "You know, I could kill you right now just by kneeling on you," I assumed it was exaggeration. Bullies never actually killed their classmates, right? It wouldn't be allowed, they'd never dare, that was way beyond the line that no one ever crossed, right?

I have since learned that there is such a thing as "non-bullied privilege." These days when I read a scene like that one, my mental reaction is to want desperately to spirit the victim away into a childhood more like mine, where he could also have the luxury of assuming kids never kill kids on the schoolyard.


John A Arkansawyer at way back on #76:

The best I've thought of is along the lines of, "Given what I think, I'd be wrong to believe that. But you have different life experiences, and I can't argue with what you believe." How does a response like that do?

I can't find any fault with that, and doubt I would in the context of my mailing list. Now, I'm not sure which sort of belief you're responding to with that statement. It doesn't map quite onto the kinds of religious belief statements I was thinking of. But it sounds like a perfectly feasible way of stating that you don't share a belief but respect the belief-holder's right, and choice, to hold it.

Now, I've had to call out certain beliefs as wrong, on this mailing list, but they weren't beliefs on how to relate to Deity. They were beliefs to do with how to relate to other human beings. And it wasn't so much the beliefs as it was the actions prompted by those beliefs, which were in contradiction to the list policy of "respect each other".

#314 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:58 AM:

I'm not sure how many posters are non-American in this thread, or how it matches the composition of the Fluorosphere, but I am getting the feeling that the bullying reports are very alien, not just good-school/bad-school different.

I still track one or two fannish haunts on Usenet, and I see some ugly behaviour patterns reported from the USA.

Is US-style school bullying different? And is it part of some deep societal cancer?

#315 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 04:14 AM:

Wow. I've been reading this topic over the last few days and I'm impressed. There's too much good stuff here for me to respond to all of it, so just a few things.

Mycroft, Xopher, Lee, et al: I'm with you in hating humilation humor. When other people laugh at some poor loser on TV falling on his face, all I feel is this hollow clench in my chest, knowing what that guy must be feeling. It's bad enough when I know it's just an actor, and truly painful when it's a real person. I can't even watch parts of the Daily Show when the so-called reporters interview people and sandbag them with insane questions.*

This stems both from being bullied and from severe self-consciousness as a child (which of course made me that much more tempting a target.) I won't go into the gory details here, other than to say I considered it only moderate bullying at the time because I was only being pushed around and mocked while others were having their heads stuck in toilets.

Unfortunately, I was far too well trained in the "ignore them and they'll go away" school of bully coping at far too young an age. That only worked a few times, and more often made it worse. Then one day in eighth grade, my friends and I realized there was this one sixth-grader on the bus who we could pick on. At some level I knew it was wrong, but after a day of being humiliated, it just felt too good to be on the dishing-out side for a change.

Reading this thread now I find myself wondering whether it would have been better to retaliate against the bullies and maybe stop them, instead of burying my feelings and internalizing them and finally taking them out on an innocent. Of course, hindsight, 20-20, etc. Realistically, it would have been next to impossible for me then. I still feel ashamed that I wasn't strong enough to break the cycle, though.

Anyway, my point is that while training children in self-defense might make them more likely to bully in turn, training them not to actively defend themselves will not remove that particular danger, and will make things worse in other ways.

Leah @258: my default assumption in any social situation is that I'm annoying and intrusive.

I know this feeling so very well, and even though I'm getting better, it still catches me by surprise sometimes.

But hey, growth! At one point I would never have dared to speak up here; this is definitely the cool kids' table. It's just that I've learned that not all of life is a schoolyard, and part of what's so cool about the people at this table is that you're willing to welcome anyone who wants to hang out (as long as they don't try to bully anyone, of course!)

Anyway, there's a lot more I could say; as with many of the fannish sort, bullying is a loaded topic for me. I need to go get some sleep, though. Thanks again to everyone for being willing to share your stories and insights, and for modeling how to keep a community free of bullying.


* Once I happened to catch a segment featuring a former friend who is now the executive director of a DC-area nonprofit. They made her look like a total fool and played it for laughs. How is this not bullying?

#316 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:47 AM:

On "A Civil Campaign" - the point is that Miles has been doing exactly the wrong thing for the first half of the book by deceitfully treating Ekaterin as a military objective, and so he's set himself up for this, just as Mark has by concealing the extent of his affair with Kareen; it's a sort of apocalypse, an unveiling, and after that both of them realise that honesty is the only way forward, as their parents point out. It has humorous elements - the escaped bugs - but I don't think Miles' situation is played for laughs.

#317 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:54 AM:

Lee @ 302 re. "A Civil Campaign". You've right, it's not "humiliation humour" but it's still embarrassing to watch (I couldn't find words to express that yesterday, so thank you). The same with the start of "Memory": it's neccessary for the story but it's painful to watch someone you care about (even a fictional character) mess up so badly.

ajay @316 Yes, he's set himself up for this; it's still painful to watch. Miles's choices about how he went about this were wrong - but it's his own insecurities that lead him to this - Ekaterin is the first woman who has shown an interest in Miles Vorkosigan, not Admiral Naismith, and he's frightened of losing her; he cannot believe himself worthy of Ekaterin, he can't believe she won't prefer someone taller, more conventionally desirable, so he can't bring himself to wait to start courting her, even though he knows, on another level, that he should. I think it's that resonance with personal insecurities which makes me (and maybe others posting here?) feel for him so much and that makes that scene so difficult to read.

#318 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:37 AM:

This thread has a lot of difficult topics and memories in it. But I think the original discussion has been more-or-less lost. Physical bullying and memories of same are important, but they're not the same thing as the sort of discussion and style of argument that started this thread out. I honestly see only a very thin connection between the two.

I wonder what fraction of kids make it through school without ever having the experience of being bullied. It seems to me that everyone I know has some stories along these lines.

#319 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:55 AM:

Lee @302: Yeah, "You've got no sense of humour" or "Oh, can't take a joke?" are clever ways to make someone being bullied feel bad about the fact that they don't like being bullied!

I like Ab Fab and Fawlty Towers, but hate and loathe something that's fairly common in the UK- radio comedy where they ring up a victim and take the piss; an impressionist doing Tom Baker, say, and calling a mechanic to ask how to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. Most sorts of comedy, I can sort of see even if they don't make me laugh much; I genuinely do not get how anybody doesn't empathise with a member of the public who's trying to do thir job, has some twit ring up and pester them, and then, because they don't realise what's going on and sound mildly foolish, they get played on the radio and laughed at. UGH.

#320 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:52 AM:

Dave Bell #314 : I’ve also been wondering how many of the reports of bullying on this thread come from the US, and whether school culture is different in the US than other countries.  I also get the impression of a lot more reports of ugly behavior from the US than from elsewhere, but maybe I read more about the US and about what happens in US schools, colleges, streets, jails, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, etc.

Of course, ugly behavior happens elsewhere – England in this example – but can anyone here enlighten us about US?

#321 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:00 AM:

douglas@306: I'm not even sure what you got out of my statement about self-defense being a "right now" sort of thing. So let me expand a bit.

What I was saying is that the situations in which you may need to invoke your legal right to physical self-defense nearly always come on you suddenly and without much warning. Some of the discussion on how things could be handled didn't seem, to me, to recognize the inherent physical urgency of the situation.

I don't mean to ignore the longer-term aspects of an ongoing bullying situation. It's perfectly reasonable to think of the entire war in terms of self-defense, and often your strategic decisions are more important than your short-term tactical decisions and your instantaneous reactions in an actual fight.

I've got a Minnesota carry permit, and in fact I taught Minnesota (and Utah) carry permit courses for some time (I'm not currently certified to do so). This background has focused me considerably on the legal issues of self-defense, and the legal definitions (the course I taught is largely about avoiding actual trouble and avoiding legal trouble).

Xopher@309: Yes, that's what I was trying to say, thanks.

#322 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:13 AM:

albatross @ 318 I honestly see only a very thin connection between the two. I see more of a connection than you do:

1) Both situations involve group dynamics, what is or is not considered acceptable within the group, and how acceptable behaviour can be encouraged and unacceptable behaviour discouraged.

2) Hypothesis (with which people may or may not agree):

a) some people posting here who have been subjected to prolonged and/or severe bullying as a child may be more sensitive to the use of certain tactics in discussion, considering them excessively aggressive, and may sometimes overreact to this in self-defence;
b) some people posting here may be less good at spotting social cues than others and may accidentally push people's buttons (such as those set by school bullies) during discussion, without meaning to;
c) recognition of (a) and (b) by both the bullied and the accidentally-pushing-buttons people may assist in moderation, avoidance of pile-ons etc. and thereby promote active, courteous discussion without derailment, the need for people to be banned, or more sensitive* people feeling unable to participate.

Not sure whether it helps re. people who deliberately use aggressive tactics, except to indicate to them that that method of discourse is unlikely to be welcomed.

*Just to be clear: I'm not using sensitive in a derogatory way.

#323 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:13 AM:

Bell@314, Stanning@320: My data point (Northfield, Minnesota, USA)

I was probably in an unusually good school system, but I didn't see or experience much of any bullying. Actual physical fights were on the level of "heard about three in my 12 years there", or some such. Saw one in the distance.

It's completely possible that I was sufficiently clueless to not see it going on around me. I don't think it's likely; I've always been sensitive to nuance, just not always good at interpreting it in a social context. But possible.

It's also possible that bullies didn't pick on me because I'm somewhat large. But not so large that I was bigger than people a couple of grades ahead, and I had no history of damaging bullies (not having been picked on or noticed them in action). So that probably isn't the explanation either.

I think the system was just quite decent at the time I was in it.

Northfield is probably a very unusual situation. It's a farm market town, which also contains two quite good small liberal arts colleges (Carleton, where my father taught and I eventually went, and St. Olaf). So there is a rather significant voting block that not only values education highly, but are experts in it; the various ways teachers or administrators try to bully parents are less likely to work on somebody who teaches a level or two up from the bully.

#324 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:15 AM:

I'm also extremely curious to know if there is more bullying in the US (one datapoint: I'm USian and I was bullied.)

albatross @ 318:

Physical bullying and memories of same are important, but they're not the same thing as the sort of discussion and style of argument that started this thread out. I honestly see only a very thin connection between the two.

What this thread suggests to me is:

1. The psychological damage of bullying is much worse than the physical damage, if any. That's why people trigger on adult, online bullying.

2. The other similarity, it seems to me, is the involvement of the community. First people try to figure out, "is this bullying?" and then they decide what to do about it. In nice Internet places, like this one, they make it stop. In others they don't.

BTW, I've also been wondering: is a bully the same as a troll?

#325 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:24 AM:

David #322 : I think you’re right and Douglas was right, but about different situations.

You’re talking about the case where you’re suddenly and unexpectedly attacked, so that your self-defense has to be reflex, almost instinctive.  For that case I think judo or similar training is useful, because it gives you useful reflexes for non-lethal self-defense.

I think Douglas was talking about long-term bullying where you have time to think “what do I do if he does that again?” where self-defense is not right-now, but premeditated.

#326 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:27 AM:

albatross @318:
But I think the original discussion has been more-or-less lost. Physical bullying and memories of same are important, but they're not the same thing as the sort of discussion and style of argument that started this thread out. I honestly see only a very thin connection between the two.

I agree and disagree.

On the one hand, yes, we're talking about a very different set of conditions and behaviors happening to people at different ages. No one is accusing anyone in the previous thread of putting someone's head down a toilet, or recommending that the appropriate response to online bullying is to strike back as hard as possible.

But we come to these discussions with our pasts still breathing down our necks. It's worth taking these memories out and examining them to understand why these unconsented power plays cause us to react the way we do.

I think of it by analogy with allergies. Your first exposure to an allergen isn't the one that causes you to itch and swell and struggle to breathe. But it sensitizes you to future events, changes the way you react to them.

I think—I hope—that we handle online bullying well enough on Making Light that we don't have to spend 300-plus comments trying to find some way to keep it from becoming a problem on the site. That's what gives us the freedom to let the thread drift into the roots of our problem with the phenomenon.

I wonder what fraction of kids make it through school without ever having the experience of being bullied. It seems to me that everyone I know has some stories along these lines.

Very small, I suspect. Grounds for empathy, that; it's worth remembering that someone who is currently getting on one's nerves may have a set of twitches left over from such treatment. Could be the foundation for building a bridge. (Continuing the Civil Campaign references: "I did that to her?")

#327 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:42 AM:

Hi there,

European (German) bullying victim and occasional borderline online troll here. ;-) I don't have much time to discuss this today, sadly, but I, too, have found the discussion here very interesting; it has set me to wondering about my behaviour in a fannish kerfuffle a few years ago. So, for now, I'd just like to add my experience as a further data point:

I was bullied extensively between ages twelve and fifteen or so, and was a tolerated outsider from the age of fifteen till finishing school at 19. I wasn't the only bullying victim in my class, but I think I was the one most of the class focused on the most. Bullying was partly physical (being chased - while on foot - by a group of boys on bikes comes to mind), party psychological (just generally being shunned and being called names and so on), and partly a mix of the two (girls pulling my trousers down in public after previously stealing my knickers after swimming class).

