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October 8, 2010

The problem isn’t just “bullying”—
Posted by Patrick at 08:33 AM *

—and it won’t be solved by merely singling out a few designated bad kids and throwing the book at them.

When faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it’s easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called “anti-gay bullying” and then confine it to the borders of the schoolyard.
Richard Kim in the Nation—a terrific piece. (Via Bérubé.)
Comments on The problem isn't just "bullying"--:
#1 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:16 AM:

Exactly.

"It gets better", but mostly because once you are out of high school, you usually have the means (and will) to spend much less time around the radical anti-gay agenda.

(And even then, only some of the time. Especially for Trans people - for us, it gets better when we confront it head on and forge a path through the darkness despite society's wishes for us.)

If platitudes help some kids feel better for a while, okay, but the problem is real and deep.

#2 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:35 AM:

Also, a relevant Newsweek article. Phoebe Prince wasn't bullied for being queer, she was repeatedly called a slut and a whore (for daring to date a couple of seniors once or twice ... the seniors already had girlfriends).

The bullies are being criminally prosecuted, and have been suspended. For dogpiling on with meanness and generally doing what mean ruling-class (of the high school, if not necessarily in the outer world) kids have done in high school for decades, they may well have felony records dogging the rest of their lives. They'll have no chance to 'grow out of it', or even have proper remorse for what they ACTUALLY did, because the court system will be treating them like murderers.

I particularly like the part of this article where it points out that one of the girls who did the bullying originally is now being so over-the-top persecuted by everyone in town that she's tried to kill herself, too.

Bullying is STILL wrong even if the person doing it WAS A BULLY before, people!

#3 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:42 AM:

Hmm. If I understand Kim correctly, he seems to call on people who like to think of themselves as gay friendly to work on themselves to become more gay friendly than they are now. Sure, that is important- but I'm not sure how much it can achieve as long as there are so many people around who aren't even at that stage yet.

And I feel fairly uneasy about the way he apparently dismisses the bullies themselves as not all that relevant and just aping "the denials and anxieties of adults". First, the last and most high-profile case happened at college, so at what age do people stop being children who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, and start being those adults with denials and anxieties themselves? Second, and more generally, I think he might overrate, at least a bit, how much children imitate adults when it comes to bullying, since IMO if you're a kid or a teen, you might well get treated like shit by your peers even most of the adults who know you like you just fine.

He's completely right that homophobia isn't mainly a school yard issue, though.

#4 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 10:39 AM:

so at what age do people stop being children who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, and start being those adults with denials and anxieties themselves?
People never stop being children, we only put on the cloak of being adults. That's why we are so out of our depth when we are faced with things that make us afraid.

#5 ::: Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:15 AM:

The US loves simple answers. Nothing is simpler than making something illegal.

#6 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:16 AM:

The problem certainly isn't a cruelty shortage, but beyond that, I'm low on ideas.

Are there cultural differences in the prevalence or intensity of bullying? Changes over time?

One weird data point: In Crazy for God, a book mostly about the history of the religious right in the US, Frank Schaeffer mentions going to a British public school in the 50s that had no bullying because there was strong leadership from the top that bullying wasn't acceptable, so it's possible even in a culture that was pro-bullying. On the other hand, there's obviously a shortage of people who are willing to take charge to that extent.

#7 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:24 AM:

The It Gets Better Project has value -- I could have used it when I was in high school, confused about being attracted to both boys and girls. This confusion despite growing up with gay family members. I didn't know any people who were openly bisexual, so there must be something wrong with me.

But, yes: it is a systemic problem. The Make It Better Project is, I think, a productive answer to the problems that school-age people face. They're aiming to teach teenagers and young adults how to make the communities they want to live in.

Meanwhile, by all means, those of us who can should work on the "bullies" in our own, seemingly adult lives.

#8 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:27 AM:

"Cruelty shortage" sounds like an appropriate idea seed for a The Onion article.

#9 ::: Annalee Rockwood ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:34 AM:

I think Kim's hitting closer to the mark, but still missing it. Whether we think that bullies are cruel because they were born that way or because they learned it from mainstream homophobes, we're still making it about the bullies, and that's treating a symptom instead of the cause.

It's easy to focus on individual bullies, either by calling them depraved and throwing the book at them or by worrying over what influenced them to choose their particular victims. But anyone who's ever taken Psych 101 knows that the right pressures can make anyone a monster.

I have a vivid sixth grade memory of confronting the PTA mom of the boy who made my life a living hell. When I told her the tings he'd done, she called me a liar. I very nearly punched her.

Now, I wonder what he was like outside of school. What kind of kid must he have been--how sweet, how conscientious, how kind and respectful--that his mother would look at an eleven-year-old crying in anguish and think she was faking it?

I work with teenagers now. They're not sociopaths, either born or raised. In the context in which I interact with them, they're not bullies, either. They're awesome human beings who volunteer and support each other and want to save Darfur but aren't sure how. I'll bet some of them are bullies at school though. Maybe some of them are as cruel as the boy who's name I can't even remember, whose mother thought he was an angel.

Our entire school system is one gigantic Stanford prison experiment. Mainstream ideas about gays and geeks might affect who ends up being the prisoners and who ends up being the guards, but the physiology of it affects everyone, to some degree or another.

If we want to make our schools safer and end our bullying problem, we're going to have to change the schools, not the students.

#10 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:43 AM:

I agree with what I read as the underlying message: it's too easy to start thinking that the only problem with homophobia is active bullying, and if the bullies are taken out, then we've solved homophobia. It's a bigger problem than that.

And I agree that it's far too easy to go into witch-hunt mode, and as Elliott Mason @2 mentioned, become the bullies ourselves -- see the recent conversation about people who do bad things still being "us."

But I'm uncomfortable with how easy it is to slide from that into not holding the bullies responsible for their actions.

Elliott Mason @2 wrote: The bullies are being criminally prosecuted, and have been suspended. For dogpiling on with meanness and generally doing what mean ruling-class (of the high school, if not necessarily in the outer world) kids have done in high school for decades, they may well have felony records dogging the rest of their lives.

I agree that a felony conviction is probably Not Helpful. But your second sentence sounds a bit like "It's just high school bullying, it shouldn't be taken seriously." And I'm uncomfortable with the way that Newsweek article concludes that bullying is just the way the world works, and we should all just learn to deal with it.

I don't know exactly how to strike the balance of treating bullying as something that's seriously not okay, while not ourselves bullying the bullies. But I'm worried that there's a backlash against the "bullying is seriously not okay" part.

And Kate @1, I'm uncomfortable with what sounds to me like a dismissal of the It Gets Better project as just "platitudes" that ultimately do nothing. I don't think that project claims homophobia and transphobia stop existing after high school, so the rest of us shouldn't bother worrying about them. Rather, it's one way to give a little bit of hope to kids who are in a place where life looks so hopeless that suicide seems like their only option. Giving a gay or trans kid the hope to live another day? That sure seems to me like actually accomplishing something.

#11 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:51 AM:

#8 ::: Earl Cooley III:

Here's one that might be better. In Doris Lessing's Shikasta series (science fiction by a mainstream author, recommended only if you like the kind of sf where the author just makes things up) there's an altruism shortage. There are beams of Substance of We Feeling coming in from space, and as the stars move, there's less of it coming in. Those who know about the importance of it try to hoard it. (This is from memory.)

Also, there's a short story by Tom Purdom about a very expensive perfect method of therapy. The method is completely offstage and not described. What's onstage is people screwing up their lives trying to get enough money together.

#9 ::: Annalee Rockwood:

Schools do seem to generate more bullying than any other environment in our culture. I'm not sure what the specific factors are, though I've seen a claim that interpersonal factors tend to be worst when there's no real work to be done.

However, you started me thinking about bullying in other environments-- families and work-- and it occurred to me that there isn't a big difference between child abuse and bullying, we just have different names for them.

#12 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:58 AM:

The problem isn't just bullying, indeed. Is there a world in which, had Tyler Clementi been straight, what Ravi and Wei did would be okay? The Mom in me keeps wondering what these kids were taught--at home, and in our culture--that made them think that posting someone else's most intimate moments on the web was, like a big funny thing.

Kim, understandably, wants a world that "loves queer kids." I want a world in which we love all kids, including the fat ones, the geeky ones, the queer ones, the ones with acne or a bad homelife or a stutter or Tourette's syndrome or funny ears. I want a world in which no one would think of applying the kind of casual cruelty that gets sanctioned in sitcoms and bad reality TV to real human beings.

#13 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 12:13 PM:

Perhaps a single instance of throwing the book at the perpetrators doesn't create a more accepting social climate for the targets. But if this were to become the start of repeatedly, consistently throwing the book at perpetrators of similar acts?

That's one of the factors that MAKES it socially unacceptable to do such a thing.

#14 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 12:15 PM:

Caroline @10 said: I agree that a felony conviction is probably Not Helpful. But your second sentence sounds a bit like "It's just high school bullying, it shouldn't be taken seriously." And I'm uncomfortable with the way that Newsweek article concludes that bullying is just the way the world works, and we should all just learn to deal with it.

You're right, and I should have been more clear. I believe bullying should be stopped. Even bullying of convicted (or SUSPECTED) bullies. I agree with Newsweek that felony prosecution may be an overreaction; however, I disagree with them that we should suck it up and learn to live with being bullied.

Hopefully that clarifies. :->

#15 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 12:36 PM:

One important point about bullying that I didn't really see explained in the article (though the author may well recognize it) is that bullying, particularly in school settings, *isn't* "confined to the borders of the schoolyard". It's very often an aspect of the school culture as a whole.

For every person who actively bullies someone, there are usually lots of bystanders who know that it's happening, even witnessing it firsthand, and go along with it. They might go along actively, by joining in the persecution, but often they do it passively, by not objecting to it or reaching out to help the victim.

We see this in the Rutgers case, for instance. Xopher mentioned back in open thread 147 how Tyler apparently didn't have the support of others on his dorm floor (see his comment #622). The Targum editorial I mentioned in the same thread followed the same pattern; by refusing to even acknowledge that there was bullying going on, and by dismissing the call for a safe campus as just a special-interests issue, the paper tacitly supports ongoing bullying on campus.

That said, I still think the article Patrick links to has some good points. There are various ways one can try to stop people from picking on those who deviate from the norm. One is to try to get people to stop seeing them as "deviant". Another is to try to get people to stop picking on others, "deviant" or not. The article focuses primarily on the former approach; I (and many other anti-bullying folks) tend to focus on the latter.

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 12:42 PM:

I dislike the comment, in the article, which says, the "claimed pandemic", and then makes the false equivalence that since bullying is less now, it's therefore wrong to say it's somehow not a major problem.

It's a subtle point, but buried in the subtext.

#17 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 12:50 PM:

#12 - But if this were to become the start of repeatedly, consistently throwing the book at perpetrators of similar acts?

If punishment is consistently and uniformly applied for a given act there is is historically little need for the punishment to be severe - and vice versa seems to be popular choice - the more unlikely the more severe - ranks right up there with when your real enemies are too strong find weaker enemies and scapegoat them.

In most times and places severity of punishment (throwing the book) is inversely proportional to the chances of getting caught. A common example is that public hanging as punishment for pickpockets was accompanied by pickpockets working the crowd at the public hangings - something the pickpockets would likely have refrained from if even much lighter punishment was almost certain. (obs SF - Citizen of the Galaxy - Thorby is advised against risking his hand and argues for it).

Consider also Scared Straight the East Jersey Prison in Rahway, NJ program to reduce future juvenile offenses - which demonstrably was counterproductive compared to a null hypothesis of doing nothing. The assumption from interviews is that that potential juvenile offenders took it as a challenge not a promise.

Myself I can't even define bullying - though I sometimes think I know some - but not all -instances when I see it.

#19 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 01:10 PM:

So complicated.

First off, yes, lovely, we should absolutely change our culture to be more supportive of LGBTs and to discourage bullying. But I don't think we have the critical gathering of public support and legal and policy resources to end homophobia. That sucks, let's work on it.

In the meantime, schools are particularly lethal. I've finally, in the last two or three years, started to think I've unwound most of the PTSD that directly resulted from the bullying I went through in school. This happens, and it has long term effects, including suicide, but not limited to it. That's not okay.

If prosecutors are using tools that don't quite fit, it's because they're desperate. They are as desperate to protect kids being bullied as the schools are to protect the kids who bully. Until our elected representatives give us some lesser crime, or until the schools start actually shutting down bullies when they emerge... we have to work with the tools we have available.

Those prosecutors have tools beyond harsh sentencing requests and plea-bargaining. They can also raise issues up into the public eye, so that we as a society can discuss appropriate remedies.

If we have to make an example of a few kids, to get attention for a problem affecting millions of schoolchildren, then I feel like that's a condemnation of our society, but I'm only sorry it's come to the point where this is the only way to get attention enough to change things. Nothing less was working. The alternative is not avoiding a prison sentence for a handful of kids. The alternative is that we continue to refuse to face a problem that is resulting in a lot of unnecessary and tragic deaths.

And while I think that the only reason this is important now is because it threatens our white, male, conservatively behavioral, upper-middle class gay AND straight kids now, with things like "death" and "jailtime" -- I will absolutely use that to try to create a system that protects everyone else, too.

Also, I agree that it's a risk, and I'll be more defensive of mean kids if the justice system fails, but I really think -- give them a public trial, let the judge and jury decide if this is really too harsh a sentence based on the evidence. Let us address this issue, through the formal mechanisms that exist to ensure justice, not only for victims, but for people accused of crimes.

Let us see where this goes.

#20 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 01:12 PM:

Grim thought inspired by The Heathers and resurfacing because of eric's link-- if it looked as though a teenager committed suicide (especially if the teen had been bullied), would anyone even check to see whether it was murder?

#21 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 01:32 PM:

Rikibeth, #12: Yes, exactly. You can't legislate morality -- but you can push the Overton Window definition of morality in one direction or another by means of legislation, or in this case by legal action.

#22 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 02:11 PM:

Terry @ 15: I dismiss out of hand the claim that bullying has been reduced. I substitute it with REPORTS of bullying have been reduced. My direct experience of a "Zero Tolerance" Policy is that it was a "Zero Action, Zero Reporting" Policy.

I address the rest of the article with similar skepticism that I am too infuriated to articulate in these environs. Therefore, I'm done.

#23 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 02:19 PM:

There are other places where bullying occurs besides schools, and it's just as toxic and destructive. Prisons, from what I've heard, it's endemic, and adds to the likelihood of people continuing to be criminals. The military - what is basic training except purposeful bullying? Any residential facility where people are not free to leave. (I'm thinking of people in nursing homes, mental hospitals, and so on.) The guards, NCOs, aides, whatever you call them, are often, but not always the bullies. Bullying behavior tends to beget bullying. Those who get bullied learn that it is acceptable behavior. We usually ignore, and sometimes encourage these behaviors, until someone dies as a result, and sometimes not even then.

Caveat - I have never been in the military, so I may be off base on this. I have read about the bullying happening in the Air Force towards non-Fundamentalists. Ditto my experience with prisons - comes second and third hand.

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 02:34 PM:

Earl #8:

I was thinking it would make a good Culture ship name. GCU Cruelty Shortage. As opposed to ROU Cruelty Surplus.

#25 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 02:41 PM:

Single Dad Laughing published a heartfelt memoir of bullying. Anybody who can read that without believing bullying can be very serious is...let's say, remarkably stubborn.

I had remarkably little bullying in my own childhood (which involved three elementary schools and being away from home, in different places, most summers; and my being an un-athletic, smart, outspoken, geeky, atheist). I think a few people started and then gave up; and I remember one summer when a few people kept it up kind of half-heartedly. So I'm at least not totally blind to it.

#26 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 02:47 PM:

Rikibeth:

You mean like with drugs?

Criminal and civil law and school expulsions and reform schools[1] can only deal with the extreme end of the problem, and in general will only be invoked when things have gone way too far. I think we tend to overemphasize them, both because a lot of us harbor some anger at what bullies in our own lives got away with, and because something about our culture or nature makes us think first about the crime-and-punishment approach to all wrongdoing.

I mean, I agree the law needs to get involved sometimes. But I can't see it as a very general solution. I'm not sure what such a solution would be.

[1] Which still exist, but now have nicer names.

#27 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:15 PM:

What is it about schools that makes them such havens for bullying? My guess (but it's a guess, please pipe in with actual data instead of my uneducated guesses) is that it's a combination of:

a. Little or no ability to vote with your feet. (Few of us would stay at a job where we got beaten up or even socially ostracized all the time, and it's not uncommon to see someone change jobs rather explicitly to get out from under some a--hole of a boss. People routinely move away from neighborhoods where they don't feel safe.)

b. A bunch of kids of the same age together with limited supervision means that the social rules are largely set by the kids, and in particular by the bigger and more popular kids.

c. There's a wide range of size and strength and intelligence and maturity and energy and aggressiveness between different students, based on kids developing at different rates, as well as having general-purpose schools rather than schools heavily segregated by ability or size/strength or something. (By contrast, jobs are often segregated out that way.)

d. Teachers and parents can try to stop bullying, and clearly can do more than was done when I was a kid. But there's a lot that goes on outside the adults' sight, a lot that is ambiguous to the adults (is this merciless teasing or normal verbal back-and-forth), a lot that's very hard for adults to do much about (the teachers may be able to stop the other kids beating the outcast up, but probably can't make anyone talk to him or be his friend).

I think we could do better, but I suspect the problem is harder to fix that it looks at first, and much more subtle. I'd like to see examples of places where they did fix it, where the kids who have gone through the school and are now college students or adults agree that bullying wasn't tolerated. (Every school in the US probably has a formal statement proclaiming that they don't tolerate bullying, so claims by school administrators aren't too useful here.)

#28 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:38 PM:

albatross@26: Really stopping it, stopping most of it, I'm sure is very hard, as you suggest.

Some writings have suggested, however, that having everybody (adults and other children) deny it or minimize it, and nobody provide any validation or support to the victims, is what makes it so totally soul-destroying (I'm working from victim reports here; I'm not a victim of significant bullying myself). Breaking that unanimity would have to be much easier than eliminating all bullying.

Which means anything you can do for one victim of one instance of bullying might be fairly important, in the "I made a difference to that one" kind of way.

Conveniently, it seems like any real path towards eliminating bullying would hit a point where it broke that unanimity very early on. So, possibly, just starting to get started on the whole problem might, possibly, have bigger immediate benefits than one might expect. (We don't have to decide; starting to move the right direction is indicated in both cases.)

#29 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:41 PM:

Nancy L @ #6: school in the 50s that had no bullying because there was strong leadership from the top that bullying wasn't acceptable

Annalee R @ #9: Our entire school system is one gigantic Stanford prison experiment.

When I was young I worked in nature centers and camps where different schools came to visit for days at a time. Same region, same demographics, same larger culture surrounding every school -- but different schools had completely different micro cultures defining all the interactions between the kids. The way teachers set up the rules, the social infrastructure, and the way they modeled interactions themselves, all influenced the kids.

One school would get massive fun and learning out of a visit. Another would have mass hysteria in the woods, fights, kids sent home, bullying.

I think our goal of having a diverse and tolerant society requires us to transcend our primate instincts much of the time. Hard to make that work, but it's easier when you don't confuse our primate instinct to exclude, to rally around strong alphas and bully the weak, with a higher morality, which is what fundamentalisms of all sorts do.

#30 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Between my own experience and those of family members, I've encountered a fairly large number of school-like environments. The cultural vibe seems to vary signficantly between different places.

The biggest contrast was a private Catholic summer camp I went to one year around 5th or 6th grade. The first week, in an away-from-camp wilderness program with a small group of campers and specialized counselors, was great. The second week, back with the rest of the camp, was horrible. When I found out a few years ago that the priests who had directed the camp had been sexually abusing some of the campers while I'd been there, it was a bit like having a bit of back-story suddenly get revealed late in a book and thinking "oh, *that* explains a lot".

The private school where I spent my elementary and middle years was always somewhere I felt very comfortable. It's not that bullying and ostracism was completely absent, but it was definitely frowned upon, both explicitly and implicitly. The local public school (in what was considered a very good district) felt much less safe.

But it's not a public-vs.-private thing in essence. We've recently pulled one of our children out of a (different) elite private school where bullying was more entrenched than we liked. We moved them to a Quaker school that deals better with student culture and conflict issues, but we could have also had an improved environment in some of the area's public schools.

We realize that we're fortunate in that we are able both to recognize a suboptimal environment, and to move to a different environment when called for. Not everyone has that luxury. I admire those who take the harder path of fighting to change the environment they're in, whether by choice or by necessity. But our kid is also thankful for just being able to move.

#31 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:42 PM:

#10 Caroline

... "it's too easy to start thinking that the only problem with homophobia is active bullying, and if the bullies are taken out, then we've solved homophobia. It's a bigger problem than that.
And I agree that it's far too easy to go into witch-hunt mode, and as Elliott Mason @2 mentioned, become the bullies ourselves -- see the recent conversation about people who do bad things still being "us."

That at least some kinds of bullying use 'teaching gay people a lesson' as a convenient excuse to behave in some of the most vile manners possible 'feels' right to me. They aren't necessarily motivated primarily at least by homophobia. They are motivated by the desire to have fun by hurting and humiliating someone. That is an even darker soul than a homophobe. It is the same kind of darkness that motivates gangs of young white males to go 'squaw hunting' on and off the res, to rape and beat first people women.

And then there's the twisted desire to belong, to be safe, oneself. In toxic environments a path to safety for self, for belonging, is to make someone else, someone even more vulnerable than oneself, the target around whose bullying you can bond with others and thus create a group for oneself. It's much connected to the initiation rites of joing certain gangs: you have to hurt somebody to join, and then be safe. Then there's the inverse of that, which to take a beatdown from all the members of the gang. Once you've survive that, you're one of them, and you are safe.

You can see this happen in tight groups of animals and birds too, like domestic poultry. The yard picks the weakest animal and they all pick on it.

Herd and flock animals will, and do, do these things.

This isn't written as an excuse by any means. But these things need to be taken into account too, when a community considers how to stop such behaviors. Even today's Fargo Forum, in North Dakota's Red River Vally, has a story about a group meeting to organize and anti-bullying education and outreach group to deal with what goes on Fargo and Moorehead's high schools.

Love, C.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:50 PM:

albatross @ 25... I think we tend to overemphasize them

Not when we're the ones on the receiving end.
By the way, I seem to remember that Harrison Ford got picked on in high school. I guess he got the last laugh.

#33 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 03:51 PM:

I think, relatedly, that ddb @ #27 really makes a great point. Being bullied by an individual or two is not nearly as bad as being shunned and having one's reality denied. All kinds of mental stress come out of that.

#34 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 05:24 PM:

rm @ 32

I think the act of trying to generalize what kinds of bullying are more damaging is going to be counter-productive, by closing off alternatives that might address one kind of problem, but not the kind folks are focused on.

For instance: In my case, nobody denied there was a problem, at any time. Everyone agreed with me about the sequences of events. But everyone made the problem about me -- about how I interacted with others and needed to learn better, because the only person I could control was myself, and I had to stop depending on other people to take care of me. There was also a lot of messaging about how the rights of others (e.g. not to be inhibited) were more important than my own rights to be safe.

I'm happy to acknowledge the equal validity of other people's experiences, for sure, but I think every case is going to be unique. Things that are damaging to one kid are going to be tolerable (even if barely so) to another. It's part of what makes it so hard to get a handle on the issue, so we can address it.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 06:07 PM:

KayTei, #33: But everyone made the problem about me -- about how I interacted with others and needed to learn better, because the only person I could control was myself, and I had to stop depending on other people to take care of me.

Wow. That's a truly horrific inversion of a normally healthy idea (that the only person you can control is yourself) -- because it contains the unexpressed assumption that no, actually you COULD control the bullies' behavior if you just learned to "be right" (whatever that means, but every time you got attacked it meant that you were Being Wrong again). The idea of working with the bullies about controlling their own behavior... somehow that's just never on the table, is it?

#36 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 06:44 PM:

I believe that Lord of the Flies was based on an incorrect premise. While a remote society based solely on teenage boys (I won't speak for teenage girls because I don't know that much about them) would be brutal, it would have a job to do and that would avoid the worst excesses. A society where anyone who does the wrong thing gets a beating would be a lot better than one where anyone who makes a good target gets a beating.

About 7 years after I finished high school I met Mr B at a client site, he had taught me ~10 years earlier. He said "I remember you, you always got beaten up in my class" and started laughing. We all know that some pitiful sociopaths are so desperate to hurt people and so incapable at dealing with adults that hurting children is the only option available to them. But gloating about it 10 years later is simply amazing. I was really surprised, I had thought that the bad environment in his class was just due to him being too incompetent to do anything else, I had felt sorry for him when he was bullied by some of the children.

Removing teachers who are bad (either through malice or incompetence) would dramatically improve the school environment. Also as a general rule it requires an adult to correctly supervise a group of children, too many teachers aren't adults.

Another possibility that's worth considering is to fine all teachers at a school where severe bullying incidents take place. This would give teachers a good incentive to police their colleagues and when a school starts going terribly wrong the teachers would leave. If each teacher was fined $50,000 when a student commits suicide after bullying then you would never have a case of four kids killing themself at a single school, after the first couple of suicides almost all the teachers would leave and the school would close.

Finally I wish that people would give up on the idea of trying to reform bad schools. I have just convinced a friend to reject all communication from a FOAF who was stupidly trying such things. I can't stand hearing stories of a young child suffering serious injuries (to the extent of possible lifetime disability) while their mother was doing petitions and other rubbish to try and deal with a bad school (I seriously considered contacting the police and accusing the mother in question of child-abuse for failing to remove her child from school). Children should not be front-line troops in a war about how you would like school to be!

On the topic of bullying Gay kids, sex ed should include information on gay sex. The fact that self-repressed homosexuals tend to be nasty to open homosexuals should be studied in class with the likes of Ted Haggard and Rekers used as examples.

Finally in regard to bullying the bullies, that's the inevitable result of a failed legal system. Any time the legal system fails to do it's job then it's an encouragement for vigilante action, and vigilante action tends to be excessive and often misdirected. Justice needs to be done and seen to be done. While severe punishment of the few cases that make the news isn't the right approach the big failing is letting the majority of cases go unpunished and undeterred.

One method that sounds promising is stationing police officers on school campuses. If every reasonable sized high school had one cop on duty from 8AM to 4PM every school day then teachers would be a lot more hesitant about attacking children in an illegal way, and also criminal acts between kids could be dealt with in a proper manner. I think that in the long term stationing police at schools would DECREASE the police resources required, kids who graduate from such schools would be less likely to be involved in crime as adults and thus save police effort.