What did not play a big role in my bullying experience was being argued down; in fact, language remained one of the few areas in which I felt a certain amount of power throughout. Not enough to fight the mob; but certainly, language (and logic) felt like allies, not enemies to me.

So online argument (nor any other type of argument) does not constitute a trigger situation for me, and in fact, I argue, uhm, vigorously. Perhaps too vigorously. I think my behaviour in some online arguments may be felt as bullying or trollish by some, although I think it is not about power as such, for me. But I can be very passionate and insistent when I feel I'm 'right'. And while in some areas of life, what's 'right' is subjective, I do think that not *everything* is subjective, or not completely subjective, at least.

I really do hope that I am not a case of a bullying victim turning into a bully later in life... (What gives me some hope is that I am not consistently so obnoxious; in fact, I can only really think of one discussion topic which causes me to behave badly consistently.)

Gotta go, maybe more later.

#328 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:45 AM:

abi @ 326... A very small fraction? That may be true. Even the jocks and the cheerleaders probably were bullied by their peers. The difference may be that, in their case, the bullying worked, and succeeded in getting them to conform, and so they don't see it as bullying.

#329 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:57 AM:

Jen, #319: That's 100% true when it's used to belittle someone's response to a personal attack. I'm a bit less sure about the situation I described, where the accusation is made when I object to "humiliation humor" on TV.

This, in turn, feeds back into the whole "how much does TV / movies / pop culture affect society" argument, but that's getting very far afield indeed from the topic of the thread.

Re "how bad are US schools"... Objectively speaking, I was hardly bullied at all by comparison to what other people here (and other people I know IRL) talk about; mostly, I was merely ostracized. I do remember one or two instances of physical bullying in junior high (and they stand out partly because they were unusual), and a certain amount of verbal bullying here and there, which didn't stop until I got into college. OTOH, I never had to ride the school bus either, and that seems to be one of the prime breeding grounds.

I wonder if there might have been some social-class issues going on; my pre-college school experience was all in schools where most or all of the students were the children of white-collar workers and executives. This may have resulted in verbal bullying being a preferred model over physical, for various reasons related to the way their parents' workplaces operated.

#330 ::: John Hawkes-Reed ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 12:30 PM:

dcb@322:

Yes. I was working my way towards a similar hypothesis. It certainly covers most of my experience.

That is to say: English, didn't have much fun at school, really can't be doing with Office-style 'comedy' (Milligan/Izzard, on the other hand...) and will not have anything to do with the Usenet any more because that style of alleged debate drives me far enough up the wall that I'm usually left hanging from the ceiling rose.

Similarly, my favoured response to trolls/spammers/griefers tends to involve the lamentations of their women, so the further away I stay from that sort of behaviour, the happier everyone remains.

#331 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Hmmm -- now I know why I don't like most comedies. The only sitcoms I ever faithfully watched were M*A*S*H* and WKRP. I like humor that arises from the situation the characters find themselves in.

Datapoint: U.S.A. and the school bullying that I experienced was more on the "psychological torture" type not physical. Those who were into physical bullying learned that I would and could fight back, and in the most painful retaliation I was able to inflict. No one tried that again after 4th grade. Oh, and where I was, boys did the physical bullying, girls did the psychological.

Why was I bullied? I read books for fun. As far as I can tell at this remove (40* years) I wasn't supposed to enjoy reading.

High school improved things, in that my tormentors took few of the courses I was interested in (they were too busy cheerleading and getting knocked-up...). And I had teachers and librarians who encouraged me.

In college I found fandom...and people who liked me and found my contributions valuable. I don't know if I'd still be alive if I hadn't.

#332 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 12:47 PM:

Relevant to this discussion - an Ask Metafilter question about bullying among ten-year-old girls.

(I'm still formulating an actual response to this thread. I keep turning up interesting new mental artifacts, like the fact that I literally didn't remember half a year of daily schoolyard brawls until I started to type that I never got into physical altercations as a kid.)

#333 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 12:49 PM:

Odd coincidence tying the bullying and "Oh Lev Grossman No" threads together in an unexpected way: in third grade, Lev Grossman's twin brother pushed me off a piece of playground equipment (in a "go away, we don't want to play with you" context) and I broke my wrist in the fall.

#334 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 01:00 PM:

Recently I've read (among other things) a biography of Emily Post and surveys of the history of fascism and the Russian Revolution, and it occurs to me that part of the harm from bullying is this:

It attacks the idea of community.

Etiquette, broadly construed, is for the people championing it about living harmoniously. Miss Manners has written very eloquently about this idea, that shared rules which impose a bit on everyone let us all coexist with much less chafing and thereby end up with more practical, usable overall freedom of emotions and general well-being. Because we aren't wasting effort on pointless, avoidable clashes and unpleasantness, we have the energy to use on things that actually matter to us.

Bullying and trolling, on the other hand, are both exercises of pure power conflict. Someone must lose and someone must win, and that's all there is to it. Victims and victimizers both learn, when this stuff is allowed to happen, that all that language about shared interests, coexistence, and the like ceases to apply, and makes it easy to believe that such things are always lies and never apply and anyone who thinks otherwise is just deluding themselves or pandering consciously to tyrants.

And trust destroyed is really, really hard to rebuild, a lot of the time.

#335 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 01:11 PM:

Addendum on my datapoint of my school system:

It's likely that anybody trying verbal bullying when I was in school got handed their head, verbally, and I hardly even noticed. The staff at the research nursery school at Purdue that I attended told my mother that I had the vocabulary and sentence structures of a college freshman, when I was 3 years old. (Mind you, Purdue is something of an engineering school, so the verbal skills of their freshmen probably aren't all that impressive.)

#336 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:13 PM:

J. Random Scribbler's comment at 315 raises an interesting question here:

Where are all the bullies?

He admits that he engaged in bullying behavior. Almost everyone here has talked about the experience of being on the receiving end of bullying behavior, but almost nobody has admitted doing it. Now if being bullied is a universal or near-universal experience -- where are those who did the bullying?

I think it's a lot like being shy -- we remember the times we were bullied, and don't remember the times we were the bullies, just as we remember the times we were shy and not the times we were bold (in general).

I don't recall being bullied in school. At home, I was the third of four boys, and I remember being the one that got beat up most of the time (and called crybaby, and such). I remember once or twice trying to bully my younger brother, but the older brothers quickly ganged up on me when I did. It was another excuse for my older brother to egg my oldest brother on into hitting me. I also remember one time having one of my tormenting brothers down on the ground, with my fingers around his throat, and just considering not stopping strangling him. I did stop, and I will always have that memory of being that close to keep me from getting in that situation again.

Was that later incident bullying behavior? I'd had the role of victim for so many years, and here I was on top for a change, with the same person. Does that make my behavior reasonable?

#337 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Reasonable? Perhaps not. Justifiable? Maybe.

Actually I'd ask a different question: Did it stop the bullying, even for a while?

If the bullying had already stopped, then I don't know why you would have done it in the first place. If the bullying stopped, even for a while, after you did it, then it was the right thing to do (as was stopping before your brother died, of course). If it made the bullying worse or had no effect, then it was neutral.

As to your general point, it may be that we don't remember times when we were bullying others, but it may also be that people who bullied others as a matter of habit don't find their way to this blog; or don't stay long if they do.

#338 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:28 PM:

Where are the bullies?

Well, since the ones that persecuted me were the "in crowd" and weren't at all intellectual, I doubt very much that they're participating in online communities these days. I honestly don't care to go looking for them. I'm guessing most are housewives since they weren't career-oriented.

The friends I did have in high school (and I can count them on one hand) have pretty much scattered to the four winds -- only one still lives in the area and one is dead (suicide).

#339 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:46 PM:

As long as we're bringing up Bujold references, this discussion has been reminding me of an interaction between Miles and Ekaterin in Komarr:

"What my mother told me—I can still see her, holding her head—was the way to get him to stop was for me to just not react. She said the same thing when I was teased at school, or upset about most anything. Be a stone statue, she said. Then it wouldn't be any fun for him, and he would stop. …I never unlearned to respond to attack by turning to stone.… I'm stone all the way through, now, and it's too late."
Miles bit his knuckles, hard. Right. So at the dawn of puberty, she'd learned no one would defend her, she could not defend herself, and the only way to survive was to pretend to be dead.
I feel fortunate (in retrospect) that I was only an outcast and never really bullied. Still, I learned the "don't let them see they've affected you; don't let them know you care" lesson well, early on, as so many others seem to have.

#340 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 02:57 PM:

Lee @ 302: "he important thing about the dinner scene in A Civil Campaign (at least to me) is that it's not played for laughs."

The important thing for me is that it's not done with malice--everything that happens, happens because of honest mistakes. The only exception to that is Miles himself, and he learns from it.

Douglas Henke @ 306: "If aggressors -- with whom you are locked in a confined space, day after day, from whom you cannot run or hide for long, and against whom you can usefully appeal to no authority -- deliberately and systematically narrow your decision space to 1) die or 2) survive, well, you pick one. If you tell me I'm wrong for picking (2), then you're telling me I should have picked (1)."

I don't think anyone is saying that. Rather, I think the point is that teaching kids how to defend themselves when their decision space is a little wider than fight or die, so that it never reaches that point.

LDR @ 324: "1. The psychological damage of bullying is much worse than the physical damage, if any. That's why people trigger on adult, online bullying."

Actually I think that people trigger on adult online bullying because being bullied is an inherently unpleasant experience. People who were bullied in school have a lot more tools to recognize and deal with bullying than people who weren't. Maybe not particularly healthy tools, but still. Someone who's never been bullied is far more likely to be sucked into the crazy-making mindfuck of online bullying than someone who can stop and think, "Wait, this feels familiar."

abi @ 326: "I think of it by analogy with allergies. Your first exposure to an allergen isn't the one that causes you to itch and swell and struggle to breathe. But it sensitizes you to future events, changes the way you react to them."

Oh wow! I use that exact same analogy. Either you develop a tolerance for some irritating phenomenon--like noisy neighbors--and learn to tune it out, or you get increasingly mentally allergic to it, getting angrier and angrier about it.

#341 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 03:02 PM:

abi @ 326:
I agree that our histories of being bullied are relevant to the discussion of how we do react and how we should react to online bullying; I'd try to make a stronger case for the relevance by pointing out that sufficient bullying almost always results in some level of post-traumatic stress in the bullied person. PTSD, unless successfully treated almost always results in hyper-sensitivity and over-reaction (in the view of someone not sensitized) to situations reminiscent of the original trauma; it's impossible for a PTSD sufferer to ignore the stimuli the way someone without the syndrome can.

Bruce Baugh @ 334:
But fascism and stalinism used bullying, in a perverted and twisted sort of way, to create and maintain the community of bullies. So did racism in the US for much of our history1. In all these cases a large part of society was taught to think that they were not at the bottom of the pyramid of power because there was always someone below them (blacks, asians, Jews, Indians, Catholics, or whatever) whom they held the power of torment over.

1. I suspect a good part of the culture of bullying in the US comes from he history of racism and ethnic xenophobia.

#342 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 03:04 PM:

Looking back on it, I would have to cop to some bullying behavior, of the exclusionary/mocking sort rather than the physical attack variety. There were a few kids lower down on the pecking order than I was, and I didn't refrain from shunning and occasionally mocking them. All I can really say in my defense is that I never stuck out a foot to trip them or stuck any Kick Me signs on their backs. And I'd given up the mocking by junior high, although I didn't voluntarily associate with those lower than I was -- that would have been the kiss of death for the occasional, conditional inclusion I was granted.

#343 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 03:06 PM:

Where are the bullies?

The ones who bully online, deliberately, have been made unwelcome and are not here.

The ones who bully online, unintentionally, have been represented, and I suspect more have seen themselves in this thread than have posted to say so.

I hate to make generalizations, but it's really hard to imagine anyone who takes or took consistent pleasure in physical bullying taking an equal pleasure in the give-and-take on this site. So they're pretty much not here either.

Datapoint. I'm from the US, female, and remember a few incidents of fairly mild bullying, primarily in 6th and 7th grade (would have been late 60s), around things like wearing unfashionable clothes. It's possible I participated in some, or was perceived to; I remember one case where a remark of mine made a friend think I was looking down on her because her parents made less money than mine. I wasn't - I was totally oblivious to the distinction she thought I was making - so quite possibly there were other cases to which I was equally oblivious.

#344 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 03:47 PM:

The line between "bullying" and expressing an actual personal opinion about another seems likely to be rather uncertain, especially in school-age memories recalled by adults.