#37 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 06:55 PM:

I think our goal of having a diverse and tolerant society requires us to transcend our primate instincts much of the time. Hard to make that work, but it's easier when you don't confuse our primate instinct to exclude, to rally around strong alphas and bully the weak, with a higher morality, which is what fundamentalisms of all sorts do.

The followers of one particular Alpha have been known to claim he's also an Omega, but I don't think they mean it in that way (if only because that terminology wasn't invented until later).

Puns aside, though, rallying around strong alphas in the sky is the whole point of "fundamentalisms of all sorts", isn't it?

#38 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Russell, 35: I don't know where you live that teachers can just leave bad schools without worrying about finding a new job in a good school, but I assure you that it isn't going to happen in any town I have ever heard of.

Also, I'm a teacher. I have never witnessed bullying. They don't do it in front of teachers. I can hear about it third-hand, and I can bring the rumor to the principal's attention, but that's it. Even if an adult asks the victim, I seriously doubt that the victim would talk. I wouldn't have because it would have made the torment worse.

I know that a number of large Texas school districts have cops, off-duty cops, or rent-a-cops on campus. I haven't heard that they do much good.

I don't know what to do, except to be the kind of middle-school teacher I wish I'd had. But I'm sure that your suggestions won't work in the American school system. (Classes of fewer than 30 would be a start. But, again, that's not going to happen as long as people throw tantrums about having to pay taxes.)

#39 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 07:05 PM:

KayTei@33:

What you describe sounds quite similar to the experiences of many people on the Autism Spectrum (which includes me).

Sure there are things that one could theoretically do to avoid being targeted, but those things that are possible for a theoretical person (which often means someone with an adult's mind in a teenage body) are often impossible for real kids. Even when the things in question are possible for the 50th percentile NT kid that doesn't mean that they will be possible for even NT kids who are below the average IQ or social development - let alone the typical kid on the Autism Spectrum.

My experience was that many of the things that stupid adults might tell children to do to reduce or avoid bullying were only things that I could do if given hours or days to think about them - not the seconds in which you have to respond to something that's happening.

In almost all cases I think that children on the Autism Spectrum should not be sent to high-school, and in many cases primary school is not suitable.

In situations where the law is enforced (IE not school) when people do things that could be said to provoke violence the result is almost never violence. On a typical day of city driving I witness many incidents of people doing stupid things on the road and being verbally abused for it. But in 20 years of driving I've only once witnessed actual violence - and even that was nothing compared to what I witnessed on a typical day at high school. It seems that some people think that an adult who does something silly doesn't deserve to be attacked, but a child who does so (even if they couldn't help it) deserves the blame.

Why is it that a child who is a victim of bullying should be expected to act like an adult but a child who is a bully isn't?

#40 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 07:16 PM:

TexAnne@37:

Maybe things are different where you are. The incident involving Mr B happened at a school that's within walking distance of the school I attended, another bad teacher (who encouraged bullying) was also at that school. Two bad teachers from a bad school got jobs at a school that's within walking distance. It doesn't seem to be hard to find another job.

Not that it matters, if the school is bad and is killing too many kids then it's best to just encourage the teachers to seek work elsewhere. People who work in the corporate environment face having their company or division shut down if their team does a bad job overall. Why should teachers not face similar pressure for team performance?

As for not having witnessed bullying, I think that you just weren't observant enough. Teachers often don't see things that are inconvenient.

One time when I was in the middle of using a heavy text book to discourage a bully from attacking me in future a group of three senior teachers suddenly appeared. They managed to not notice what I was doing (or even the semi-conscious bully slumped against the wall) and walked right past.

Bullying and other violence in schools happens so much that you just can't avoid having your eyes occasionally point in the direction where it's happening. But you can choose to not interpret what you see and just let it go.

I agree that class size is part of the problem. But even if you reduce the size so that bullying doesn't happen IN the class (and possibly even allow some education to happen), there is still the issue of what happens in the yard.

#41 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 08:21 PM:

Russell, 39: Did you intend to impugn my integrity? Because that's what I got from your third paragraph.

#42 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 08:49 PM:

Russell: Another thing. Your definition of bullying seems limited to the physical. Mine includes the kind of mean whispers that you remember thirty years later (or longer, since I doubt I'll forget them any time soon--by the way, you also seem to have missed my implication that I too was bullied). Perhaps you should take that into account before deciding that I'm as bad as those three senior teachers.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 08:51 PM:

TexAnne @ 40... Either your integrity or your intelligence.

#44 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:28 PM:

Lee @ 34, Russell @ 38
It occurs to me that when kids screw up, we don't coach them at all. There's no long term commitment to resolving the underlying problems.

Kids get a lecture, and then told not to do it again. And nobody follows up, or helps them untangle specific situations, or tells them how they're supposed to comply (or they get really high level suggestions, like "don't let it get to you so much"). How is that even supposed to help? Even if a bully wanted to develop different tactics, I've never seen anyone invest the time in telling them how. (Actually, I wonder if teachers give up on bullies, assuming that they wouldn't be like that if they weren't basically bad kids, and focus their attentions on the "redeemable" good kids who end up as unfortunate victims.)

Also, just to note, it so does NOT take two to tango. That little phrase can't be stricken from the world's lexicon quickly enough to please me.


TexAnne @ 37
"Even if an adult asks the victim, I seriously doubt that the victim would talk. I wouldn't have because it would have made the torment worse."

If anyone had asked me, I don't know what I would have said. Each isolated incident seems so petty, even at the time. It's not individual actions that are the problem, it's the constant, inescapable hostility. And when you try to describe that, as a kid, you end up sounding like a complete whiner.


Russell @ 38
Re: similarity to experiences of folks on the autism spectrum: That may be because my situation was, in some ways, very similar to what I imagine some kids on the autism spectrum go through. In my case, I was taking huge doses of anti-seizure drugs, which had the unfortunate side-effect of impairing my ability to think and react naturally in real-time situations. Of course, as a kid, I wasn't able to articulate that; I didn't even have the context to know that was going on until after I went off meds my senior year in high school.

It's part of why I think you really have to take kid and context into individual consideration, when evaluating bullying situations.

#45 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:29 PM:

Whenever I see someone going on about stopping youth violence, I wonder, how about stopping adult violence? Maybe people think that if we can just raise the kids right, they will do better than we did. Maybe they even are right -- this may be a better time to grow up female or brown or queer or even just geeky. I don't know. I'm not satisfied with the way things are. Maybe kids would learn better if we adults were better examples. As adults we're supposed to be more mature, self-disciplined, and able to do what is right. And yet it is always the youth who are our hope for a more ethical and decent future, because we can't get ourselves to do what is right, right now.

There is a wide spectrum of sanctioned domineering in society, including customary and institutionalized exploitation, discrimination, and phobia, up to and including violence. (And there also is the glorification of the strong, powerful, and brutal.) It's all harmful. People with lower socio-economic status live harder lives, get sick more, and die younger. The most tragic, at least for how it affects me emotionally, are the young people driven to suicide. If they could just have survived long enough to get out to a better place, they could have had a much happier and longer life. But there are so many other people whose lives are not ended but unjustly constrained. I wish I could say "It gets better" to them.

#46 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 09:49 PM:

#35 ::: Russell Coker:

I wouldn't count on police to not be bullies themselves.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 10:21 PM:

OK, while I think this article makes some good points, it seems to imply that it's wrong to hold the perps accountable. That's bullshit. I'm hoping they flip Wei to establish the hate-crime enhancement for Ravi, so he can do a full ten years.

This sort of punishment is how society sends the message that invasion of privacy (especially as a hate crime) is unacceptable. Yes, it would be better if punishment for it were certain, rather than rare and severe. But remember: everything on the internet is there forever. Tyler must have looked at his prospects for having a career as a concert violinist and despaired.

Yes, I deeply hate Ravi and his kind. Yes, I think he did it because Tyler was gay. Yes, I hate the other students in Tyler's dorm who harassed HIM about it, giving their sympathy to Ravi. But when you do something with foreseeably terrible consequences (as this was), you should be held accountable.

I don't think Tyler's suicide was a foreseeable consequence of Ravi's crime; that's why I don't think manslaughter or murder charges are at all justified. But invasion of privacy as a hate crime? Why the hell SHOULDN'T he be charged with that?

Russell 35: About 7 years after I finished high school I met Mr B at a client site, he had taught me ~10 years earlier. He said "I remember you, you always got beaten up in my class" and started laughing.

Wow, I hope you installed a virus on his computer that mails all his webcam interactions to his wife. What an evil son of a piece of shit. I think there's no statute of limitations on revenge for that sort of thing.

Except that it never really helps. He deserves a pink paint response, but that doesn't make it right for you to do it to him.

Ibid. 38: Why is it that a child who is a victim of bullying should be expected to act like an adult but a child who is a bully isn't?

Bravo. Good point.

Ibid. 39: As for not having witnessed bullying, I think that you just weren't observant enough. Teachers often don't see things that are inconvenient.

Now wait just a minute here. While it's certainly true that teachers often fail to "take judicial notice" of bullying, don't you consider it possible that it hasn't happened in TexAnne's presence? Do you know her well enough to judge her in the way that seems to?

KayTei 43: Also, just to note, it so does NOT take two to tango. That little phrase can't be stricken from the world's lexicon quickly enough to please me.

Yeah, I think the answer to anyone saying that should be to call them a stupid idiot and walk away. For adults, I mean. The response as a child or adolescent should be to clam up and refuse to talk to that adult any more; it won't do any good.

If anyone had asked me, I don't know what I would have said. Each isolated incident seems so petty, even at the time. It's not individual actions that are the problem, it's the constant, inescapable hostility. And when you try to describe that, as a kid, you end up sounding like a complete whiner.

Just so. I feel the same way. Marilyn Frye once said something I've remembered ever since: she likened oppression to a birdcage, with everyone forcing you to describe only one wire at a time. There's no way to say why the bird doesn't just fly around the single wire and escape.

TomB 44: Whenever I see someone going on about stopping youth violence, I wonder, how about stopping adult violence?

Yes, this, and your whole comment. I am now convinced that the guy who tormented me in junior high school was being abused at home, though I've never talked to him about it and am unlikely to. One person I know who was a bully in grade school was later taken away from his abusive mother and his abusive "father" (who turned out to actually be his mother's pimp AND a serial killer). One never knows.

#48 ::: dragonet2 ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:00 PM:

I was bullied a few times in grade school. I got in trouble a couple of times because my limit was if they laid hands on me I'd go bug-f0ck crazy about it. I got in trouble for biting in second or third grade, but I bit the son of a bitch because he grabbed me and turned me upside down face against his torso. People pretty much left me alone after that. I was very small compared to others until I was about 14-15....

And in high school I was just cool enough and hung with an intellectual, smart and sometimes verbally mean if attacked crowd. Once people realized that if they tried to bother us we'd loudly pretty much flay them with a loud comment about their own person/personality/habits, they left us alone. I also ignored people who tried to verbally bully me. And a couple of them with the warning that if they touched me they'd be taking their own life in their hands.

And until I got into college, the biggest bully of all was my mother. I could do anything well, get straight As, get blue ribbons in an equitation horse show, do art that would get a prize, etc. and her 'praise' would always be, "That's good, BUT- [fill in the blank here, make it an especially personal thing like weight, haircut, etc.).

the second or third time Dr. p came to visit my folks with me, mom made some comment that caused him to clench up. One of my best college girlfriends also had the same response. On the ride back to Lawrence, they 'splained it to me. Mom took us on a tour of the house and in their bedroom pointed to a portrait of me at about 18 months and said, 'she used to be a pretty little girl."

Their anger made me come to my senses and try to make myself better in terms of separating and going, "Mom isn't telling the truth, she's battering me with what she thinks for whatever reason she thinks will make me more agreeable to her."

she never got it. she made the comment after dad had just passed, in their bedroom, and i burst into tears of anger and frustration mixed with my worry. And she truly did not get it. she could not understand that that comment was hurtful to me.

We called a truce while dad was dying except for that thing. and in recent years she's decided I'm okay. Unfortunately I still kind of hold her at arms=length. Except for superficial stuff, I will never share my real feelings with her, and I'm jealous of friends who have a close friendship with their moms.

Making good friends in college, including my husband, rebuilt my self esteem.

#49 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 11:09 PM:

Xopher @ 46
"Just so. I feel the same way. Marilyn Frye once said something I've remembered ever since: she likened oppression to a birdcage, with everyone forcing you to describe only one wire at a time. There's no way to say why the bird doesn't just fly around the single wire and escape."

Yes. This. A significant part of my 2/3 edit on my previous post was trying to find a way to clearly express this, and failing. That is an amazingly perfect analogy.

#50 ::: charmingquark ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Annalee R @ #9: Our entire school system is one gigantic Stanford prison experiment.

You might like this Paul Graham essay.


dragonet2 @ 47 And until I got into college, the biggest bully of all was my mother.

dragonet2, I feel for you. My bully was my stepmother. You might want to take a look at Abi's recent Dysfunctional Families Day post to hear other's stories.

#51 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:26 AM:

I can barely stand to link to this article in the NYT. They use the usual restraint, as compared to the Post, et al. I still will do something I normally don't and post a huge trigger warning for gay bashing and torture.

Too vile to title

I've never had to vomit after reading the NY Times before. What the hell has happened to people?

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:31 AM:

Russell Coker:

The kindest thing I can think to say about your comments here is that I suspect you're triggering pretty heavily in this thread, flashing back to your own school experiences and the emotional reactions you had then.