"I don't want to sit by you, you stink" can be a completely honest and accurate statement. Is it then still bullying? (I take for granted that in some circumstances it clearly is part of a pattern of bullying.) If it's really honest, and the person bathes and puts on clean clothes, one wouldn't say that again (though one might still wish not to sit by them; there could be multiple reasons, and you give the simplest one first).

#345 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 04:17 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 341: "But fascism and stalinism used bullying, in a perverted and twisted sort of way, to create and maintain the community of bullies."

That's a really good point. What if we changed Bruce Baugh's formulation to "[Bullying] attacks the idea of a community of equals?" In some ways bullies are all about community--you can't be top dog without a pack. But it's a very particular formulation of community, where the only relevant relationships are hierarchical and respect is just another word for fear.

Bullies act within the mindset that all communities and all relationships are like this, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is a deluded fool and excellent target. By their actions they work to impose the same mindset on everyone else, unaware that there's any other way to think about socializing than that.

...and I'm repeating Bruce Baugh.

#346 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 04:19 PM:

Xopher @ 337 -- there were still echoes of the bullying, but we were all older and I was now a bit closer in physical size to him. So whether the bullying had stopped, or whether it was now "just boys" behaving in a rough-and-tumble fashion -- it's hard to say. The bullying tapered off over time, as we got to be closer in size. There's no point at which I can say it definitely stopped (in some ways, I'm still wary of its verbal version with my older brothers when we see each other, and my current partner has noted that I sound rather beaten down when I talk to one of them on the telephone).

Lori Coulson @338 -- you raise another interesting digression by mentioning the "in-crowd". Back when I was living in cohousing, four years into an intentional community, the idea of an in-crowd was casually mentioned in a meeting. I asked if people thought there was an in-crowd -- they did. Then I asked if anyone thought they were a member. Nobody did. Which leads me to think that in-crowds are defined by the out-group, and don't think of themselves that way at all. The dynamic that grows from this is quite interesting.

OtterB @343, I've seen some people make very serious changes in how they present or want to present, so I'm less sanguine that people who took part in bullying behavior in the past are likely to enjoy being here. Since what we're mostly looking at is current behavior (to go back to the start of this discussion!), I'll agree that it's unlikely that people who are currently bullying would spend much time here unless they wanted to change that and were learning how.

#347 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 04:19 PM:

A bully does mostly seem to have a pack. But "community" is not a synonym for "group", any more than "pack" is. I'm not sure we need to give up the "attacks the idea of community" phrasing.

#348 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 04:36 PM:

LDR@324 asks: is a bully the same as a troll?

I say they are not. A bully operates within their community, where a troll is (nearly by definition) dropping into a community they do *not* consider themselves to be a part of, and poking the zoo animals with sticks.

#349 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:06 PM:

Otter B:

Well, sh-t. I was going to say I didn't remember bullying anyone, but I do. I remember the kid in my neighborhood who, for various reasons, was an outcast. I treated him like sh-t, not in the sadistic beating and terror sense, but in the casually cruel way that kids can sometimes behave--excluding him from games, not inviting him along, making him the butt of jokes. (His family was unpopular because of some kind of conflict with their neighbors, and most of the kids in the neighborhood took sides despite a complete incomprehension of what the real situation was.) Well, f-ck, I could have done without remembering that about myself. Sorry, Eric. I was an a--hole. You deserved better.

I don't think bullying other people was ever a big part of my life, though now I wonder how much I remember. I spent 2-3 years in middle school and one year in high school on the receiving end of a lot of bullying, and that sure as hell had an impact. (And it ended with another injustice--a kid picked a fight with me, and got a lot more than he'd earned.)

So at least some of them are us, or at least me. Damn.

#350 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:22 PM:

Tom: Good question. I think people don't want to admit to it. And I think we like to define what we did as self defence, even when it was pre-emptive.

Let me put that another way. I think I don't want to admit to it, and I think I like to define what I did as self defence, even when it was preemptive.

I sometimes get really tired of certain kinds of provocation and lash out, and I had far less self control as a kid. If I made anyone's life a misery when we were all under ten, either by fighting them, or by sarcasm and name calling, I'm really sorry.

Whoever started it.

#351 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:22 PM:

Tom, this was high school -- and the jocks/cheerleaders were the nucleus of the "in crowd" -- aka the "cool kids" -- maybe high school has changed, but the events at Columbine seem to support my interpretation.

As long as the participants in school supported athletic teams are treated as minor godlings, there will always be a portion of them who treat non-athletes as objects of scorn. I'd love to hear that this has changed since 1973...

#352 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:27 PM:

I've been thinking about something I read a couple of years ago. A black boy (a grown man by the time he wrote about it) who was adopted by a white family in the Orkneys, and who found himself for his entire childhood subject to racist bullying by his schoolmates. Made worse, when Roots was broadcast and to the previous pejorative "nig-nog" was added the "n word" learnt from the mini-series. Strangely, the harassment stopped when his age cohort hit their teens, his principal tormentor declaring that his colour was "just a tan." Perhaps, sometimes, bullies grow up.

#353 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Thanks, Jo.

Lori Coulson @351 -- I certainly don't think that has changed. But do the people who are the Cool Kids actually think they're cool? Some do, I'd bet; others don't. The high-school dynamics in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are quite relevant here -- in a very real sense, the Scoobies are the actual Cool People in the school (and this even gets noticed occasionally by other, e.g. Jonathan very explicitly); and yet none of them really thought they were cool at all. What Cool Is is problematic.

#354 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 05:55 PM:

I think the point that several people have made, that the bullying we do is never so marked in our memory as the bullying we receive, is really important.

There was one guy in seventh grade whose idea of a very funny joke was to ask me out in front of his friends. He wouldn't take no for an answer, and would arrange a meeting place and time. Then they'd all go off chuckling, because it was hilarious that anyone would want to go out with me. Then the next week he'd tell me how long and pitifully he'd waited. Further roars of laughter at the incongruity of that he would be stood up by me.

(Actually, he was so over the top that I began to find his invitations funny. I think he saw that, and I take it as a mild redemption that he didn't stop or change tactics. His friends never caught on that this was some kind of frail and fragile joke between us. But it could have gone so very wrong that this is no more than mild mitigation.)

Fast forward five years, to the end of our graduation night cruise on San Francisco Bay. It's dawn and we're heading back to the dock. I'm leaning on the rail at the bow, watching the sun rise over Oakland, when I realize he's standing beside me. Inevitably, he wants to talk about college. I've already been going to UC Berkeley part time for a year, so I have a decent mental model for what lies ahead*. But he's facing the unknown, and he's scared. He starts worrying at me that he won't get accepted into a good fraternity at the University of Arizona.

I was baffled at the time that he should trust me enough to be that vulnerable. I could have crushed him like a bug. But I don't think he remembered those lunchtimes on the middle school steps.

I thought about the frail and fragile joke, and I really hadn't the heart for revenge. "Wes," I said, "Does the sun rise in the east? You'll do fine."

(Yet, I confess, it gives me a certain satisfaction to hear that he's balding, losing control of his waistline, and ended up working in real estate.)

-----
* An almost completely incorrect mental model, as it turns out, but it was very comforting at the time

#355 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:11 PM:

#354: "I'm leaning on the rail at the bow, watching the sun rise over Oakland, when I realize he's standing beside me."

OK. Confess, people. How many of you were hoping this story would end with the cruise ending with one fewer person than when it started?

#356 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:19 PM:

@338: [what happened to the bullies]

In my class, two of them became cops.

#357 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:25 PM:

Tom, #336: I remember an online incident (not here, and some years ago) in which I participated in something I later recognized as bullying behavior. I will not go into the details here, but I was very ashamed when I realized what I had done, and still am. The person involved was arguing a position which was likely to do hir harm in the long run, and I think we could have convinced hir of it -- but instead, the group chose to mock and harass hir about it, and eventually ran hir off completely. We could have done good, and did harm instead; that still stings.

I also remember an incident in junior high when I was approached by one of the outcast boys, and made it very clear (though not, I think, in a cruel way) that I didn't want to hang out with him. This was because I was afraid that if I did respond in a friendly manner, he would start thinking of me as his girlfriend and I'd never be able to get rid of him. Later, older, I handled a similar incident much differently and was able to convert "a loser with a crush on me" into a real friend, but at age 13 I simply didn't have the skills to do that.

I suspect that most bullies don't think of what they do as bullying. They think of it as "getting respect" or "giving the little sh*t what's coming to him" or "showing her that SHE'S not so special" or any of a wide variety of other descriptions that put the bully in the position of being both right and reasonable. This is very much analogous to the way that many rapists (especially date or acquaintance rapists) don't think of what they did as rape, and it stems from the same root source.

There may also be an aspect of "they don't grow up to be people who'd be likely to show up in this community" involved. OTOH, what odds would you give that Robert Fletcher and Orly Taitz were bullies in school, and are still using grown-up versions of the same tactics?

Tom, #346: I asked if people thought there was an in-crowd -- they did. Then I asked if anyone thought they were a member. Nobody did.

Wow, that's really interesting! The next thing I would have wanted to do was conduct a poll (by secret ballot, of course!) about "Who do you consider to be the members of the in-crowd?" The answers to that might well have proven illuminating about various issues... and if it was a co-housing group, there would be occasional issues.

#358 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Stefan Jones @355:
OK. Confess, people. How many of you were hoping this story would end with the cruise ending with one fewer person than when it started?

You very nearly owed me a new keyboard, there.

#359 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 06:39 PM:

OtterB @ 343: I was the victim of some bullying in my earlier school years; I was short and slight and brainy. To some extent I learned to avoid the physical harassment; I also figured out that by alternating going totally limp and straight-and-rigid, I could make myself hard to carry around. I also learned to not care what the bullies said to or about me -- they were demonstrably idiots, right, so why should I care what they thought? Which isn't to say that there aren't insults (intentional or otherwise) which can infuriate me, but I'm somewhat selective about who can do it.

I fought back a couple of times. Accidentally kicked one kid in the crotch when he stepped backwards while I was aiming for his shins; that landed us in the vice-principal's office. (He'd started the fight by shoving me.) After one large kid picked me up and put me in a garbage can, I came after him and whapped him over the head with a dictionary -- caused some damage to the book, IIRC. And there was a girl who stabbed me with a pin sometime during the morning; I got her over the head with a little vial of candle scent that I'd fetched from home at lunchtime. (And it's a good thing that she didn't escalate, because I had a stash of methylene blue dye powder that would have been the next contribution to her hair style.)

Outsider though I was, I'll admit to some participation in the "outsidering" of a couple of other kids -- the ones who are mocked or shunned for their names, or some physical characteristic, or whatever. But I do remember realizing that it was stupid and nasty, and overcoming the habits enough to talk with one or two of those kids, at least a little bit. Reaching out to other people is not something I've ever been very good at. Habits of avoiding people get to be pretty strong.

Re: dodgeball, I learned quickly that the best way to stay in the game a long time, when I couldn't catch or throw well, was to stay away from the pack. When everyone else on my team was gathered in a bunch, they made a much more tempting target than me all alone.

#360 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 07:55 PM:

I am bitterly ashamed to remember that I participated in teasing one particular boy in first grade. He disappeared after that year, and when he came back, toward the end of high school, we learned that he had been in a school for children with emotional problems.

I never, until this thread, thought of it as bullying, although I have been ashamed of myself for years. My mental definition of 'bullying' seems to mean physical, either overtly or threats. But psychological bullying obviously does exist. Is teasing the same as psychological bullying? Is there a continuum?

I was physically bullied at various points in my childhood. Standing up to my tormentors usually stopped it, but it took me quite a while (in each case) to get to that point. I was also teased fairly endlessly. I don't remember exactly when that started, although I would guess somewhere after first grade (so after I participated in teasing B).

#361 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 08:02 PM:

Re: dodgeball -- we had several boys who like to throw really hard. You couldn't catch their throws, not easily. I figured out how to be sneaky, and throw at them once they'd committed to a throw and could not duck if they spotted me. I'm surprised now that others in my class didn't copy this tactic when they saw of work.

I'm also sneaky in snowball fights. I'm ambidextrous, so I would throw first left-handed, and then nail my opponent in mid-dodge. I rarely got into snowball fights after I demonstrated that.

Getting back to bullying: in Real Life or online, it's about power over someone else. In face-to-face interactions, there's a greater risk of physical violence, but online bullying invokes the same kind of physical reaction. I think our subconcious brains interpret online bullying as being "like" the Real Thing, and so our behaviors towards cyberbullies becomes an onlne reflection of our learned responses to bullies. It's also why our discussion of online behaviors has become a reflection on our histories.

Or I could be making it all fit into some preconcieved notions about bullies.

I do think trolls and bullies overlap. Not all bullies are trolls, and not all trolls are bullies, but there's a population which is both.