But I'm still deeply uncomfortable that you thought you knew better enough about a friend of a friend of a friend's child-rearing decisions to consider reporting her to the police for child abuse because she thought that, for her child, working within the school system was the best solution. As a parent who is concerned about bullying her own son is experiencing, that kind of uninformed, arrogant interventionism leaves me quite upset. It's not a simple problem with a simple solution, and having heavy-handed outsiders come in, judge it, and propose simplistic answers is not helpful.

And police officers at schools? By the time the matter is visible and actionable to a police officer, it's far too late to root out the causes of bullying. A whispered word can be more damaging than a fist, and what cop can tackle that? (Besides, who is to say that you would not have been the one taken into custody in the textbook incident?)

On your thoroughly uncalled-for comments to TexAnne, have you considered that kids are smart enough to choose the context in which they misbehave? They certainly were in my day; I got thoroughly abused in Mr O's class because he'd turn a blind eye, but no one tried a thing when Ms P was around. They'd have been in sixteen kinds of trouble had they done so. And from what I know of TexAnne, I bet she doesn't witness bullying because the kids in question know she wouldn't tolerate it.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:51 AM:

KayTei @43:

Kids get a lecture, and then told not to do it again. And nobody follows up, or helps them untangle specific situations, or tells them how they're supposed to comply (or they get really high level suggestions, like "don't let it get to you so much"). How is that even supposed to help? Even if a bully wanted to develop different tactics, I've never seen anyone invest the time in telling them how.

One thing my kids' primary school is trying is devoting classroom time, at all grade levels, to teaching interaction skills and conflict resolution. They've created the role of "peer mediators", older kids with extra conflict resolution training, to help in resolving conflicts the kids can't resolve themselves.

It doesn't stop meanness for the sake of meanness, of course, but it cuts down on other types of conflicts and frees up teacher time and attention to tackle the more systemic problems. And I do notice that the stories my son comes home with don't happen in class or when a teacher is about. They're all in bathrooms, in the schoolyard, in the hallway—places the teachers can't see. Classrooms are safe spaces.

(It drives me absolutely spare that he's being teased, but I honestly do not know what the school, or I, or anyone, can do about it. I will say that incidents of physical violence are firmly followed up on, even if they weren't witnessed by an adult. And the teachers know whom to believe in conflicting reports; they know who's who in these incidents.

He seems less upset about things this year than last. I think he's making more friends at last.)

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:10 AM:

abi @ 50... who is to say that you would not have been the one taken into custody in the textbook incident?

That brings back anything-but-fond memories.

#55 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:36 AM:

abi @ 51
That has to be terrible to watch happening to your son.

At the risk of offering completely unasked for, and possibly inappropriate or obvious advice: If you have the opportunity to involve him in activities that are more family or adult oriented, I'll say that I found those helpful for two reasons: One, adults are generally better behaved and supportive of kids, which will provide your son with some positive authoritative feedback to counterbalance what he's hearing from his peers. Two, it gives him a source of allies he can go to for advice, sympathy, or just to cool down or get away from it all.

Three, which is sort of built in to the previous two -- it's nice to know that safe space can exist in the "adult" world, and to be able to experience that there are places you can go to be around people who like you and will treat you well (and not just because they're related to you and "have" to be nice to you). It gives you a better context on what's real, and what's just your schoolmates being immature jerks.

Anyway, I shall hold out good thoughts for your family, however you choose to address the problem. If he's happier, then you would seem to have struck on something that's making a positive difference, so I'd say you're doing the right sorts of things.

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 04:21 AM:

Magenta Griffeth: The military - what is basic training except purposeful bullying?

It's not bullying. I've been there, and it's not. It's not "normal" but it's not bullying. It may look like it from the outside, and there are ways in which bullying seems to parallel it, but honest, it's not the same. Not the least, the people who undergo it volunteer for it.

The people who run it, are looking to do very different things to the bully.

And, though it's not well known, one can quit.

So no, it's not purposeful bullying, not in the least.

#57 ::: Josh G. ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:02 AM:

Several people have wondered why the worst bullying seems to take place in high school, and some have proffered possible reasons. I'm going to go further; high school, as it exists in our society, is largely worthless and should probably be abolished altogether.

My recollection of high school was that it mostly recapitulated what I already learned in middle school, and/or duplicated what was taught in intro-level college courses. Had I gone straight from middle school to college, I would have missed very little academically. I don't think this is unusual; I often hear people discuss their social experiences in high school, but almost never do they discuss their academic experiences.

The primary purpose of high school seems to be to keep older teenagers separated from the wider society. When you throw a bunch of people together with little or nothing productive to do, social pathologies are virtually inevitable.

Most teenagers desperately *want* to be part of adult society, to do something worthwhile. Yet our society is set up to do everything possible to frustrate that desire. We'd be better off replacing high school with other options such as job apprenticeships, internships, or just the option to attend college sooner than is currently possible. Making this workable might require that we lower the age of majority, but I don't see that as a probem; our society sees nothing wrong in prosecuting 16-year-olds as adults when they commit crimes, so why shouldn't they also be treated as adults when they behave responsibly?

#58 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 07:54 AM:

Nancy@45:

True, law enforcement is an attractive job for someone who likes bullying others - it's just as attractive as teaching in that regard but with higher stakes. However I think that the senior officers have a good idea which of their people have bullying tendencies and don't assign those ones to work with schools.

In any case I would have been more than happy to take the chance when I was at school.

abi@50:

I'm not going to give anything like a clear description on the net of a case of an abused child. You probably know my email address from my comments, if you don't it's not difficult to find. Send me an email and I'll give you some details about the case, then you'll probably agree with me. You are correct in assuming that the parents know more about the case than I do, but you forget that I know a lot more than you do (even the possibility of lifelong disability doesn't fully describe the horror of what is happening to that child).

When police are stationed at schools they don't just look around to see things going wrong. They talk to people, educate students and staff about how things should work, etc.

As for if they had booked me for one of the textbook incidents, that would be a risk. But in retrospect being detained by the police and "encouraged" to leave the school might have been better than staying at the school, so it's not as if there was any great down-side. One advantage I had in such situations is that if I was taken home by the police my parents would tell me off, while other boys faced the prospect of a serious beating in that situation.

As for witnessing bullying, kids continually push the limit. If they get away with something one day they try something bigger the next day. It's just a matter of whether the escalation is stopped by the action of a teacher or a violent response from one of their victims.

I agree that verbal bullying can't be stopped in anything like the current education system (this is one of the many reasons for changing it dramatically), there are a few schools that appear to have stopped bullying through heroic efforts - but it's not something that can be duplicated through thousands of schools. Stopping physical bullying and attacks such as spreading sex films/photos should be the aim.

On the topic of stopping the spread of sex tapes etc, I think that the law should be changed to entirely ban the distribution of porn where the people involved didn't consent to such distribution. If you give pictures of yourself to your SO then after you dump them you should have legal protection against whatever they might do with them as you only authorised the pictures to be seen by one person. It should be a crime for everyone who is knowingly involved in the distribution of such porn - the people who run porn sites should be compelled to take reasonable measures to ensure that the actors consented to the distribution.

It's apparently not uncommon for the police to use child-porn laws to get pictures taken down after a young girl willingly gave them to her same-age boyfriend and then later dumped him. Protection against such sexual assault (not sure if this is the right term but it seems reasonably appropriate) should not be restricted to children.

Josh@55:

Good points. My observation has been that the maturity of young people in different countries varies roughly in accordance to the age at which they can legally consume alcohol - Dutch 16yos, Australian 18yos, and American 21yos seem rather similar in attitude in many ways. Not that drinking makes one grow up, but operating under adult rules and being treated like an adult does.

So your suggestion of treating 16yos like adults will get rejected in most places due to the fact that people don't see 16yos acting in a way that deserves such treatment. But if your suggestions were adopted then in 4-5 years I think that there would be a lot of agreement that it was a good idea.

Also we should bring back what used to be called "tech school" in Australia, that was a school for years 7-12 which focussed on training for trade work with the expectation that none of the students would go to university. Trying to force the less academically inclined kids to go to university isn't good for them or anyone else - and besides there is a shortage of tradesmen.

#59 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 09:56 AM:

Re Terry @ #54: I have no military background whatsoever, but I completely believe what you say about Basic Training, for the following reason:

No bully in his right mind would hand his victim a gun and turn his back on him.

#61 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 10:59 AM:

Kindergarden and primary girl-on-girl bullying discussed in a three page piece here in today's NY Times. It's also labeled "relational violence."

Significant pull quotes --

from second page:

[ "Nicole Werner, a psychologist who studies bullying at Washington State University, said that she hasn’t seen research “to indicate that these forms of hurtful behavior are increasing in younger kids.”

“However,” she continued, “I have to expect that the amount and type of media kids are consuming at younger ages is having an effect.”

Other experts agreed. “The research literature on aggression is very clear that with relational aggression, it’s monkey see, money do,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, who specializes in children’s mental health and violence prevention at the University of Ottawa. “Kids mirror the larger culture, from reality TV to materialism."

.... “So much of what passes for entertainment is about being rude, nasty and crass,” said Meline Kevorkian, who studies bullying at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla. “What we see as comedy is actually making fun of other people.” ]

also this from the second page:

[ While peer influence is no doubt a factor, veteran teachers and school counselors say parents are often complicit. “Parents think it’s really cute when their 2- and 3-year-olds are doing ‘Single Ladies’ or singing the Alicia Keys/Jay-Z song,” Ms. Wiseman said. “But it’s not so funny at age 8, when they’re singing along to Lady Gaga and demanding a cellphone.”

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.” She was thrown back by the “venom” among 5-year-olds. They’ll say, “You only read ‘Biscuit,’ and we’re all reading chapter books.” Or, “Why don’t you brush your hair? You don’t look nice today.” And they’re not afraid of getting into trouble with a teacher. “Perhaps they can act that way at home without repercussions,” she said. “It’s untypical of this age group because they’re usually adult-pleasers.”

In certain cases, the parents themselves seem to be pleased. When her daughter Julia was in first grade last year, said Lea Pfau, a mother of two in Sherman Oaks, Calif., one girl threatened that, unless Julia did as she ordered, “I’m going to tell my mommy, and she’ll set up a meeting with your mommy, and you’ll get in trouble.” The girl then orchestrated a series of exclusive clubs in which girls could be kicked out for various infractions. “I was surprised by the fierceness,” Ms. Pfau said. “But I was more surprised at the other parents. Rather than nip it in the bud, they encouraged it." ]

Love, C.

#62 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 11:06 AM:

Josh G., oddly, for some girls at least, middle school is far, far worse than high school (I speak only from my own experience and that of my daughters). Middle school was one big clique, and most of us were outsiders from the get-go (not enough money, wrong clothes/makeup/hair, wrong parents, wrong interests, yadda yadda). Once we got to high school there was a wide variety of groups and most people seemed to find a niche in one of them (athletics, music, theater, science, social activism, GBLT, whatever). There was still meanness, but it wasn't systematic and school-wide. I don't mean to suggest that your experience is invalid, simply that it's not universal. (We also have very differing experiences of academic content in high school.)

#63 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 11:37 AM:

Xopher @ 46: Man, you know I admire you greatly. But

Ibid. 39: As for not having witnessed bullying, I think that you just weren't observant enough. Teachers often don't see things that are inconvenient.

Now wait just a minute here. While it's certainly true that teachers often fail to "take judicial notice" of bullying, don't you consider it possible that it hasn't happened in TexAnne's presence? Do you know her well enough to judge her in the way that seems to?

A 'not my Nigel' response? From you?

Teacher training is inadequate across the board on this issue. They largely don't know what signs to look for when horrific things are happening right under their noses, and administration subtly discourages seeing it. I do not impugn TexAnne's belief that she's doing all she can, but I will sure as hell question her ability to do as much as she thinks she can do and is doing.

Lila @ 59: Funny, but the redeeming features of high school you cite are the co-curricular activities that are all present, either institutionally or student-created and self-perpetuating, in a college environment. It is my perception that high schools promote these activities as part of the transition from grade school to college. Since one of Josh G's options was early college, maybe this transition period could be built into the collegiate experience.

Contrast my experience with Rikibeth's. I went to public schools, and while I did feel like maybe I learned a few things (particularly musically), it approximated the frustration, misery and pain of middle school pretty well. Rikibeth's parents pulled her out of public schools and sent her to a private high school whose atmosphere was very like a small private university, and it was like night and day. Granted the student population at the Cambridge School was self-selecting, but the change in dynamics had a meaningful result.

#64 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Mark, 60: You know I can hear you, right? Did you miss the part where I said I was bullied? I surely do know what to look for. And I'm not sure I like being told I'm deluding myself.

I'm also beginning to resent the way all current teachers are being lumped in with the "evil-or-stupid?" teachers we had in the past. Kindly stop it, Fluorosphere! Do you blame all Connecticut voters for Joe Lieberman's continued employment? No. You recognize that money and power flow towards money and power. Principals and school board members have a vested interest in the status quo, just like Washington insiders. Quit blaming the people on the ground for the faults of those in charge.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Mark @60:

Better put me in the penalty box with Xopher, then. Because I know that there are teachers in front of whom bullying does not happen, and I believe, from what I know of TexAnne, that her personality and teaching style make her likely to be one of those teachers.

Of course, you'll then have to entirely discount my example in comment 50, when I referred to my own experience in high school. I certainly experienced markedly different levels of bullying in the presence of different teachers. Even without much support from the administration, my high school chemistry teacher enforced a classroom regime that had no tolerance for students mistreating one another, and after a time the bullies found it more prudent to torment me in geometry class instead. That teacher turned a blind eye.

I agree that TexAnne's students may have been bullied elsewhere, but that's not what Russell was talking about. He said As for not having witnessed bullying, I think that you just weren't observant enough. Teachers often don't see things that are inconvenient. There's a level of hostility in that comment, particularly in the word "inconvenient", that is an insult to every teacher who has gone out of their way to make their class a safe place for vulnerable students.

It, and your blanket denial that the generality is not true, that all teachers let their students be bullied right under their noses, is a slap in the face to some of my most beloved high school teachers: Mr Killian, Ms Phillips, Mr Kitchens, Mr Matteson, Señorita Flores, and Mr Parker. And considering how much TexAnne reminds me of Ms Phillips in particular, I have a strong belief that it's an insult to her, too.

Back off of the generalities and stick to your own experience, please. Reality is more complicated than that.

#66 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:18 PM:

Thank you, abi. Being compared to one of your favorite teachers is high praise indeed.

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:37 PM:

TexAnne @ 63... If I may, I'll compare you to my English teacher, whose style had me want to learn the subject matter, and not just because he introduced me to comic-books. Oh, and no bullying occurred in his classroom.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:39 PM:

Mark @ 60... For somneone whom you presume to be easily fooled, TexAnne has excellent taste, especially where friends are concerned.

#69 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:41 PM:

TexAnne @63:

I read your LJ, remember. I see the way that your students are real people to you, how much you cherish, value, and respect them. I saw how much you ached when you left your school.

That engaged style is antithetical to tolerating bullying. As I say, it was Ms Phillips' style as well, and her chemistry classroom was a safe space in some of the more difficult years of my life.

#70 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 12:58 PM:

Aw, Serge, you're just saying that because you're one of the people I like. ;-D

abi, *sniffle*. Thank you.

And while I admit to and glory in my awesome, it's still derailing, so let's get back to how adults can change behavior that's usually carefully hidden.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:16 PM:

Well, you know, TexAnne, one way adults can change behavior is by not indulging in blanket dislikes of people. Not tolerating it when they hear it, not doing it themselves.

Beyond that? What I can do, what I do do, is not assume that any of the children I deal with are straight. I don't assume my kids or their friends are going to love or marry people of the opposite sex; when we talk about the future, they may specify the gender of their dreamed-of future partner, but I do not. I don't make a big thing of it, but it's there.

It's also of use that my sister is gay; when we talk about prejudice and assumptions, it's easy for me to point out that she has a girlfriend, and that talking about couples as only boy + girl leaves her out. We've discussed marriage equality, and I've acted surprised when they've been assumed that a man would not marry a man, or a woman a woman. ("Why not?" I asked, eyebrows creeping toward the hairline. "What would be the problem?" They couldn't come up with one, which gave them food for thought.)

One thing we do not currently have are that many gay adult friends. Without necessarily going out to cultivate them, I do hope to be more balanced by the time the kids hit adolescence. That way if one of them does turn out to be gay, they'll have someone known to turn to for advice.

This doesn't fix society. I really wish I knew how to do that. But it's part of my strategy for not being part of the problem.

#72 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Josh G @55, Lila @59, the school system and school structure here is in many ways different, so this is kind of comparing apples and oranges, but for what it's worth, the worst time for me were grades 5-8, which, I think, corresponds to middle school/junior high and the last grades of elementary school in the US system.

I think Josh G makes some good points, though. I'm not sure how much most people remember of the stuff the learned in school, aside from the three Rs and stuff that they also learned in other contexts. And IIRC, traditionally most people used to enter the earliest stages of adult life in their early or mid teens.

#73 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:39 PM:

And on the theory that you don't know something until you've taught it yourself, here's a thing I'm about to take a test on: advisory. (Also, I've been an advisory teacher.)

Advisory is not like homeroom, which is teacher-directed and administrative in nature. Advisory is a small group of students (ideally 5-8, in the real world more like 10-12 or even 15 in cash-strapped areas) that is intended as a discussion space. Sometimes the groups are mixed-gender, sometimes not. Sometimes the groups are all one grade, sometimes not. Every student in the group starts to see every other student as an individual, which makes it a lot harder to pick on them--and it gives them a group of peers to rely on.

The groups usually stay together for all 3 yrs (in middle school) or 4 yrs (in high school). Sometimes the teachers move with them, sometimes they don't. Sometimes there are formal discussions, sometimes it's just chocolate and laughing (or moaning about the big test next period).

The advantage of all kinds of advisory is that the students have one single teacher whose job it is to know them well. The advisory teacher is the parents' contact at the school. The advisory teacher is the one who's going to see the student every single day, who builds trust, who--if the system works--will be the adult who is told about bullying.

What if bullying happens in the advisory group? Well, if the system works, it won't. It's designed to prevent bullying. It's designed to help students see themselves as part of a greater whole. It isn't easy, because (especially) middle-grade students are at a stage of brain development that makes impulse-control very difficult. But middle-grade students also have a strong sense of fairness, and advisory makes it easier for them to understand that in-groups and out-groups are. not. fair.

Right, I think this is long enough. Questions?

#74 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:49 PM:

Wow, TexAnne, we didn't have anything remotely like that when I was in school (when dinosaurs roamed the earth...), although peer counseling programs were starting to become relatively common.

I do have a question. What kind of ongoing supervision is available for the teachers? Through my experience with both psychotherapy and adult ed, I know there are bound to be some people the teacher just doesn't mesh with. It happens. Are there resources to help deal constructively with that?

#75 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 01:55 PM:

I think it is not good for a school to be either too small or too large. There is some optimal number of students; above that size, the student body fragments into smaller groups that encourage bullying, whether within-group or inter-group.

I saw bullying in my very small private elementary school, an unforgivable instance where my 6th grade class (only about 30 students) practically mobbed a new transfer student who was obviously vulnerable and had mental illness issues (or autism; this was 1982 and such things were still not discussed).

Most of the class had known one another since kindergarten, and reacted with almost animal viciousness to the presence of an alien outsider. There was literally nowhere to escape to, rather like putting too many fish in too small a tank.

The other students ridiculed and teased the girl and one day they physically tackled her during a race and put sand down her underwear. She left the school, and I don't know if the main perps were ever punished. Since it was a progressive school, something must have been done in private, but this was before the days of anti-bullying task forces.

#76 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:11 PM:

Terry @54
I'll have to say that the description of basic as bullying comes from a friend who was drafted, Vietnam-era. His choices, as he understood them, were submit to basic, or leave and be jailed. Don't know more about the circumstances.

I stand by the other categories. Bullying is not just about high school, or about homophobia. We need to look at why it's so common, and so accepted in the culture. Gays are a frequent target - I should say people who present as gay, because it's not necessarily about behavior. Guys with long hair used to be harassed as gay, sometimes violently.

#77 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Debbie, 71: In a lot of places, students are assigned to a group their first year, and can choose a different one the next year. It often happens in schools where the teacher stays with the group all the way through. AIUI it's not a big deal.

If you mean "not meshing" in the sense of "Susie is a jock and I was a band geek," it's up to me to find common ground, because I'm the grownup; part of what we're supposed to be doing is showing kids how to get along with people who aren't just like them. If you mean "not meshing" in the sense of "I hated you on sight, you useless brat," that's somebody who needs to be in another career. Fortunately people like that are less common than they used to be, although I have observed a couple of classrooms where the teacher was visibly just waiting for retirement. :-(

As far as supervision goes, I'm not sure what you mean--like ongoing training? I didn't get any formal training, but the administration and my more experienced colleagues were always there for me.

#78 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:27 PM:

Oh, and: my notes just reminded me that many school districts have taken advisory time and turned it into extensive drilling for standardized tests. Thanks, No Child's Behind Left!

#79 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 02:54 PM:

TexAnne@70: Wow, I'm surprised at the strength of my negative reaction to the way you've described "advisory". I've written three versions so far that I had to scrap because they were too over-the-top.

It's absolutely true that there are many MANY things greater than me (greater than any individual), and that contributing to greater things is a major virtue in humans. The problem I'm having is the concept that a randomly chosen set of people my age (plus a teacher) that I'm thrown together with by the powers that be could stand any chance at all of qualifying as such a thing.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:04 PM:

ddb @76:

I suspect you're reading something into TexAnne's description that isn't there. Another term for "greater whole" in this context might be "community". Is that so upsetting, put like that?

#81 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:04 PM:

Terry Kerney@54: As a Vietnam-era adolescent, the concept that people in basic training have volunteered for it is rather foreign to me.

I know it's true now (modulo the usual discussions of just how free choices are). But it wasn't true through WWII and Korea and Vietnam.

Have the attitudes and procedures really changed that much from when there were lots of draftees? Or have they mostly continued doing what they always did, through institutional inertia and bizarre beliefs about unit cohesion?

#82 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:07 PM:

abi@77: The concept I find objectionable is that I'm assigned arbitrarily to one. I'm a fan of community in general, but the key point of community is opting in.

#83 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:08 PM:

TexAnne @74, I was taking 'supervision' directly from my psychotherapy training. There was a basic assumption that the people we dealt with would cause issues to resonate within us, sometimes unproductively, and that it was best to examine that stuff. It's a process that never ends, really.

I guess your description of advisory made me start thinking about teachers, and what -- besides smaller classes and less paperwork :-) -- would be helpful for them in this process of creating a safe space at school.

I don't by -any- means think that teachers have full responsibility to prevent bullying.

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:17 PM:

ddb @79:

There are many communities we don't opt into because we like the people, but must figure out a way to get along with: birth family, class groups, neighborhoods, colleagues. Getting along with people you don't (think you) have anything in common with is a useful skill to develop.

I don't do a lot of arithmetic for its own sake either, but having someone put me in a situation where I had to learn it as a skill has proven invaluable throughout my life.

Also, if you personally don't like it, I'm sorry to hear that, but this thread is not going to become all about you and your reactions to things. Give us a wider context in which your objections are of use in the quest to reduce bullying, or else trust that we take them as noted and move on, please.

Just, you know, saying.

#85 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:22 PM:

ddb, 79: 9th graders don't know anyone yet. How can they choose a group? They *are* allowed to change groups later. In most places I know of, it's at the end of the year. In others, it's at semester breaks. I'm sure that if a student was miserable before that, the school would let them change. The kind of school that has an advisory system is the kind of school where students aren't made wretched if the school can help it. If they're unhappy but don't tell anybody...I can't help what I don't know about.

Debbie, 80: No, I never got any of that, formally. Teachers talked to each other in the teachers' lounge, of course, but I think the administration assumed that we were self-aware enough to ask for help if we ran into trouble. Thanks for pointing it out; I'll be extra careful from now on.

#86 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:48 PM:

Lee @ 34: "That's a truly horrific inversion of a normally healthy idea (that the only person you can control is yourself) -- because it contains the unexpressed assumption that no, actually you COULD control the bullies' behavior if you just learned to "be right" (whatever that means, but every time you got attacked it meant that you were Being Wrong again)."

I think one of the most difficult philosophical and moral questions people face in their day-to-day lives is precisely this: where do we assign responsibility for change? Is it the individual's responsibility to act in accordance with the environment within which they find themselves, or is it the responsibility of the environment (i.e. society) to change? Depending on the situation, an answer that seems wonderfully empowering can become a soul-crushing burden. It's a question that crops up in education reform, drug addiction, civil rights--the list goes on and on. It's tricky, I think, because the point of view that's most helpful for someone trying to improve their own lot is opposed to the one which will most likely change society as a whole for the better.

Russell Coker @ 35:

I'm immensely hostile both to the idea that cash fines are an effective way to change teacher behavior* and to the belief that teachers are solely responsible for bullying.

The second one seems to be a very popular view in the US--that problems within the education system are the teachers' fault, and that we can change outcomes by putting pressure on teachers. I'm sorry, but that's nonsense: teachers are at best one piece in a complicated, moving, heterogeneous system that encompasses the vast bulk of society. The idea that we can change student outcomes by futzing with the teacher part, without addressing the parenting part, or the learning part, or the economic part, or the administrative part, or the pop culture part is laughable. Well, no, it isn't laughable; it's too depressing.

* For something as rare and complex as student suicide!

Mark @ 60: "A 'not my Nigel' response?"

I dispute the reference. First, all teachers don't notice bullying right in front of their eyes isn't a widely-agreed upon and settled explanation--at this point, it's pretty much Russell (and you?). Second, NMN is defense-in-absentia, not supporting someone's own claim about their personal behavior in the conversation where they're making it.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 03:52 PM:

sara, #72: one day they physically tackled her during a race and put sand down her underwear

This is the point at which I really start to spit nails. These weren't little kids "too young to know any better", they were 6th-graders. Twelve years old. By age 12, there is NO EXCUSE for believing that assault and battery are okay things to do, and the systemic habit of giving kids a bye on that is a huge part of the problem. The perps in that incident should have been formally charged with assault in juvenile court, and sentenced to some form of community service for punishment; if I were the judge, I'd have had them doing janitorial work at some place that works with mentally-challenged people, under VERY strict supervision, for about a year -- with the threat of the term being extended if they did anything nasty to their classmate again.