Tailgaters too are a form of bullying.

#362 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 08:56 PM:

Otter B @ 289 and Xopher at 294: No, that scene in Civil Campaign is intended to be excruciating. It's not comedy for either Miles or Ekaterin... or for many of the other people around the table. (Can't vouch for Ivan, or Lord Dono, but... well, that's a longer discussion. And I'm reasonably confident of my position here, because I was in a writing group with Lois when she wrote it. P.S. The line I contributed to the book was "Lord Dono, his mark." I made Lois laugh with it during a discussion of Barrayaran inheritance law, whereupon she announced she was stealing it.)

Lee @ 302: Ah, yes, Ivan sets it up for himself -- and then he learns something, and applies it. Notice what happens in subsequent chapters between Ivan and Dono.

dcb @ 317: Yes, he's set himself up for this; it's still painful to watch. Miles's choices about how he went about this were wrong - but it's his own insecurities that lead him to this - Ekaterin is the first woman who has shown an interest in Miles Vorkosigan, not Admiral Naismith, and he's frightened of losing her; he cannot believe himself worthy of Ekaterin, he can't believe she won't prefer someone taller, more conventionally desirable, so he can't bring himself to wait to start courting her, even though he knows, on another level, that he should. I think it's that resonance with personal insecurities which makes me (and maybe others posting here?) feel for him so much and that makes that scene so difficult to read.

Ah, but this is directly pertinent to the discussion here. This is one of the instances (and the whole book is full of them) where Miles is starting to learn that the behaviors and assumptions that he developed when he was powerless are no longer appropriate. They may have been survival skills then... but he's survived, and because he's survived, he has changed. He now has some power and concomitant responsibility for choosing how he uses it, and for cleaning up after himself when he does something wrong.

The reason I think it's directly pertinent to the discussion here is this: sometimes, some of us "hit back" really hard verbally... only to find out that the person we thought was "hitting" us verbally first was actually doing no such thing. We have survival skills, a whole arsenal of them -- and part of the process of survival, if we make it that far, is to realize that not everything is fight-or-flight, and not everything merits an all-out crazed-wolverine-style reaction as a first line of defense. (Even if the wolverine's a verbal wolverine rather than a physical one.)

That's a painful thing to have to learn. It was painful for me, anyway. But it was a huge important thing. My reflexes and reactions come out of some horrific history where I really was pretty much powerless -- but I'm not any more, and I have to realize that, if I'm going to be fit company for other people, and if I'm going to behave honorably.

Note that I'm not talking about accidentally pushing people's buttons. I'm talking about launching a diatribe that I, at the time, feel is completely justified.... and then later, not so much. I would like to think that the "later, not so much" phase is progress towards not launching in the first place.

Because some of the times I launched, I was at the very least being an asshole, if not a bully.

It's a wonderful thing to get to the point where those survival skills are no longer the best choice of current behavior. Realizing it is a huge thing. Doing something about it even huger. And it's not easy. But it might be part of the price of admission into a lot of conversations and gathering where I want to be.

Huh. You want to know somebody who really learned it? Mike. He had every reason in the world to be bitter and defensive and mean. What was he instead, in many many discussions? Generous. Kind. Yeah, he could have filleted people six ways to Sunday when he disagreed. He didn't, though. Well, hardly ever.

#363 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:17 PM:

I honestly don't remember bullying anyone. I was an extremely 'cerebral' teenager and understood, and quite consciously disapproved of, the social dynamics of bullying. I believe that prevented me from the kind of instinctive lashing out against even weaker (or equally weak) members of the group that many bullied people seem to feel tempted to do. In fact, I don't really 'get' malice of any kind; it's an utterly alien mindset to me to want to hurt someone, or derive pleasure from seeing someone hurt. (A big 'me too!' re: the cringing at humiliation humour expressed upthread!) -- Well, okay, I hurt characters in stories, but that's different - and it's an entirely different kind of pleasure that's involved there. *g*

The only case of potential bullying behaviour of my own that I can think of - though I don't think it fits, as it is more about 'being right' than about 'winning'/'asserting power' - is my online arguing behaviour, which is probably too insistent in some cases - especially when I'm arguing in fandom, which is chock full of insecure people. When I'm attacking a position in an argument, it's always clear to me that I'm attacking the position, and not the person - but that may not be so clear to the person whose position is coming under attack. (I come from a family of relentless arguers; I suppose that shaped me somewhat.)

But I have to admit that there are situations where I really can't get behind the concept of "all interpretations/all opinions are equally valid"... I'm usually fine with agreeing to disagree - I have good friends with whom I disagree deeply on everything from religion to politics - but I need to feel that the other side actually has some rational basis for their position. Or rather, I can accept an irrational basis in the realm of religion, but not so much in, say, politics, or in interpreting a text. So, say "I feel there is a God", and I won't try to argue you out of it; but say "I just *feel* that [policy X] is wrong" and expect me to ask you to give me some actual reasons for that assessment. And if you can't, then expect me not to have all that much respect for that aspect of your political opinion.

In most cases, I am nevertheless able to let it go. As I said, there's so far only really been one topic on which I have been completely hung up for years, and therefore obnoxious in discussion... (and that topic concerns the interpretation of a popular cultural text. I'm not sure what that says about my politics! Shouldn't I care more about those than about some tv show?! *g* Mind you, it does have political and philosophical implications that I find extremely distasteful.)

#364 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:27 PM:

abi @ 354: I think the point that several people have made, that the bullying we do is never so marked in our memory as the bullying we receive, is really important.

For me it's (sort of) the opposite: I remember both, but the memories of the cruelty I received have lost their sting, whereas the memories of the much rarer and milder cruelty I gave are still quite painful. I have no idea why that is.

Humiliation comedy has a spectrum for me: Wodehouse is wonderful, Farty Towels is uncomfortable but worth it, Welcome to the Dollhouse is "please make it stop."

Within a week of moving to England I was fending some kid off at the bus stop with a broken bottle. I'm not at all sure I believe that bullying is worse in the U.S.

elise @ 362: The reason I think it's directly pertinent to the discussion here is this: sometimes, some of us "hit back" really hard verbally... only to find out that the person we thought was "hitting" us verbally first was actually doing no such thing.

I think of this as: one party thinks it's a friendly fencing match, the other thinks it's a swordfight to the death. I've been on both sides of that.

#365 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:55 PM:

I should perhaps add a bit about what exactly I think was wrong with my arguing behaviour in those long-ago fannish discussions about my 'hot button' topic:

The basic situation was that there was a big group of people (the majority of a fandom, really) who felt very happy about something that had happened in the source text, and, in the way of - perhaps - most people who feel happy about something, did not feel much inclined to analyse their happiness. Since the setting was fandom and not academia, I should simply have accepted that. Feeling happy about something and not analysing it is perfectly appropriate fannish behaviour, and I've done the same in many situations.

However, *I* was deeply *unhappy*, and thus felt compelled to analyse why the thing that made everyone else so happy had the opposite effect on me. When I did this, I discovered the aforementioned distasteful philosophical etc. implications of the 'happy' interpretation of the text (and of the text itself, because the happy interpretation was pretty much part of the text). This discovery made the majority's happiness even more baffling, and a little disturbing, too.

I had been very active in the fandom before getting emotionally 'out of phase' with it, so my natural reaction was, of course, trying to engage people about all the stuff I had found beneath the surface of the text. Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise that people weren't thrilled with that approach... ;-) I think they mostly tried to ignore my inappropriate insistence on analysis, but some - kindly - did try to respond, in which cases I invariably asked them - insistently - for textual evidence for their happy reading of the text that did *not* have the horrible implications I had found. (None was forthcoming.)

The fact that I kept insisting on wanting to see 'evidence' as much as constitutes bullying behaviour according to some definitions in this thread, I think (too tired to reread now, sorry!) I don't think *all* such insistence is wrong - but it was probably wrong *in that context*. You may - you even *should* - insist on seeing the evidence in an academic discussion, or in political discussion, but in fandom you must be able to accept that people will base some of their central opinions on emotion rather than analysis.

I'm very deliberately steering clear of any discussions of that topic in the fandom at large nowadays - but I still occasionally rant about it in semi-private. (If I knew why that particular topic is such an extreme hot button topic for me I'd know a whole lot more about my subconscious, methinks...)

#366 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 09:58 PM:

Sorry about monologuing so much here today. Just adding random data points, really.

G'night.

#367 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:00 PM:

You know, it occurs to me that in terms of absolute numbers in any given population, there probably are fewer bullies than victims, and more neutrals than either. Given the group dynamics I've seen, and given the way people in this thread have mentioned specific bullies, it seems to me that it only takes one bully to poison a group, and even a group of bullies is sometimes (not always, of course) in the minority when compared to the total population.

I suppose it's partly related where you draw the line between being the bully and being the passive bystander or bully-enabler, too, and that's another issue. However, I bring this up mostly because it made me wonder: is one of the psychological side-effects of being a victim (possibly of being a bully, too) that the world becomes divided between bullies and victims, with no possibility of being uninvolved? Or even of being or acknowledging the possibility of someone being the person who provides helpful-but-non-bullying intervention? That would help to explain a LOT about some reactions I've seen online (not here, that I remember offhand): if you assume that your choice is between being a bully and being a victim, I know what I'm probably going to choose . . . to my embarrassment.

That got awfully convoluted, and I suspect it's something that has already been brought up, at least by implication. But I've never quite seen the situation from that angle before, so I thought I'd mention it anyway.

#368 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:09 PM:

#356 ::: Jon Meltzer Re: future cops - hey, me too! The guy who dropped my schoolbooks - and one somewhat fragile library book - out the second story window during senior class homeroom period also became a cop when he, er, grew up.

#369 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:13 PM:

Lee @357, re the cohousing group -- nobody actually wanted to find out at that level. In a sense that smells like Godel and Heisenberg, it's very difficult to analyze a social system from inside it without changing it (and, in most cases, damaging it from the perspective of the people inside).

#370 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 10:21 PM:

How about "got older," Harriet?

I'm wondering how many cops are former bullies.

Oh, wait, the answer is "none." While not every cop is a bully (not close), I suspect the bullies who become cops do so because they want to bully people in the adult world, and pretty much only cops can get away with that consistently.

#371 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:14 PM:

Ambar @ 348: "A bully operates within their community, where a troll is (nearly by definition) dropping into a community they do *not* consider themselves to be a part of, and poking the zoo animals with sticks."

Hmm, that's a really interesting and useful distinction. I think I'll steal it entirely, if you don't mind!

It illuminates why calling out bullies works so much better than calling out trolls. Bullies have a lot more to lose from being named, because they're invested in the community and no community welcomes (people who have been labeled as) bullies.

elise @ 362: "The reason I think it's directly pertinent to the discussion here is this: sometimes, some of us "hit back" really hard verbally... only to find out that the person we thought was "hitting" us verbally first was actually doing no such thing."

I think the perception of powerlessness is why we feel the need to go all-out Ender Wiggins-style to start with--we think that every ounce of strength is needed just to scratch them. And yet Ender severely underestimates his strength; he ends up a murderer on both a personal and genocidal scale.

#372 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:40 PM:

One of the people who picked on me in high school became my best friend in college. And he later became a Mountie. By the way, is it my imagination, or does bullying drastically decreases in college even though the actors are the same?

#373 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:43 PM:

I question the assumption that bullying is inherent and inescapable (which has been expressed more than once here, though not by a majority) among children, if only because my own childhood was largely free of it. I remember a few times when I was a social outcast, but even that was a fairly passive rejection; at its worst, I remember one incident of someone walking away while I was talking to her, and another time when a few girls mocked my clothing. This is not to say that I was full of joy and social adequacy: but bullying? No. It just didn't really happen in the school I went to. It was perfectly clear that being Mean was Wrong, and that was pretty much what it came down to. Neither authority figures nor the other children would tolerate it for very long, and the popular kids were usually the first to tell people to Stop Being Mean if teasing got very far.

In fifth grade, I once shouted a mild insult at a boy in the middle of a freeze tag game, in a fit of anger. And felt guilty about it for years. Good children didn't call each other names, after all.

All of which perhaps explains why I handle online verbal bullying so very, very poorly. I have few skills for coping with people being nasty, and it sends me into a frozen, nervous state of trying to figure out if I misread something, because surely (despite what is now years of evidence) no one would be so rude on purpose... would they? Everyone knows better than that.

Which is why I find it so very, very useful in online bullying if someone else calls out what's going on. I'm not much good at pulling myself out of the shock that someone has pissed in the punchbowl to actually respond, and otherwise my general response is to slink away feeling angry and unhappy and unsure of what to do about any of it.

I'm not exactly making a good argument for bullying-free environments--"Keep your kids unbullied like I was, and they too can be incompetent at dealing with stressful verbal situations!"--but those are my two cents for the thread.