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 04:04 PM:

heresiarch, #83: I'm not sure whether you're taking off at a tangent to my point, or if I didn't express it well enough. The thing that got me riled up about what they told KayTei was the incredibly mixed message:

1) You are the only person whose behavior you can control.

2) These other people are bullying you because of the way YOU act, so if you can change your behavior in just the right way you can change theirs -- i.e. you CAN control them, you just don't WANT to.

The only rational answer to this is something along the lines of, "But you just said the only person I can control is myself. How does changing myself control them, if they don't want to stop?"*

Notice also the direct parallel between this and what women are told in order to "protect themselves from rape," when in fact there is NOTHING that will protect a woman from a man who's determined to rape her. Because SHE cannot control HIS behavior, no matter how many people pretend she can.

* The response to which is probably "But if you can Be Right, then they won't want to bully you any more." Which is bullshit. Again, the idea that it might be the bully's problem rather than the victim's is just not on the table at all.

#89 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 04:09 PM:

abi@81: As I suggested, this is triggery stuff for me. I apologize in advance for being emotionally involved with the discussion.

"[I]t gives them a group of peers to rely on" plus "[t]he advisory teacher is the one who's going to see the student every single day, who builds trust" in combination with being assigned to a group is what did it. I read that as "This group is your lifeline. Tough luck if that doesn't work out." The specific phrase "the one" kinda leaps out at me (and there is some risk of other teachers feeling less responsibility when this one is given more). As I say, for unclear reasons this seems to be something I respond strongly emotionally to, despite having very little bullying in my history.

I'm also predisposed to thinking the teachers won't be really up to this job (despite mostly having had positive interactions with teachers, and a serious dearth of dramatically bad interactions with teachers), and if THIS teacher isn't fully up to the job, that's pretty bad. SO few people have the skill of engaging effectively with people of a wide range of relational styles and attitudes. Training can broaden it somewhat of course, too, which can help.

That's a whole lot different from your suggestion that it can be valuable to learn to work with people you don't especially like (a point I completely agree with).

Combining working with a group I don't especially like with that group being the front line against bullying strikes me as over-loading the goals; asking to accomplish too much at once.

And just to be clear, I don't think "advisory" is a bad thing when viewed as another thing that can help control bullying, which I hope is the way it's actually viewed in the real world (I get a faint flavor of "the way" off a bit of the discussion, but that's probably me being over-sensitive on the issue).

I can stop here easily enough.

TexAnne@82: They don't know anybody? How come not? I understand that in most school systems there's a combining of more schools into fewer schools at roughly that point (it was 8th grade for me, same idea; 4 elementary schools into one junior high), but that doesn't mean they don't know anybody; it means that there are a lot of people they don't know, which is different. Plus people know people via routes other than school, like churches, dance class, neighborhood (with school choice and busing going on), and so forth.

Being able to change groups helps of course.

Agree that one can't try to help on what one doesn't know about.

Okay, I can stop here easily enough, then; since I didn't quite stop there.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 04:33 PM:

ddb @86:
I apologize in advance for being emotionally involved with the discussion.

It's OK to be emotionally involved in the discussion. Many of us are. The point is to keep the topic from moving from the common subject to one of the participants in the conversation.

Speaking of which...I think the idea of an advisory teacher sounds interesting, completely outwith the group element of things. For shy students, or ones who have not, for other reasons, found a teacher they feel they can confide in, it gives an institutional, official path to help for any number of troubles, from bullying to trouble at home or academic difficulties.

Obviously, a student who finds a real affinity with another teacher will go to them first. But that kind of ad-hoc solution always leaves gaps, particularly for quieter, less outgoing kids. Having an official channel sounds like a safety net to me.

SO few people have the skill of engaging effectively with people of a wide range of relational styles and attitudes. Training can broaden it somewhat of course, too, which can help.

From what I gather, "engaging effectively with people of a wide range of relational styles and attitudes" is a core skillset for teachers, one which teacher training focuses on quite intensively. (I've never done teacher training, but my better half has).

#91 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 05:12 PM:

ddb #76:

Perhaps a reread of Panshin's Rite of Passage would be in order?

#92 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 05:27 PM:

abi@87: I was I think one course short of being certifiable to teach in Minnesota when I graduated from college (it had never been a goal for me, I had a computer career going, but the psychology courses were interesting, as was student-teaching at the highschool I'd graduated from).

At that time, we weren't getting much of anything that I see as helping on really different interaction styles. If we actually can teach that usefully now, maybe it's something that continuing education would have picked up for people of my generation still teaching.

It's certainly not something I'm used to thinking of teachers as being good at.

#93 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 05:36 PM:

heresiarch @83 The idea that we can change student outcomes by futzing with the teacher part, without addressing the parenting part, or the learning part, or the economic part, or the administrative part, or the pop culture part is laughable.

I disagree. A couple of people have already mentioned cases where some teachers were better than their peers at not permitting bullying, given the same school administration, set of kids, local culture, etc.

It's laughable to think they that a few teachers can end it entirely without support outside their own classrooms. But they can act. I think this is a case that requires both the top-down approach - trying explicitly to change the culture - and the bottom-up approach of trying to identify and replicate hyperlocal successes.

On the advisory system - my daughter's high school had it (Catholic all-girls school). IMO the school climate was already pretty strongly opposed to bullying anyway, so I can't address how it would work if there were ongoing problems in that regard. But I think it was successful as a way of giving students a stable, ongoing group of people who knew them. Advisory met every day. Some days it was just for 10 or 15 minutes and announcements (more a homeroom kind of thing), and other days were longer sessions like assemblies with discussion afterward in your advisory group. It helps one of the issues that can arise in high school, which is the feeling that you don't belong anywhere: whether you were a sports star or a super-student or a theater person or a quiet middle-of-the-road student, you belonged in your advisory. They kept the same group together all four years. In 9th grade, my daughter thought it was silly to be thrown together with all these other students she had nothing in common with and complained that none of her friends were in her advisory. By her senior year, her close friends were still not in her advisory, but she was concerned that when the school revised their schedule the following year so that advisory didn't meet every day, they would lose something important.

#94 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:08 PM:

abi@88 (and ddb@90) -

From what I gather, "engaging effectively with people of a wide range of relational styles and attitudes" is a core skillset for teachers, one which teacher training focuses on quite intensively. (I've never done teacher training, but my better half has).

I don't know how widely the nature of teacher-training varies within a country as large as the USA. But I get the impression that it varies a great deal between countries.

(In case anyone's wondering what this impression might be based on, here's a bit of context: my father worked in teacher-training in the UK for 30 years; my mother worked both as a teacher-trainer and later as a teacher; my mother-in-law was a (French-trained) primary school and middle school teacher in France; many of my students in Turkey take (to my mind ridiculously short) teacher training qualifications concurrently with their degrees; and I've been involved with a certain amount of teaching of my own discipline to trainee teachers here; I have close friends who are American-trained teachers some of whom are also pursuing further training in Turkey; and my children have been taught by teachers trained in all of these countries and others; and this is the sort of thing which - having something of a bee in my bonnet about, I tend to find myself inconversations about.)

#95 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:09 PM:

OtterB @ 90: "A couple of people have already mentioned cases where some teachers were better than their peers at not permitting bullying, given the same school administration, set of kids, local culture, etc."

That's true, but did that stop the bullying? Or did it just move it around, to the halls or other classes? Teachers can act to change things, and that one safe classroom can be the life-saver for some kids. I'm not trying to portray teachers as powerless functionaries, I'm pushing back against the idea that punishing teachers and firing bad teachers and so on is going to accomplish much of anything on its own.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many people, even among teachers and within teachers' unions, who think that teachers are well-enough trained, well-enough equipped, and well-enough supported to do the job they're given. But there are an awful lot of people who will tell you that lousy teachers are the only, the central, the major problem in education, and it gets a lot harder to get teachers on board with reform efforts when they're enraged and scared about being scapegoated for failures beyond their control.

#96 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:25 PM:

Off-kilter backreferences@91

As it should be abi@87, ddb@89.

#97 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Terry 54: It's not bullying. I've been there, and it's not.

No, it's really more like brainwashing, especially the way former Marines describe their boot camp. "They break you down and then build you back up as a Marine" is the description I've heard many times, and that sounds pretty much like brainwashing to me. And they don't know how to turn them back into civilians when they leave, either, or at any rate make no attempt to do so. That people ever manage it on their own is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

Josh 55: our society sees nothing wrong in prosecuting 16-year-olds as adults when they commit crimes, so why shouldn't they also be treated as adults when they behave responsibly?

Because our society treats teenagers as adults or as children, whichever is most to the disadvantage of the teenager. Dualism has a lot to answer for, but this outright malice toward teenagers has always confused me.

Mark 60: Xopher @ 46: Man, you know I admire you greatly.

Actually I didn't. I don't assume that people admire me just because they read ML comments and don't tell me I suck! So thank you.

But

...I knew that couldn't last.

A 'not my Nigel' response? From you?

Not at all. I'm asking if Russell considered it impossible that TexAnne could be an exception, and if he considered it well-judged to accuse her of lying. Saying that NO teachers EVER put a stop to all bullying they see is an extreme, in fact a bizarre statement.

abi 62: Better put me in the penalty box with Xopher, then.

*hands out brownies in the penalty box*

ibid. 68: One thing we do not currently have are that many gay adult friends.Without necessarily going out to cultivate them, I do hope to be more balanced by the time the kids hit adolescence.

Another good reason for me to move to Amsterdam.

That way if one of them does turn out to be gay, they'll have someone known to turn to for advice.

Perspective, I'd think. Specific questions about certain details, maybe. But I think an open, non-homophobic, sensible, intelligent parent is probably more use than a random gay adult, or even one who's a close friend of the parents. In other words, you'll do fine.

#98 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:31 PM:

A ping back to Josh G @55 and Lila's response @ 59 - I agree with Lila that, as a girl, middle school was far more socially stressful an experience than high school, and less academically useful as well. And I was even at the same school for both of those periods (it was a small private K-12 school).

In fact, based on my experience, I would favor abolishing formal classes during those adolescent years for something much more experientally based. Give the kids a chance to get out into the real world and see the kinds of work that people do, have volunteer experiences where they can actually have an impact on something outside the artificial school environment. Combine that with some guided reading and writing about socially relevant topics.

Then, once they are past the worst of the puberty hormones, bring teens back into a high-school type environment where they will be able to see the relevance of what they are learning to the real world, and make better plans for their future.

#99 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 06:53 PM:

Dropping in on a study break, deliberately putting off some responses because I'm just too busy this weekend. Ask me again in a week and a half.

oliviacw, 95, you have just described the ideal middle school--as opposed to junior high school, which is what most of us suffered through. Pods instead of classes/departments, experiential learning within an integrated curriculum, and exploratory arts, music, and language courses.

Naturally, it costs more.

#100 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 07:24 PM:

My email address is russell@coker.com.au. If anyone wants to know what I meant in my comments then they could start by asking me.

It's clear that further comments from me aren't desired so I won't be explaining myself here.

It seems that one of the down-sides to blog comment discussions is that taking a side discussion to private mail isn't usually an option.

#101 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 07:57 PM:

@86 ddb, I suspect it depends enormously on the school both in terms of teachers and student. I had something not unlike this when I went through the St. Paul Open School in the 70s and 80s, and it helped enormously in making the school feel more like the healthy and supportive variety of family.

#102 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 08:02 PM:

heresiarch @92 I'm not trying to portray teachers as powerless functionaries, I'm pushing back against the idea that punishing teachers and firing bad teachers and so on is going to accomplish much of anything on its own.

I agree with you there. I had interpreted your earlier comment as saying that until we fixed the administration, parenting, culture, etc., teachers weren't going to be able to help. Which seemed like a recipe for despair.

It may be true that teachers who prevent bullying in their classrooms just move it around. But in addition to the (very valuable) function of providing a small safe space and some hope for the bullied individuals, they also provide hope to others within the system and outside it that it is possible for things to be different.

#103 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Refusing to to allow bullying in one's presence is fundamental to preventing them from being done at all. Believing that this is just pushing it to the shadows or down the hall or wherever is, well, wrong.

It is not all that must be done to eradicate bullying, but it is not an optional step. And for some, it may be as much as they are legally allowed to do.

#104 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 11:02 PM:

My computer crashed earlier, when I was attempting to post this. Luckily, I saved a copy before I had to shut down the browser.

With respect to teachers and bullying, in public and private schools: most of my teachers were kind and would have been genuinely surprised that anyone was bullying me, but I was bullied quite seriously in elementary and early middle school. It left me with certain antisocial tendencies, and a distrust of "girls". Only one of my teachers, in grade five, was actually incompetent and a bully in her own right. I had many teachers that I adored; my grade 4 teacher was one of those (and she just died yesterday at the age of 85).

My classroom bullies attacked when no teachers were looking, so I learned to avoid being out of sight. It reached a nadir in grade 7, when I had gym and lunch with my deadliest enemy. My mother noticed how bad I felt, notified the principal, and eventually all of that gang were expelled.

The principal was an idiot too, but he was a well-meaning idiot.

Anyway, for what it's worth, most of the teachers did the right things and did their best to prevent bullying that they could identify. We know more now about silent or "hidden" bullying, and my son's middle school principal was definitely on a crusade against any kind of bullying.

I am grateful that while I was bullied for being different, it did not include anti-gay hatred.

Oh, and middle school was much worse for me. I left public school and went to private school in grade 8, which was the first step in the healing process. High school was much more fun and I made several good friends there. I was able to finish healing by attending a women's college. I missed a good opportunity to learn more, by not coming out until after I'd finished college, but life is what it is.

#105 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2010, 11:55 PM:

Talking about bullying and what teachers can do about it, I did fifth grade at a new school (we were army brats, eveey year was new) and as the year went on I became something of a target. I responded by trying to erase my presence, but one day I was coming down with flu, getting feverish, and in the afternoon some kid said something mean that I would normally have deliberately not heard so as to avoid trouble, but I was sick and didn't have the strength. So I just busted out crying, and the teacher sent me home.

I was out for three days or so, and it was the oddest thing. When I got back, everyone acted like nothing happened, I can't say that the other kids were suddenly friendly or anything, but they weren't being hateful any more and I was glad enough of that.

A few years later, in high school I got to talking with a girl I hadn't known, and we were comparing notes (it was a huge high school population, 3000 kids all told) and it turned out she'd been in my fifth grade class, and remembered that day. "You're that girl! You're that one we got in trouble over!"

After I'd left the classroom, she told me, the teacher had given them a talking-to about bullying, pointing right at how they'd been behaving toward me, starting with, "She's never been anything but nice to you, and this is how you treat her," and going on from there, effectively shaming the lot.

Now this was a teacher who didn't know me outside of school, didn't know my family, I hadn't had any heart-to-hearts with her and cannot now recall her name. And she'd fixed it, the bullying. She'd stopped it in its tracks, not just for me, but as a behaviour pattern for that class. And done it the same way she'd handed out homework or talked about long division. Just part of the job.

I think teachers like that are just aces.

#106 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:27 AM:

heresiarch@92: Probably a teacher doing somewhat minimal stopping of bullying in their class will not stop it anywhere else, no.

However, that's one less place where people get bullied.

AND it's students hearing from at least one teacher that the behavior is bullying, and that it's not acceptable.

Sure, they'll probably do it elsewhere (some teachers, as cited by pericat@102, have the backbone / force of personality to stop it more than just in their presence apparently, but certainly not all); but some bullying, some not bullying, and an authority figure pointing at bullying and calling it wrong, is surely a LOT better than the bullying channel (all bullying, all the time).

So -- not sufficient, no. But I think highly valuable.

#107 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:15 AM:

joann, #88: One of the things I took away from Rite of Passage was how incredibly easy it was for ONE kid from a bullying culture to subvert an entire school full of students who had been very carefully taught to behave in non-bullying ways -- because they'd never been given any defenses against it. They knew something was wrong, but they couldn't recognize or counter it.

That's a cautionary tale for anyone who's working to stop bullying in schools; it's not enough to punish the ones who do (although that would still be a considerable improvement over the status quo in many cases!); you have to also give the victims REAL tools against it. Not the standard platitudes like "just ignore them" or "nobody can make you feel bad unless you let them*", but techniques that genuinely WORK. Those techniques are available to adults, and they should be part of every teacher's standard toolkit.

* That's the sentence that I'd like to see disappear from the discourse forever. It's like a Get Out Of Jail Free card for bullies and abusers. That thing I did with the specific intention of hurting you? It's YOUR fault if you were hurt by it! Ptui.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:24 AM:

Russell @97:

If you made a comment on-thread, the most effective way to defend it or correct any misinterpretations is on-thread. That way anyone lurking, not intending to email you, or reading the thread later can understand the entire situation.

#109 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:42 AM:

Lee @ 104
"Those techniques are available to adults, and they should be part of every teacher's standard toolkit."

As such? I have some idea how to stop it when I'm not the one being bullied, but even as an adult I haven't figured out how to handle being bullied in situations where I'm not already an accepted and valued member of the group. Short of walking away, that is.

Is this something you think you can articulate, or which has been articulated elsewhere?

#110 ::: AndrDrew ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:59 AM:

I am finding it interesting, reading this discussion, thinking about my own junior high/high school experiences. It is even more interesting, because I have been listening to Daniel Pinkwater's podcast, where right now he is reading his "Robert Nifkin" book, wherein the narrator is describing the slow process by which he became a bullying turd, and the culture that fostered such a change.

Personally I found Junior High the age where bullying and the lack of refuge from it to be the worst. I am glad certain of my friends survived it, and I know my schools weren't anything terrible compared to many.

#111 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 08:45 AM:

abi@105:

I'm not going to get into the type of argument that would result from further discussion of this matter.

If none of the people who want to continue discussing such things care to talk to me then lurkers will just have to compare what I wrote with the various interpretations that have been offered here and make their own decisions.

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:00 AM:

Russell Coker #108: This is the first time I've ever seen someone ask for lurkers to support them in email.

#113 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:01 AM:

I also have seen children (grade 9) bullying a brand-new teacher. He was our algebra teacher and was a very sweet man, but he made the mistake of letting the kids in my class know that he was a brand-new teacher. I could almost see the class bullies light up in anticipation. The worst of my classmates didn't come back for grade 10, but the damage was done, and the teacher didn't either.

He was a fast learner though, Mr. K; he kept the class from disintegrating into total chaos and taught us algebra. It was a thankless job he had that year, with us. I hope he is still teaching despite that horrible year.

#114 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:04 AM:

Russell, you accused me publicly of endangering the welfare of the children in my care. If you want to continue the discussion, fine--but I'm not going to do it privately.

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 10:02 AM:

Russell @108:

My experience of continuing arguments* in email has been overwhelmingly horrible. I have no desire to engage with someone who already comes across as curt, hostile and angry in the privacy of my inbox. It would be much too much like being followed home by some of the less pleasant aspects of my work.

I'm sure TexAnne feels that even more keenly.

From where I am sitting, you made unwarranted accusations about the professionalism of someone whom you have never met, and whose work you have never had the chance to evaluate, based on your own assumptions and experiences in another time and another country. Furthermore, the particular accusations you made are serious not just professionally, but personally, particularly when made at someone who says that she herself has been bullied in the past.

Any other disagreements aside, I think this is quite a serious matter to leave untouched unless the paragraph above accurately summarizes your intent in commenting here.

-----
* As distinct from discussions that have strayed onto private turf.

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Russell @ 108... Shove it.

#117 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 10:31 AM:

Serge...

#118 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 10:39 AM:

>Abi... My apologies.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:16 AM:

Russell, I for one encourage you to continue to have this conversation in the thread. Unless you're absolutely certain you will never change your mind, and that it's impossible for teachers to notice bullying, you might learn something about how teachers today are handling the issue. And of course you might teach us some things as well.

For example, right now we don't know much about the experiences you've had (or heard or read about) that led you to that conclusion. Anecdote != data, but having some idea where you're coming from might really help. Might make us approach your statements differently.

What I'd ask you is: what mechanisms do you think constrain teachers to ignore bullying? Not all of them would just do it from personal inclination, would they? So what makes them do it? If you do believe they do it from personal inclination, what makes all teachers so inclined?

Also, if you want to back off from some of the more absolute statements you've made, and go to "all too often, teachers" and "in my experience, it always seemed to be that" I think you'll find this community a very easy place to do that. We won't accuse you of waffling because you back off from a position you no longer want to defend. In fact, in my experience, we tend to honor that.

If you do want to defend that position, tell us why you think so. That makes this a discussion, rather than a thrash.

Serge, not helpful.

#120 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:17 AM:

Sorry Serge, cross-post.

#121 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:19 AM:

KayTei, #108, and also the person who asked me privately: I'm thinking specifically of Suzette Haden Elgin's books on verbal self-defense which teach you how to recognize and counter the primary modes of verbal abuse. A number of people have noted that verbal bullying is as bad as physical bullying and far less likely to be seen or stopped; any available instruction on how to handle such things would surely be invaluable to kids who are being targeted. Dr. Haden Elgin is a professional linguist who has devoted most of her career to studying the ways in which interpersonal communications can go wrong, whether inadvertently or from hostile intent, and it's a crying shame that her work has never received the recognition it deserves.

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:56 AM:

Xopher @ 117... Heck, don't you apologize.

#123 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:59 AM:

OK, sorry. I mean...oh, nuts.

#124 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:00 PM:

OtterB @ 99: "I had interpreted your earlier comment as saying that until we fixed the administration, parenting, culture, etc., teachers weren't going to be able to help."

I can see why it came across that way, but it wasn't my intent. I'm just very tired of every education-related conversation I hear become a discussion of which draconian measure to inflict on unsatisfactory teachers. The stick is not the only tool!

ddb @ 103: "So -- not sufficient, no. But I think highly valuable. "

As I said, potentially a lifesaver. It's not that they can't do anything, it's that they make a poor steering wheel for changing the course of the entire educational system.

Russell Coker @ 108: Speaking for myself, I have no desire for you to leave this conversation. I disagree with you, I'm not trying to silence you.

#125 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:16 PM:

Lee #118: There's also Jennifer James' books, notably the various incarnations and titles of The Slug Manual. These deal mostly with "covert" bullying, where there's often a "cover excuse" hiding the knife. The one I have on my shelf is titled You Know I Wouldn't Say This If I Didn't Love You, and has been markedly helpful in dealing with my own mother.... She calls such comments "slugs" because they make you feel like someone just handed you a slug.

#126 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:26 PM:

Suzette's book is The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. I highly recommend it. It helped me recognize verbal patterns that I was uncomfortable with, and it gave me better ways to deal with them.

There also are some introductory articles on Suzette's Verbal Self-Defense home page:
Why You Need to Master Verbal Self-Defense
The Twelve Frequently Most Asked Questions About Verbal Abuse and Verbal Self-Defense

The difference between the introductory articles and the book is the book has a lot more examples and walks you through situations. That's where I had the "aha" moments.

#127 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Lee @118: I second the recommendation for Dr. Haden Elgin's books; they have been incredibly helpful even for me. I also recommend her book on communication styles (Try To Feel It My Way); even if one disagrees with the notion of teaching in different "modes", it's still useful to know how people fall into patterns of communication. My son has benefited from using more tactile and kinesthetic modes of descriptions in math, for example, and I've even broadened it to history.

Sort of on topic, my niece and her classmates posted this video in response to the recent suicides.

#128 ::: Idgecat ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:33 PM:

Ginger @ 110

I too have seen children bully teachers -- 5 in my 7th grade year were forced out by students. One was fired outright, one committed suicide, two had heart attacks and one quit in the middle of the semester.

The one who was fired was very young -- it was his first teaching job and he was baited until he reacted with a profanity-laden rant which the students in the class reported to their parents (the rant, not the baiting). The parents complained to the school district and the teacher was gone in a matter of days. Poor guy should probably have been working anywhere but a junior high school.

#129 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:56 PM:

I'm reading over Russell's comments. I think the problematic one is

"As for not having witnessed bullying, I think that you just weren't observant enough. Teachers often don't see things that are inconvenient. "
I think TexAnne is justifiably upset because these words are not true about her. If Russell had some bad experiences with other teachers, he can say so, but he did not have those bad experiences with TexAnne, and it is unfair to her to generalize.

The only way in which Russell's comments could be factually correct would be if all teachers were bad. In reality, there is a mix of good and bad and sort of okay teachers. If we are to improve how teachers in general deal with bullying, we need to support and encourage the ones who already are doing it right and are good examples.

#130 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 12:57 PM:

This is getting kind of triggery for me. I'll be fine soon, but it's combining with real-life stress in inconvenient ways. I'll return when I can deal with it via my outer adult, instead of my inner 5th-grader. (And now you know when I was bullied.) Don't worry about me--I really will be OK by the end of the week.

#131 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:21 PM:

Without wanting to make a martyr out of TexAnne, who is certainly strong and complex enough not to be easily summarized in what I'm about to say; and without wanting to make a demon out of Russell, who is also a person of good will and complicated history:

This thread is a very good example of how people hurt each other, in ways that look an awful lot like bullying, despite the best efforts of their peers and the people in charge* to create safe spaces for all concerned.

Speaking personally, I feel pretty bad about this.

-----
* that would be me

#132 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:42 PM:

Oh, dear, one last post: Russell, I don't want you to feel bad. I'm not upset at *you*, I'm upset by what your comments made me think of.

And abi, dear friend, I can't think of anybody in the world who could have done a better job with this.

#133 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:51 PM:

heresiarch @ 121... a discussion of which draconian measure to inflict on unsatisfactory teachers. The stick is not the only tool!

Seldom do they get the carat.

"This job starts at 3000 a year."
"Then we're all wasting our time. That's only $5 a week more than I was making as a teacher, Mr. Harrington."
"But this offers you security -- a long term contract."
"Guaranteed poverty is not security."
(from Peyton Place)

#134 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:51 PM:

abi, passim: The benefit of the doubt on this subject is simply not an option for me. Accordingly, I will swear off participation in this or any other thread about bullying in the future.

#135 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:52 PM:

abi @ 128... Why should you?

#136 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Yup. (IMHO) Systemic disease, one that presents as sporadic erruptions at random locations. Applying topical band-aids is non-functional. I view most bullying as manifestations of a broader aspect of Domination, Success-Worship (winner/loser polarity), and Authoritarianism -- which might all be facets of one quality, which is pervasive & perhaps dominant in our culture.

I'd say that bullying is most common in schools because one of the big things adolescence is about is achieving recognized social status, and bullying seems to be one -- and perhaps the easiest -- way of doing this. Middle-school teachers have a grave responsibility; I don't think we can reasonably expect them to be successful all of the time, but statistics comparing schools indicate that some or many of them (and some schools' Administrators) are doing an unacceptable job in this area.