#374 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:43 AM:

A couple of interesting posts about the Taylor Swift / Kanye West kerfluffle and how it relates to bullying, with a side of connection to privilege in the second one. (As in, imagine if J. Random Fan had tried to grab that mike -- but West is privileged by virtue of money and fame, so nobody stopped him.)

#375 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 02:23 AM:

@293:
The good comedians wait for the audience members to invite an attack. The one occasion when I attended a comedy show where attacks on audience members were acceptable was one where the comedian had a stated plan to not attack first - I sat quietly. It's like the boxing ring analogy, it's OK to hit someone in the ring, but no-one is forced to enter the ring against their will. The comedians who randomly select audience members for humiliation are known as insult-comics, most of the audience know what to expect and know it could be their turn, it's their choice.

@306:
Essentially bullying in many situations should be treated as attempted murder. There are more than a few documented cases of school bullies telling their victims to commit suicide - and then having the victims do so.

How much force is appropriate to defend yourself against someone who wants you to die next month or next year?

I've never understood why people who advocate gun ownership for self-defence don't advocate issuing them to children. I haven't had to use any significant amount of force in self-defence since I completed high-school.

@327:
Some of the personality traits that lead to what may be considered "trolling" online seem likely to attract the attention of bullies in a school environment. Someone who is persistent, pedantic, and not afraid to express their opinon when it differs from others is probably going to attract the wrong kind of attention in school, and often get accused of trolling on the net.

As an aside, I have read about the TV show "Beauty and the Geek" which seems to be one of the less classy reality TV shows. I wonder whether a similar show with Geeks and Jocks would provide some insight and education to everyone (both audience and participants).

#376 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:21 AM:

elise @ 362:
The reason I think it's directly pertinent to the discussion here is this: sometimes, some of us "hit back" really hard verbally... only to find out that the person we thought was "hitting" us verbally first was actually doing no such thing.

Michael Douglas, in Falling Down: "I'm the bad guy?"

(Been years since I saw that film, but I can still remember the precise tone in which he says that. It's a good study on one way that relentlessly bullied people can finally break.)

#377 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 05:29 AM:

By the way, can I just say how much I admire and respect the people who have talked about times when they've bullied other people? It's really difficult, particularly in a thread like this, to step forward with that kind of honesty, even when it's accompanied by repentance.

We're all kids, and kids do a wide variety of shitty things. What's really impressive is that people also grow up, and change, and review their pasts with courage and principles.

I can recall only one incident where I, as part of a group, bullied a mentally disabled girl into taking her pants and underwear off in the schoolyard. I was seven, and the memory of it still makes the blood rush to my face with shame. Between that incident and the amount of hostility I got from my own classmates in the next few years, I found it easier to retreat from any serious attempt at group membership until most of the way through high school*. I had individual friends, from time to time, but never a network of them.

And by then, of course, I hadn't the knack for it. I had to learn how again, laboriously, in college. It amazed me then, and amazes me now, how much being a member of a community of friends doesn't hurt.

-----
* Well, apart from that attempt to form a clique in seventh grade. It failed as they say the universe will one day: heat death.

#378 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:45 AM:

Russell Coker #375:

Some of the personality traits that lead to what may be considered "trolling" online seem likely to attract the attention of bullies in a school environment. Someone who is persistent, pedantic, and not afraid to express their opinon when it differs from others is probably going to attract the wrong kind of attention in school, and often get accused of trolling on the net.

Good observation. I think some of that may be the case with me - though I wasn't really a very outspoken teenager. But I do think my fellow students were aware that my mind worked a bit 'differently', and that certainly contributed to my being singled out as a victim - along with the fact that I was physically much smaller and weaker than everybody else.

And it definitely fits what went on with me and that online debate a couple of years ago. "Persistent, pedantic, and not afraid to express a different opinion" - that's me.

Serge #372:

One of the people who picked on me in high school became my best friend in college. And he later became a Mountie.

Yeah, I also made friends with one of the instigators of my bullying, later. I found out that she was the poster child for broken families etc.; there's some truth in the popular psychological assumption that bullies are often people who are deeply unhappy themselves (although I also do believe that *some* really are just over-endowed with malice.)

I think that experience actually helped me heal quite a bit. Possibly this relatively early healing is one of the reasons why my bullying-induced insecurity isn't quite as extreme as that of many other bullying victims. Someone upthread said - paraphrased - that their default assumption when joining a group of people was that they were unwelcome. I remember that from my teenage years, but I overcame it, later. (I'm 33 now.) I still feel a great deal of social awkwardness, but I do not assume anymore that people will just randomly hate me etc. Most of my awkwardness stems from the fact that, having not experienced anything like 'normal' socialising at a formative age, I simply don't know very well how to deal with groups 'properly'.

#379 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:24 AM:

Thanks, abi.

Oddly, my wife's best friend started out being a bully who pushed her around, and that relationship somehow evolved into a wonderful lifelong friendship. This woman was also a poster child for crazy scary family and home life.

#380 ::: Greg Laden ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:45 AM:

The main point that is being missed here is that there are a gazillion people in this world, and in many language/culture systems there are way way more people than we need in any given area of opinion making. So go ahead and make the argument, and it might be quite valid, that the message is more important than the way it is presented, and that the mode of presentation should never be considered in relation to the logic, rationality, or other aspects of value of the message itself.

This is also true of soup cans. When I buy a can of tomato soup, and the first can I pick up has a big dent in it, I know that this dent does not really affect the soup. But then I notice that there are 50 other cans of soup and none are dented. So I take the undented one and leave the dented one.

From the perspective of a consumer of opinions, style may not affect value of the opinion, but the consumer certainly will not be missing out on something by ignoring the snark-wrapped ideas (or any other style of presentation).

At the moment, I can't think of a single voice on the internet that is saying anything that is not being said by many other voices on the internet. I feel quite comfortable shopping around for different voices, and it is not hard.

There is absolutely no cost to leaving behind the dented cans. There may, in fact, be an advantage. The dented cans/opinion-bullies draw undue attention and cause lengthy conversations, sapping energy that could otherwise be used to work towards world peace and the feeding of hungry children and stuff.

In fact, now that I think about it, the bullies are bullies only because they know that their existence will cause ca 400-comment long thread to grow up in reaction.

#381 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Hmpf @ 378... bullies are often people who are deeply unhappy themselves (although I also do believe that *some* really are just over-endowed with malice.

Yes, and just because we can understand why they acted the way they did, it doesn't mean we condone it. As for a problematic socializing in one's formative years... In 12th grade, I was forced to move to another school one week after starting the school year. Since I was now in a school where the familiar tormentors were nowhere around, it broke the cycle, and got me started on the road to social skills. One of my first lessons I learned is that sometimes others aren't picking on you, they're are teasing you, and they do that because they like you.

#382 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:01 AM:

Elise @362:
. . . the behaviors and assumptions that he developed when he was powerless are no longer appropriate. They may have been survival skills then... but he's survived, and because he's survived, he has changed. He now has some power and concomitant responsibility for choosing how he uses it, and for cleaning up after himself when he does something wrong.

Wow.

I just have to pull this out and stare at it for a few days. It resonates with some of the things I've been learning over the past decade, and with some of the things I've been observing in a few friends. The shift from being powerless to having, and recognizing, one's own power is not often smooth and easy; those old patterns stay.

Serge @371 and Hmph @378:

I was bullied quite badly in fifth and sixth grades (long story omitted, but it was a bad time for schools in certain sections of NYC, and I (very smart, bookish, gawky, unwilling/unable to talk, and with absolutely no knowledge of the culture I'd just moved into) got dropped into a school mid-year, and was moved into the top class almost immediately), with the explicit approval of some of the staff at the schools. As I remember (and as my sister remembers), the main reason I survived* was that one of the major bullies found out that I still played with dolls, and owned a number of books. Somehow, we wound up with an arrangement whereby she would protect me from most of the other bullies (while still picking on me herself from time to time), and occasionally come home with me for lunch, or after school, and read and play with my dolls.

Thirty-odd years go by. I think about those moments occasionally, because they shaped me in a lot of ways (including a set of issues about being a "secret friend," but that's another story), and idly wonder what became of those girls.

Last year, my major bully/friend found me in one of the other online communities I frequent, and sent me a note, thanking me for being one of the few bright spots in her life in those years, remembering me making her sandwiches, playing with her, and talking with her.

Part of me wants to ask her if she remembers the other side of the relationship; most of me doesn't care. And part of me is glad that I helped her make it through. (As for most of the rest of them, if I learned that instant karma got them in high school or afterwards, part of me would be absolutely delighted -- and the rest of me would just hope that they didn't take anyone else down with them.)

* The other reason I survived is that eventually, I learned how to go berserk when attacked. When they know that you won't care about ripped clothes or blood, most twelve-year-old girls will leave you alone.

#383 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Greg Laden @ #380 writes: I can't think of a single voice on the internet that is saying anything that is not being said by many other voices on the internet.

Aliens built Clonmacnoise!

#384 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Russell@375: I've never understood why people who advocate gun ownership for self-defence don't advocate issuing them to children.

Mostly as a compromise with the rest of society, which doesn't wish it at all. They certainly train their own children, and encourage their interest, and make sure they know how to use them in a crisis.

#385 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Tom @353: Ok -- this is strictly my point of view on the my school situation and I realize it IS biased --

Whether or not my tormentors thought they were cool makes no difference to me. I don't care if the were acting from insecurity or malice they damaged my psyche and it took years to overcome that damage. Truth be told, I don't know if it can ever be completely repaired.

From 4th grade to 8th grade I saw these people every day for 9 months of every year. In 9th grade I began escaping them because I was taking fewer classes where they were present -- but that still left the cafeteria. The friends I managed to acquire were upperclassmen, not my own grade.

Eight years of psychological torture -- being told what a loser of a human being you are for even being in the same classroom with the "cool kids." Eight years of training myself not to react to the taunts. (Thank gods none of these folk participated in my Girl Scout troop or I probably would have gone insane.)

Just because I liked to read...and because I made the mistake of showing I cared about what I was learning, and because of that my teachers liked me and praised me.

I can't even claim moral superiority over them, because I have fantasized about what I'd like to do to them...

#386 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:22 AM:

Greg Laden @380:
The problem is that people aren't soup cans. Nor are communities.

Certainly, if I am looking for pure information, untainted by any personal interaction (news, for instance, or medical information), I'll choose a provider who doesn't make me feel an inch tall and smelly to boot.

But for conversation, with give and take, for society and comfort, the tone of the delivery doesn't just color the message. It creates an entirely different experience. No two online communities are exactly the same.

Within the community, we do tend to ignore messages wrapped in snark or superiority. But that doesn't mean that those of us invested in the community want to leave it because someone has turned up and behaved badly.

In fact, now that I think about it, the bullies are bullies only because they know that their existence will cause ca 400-comment long thread to grow up in reaction.

No, this would be a very unsatisfying thread for someone who took pride in bullying behavior. It has, however, been a very satisfying thread for the actual participants, which is the sole criterion for success that interests me at the moment.

Also, a point of order. You don't have much of a commenting history here, so we don't have a wide experience of your character. Coming into this thread with the attitude that you know better than all of us, and that we're wasting our time on this highly personal conversation, is actually somewhat offensive.

If you don't like the idea that we're talking about this stuff, click on by. If you feel that your initial point, which is—I think—that we can leave online abusive situations because there's always somewhere else to go, is really important, then it might be better to walk back a little on dissing the conversation that your audience has been having.

#387 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:24 AM:

Velma @ 382... One thing I think most of the people who posted here have in common is that they were on their own. Maybe because we tend to be the eldest kid. Or maybe parents and older kin think we should learn to defend ourselves. When you're not the elder and when you have a BIG brother who'll be on your side, bullies apparently literally wet their pants, I'd say, based on what a fellow SF fan once told me.

#388 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:41 AM:

Serge @ 381: In 12th grade, I was forced to move to another school one week after starting the school year. Since I was now in a school where the familiar tormentors were nowhere around, it broke the cycle, and got me started on the road to social skills.

My family moved a lot, and the first year I spent entirely in one school was eighth grade (I ended up going to three high schools as well*). You'd think that would have taught me to be adaptable and make new friends, but instead I just grew weirder and more solitary (although I usually had one friend in each location). It didn't help that I had entered school a little early and skipped a grade, so I was a year or two younger than my classmates, and it really didn't help that I didn't reach puberty until I was fifteen, late in eleventh grade.

On the plus side, I got to see more of the world than most kids do, and avoid the kind of long-term abuse you describe.

*And five or seven colleges, depending on how you count. Obviously I picked up a pattern.

#389 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:47 AM:

Russell, re 375: I've never understood why people who advocate gun ownership for self-defence don't advocate issuing them to children. I haven't had to use any significant amount of force in self-defence since I completed high-school.

I think you may have something there...

#390 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 11:48 AM:

abi @ 386: your initial point, which is—I think—that we can leave online abusive situations because there's always somewhere else to go

I took Greg Laden's point as being that we can eject bullies from our space without worrying that we might be missing an important point of view, because that point of view will be politely represented somewhere.

#391 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:10 PM:

Tim @390:
You're probably right. Though I don't see people or their views as being as simple, as interchangeable as soup cans either.

I think I prickled up because of the latter half of the comment, which manages to hit both the "I am appointing myself judge of this conversation and I judge it worthless" and the "there are so many problems in this world, why are you talking about this one?" buttons. Those are both assertions of power over the other people in the conversation. Which, of course, brings us back to where we started.

Now, this could be unintentional, and maybe it doesn't bug anyone else. I've had my moderatorial say. If Greg chooses to return, I hope that he will engage the points I've made.

#392 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:43 PM:

abi @ 391: I caught the "400-comment long thread" in Greg Laden's comment, too. I remember thinking: "Is he talking about this thread?" and "But who is being the bully on this thread, instigating the conversation?" Didn't make sense to me, so I decided to keep my mouth shut (but I'm glad you didn't, respected moderator). Maybe it was a coincidence that this thread had almost reached 400 comments at that point, and he was really thinking of some other conversation entirely, but for what it's worth . . .

#393 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 12:50 PM:

Joel @ #359 reminded me: Anybody else here appreciate the depiction of bullying and retaliation in Harriet the Spy? I found it true-to-life, if a bit mild.

Lori's "eight years of psychological torture" gave me a sudden thought: Parents who say "just ignore it"--if you had said/done the things you're asking your kid to ignore, with the same frequency and for the same length of time, would you be risking loss of custody and/or jail time? If so, maybe you should rethink your advice.

Yes, I've been a bully. I don't want to talk about it. If I wake up in Hell on account of my actions on a certain summer afternoon I won't argue the judgment.

Less squirm-inducingly: I also have a talent for profanity-free invective that I'm sure made most of my classmates feel I verbally bullied them throughout school. This probably accounted for most of the bullying and ostracism I encountered up until college. Fair enough; I suffered to the point of contemplating suicide, but how do I know they didn't feel just as bad?

(I think the kid who hit me in the kneecap with a baseball bat in kindergarten was just curious, as he said "How that feels?" as if he genuinely wanted to know.)

abi @#386: thanks. Yet another case in point. (Tim @ #390: I too got the feeling that Greg was calling this thread a waste of time. Greg, if I'm misinterpreting you, I apologize. If not--well, it may be a waste of your time, but not mine. And I REALLY can't imagine a bully regarding this thread in particular with any satisfaction whatsoever.)

#394 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:14 PM:

391-393: No disagreement here.

#395 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:21 PM:

Greg Laden @ 380: "At the moment, I can't think of a single voice on the internet that is saying anything that is not being said by many other voices on the internet. I feel quite comfortable shopping around for different voices, and it is not hard."

I don't know, but this strikes me as strange assumption to make. Opinions cover a vast spectrum with near infinite variations and elaborations, and just because there are a lot of people talking about healthcare doesn't mean they're all saying the same thing. In my experience even fairly close agreement doesn't translate into perfect interchangeability. To name one example, I feel that John Scalzi's take is pretty unique to John Scalzi. I mean, bacon cat.

And then with communities the claim seems even less true. Communities are influenced by every member's idiosyncracies, and there are perforce far fewer of them. So while voting with one's feet is always an option on the internet, it's not always one free of downsides. There are times when tolerating unpleasantness for the sake of community or insight is at least in the decision space.

#396 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:49 PM:

Bullying and trolling don't add value. But sometimes, genuine communications from a sufficiently different perspective than your own can come off as very much like trolling. IMO, if you're not occasionally being challenged, even offended a bit, by what you read online, you're in danger of living in a bubble.

#397 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:50 PM:

Bullying and trolling don't add value. But sometimes, genuine communications from a sufficiently different perspective than your own can come off as very much like trolling. IMO, if you're not occasionally being challenged, even offended a bit, by what you read online, you're in danger of living in a bubble.

#398 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 02:29 PM:

What do you do with a friend who is always just fine as long as she is agreed with, accepted as the final arbitor of what is correct and right, and never criticized, but if any of these are violated -- or even perceived as violated by herself -- she strikes out blindly at the violator, without considering the years of friendship, proofs that what she's slapping the violator for don't exist in all these previous years of interaction and behavior, as if, indeed this long time friend who has performed purely out of love and admiration for the woman's authentic achievements never happened?

You are now the enemy, and unless you grovel and beg for forgiveness, you are written off.

But you cannot do that because 1) you aren't guilty of what you are accused of; and 2) you know she will never apologize to you even if, at some point, she will realize she erred -- because over many years you have witnessed that she never admits to wrongdoing on her own part and never apologizes.

In fact, she is behaving very much like your mother, and you are suspicious that she's seeing in you her mother, her mother who behaved just as she's behaving toward you right now.

In other words this friendship can only be conducted on her terms.

And if so, what do you do, since you do love this person, but there you are. You also have your own dignity and integrity to nurture. The friendship becomes progressively more inauthentic with each of these incidents that you apologize for, but for which there's no reciprocation on her part.

I am, frankly, feeling bullied. But am I being bullied?

In any case I am feeling deeply distressed because I'm not finding any way through this that is win for us both, because it does take two, and she's not having it.

Love, C.

#399 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:03 PM:

Constance @ 398, My first response would be "You're not her friend, you're her minion." Someone who expects complete agreement with all her opinions and to never have to back down on anything doesn't want a friend: she wants a...I am struggling for a term for someone who is paid to pretend to be an endlessly supportive friend, and not coming up with one that doesn't include either doing one's paperwork or sexual connotations.

But that doesn't sound like friendship, to me.

Whether or not the relationship has enough good points to make it worth continuing anyway, I couldn't know, not being the one in it. But as described? I wouldn't think it's worth it. Not unless she starts paying you for the Good Times Always On Her Terms that she wants. An employer can make an employee insincerely apologize for a situation in which the employer was the one in the wrong; a friend should not. I'm not sure if it's bullying, but it doesn't sound like friendship.

#400 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:18 PM:

Serge #372: By the way, is it my imagination, or does bullying drastically decreases in college even though the actors are the same?

It tends to express itself in hazing ... mercifully absent if you don't do fraternity/sorority.

In this city, blessed with a campus of 51,000 students, no semester seems to go by without an incident of hazing that approaches fatal limits. It's much more likely to involve fraternities, but in my experience the sororities are just as capable of bullying. They just keep it under the radar.

Back in the dark ages, when I was about to head off to college, my mother, who has an unbelievably solid naive streak, announced out of the blue that if I wanted to join a sorority they'd pay for that.[*] It had never occurred to me--I knew better, from knowing girls that were going to pledge. When I acquired (through no fault of my own) a string of sorority roommates, I was confirmed in my decision. The bullying (confined to their own ranks) was petty, low-grade and extremely persistent.

[*]I don't think she had *any* idea what she was threatening to put herself in for; even the required dues (not to mention all the other things you had to get to keep up with the Jonesettes) were several times the tuition.

#401 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:26 PM:

joann @ 400... Thankfully there was no culture of fraternity/sorority in the school system I went thru. No worship of athletes either.

#402 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 03:59 PM:

Dear Lord.

I, too, have always thought that the one occasion of psychological bullying I took part in greatly outweighed the rather large amount I have been dealt over the years. Hardly a day goes by that I don't regret leaving that hateful note on Bonnie's desk in grade 6.

Now, reading that people whom I respect greatly have done similar things has suddenly made me realize that, maybe, I can respect myself, too.

That's all I have to say about this. Just... thank you. Thank you all very much.

#403 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:07 PM:

Constance @ 398: "I am, frankly, feeling bullied. But am I being bullied?"

I would say yes. No question. She wants to conduct the relationship on terms of her choosing, and employs vicious retaliation to keep it that way. She might not know it, but she is bullying you.

I can't think of anyway to fix the relationship that doesn't require you to confront her behavior directly, accepting the possibility that she might take it badly and disintegrate your friendship entirely. However, from what you said the relationship is on a downward trajectory regardless. You have only months or years of gradually worsening relations to lose, and a more self-aware and kinder friend to gain.

All you can do is give her the chance to do the right thing and hope that she takes it.

#404 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:08 PM:

Constance @ 398:

What do you do with a friend who is always just fine as long as she is agreed with?

I was in a similar situation. I finally stopped speaking to this person for a while (over a year IIRC.)

In time they got in touch with me (because for some reason they don't have many friends) and although they never apologized, which bugs me, we are sort of friends again. It is a very long-standing friendship, it can never be what it was but I am willing to continue it, to a certain extent.

Just to let you know that "taking a break" from the relationship is a possibility.

Also - one thing that may have helped was for me to say to this person when they complained about me: "If I'm such a bad person, you should find better friends." I hope that validated her feelings, while also making it clear that I wasn't going to play the villain.

#405 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Constance: I am not a psychologist; I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. But your "friend" sounds like a narcissist to me—that is, a victim of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

If so, though you may be her friend, she will never be yours. People with NPD are incapable of friendship; they offer themselves as objects of worship, nothing more (or less).

She sounds toxic to me. If you haven't done what you're accused of, tell her that not only are you not going to apologize, you're fine with not seeing her until she apologizes to you. Then let go. Either she'll finally apologize to you, and your friendship will be improved, or she won't, and the abusive, exploitive relationship that was masquerading as friendship will end. These are both good outcomes.

Downside: it will hurt, especially the second way. But it's healthier.

#406 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 04:45 PM:

joann, 400: IJWTS that my sorority didn't haze. I didn't fit in especially well, but no one ever said a harsh word to me. In fact many members went out of their way to be nice to me. I wish I'd been better equipped to be nice back--but that was when I started to get over the automatic feeling of left-out-ness.

(Part of it, I think, is that sororities were relatively new on that campus, and my sorority had been colonized only 2-3 years before, so they all remembered what it was like to be hassled.)

#407 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:38 PM:

Greg Laden @ 380:
At the moment, I can't think of a single voice on the internet that is saying anything that is not being said by many other voices on the internet. I feel quite comfortable shopping around for different voices, and it is not hard.

This assumes that the only purpose of sending a message it to transmit its content to another person. But communication has other purposes, especially within a community, for instance: establishing norms, maintaining the sense of community, etc. And often how you say something is more important to the success of the communication than what you say.

#408 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 06:45 PM:

Constance @ 398: That's a startlingly exact description of a woman in one of my social circles. After her most recent blow-ups, several of her best friends have politely but firmly told her that she needs psychological help, and that her abusive behaviour is not acceptable, and then stopped communication with her. As far as I know, she still thinks that the problem is with all of those traitors turning against her.

We'd all like to see her return to being an effective social human being again. But... the light bulb has to admit that it's burned out, before it can consider the advisability of change.

#409 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:21 PM:

Lori Coulson @385 -- I'm certainly not trying to tell you what your experience was, or that it was okay on any level. It sounds hellish, and I don't think it was okay. I am interested in the dynamic because I think that gives a way in towards preventing it if I see it happening around someone I know.

Constance @398 -- You are the only relevant judge of your experiences (as is each one of us!). So if you're feeling bullied -- does it matter if the person who's causing that doesn't intend to bully you? Unless you get something out of being bullied, or get enough out of other things in the relationship to make it worth putting up with feeling bullied, "find different people to spend time with" would be my recommendation.

#410 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 07:27 PM:

By the way, is it my imagination, or does bullying drastically decreases in college even though the actors are the same?

Are they? The most notable bully I can personally remember was someone who was said to have flunked several grades (making him larger than the rest of the class) and, although I didn't think much about it at the time, I think he was from a lower socioeconomic class than most of my school district. (A fact that may have loomed larger in his mind than mine, although I don't claim to understand the psychology of bullies.)

For both reasons, I don't think he would have been part of the peer group in college. (According to local legend, he flunked so many grades that he was able to, and did, drop out of middle school. I don't know if that's actually true; although I don't remember ever seeing him in high school, he might have moved away or something.)

#411 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:17 PM:

I'm reading Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name right now, and I think the story speaks to this conversation in a lot of ways--namely about the conflict between those who see society as game to be won and those who see society as something to be built upon. Maybe? Anyway. This passage seemed to especially resonate, on how bullies work (possibly minor spoilers so ROT-13ed):

"Vg vfa'g gung Zbeguh crefhnqrf crbcyr, gubhtu ur qbrf, vg vf fbeprel. Ur jrnirf n fcryy bs jbeqf. Ur gnxrf gur jnl crbcyr ner, naq gnxrf gurve jrnxarffrf, naq znxrf cbjre sbe uvzfrys bhg bs gurz. Vs gurl unir ab jrnxarffrf ur gheaf gurve fgeratguf ntnvafg gurz, nf n xavsr pna or ghearq. Ur qbrf guvf jvgu jbeqf, jvgu fbzr cbjre bs uvf ibvpr, ohg vg vf fbeprel, V nz fher bs vg. V unir orra urnevat uvz qb vg fvapr V jnf n puvyq ng Gunafrguna. Vg jbexf ba rirelbar nebhaq zr naq abobql jvyy rire frr vg. Ur vasrpgf crbcyr jvgu qrfcnve, naq ur gjvfgf gurve urnegf."

-Qnevra

#412 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 09:43 PM:

First, Great. Big. Thank Yous! to all of you who took my inquiry seriously and expended the time and energy to thoughtfully reply.

What you all said confirms my sense that this relationship is reaching the end of its course.

What always holds me back is the genuine iffy state, that, well, maybe SHE is right -- I'm not getting something and am being blindly self-centered. We as human beings who separate at very real divisions of conception of how the world should be or should work often accuse the other of what we ourselves guilty of. And we just don't see. I hear this all the time going on between what to me are the crazies and, well, people like me, politically, for instance -- and it's really important in that realm, that we can't come to any concilation other than one of us, meaning those like me MUST capitulate, or else it's all off, while the other side snerks off and sniffs about how mean we are.

But that's the difference. This occurs to me. It never does to her. This doesn't make me a better person, because surely I have other behavioral, emotional flaws (o, surely, NOT, NOT Moi!). It does make us different, and it means I have come to the end of the relationship for reasons than she will ever accept even if I lay it all out to her.

I'm the one who reaches out, who requests 'dialogue' about our differences. She never has, and hasn't this time either.

And, of course, there's never been in the past any acknowledgment that maybe she went too far, was too extreme in her reaction, could have responded with a different tone, while even retaining her disagreement, blahblahblah (meaning me, blahblahblahing, trying to describe these very personal and individual roils).

But I yes, I have come over the years to believe that our adult friends who pitch fits are doing this a bully technique. Which, like I think with my friend at least, she learned from her mother doing it to her.

Thanks!

Love, C.

#413 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 10:59 PM:

Constance #412:

You know, I read that description to my wife, and we got a sort of creeped-out laugh from it. We have an old friend with whom we followed almost exactly the same pattern. And like LDR, she is now back in our life in a reduced role, because we love her and miss her. And it's clear that she loves us, but there's some really ugly dynamic going on with her and long-term friendships. (She seems to have fallen out with most of her friends over time.)

But it was uncanny reading that description, because it matched so precisely what happened that led to her falling out with my wife, and thus ultimately with me.

#414 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 02:07 AM:

Greg @ 380: This is also true of soup cans. When I buy a can of tomato soup, and the first can I pick up has a big dent in it, I know that this dent does not really affect the soup.

What you think you know there is not true.

When I worked for a canning company, part of our ongoing effort to reduce the amount of CD (concealed damage) being accidentally shipped out was an education campaign about how dents weakened the seams and seals that keep canned goods safe.

You can take the dented can if you like. Me, I remember when it was my job to notice the differences between the dented and the undented can, because I was informed that the dented can wasn't a fit specimen to give to customers who were buying our product in good faith, because of the risks the dent caused -- and I'll take the undented can every time.

Your Allegories May Vary, but the information I'm giving is quite true.

#415 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:00 AM:

BBC radio 4 (and World Service) has a regular half-hour feature “From Our Own Correspondent”:  short stories from BBC reporters around the world.  Today’s edition has an interesting item about how words that we in US or Europe would see as bullying or insulting or racist language are accepted as friendly chat in Venezuela.  For example, a customer entering a restaurant is greeted as mi gordito (“my little fatty”) and the President, visiting a hospital, says to a young black patient “what’s your name, mi negrito?”  You can hear the story here (probably on the site until September 26), starting about 18:45.

By the way, the preceding item (13:15) is about Obama and racism.

#416 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:02 AM:

There's certainly bullying in the UK.

But that was something unusual enough to hit the national headlines.

#417 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:17 AM:

In regard to Constance @398 and related discussions, it seems to me that we should draw a clear distinction between feeling bullied and being attacked by someone with bullying motives.

Lots of people have difficulty admitting that they are wrong. If they are pandered to then we should expect them to get worse. So the situation Constance described seems likely to be the result of someone who has difficulty understanding the different thought processes of other people (someone suggested that it might be NPD but let's not do the amateur psychologist thing). She may feel bullied, but it seems unlikely that the woman she refers to aims to bully.

I think that probably the main way to determine the difference between feeling bullied and being attacked with a bullying motive would be the action of the attacker. If on being confronted with this they were to be shocked and refuse to believe that they are a bully then it seems that the problem is more in communication than anything else (this is not to trivialise Constance's experience or claim that someone shouldn't reduce their contact with such a friend). If however the attacker when their behaviour is described as bullying doesn't care or claims that the victim either deserves it or doesn't matter.

http://www.theLuciferEffect.com/

Regarding who has bullied others, firstly when you have a bad environment people do bad things. Good people in a bad environment do bad things on rare occasions. Weak people in a bad environment do bad things frequently. Philip Zombardo's web site (above) has some useful background information. I suspect that anyone who went to anything remotely resembling an average school and believes that they never bullied anyone just doesn't remember it that well (really who wants to remember school).

The next thing is the subjective nature of the interpretation of bullying. When I was at school I had a lot of practice fighting boys who were bigger and stronger than me and I eventually became reasonably good at it. I expect that some former bullies consider that the degree of force I used to defend myself was excessive, and probably regard themselves as the victims.

#418 ::: Greg Laden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 10:00 AM:

Abbi #386:

I love the fact that "you" (your community here, which you clearly feel great pride in ) are talking about this. I was sent here by a friend (Stephanie at Almost diamonds, and my co-blogger at QuicheMoraine.com) because she thought this thread would be interesting to me, and it is, since we have been blogging about similar issues heavily over the last several weeks. If you've read that I'm dissing this conversation than you've read my comment incorrectly.

(Abi and Mary Frances 392.... My reference to the "400 comment thread" was indeed to this thread, but it was not a disparaging comment ON this thread. It was a reference to attention getting behaviors of commenters/bloggers who mainly 'act out.' I apologize if anyone took offense, non intended.)


I also apologize for showing up and commenting without prior history. You do realize, I assume, that everyone does that exactly once. I promise you it will not happen again since, as of now, I have a prior history here. In fact, by the end of this very comment, I'm going to have a long and boring history, I'm sure! You can also visit my blog and get more "experience of my character" than you'll probably want.

heresiarch 395: Good point, and you are I'm sure correct. The broad brush of my comment tends to mask real and important variation.

Let me put a finer point on my point. When someone swoops in out of the blogosphere and starts crapping all over my commenters (or me) I do look to see if the obnoxious style is hiding some gem of thought or information. So far, the bits and pieces I've seen have been equivalent to what others are contributing without the drama, the bullying, whatever.

Bruce: 390. Yes, yes, of course, you are correct. See clarification above. I'm not in disagreement with you at all as to the message/medium thing. Yet I remain no more impressed, so far, by those who have shown up screaming and yelling, than by those who don't.

The next inference that one might (incorrectly, because you don't know me) draw from what I'm saying is that I don't understand, know about, or respect tone as an important tool for empowerment, or that I don't understand or know about the concept that rule-brokered civility is the hobgoblin of the heteronormative patriarchy. Please skip past that critique as I'm quite on board with that.

Cheers

#419 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 10:19 AM:

Greg @ 418:
I also apologize for showing up and commenting without prior history. You do realize, I assume, that everyone does that exactly once. I promise you it will not happen again since, as of now, I have a prior history here.

Please don't snark the moderators on an emotionally sensitive thread. It's really not the best way to make a good impression.

The reason I referred to your lack of a prior history is that I can't tell how much you're posting in good faith and how careful you are with words. Also, without prior involvement, you have very little investment in the community (and vice versa). Absent a better baseline for who you are and how willing you are to invest yourself in the conversation, I found the judgmental tone of your first comment inappropriate. It sounded like you'd parachuted in with the notion that you could take over.

However, because we don't automatically give up on people when we don't like their initial tone, I'm glad to see that you've come back to continue the discussion. It might be really interesting, as you do so, not to act as though you know what people are going to say back to you. That's yet another attempt to assert control of a conversation that you don't own.

(I don't own it either, by the way. It's common property.)

#420 ::: Greg Laden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:29 AM:

abi: Thanks for the comments. I am cursed with a running sense of humor, and as an anthropologist, I'm further cursed with a constant sense of culture shock. Its not snark. Its just me grinning because I'm happy to be here.

I don't see how I can possibly take over a conversation that is running on such high octane and with this amount of nuanced insight (seriously not snarking at all, in fact, I stopped grinning when I typed that). But I also know that the style of my voice does not always fit and I'm kind of bad at adapting. But enough about me.

I have to say that I was struck and awed by this statement:

abi # 16: Sometimes I have issues I don't want to discuss. ... Often it's because my views on a given matter are complex (and/or painful), and it's a lot of effort to try to lay them out in any clear way. ....

This is true for me as well, and ironically (blogospherically) the particular topics are often those that originally compelled me to start a blog and engage in discussion in this context. It is not that I feel a need to perfect what I'm saying (though there is that). I would like to understand that better (if "that" is in fact some kind of definable thing that can be understood).

One other quick thing then I'm outta here for a while (work and travel): This discussion (bullying and related issues) is going on in parallel in one other part of the internet (my neighborhood) and I think those people over there should all come over and read this thread. I'm impressed.

#421 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Greg @420:
Thanks for the clarification.

You're either a shameless flatterer or finally kicking back and letting your defenses down enough to really engage. If it's the former, I'm going to take advantage of the phenomenological internet: talk like a friendly guy, and you are therefore a friendly guy.

In either case, now, be welcome. Pop by when you get the time. And have a safe journey.

#422 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:58 AM:

rule-brokered civility is the hobgoblin of the heteronormative patriarchy

In the sense that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds? So we should, er, dispense with it forthwith?

Could happen.

I am cursed with a running sense of humor

Dragging you around in its wake on a veritable Nantucket sleighride?

I hate when that happens.

#423 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:03 PM:

A pity Greg Laden’s “outta here for a while”, or I’d have asked him where he and his co-blogger “have been blogging about similar issues heavily over the last several weeks” (#418).  If he’d given us URLs I’d have been interested to read the comments there.  I’ve hunted a bit, but found only threads that started a few days ago on his blog and Stephanie’s blog, and nothing relevant on the site he mentioned, QuicheMoraine.com;  but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

#424 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:08 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 422... a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

...and of programmers who build their own software that way because they know they are the ones who'll get called at 2am to fix things without being fully awake.

#425 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:20 PM:

John Stanning @ 423 At a guess, it's happening the science blogs realms where Greg and Steph* are both large presences, though it might also be in the skepchicks or other rationalists blogospheres.

*Note, both are friends of mine in the F2F world.

#426 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:28 PM:

Serge@424: Not my Python. Though that could be because I'm the only one who uses it, at least until I can figure out a way to sneak round Google's anti-screen-scraping prejudices.

#427 ::: Stephanie Z ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Hey, John. Greg threw me a text on his way out since he didn't have a lot of time to dig up anything for you and his site can be a mess to navigate unless you know what you're looking for. That, and this is a long, ongoing conversation about language and civility, community and exclusion that only occasionally shows up as a post that's directly on topic.

I'll put up another comment here in a little bit with some links, or maybe just do a highlights post on my blog and link here to that for those who are interested. I don't want to intrude on the conversation.

abi, Greg does tend to express himself in strong language, but he's not big on flattery. There is a reason I pointed to this thread on my blog (well, several actually).

#428 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 12:50 PM:

#417 ::: Russell Coker

Regarding your perspective then, that this behavior is neither by intention nor by consequence bullying, would you have suggestions as to what can be done to rectify the behavior, since the behavior is making the friendship impossible to continue, whether or not the person is bullying?

You say the problem is communication. As stated, this has happened more than once, and I'm the one who reaches out and attempts to clarify the communication. But it's like holding a dialgue with a cement berm. And she feels the same way, doubtless, about me.

So what else do you suggest?

Love, C.

#429 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Russel Coker @ 417: "I think that probably the main way to determine the difference between feeling bullied and being attacked with a bullying motive would be the action of the attacker."

I must disagree. Plenty of bullies (and non-bullies) know perfectly well that being identified as a bully is toxic socially, and will wriggle out of it any way they can--including by acting dumbstruck that you would think that of her. Furthermore, I don't think that bullying people subconsciously is really any better than doing it consciously. I think it's perfectly likely that Constance's friend is quite sure that she isn't a bully at all, that's what her mom was and she swore to herself she'd never be like that, but it's not her fault if her friends just attack her just like Mom did, for no reason at all! I think lots of bullies work like that--they're just defending themselves, right? That's how it worked for me when I bullied people.

I still think we're better off with a purely phenomenological definition of bullying. Motives are a cloudy, quantum thing.

"Good people in a bad environment do bad things on rare occasions."

You're making a distinction between what people are and what they do that I'm afraid simply doesn't exist in my philosophy. People are what they do, and there is no essential quality of "badness" or "goodness" that exists apart from the act of doing bad or good.

"I expect that some former bullies consider that the degree of force I used to defend myself was excessive, and probably regard themselves as the victims."

That's a very illuminating take on it. Since verbal combat, especially, is all about looking as though you are untouched while reducing the other person to tears, I'll bet there have been any number of insulting matches where both people walked away head high, secretly convinced they lost. They're sure about the pain they felt, and their opponent looked unhurt, didn't they?

#430 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 03:33 PM:

elise @ 362 This is one of the instances (and the whole book is full of them) where Miles is starting to learn that the behaviors and assumptions that he developed when he was powerless are no longer appropriate. They may have been survival skills then... but he's survived, and because he's survived, he has changed. He now has some power and concomitant responsibility for choosing how he uses it, and for cleaning up after himself when he does something wrong.

Many thanks (belatedly - I've been away from a 'puter since just after reading your post) for this. I now want to go re-read the book with that consciously in mind (pity I'm away from my copy for a week - may have to drop by Baen and get the e-book). The character development in both "Memory" and "A Civil Campaign" is really awesome.

Russell Coker @ 417: it seems to me that we should draw a clear distinction between feeling bullied and being attacked by someone with bullying motives....
"If on being confronted with this they were to be shocked and refuse to believe that they are a bully" Because the person didn't consciously intend to be a bully and refuses to believe their actions were bullying it means they were not being a bully? I disagree. I'd say that's a problem the person is having with recognising their own behaviour as being bullying, not just a problem with communication. At the least, I'd say this person is "behaving as a bully".

Re. being a bully. I cannot remember any episodes in which I was a bully. Which is not to paint myself as an angel, but I think there are two classic reactions to being bullied: (1) "some day it will be my turn" (which is how being bullied breeds bullies); and (2) "I hated that and I'm not going to do it to someone else". Mine was definitely the second. I can remember not being a good enough friend to someone else who was also an outcast - and being ashamed that I didn't try harder; and I still feel bad about that.

Datapoint: England, at a good school. I think bullying was not common at my school - my sister, two years older, certainly was not aware of any in her year. I was never at risk of physical injury in the bullying I experienced. As a more recent datapoint, a friend of mine (also England) has moved her daughter from one school to another to get her away from being bullied to the point of being really miserable.

#431 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Do we recognize ourselves as bullies?

Sometimes maybe we do, because, well 'she asked for it,' or 'he deserves it.'

Like here, one can probably safely think this fellow knows he's being a bully, and he enjoys making this poor woman cower in resignation, a woman who by her dress is poor, and also elderly, or at least so mal-nourished she is old from that, whereas he's young, healthy and well-nourished, a young turk of the street. She clearly deserves whatever he chooses to do to her, and she's asked for it because, well, she's there.

This is what helped so much to change the mood of large numbers of this country's people, the photos of the horrible bullying of mobs of adults of little black kids going to school. Those photos in the magazines of the time still carry enormous impact, particularly if you page upon them without expecting to.

This particular photo was in the NY Times Thursday.

Love, C.

#432 ::: Stephanie Z ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 04:37 PM:

John @423, thanks for the impetus. It was time to get these all in one place.

#433 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 04:58 PM:

I have only vague memories of bullying someone else. When I was—I'm not even sure, 5 or so—I joined a chant a bunch of neighborhood kids had started. I remember clearly the words they were chanting: "Dan-ny, Dan-ny, the man with the purple fan-ny!"*

When my mother heard of this, she marched me over to Danny's house to apologize for taking part in this. She talked with his parents, who were dismissive of the idea that I'd done any wrong. "He's the worst kid in the neighborhood," I remember his father saying of his own son.

My mother was terribly sad as we went home. Later she told me that when Danny was 3,** he'd been playing in the family car, and released the brake. The car rolled over his 1-year-old** sister, who was riding a tricycle behind the car, and killed her.

His parents blamed him. This is ridiculous, of course, but they apparently completely stopped loving him and treated him abominably.

Today I know that essentially that group of kids of which I was a part was bullying Danny for the fact that his parents abused him. The guilt and sorrow of that is as strong and bitter as it was when it first happened, or rather some years later when I realized what was going on.

I haven't thought about that for years. I have no idea what happened to Danny. I hope he got help eventually, and realized that it was his parents' neglect, not his wickedness, that killed his sister.
____
*UK folks, that means "buttocks" in America.
**I'm not sure of these ages. Something like that.

#434 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 05:21 PM:

For your consideration: Tommy Womack, Skinny And Small.

#435 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Today's NYT is all too apropos: On hazing in New Jersey's top-ranked high school.

#436 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:20 AM:

Constance @428:
In the situation that you described I would just reduce my involvement with the person in question.

The fact that they may be acting without malice doesn't mean it's something you should have to put up with.

Some years ago I used to email some friends about random stuff I was doing (in some ways similar to what people write on personal blogs). One of my friends started a habit of flaming me in response to such messages, he's been an ex-friend for a long time because of this. He probably thought that his messages were amusing, but I never asked him why he did it - my patience ran out before I considered the possibility.

#437 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:58 AM:

Stephanie Z #432 : thanks for that compendium!  A lot of reading there!

Interesting to me, though not directly germane to this thread, is your first item “Some of my best friends are pseudonymous bloggers”.  This here blog is the only one where I appear under my own name (as many here do, or identify themselves in other ways, such as by linking to their own blogs).  Everywhere else I use a pseudonym.  No doubt there are other blogs which are as generally courteous and as competently moderated as this place, but not that I’ve seen in my areas of interest.

#438 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Xopher @136:
"spilling wine" is specific wording in the Jewish mitzvot; "blasphemy" is not defined by the Noachide laws. Which makes it fairly loose; at least one halakhic authority considers Hinduism to be compliant.

Xopher @175:
in re tendency to blame the victim, we already discussed that in the context of health care. I suspect it goes a lot deeper.

Evan @188:
IIRC there are several examples in the Elf Help thread.

Fragano Ledgister @274, Leah Miller @258::
"only about eight years"?

Fade Manley @399:
"yes man"?

abi @421:
it occurs to me that Greg was jumped on immediately, and his second post was in the defensive mode that a number of people in this thread highlighted as their own developed response to verbal bullying. In fact, I'd say this whole thread has examples of "oh, what a tangled web we weave..." only about perceived bullying instead of deception. We must all use care. (I am struck by your most recent mod-hat post itself being excessively defensive.)

General:
I think this thread has been triggering enough to explain why I was all but useless yesterday (on top of generalized anxiety syndrome). I'm recognizing bits of myself all over the place, including a learned response to bullying becoming a form of bullying itself. (One difference is that I have another unfortunate response, of regressing to about 6 years old... which just adds to the embarrassment.)

I've also been trying to re-evaluate some more recent interactions, where I can't figure out if I was being bullied or just overreacting (and as such if I was then perceived as attempting to bully) — but the whole thing is triggery.

#439 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:44 PM:

geekosaur @438, "yes man" is probably about right, though I'd discarded it since it seems to carry connotations of employer/employee that were explicitly absent there. But then, since my point was that such uncritical adulation should come with a paycheck, maybe it's the right term after all.

#440 ::: Stephanie Z ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:41 PM:

John @437, thank you. I should note that a great deal of my interest in the topic comes from reading what Teresa has posted over the years.

Psudonymity is tough to get people to talk about. I think people don't often distinguish between what it is and what it does. In the end, it's a tool, but talking about how people can abuse a tool can still elicit strongly negative reactions in people who rely on the tool for perfectly pro-social reasons...even when no one is making a judgment about the tool itself.

#441 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:09 PM:

By the way: my response to the bullying I received through high school was to treat anyone who spoke to me as if they were attacking, and reply in kind. It took me years to get over that, and become the sweet, gentle person you all know and love.

Or maybe it will take me a few more years! :-)

#442 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:55 PM:

Tom@409: So if you're feeling bullied -- does it matter if the person who's causing that doesn't intend to bully you?

(I'm deliberately omitting reference to who that comment was originally about -- because this is a wide philosophical point, NOT a comment about the specific person Tom was talking to.)

It does if one wishes to invoke the social might of the community to fix it. People's feelings are inarguable and their own -- so long as they don't want other people to also act on them.

#443 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:15 AM:

Tom @409 -- Sorry for the heat of my reply, it's not your fault I'm touchy and you do have a valid point. My tormentors may have had their own host of insecurities and inner demons, at this remove I've no way of knowing.

I hope they got help or grew up, whatever they needed.

#444 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:41 PM:

David #442:

That's true, but there's something more there. If I see Alice acting like a bully, in ways I can recognize, then I can respond. Sometimes, though, it's an interaction between Alice and Bob that makes it clear that bullying is going on.

The exact same words and actions from Alice can be a kind of bullying (perhaps really painful bullying) or pretty harmless joking, depending on who she's talking to and their relationship and the surrounding context[1]. (In much the same way that the same words from a stranger, your boss, or your wife can have very different impact.) The only way to work out what's going on in those cases is to see what the interaction looks like.

Online, it's much harder to see that. You can sometimes get that from words, but having tone of voice and body language cues makes it easier. The same thing even makes it harder for Alice to know if she's joking around with a friend or seriously stepping on some toes.

[1] Obviously, there are limits to this. If four guys are kicking the crap out of a fifth guy, it's very unlikely to be friendly joking. But there's a wide range of behavior which is ambiguous from the outside.

#445 ::: Abi's Mom ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:00 PM:

I don't know much about online bullies, but it is my experience in real life that genuine bullies only understand one relationship: the bully/victim relationship.

They cast pretty much everything into those terms. If they have power in a given situation, they bully; if they don't, or don't think they do, they allow themselves to be bullied like crazy by whoever does. (I'm thinking now of my younger daughter's employer, who is an extreme case.) You feel sorry for them when they're in the "victim" position, they knuckle under and become completely wretched ("why can't he stand up for himself?") but they are truly menacing when they have power in any situation.

I guess my point for the community here would be that in some people at least this is a deep-seated pathology which cannot be cured or even improved, in the long run, by talking to such a person reasonably. Or at all, maybe, unless the person themselves realizes that this is a problem. Which isn't usually likely.

#446 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:12 PM:

Abi's Mom, I agree with that a lot. I think that one of the reasons to proceed otherwise is to give ourselves time to tell for sure whether it's that that we're dealing with, or something more fixable. But yeah, there absolutely is a point where the right response is "okay, this is going nowhere and requires more intervention than I can sensibly give it; on to something else".

#447 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:54 PM:

DDB @442 -- yes, it can matter if you want to get someone else involved. On the question of whether you want to deal with the person again -- matters not so much. albatross speaks clearly on the ambiguities involved, too.

Lori Coulson @443: no foul, apology for heat accepted.

#448 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:49 PM:

Albatross@444: All of communication is, in fact, contextual, I agree. This does highlight one reason I'm uncomfortable categorizing somebody as "a bully" too quickly -- what they're doing may be perfectly fine both in intention and in their familiar context. If they don't figure out there's a problem and try some different strategies and probably apologize pretty soon, THEN you can tell you have a problem; but in just one or two messages, you can't really figure out what's going on always. (And I have considerable sympathy for Abi's position of not wanting to attach the label at all.)

#449 ::: Paul the ex-poet ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Bullying disempowers people emotionally, and their natural reaction is to reempower themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes they reempower themselves by becoming bullies. I think that's where most bullies come from. I knew a girl who hated gays, but it was because her father had abused her, yet the only people her church approved of hating were gays, so she channeled her anger that way. I think of the same dynamic when I see poor people protesting Obama's health plan by comparing him to Hitler; those people have been abused by the system, and sided with the abusing system to attack a reformer. School yard bullies are aping their own abusers, and people who bring guns to political rallies are aping the military-industrial complex.

I also think it's funny that when Throwmearope talked about literary snobishness, I didn't realize it was off topic until the apology for being off topic.

#450 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Paul@449: Interesting, I've never seen it described that way.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27out-t.html

Page 8 of the above NY Times article "Coming Out in Middle School" states that all types of bullying decreased when a school started a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) to combat bullying.

I wonder how much of the bullying problem is related to repressed homosexuality.

#451 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 07:02 PM:

My guess is that it has more to do with bullies getting the message that gays have someone backing them up. Bullies have a sharp ear for social signals that mark other kids as acceptable and unacceptable victims.

#452 ::: Mycroft W spamreport ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2011, 01:34 PM:

It might not be spam, as I don't speak Turkish. But it has a lot of the smell...

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.