For whatever it might be worth, I think a Zero Tolerance approach would be disastrous here, as it (nearly?) always is wherever applied.

#137 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Serge @132:

I am the moderator here. My remit is to create a safe place where people can discuss things freely.

Within this space I am responsible for, someone feels that they have to leave the conversation because of what others are saying to them. Because others are unfairly, unjustly denigrating them.

It's not because those others are cruel; they are obviously in substantial pain themselves, and indeed have found themselves unable to continue as well. And TexAnne has clearly left because this is hitting her on a pre-existing vulnerability, and because it is the straw that breaks the camel's back, rather than because this is the only thing that's bothering her right now.

(Thus is this an interesting, illustrative, and realistically complicated situation. It's not a cartoon of good guys and bad guys, aggressors and victims. In many ways, we're full circle back to Patrick's original post.)

But all mitigations aside, it is my job here to create a safe space. I care passionately about that job. I put a lot of my heart into it. And I have failed at it.

Of course I feel bad.

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Abi... My remit is to create a safe place where people can discuss things freely

It's everybody's job.

#139 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:27 PM:

Jo Walton wrote about Sapolsky's book, _A Primate's Memoir_, on Tor.com, so I got it from the library. A fascinating book about researching baboons in Africa. Authoritarianism - hierarchy - bullying? That's our primate heritage.

Just because it comes natural doesn't mean that we shouldn't fight it. Growing up and becoming civilized means redirecting or suppressing our nastier impulses.

#140 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:30 PM:

I personally don't like Elgin's books because they turn everything into an assault. And frankly. most of the time people aren't trying to assault me when they say something thoughtless. I've seen them used as excuses for "counter-bullying" -- acting like a bully because someone thinks another person has been attacking them.

Many people's mileage varies on this. But abi's last comment points out how this comes up in real life.

#141 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 02:37 PM:

...lurkers will just have to compare what I wrote with the various interpretations that have been offered here and make their own decisions.

No, we really don't.

#142 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 04:20 PM:

When I was teaching middle school, I articulated my philosphy like this: "every kid has the right to be the best person that they can be." This meant that I had the res[ponsibility to deal with bullies for their own sakes as well as for the sake of the bullied.

However, I didn't do as good a job at it as I wanted to. It was slippery, and I was inexperienced. I did take on a whole class for how they were treating one of my students, and I also made my classroom an open haven during lunch. But I was only there a year, and it takes longer than that to be an effective part of a community of adults stopping bullying (it's not even long enough to figure out which of the other adults even cares enough about it to engage in changing the culture).

#143 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 04:22 PM:

On the topic of advisories: just for another perspective from someone who's run them. The school I previously worked for used them: 5 minutes every day for homeroom, 40 minutes once most weeks for a long discussion. That school uses them for everything from general "How's it going?" discussions through the year to community service, to peer-lead discussions on topics like cheating and bullying. Students weren't expected to be great friends, but they were expected to be civil, and encouraged to participate in whatever form they were comfortable with.

Training for advisers involved:
- A binder with useful information and activities.
- Emails each week with a suggested topic and resources (so when talking about cheating, we got case studies + discussion questions.)
- Periodic meetings with the grade dean and other grade advisers (a couple of times a semester).
- Lots of casual conversation about "How do you handle X?" over lunch and other staff conversations.

It wasn't expected to catch everything - and it wasn't expected that students would all bond with each other, or with the adviser (though a lot did.) But it gave one more person who could say "Hey, Sally is looking really stressed right now." and pass that onto the appropriate people.

In terms of creating safe spaces: like TxAnne, even after 10 years in that environment (as a library paraprofessional and then the librarian there), I almost never saw any direct bullying. And that's despite keeping my ears open: checking if I heard laughter or strained voices or fooling around to make sure everyone seemed okay with it (body language, tone of voice, etc.) I also made a point of having safe space posters up, and making sure we had great GLBT book displays at least twice a year, plus diverse items in other displays.

The problem is, it's hard to be constantly on-watch all the time for 8-10 hours a day *and* also doing another demanding job that requires a lot of multi-tasking and creativity to do well (both librarianship and teaching are like that). That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do better - but it does mean that a solution that assumes that teachers and other educational staff are human (and so can't be everywhere/can't hear everything/can't see through walls and other furniture, and can't be hyperaware all the time) will probably work better than one that does.

(I burned out my own health last year trying to be superwoman, including that way, and it lead to me leaving that job and a number of other things I regret. Yet, how do you *not* spend that time with kids who will be better off for it?)

What helps?
- Encouraging students to hang out in lightly monitored public spaces (the library rather than the back hall by the lockers).
- Having enough space in teacher schedules that they can hang out in public spaces for a period or two. (Great for building relationships)
- Regular training and reminders about what the early signs of bullying can look like.
- Creating lots of different spaces for support, so students can choose the one that works best for them. (Student groups, access to a counselor, a diversity office, etc.)
- Ways for kids to make connections with individual teachers that they choose. (One of the kids I most regret leaving behind in that job just started parking herself in the library, and geeking with us.)
- Schools to be aware of what their own weak points are, and find way to help the kids most vulnerable to those make connections.

Problem is, those all have other costs a lot of schools aren't willing to sustain: either extra staffing, or realising that your existing staff will get less of certain kinds of work done. (I can do a lot of things while sitting at a library desk in a library filled with 50 or 70 people. Detailed focused work and dealing with confidential topics are not among them.)

#144 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 06:28 PM:

#124 ::: Ginger:

Does that sort of "we're all responsible (for an atrocity we actually had no connection to)" actually work?

That "we're all cowards but we have to be heroes" was a bad thing for me to listen to-- I have enough problems with self-hatred already-- but that's my reaction, so I'm asking about people in general.

Also, I'm wondering about how risky taking the heroic role is. I've heard a fair number of stories of kids successfully protecting each other. Does it ever end up with the protector just getting bullied, too?

As for teachers noticing bullying, it occurs to me that if kids are attempting the "just ignore it" strategy, this will make bullying harder to see.

#145 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 06:58 PM:

Tom @137: Suzette's book helped me recognize the emotional subtext in what people say, so I can respond to what they are really concerned about. This is just good communication and builds trust. Or if they are too upset and can't express themselves appropriately, I can avoid responding in ways that escalate the situation. I didn't start with a lot of natural talent in this area, so having a book with examples I could read through and think about was very helpful.

Also it's helped me learn how to express myself better in situations where other people really don't want to deal with what I have to say. As Suzette says, how to disagree without being disagreeable.

It's too bad about the book's title. I think "Semantics for Dummies" would have been better.

#146 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 07:26 PM:

abi @ 134: "My remit is to create a safe place where people can discuss things freely."

abi, you are an excellent moderator and your talents are manifold, but including in your remit ensuring that conversations about sensitive issues never brush against anyone's triggers is like including in your remit preventing hurricanes and shouting back the tide. But then if you saw it that way, you probably wouldn't be as good of a moderator as you are.

#147 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 07:34 PM:

TomB -- I'm fortunate to have had training in that area, including some fairly extensive professional training -- and I agree that it's worth studying. For me, Elgin was too concentrated (especially in the first book, though much in the second) on ascribing negative motives. I applaud what you got from it, and would absolutely hope that I'm just too sensitive in those areas.

#148 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 08:42 PM:

@ #140 Jenett: Thank you for what you did and were able to do. In high school, I was able to escape study hall and lunch, and spend the time in the library because of the wonderfully perceptive librarian we had. It saved me.

Odd question for you though. Do you happen to be the Jenett who posted at TT and TC back on Delphi in the old days? If so, it's apparent that you've always been remarkable levelheaded.

#149 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:11 PM:

Yeah, I'm probably due for a refresher on GASVD. I've been tracking Dr. Elgin's LJ for years, and I agree, there's a lot of value there.

But here's where I struggle: There's a concept in auditing and compliance, where we just admit that we can build clearly documented systems, with appropriate checks and balances and failsafes, and we can review them on a regular basis, and we can impose appropriate penalties for malfeasance. And at the end of the day, given a very determined person, with the right knowledge and access, who wishes to do wrong, and is willing to put in the time and effort to subvert the systems we've put in place -- well, there's nothing we can do to perfectly prevent that from happening. We can improve the odds that we will detect it before it becomes a disaster, but we can't make promises.

With bullying, where I find myself absolutely helpless to know what to do, is when someone is determined to take me down, whatever the cost. If I am in that situation, and I have no allies who are powerful enough or willing to take the risk of supporting me, then I am screwed. No matter how many verbal self-defense techniques I've mastered. I think. Because even if I manage to redirect the conversation, they'll just be frustrated that they were prevented from taking me down. And they'll come at me with double-vengeance next time.

At the point where their filters are fully engaged, to perceive me as a threat, or otherwise as a horrible person deserving of bad treatment, I just have no idea how to get past that. Anything I say or do will be twisted to suit their image of me. I've been in that situation a handful of times. Regardless of how I explain their motives, it happens enough that it's not something I can assume will never happen again. And those are the cases that baffle the heck out of me.

#150 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:36 PM:

KayTei@146 -- in such situations, I avoid the person as much as possible. If I'm in a particularly evil mood, I do an occasional nice thing for them in a way that is quiet, unavoidable, and unanswerable. And remind them of it, once, significantly later.

I like my revenge best when it's subtle and complex.

#151 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 09:50 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 147

... That is a remarkable and charming strategy.

#152 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 10:32 PM:

Lila @ 56:

Basic Training (Army) as I experienced (c. 1950) it was not bullying, or nearly the kind of brainwashing I'm supposing that Marines get. (We were Draftees; it's likely that Regular Army recruits get somewhat different treatment.)

Well... as Terry implied, it wasn't _quite_ bullying, though it looked like it. The difference was that the Cadres/Leaders/NCOs consistently made one point clear, in both their actions and their words. The words (various colorful profanities excised) were always to the point of: "There is a strong chance that you will, someday, be going into battle against enemy troops who are trying to kill you. It's my job (and my strong personal desire) to train you in such a way, and to such a degree, that you will get through it alive. This training is _not_ going to be an enjoyable experience for either of us, but I'll try to make it harder on you than it is on me." It didn't take us long to understand and accept that.

Actually, the "you don't bully people, then hand them a loaded weapon" concept doesn't apply here. Or maybe it accounts for the fact that the only time troops in Basic (and, for us, afterwards until we were mobilizing to advance to the Front Lines) touched live rounds was on the Firing-Range, under you-might-not-believe-how-close supervision, where every single cartridge was scrupulously accounted for.

In battle... yes, we speculated on that as the reason we got a complete change of Officers just before we shipped-out from Japan to Korea. (By that time, all the NCOs had been promoted from our ranks; they knew us, we knew them, and they were smart enough to avoid making enemies.

#153 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:10 PM:

This is slightly tangental to bullying, but perhaps applicable via schools' and tearchers' handling of the problem.

Back when I was taking care of the major greenhouses at the L.A. County Arbroetum, we frequently got school-tour classes going through. All I was told was "School Tour tomorrow at [time]" so I can't say whether the difference was by school or by teacher, but those tours fell about equally into three distinct categories.

1. The kids acted like obnoxious brats, making a lot of noise & disturbance, damaging some of the plants and learning nothing.

2. The kids came though the door, carefully maintaining a straight line as they walked briskly down the precise center of the main aisle and out the far door, with the teacher glancing at a watch and making a check-mark on the clipboard schedule. Those kids learned nothing, either.

3. The kids came in, milled-around looking at plants pointing out unusual ones & talking about them, and peppered me with questions -- sometimes perceptive, always reasonable, & occasionally embarrassing. Those kids learned something, and I always wished they could stay longer.

That was several decades ago, and I hope most modern school classes would fall into the third category. (Even hoping that _all_ of them do would really be unrealistic, I suppose.)

#154 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:38 PM:

Fragano @ 109:

Exactly what I was thinking. (With a side order of "OMG, there is something new under the sun!")

#155 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2010, 11:40 PM:

I'd like to put in a few words in favor of advisory, from the perspective of someone who experienced it as a student.

I went to a small, private high school, and we were assigned to advisory groups with a single teacher (meant to last the four years, although you could ask to change) upon entering. Advisory time was between first and second period, and was a daily check-in, not particularly structured in terms of led discussions or anything. My advisor kept a coffee urn going, and encouraged us to bring in our own mugs (so much more environmentally responsible than disposable cups). When I think back on it, what I remember most is how my advisor was a lifeline as a Trusted Adult for ME, at a time when I felt vastly misunderstood by my parents, and how it enriched my teen years greatly to have her in my life.

However, I hadn't considered that the other advisees in my group weren't anyone I'd have chosen as friends, but there was no animosity, either, and there was a baseline expectation of civility, and when your first experience with peer strangers is conducted under those terms, maybe it's just easier to maintain a neutral civility (with occasional flashes of cordiality, if someone had a funny story or whatever) from then on.

My high school experience was a blessed relief from the bullying I experienced in junior high. I hadn't considered until now that the advisory structure might have contributed to that environment, instead of being coincidental to it.

If it was, I am profoundly grateful.

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 12:48 AM:

Rikibeth @152:
My advisor kept a coffee urn going, and encouraged us to bring in our own mugs (so much more environmentally responsible than disposable cups)

Smart advisor.

the other advisees in my group weren't anyone I'd have chosen as friends, but there was no animosity, either, and there was a baseline expectation of civility

One thing we (my high school year group) all learned by the end of high school, after a vicious jungle of a middle school, was how to deal well (effectively, non-damagingly for the most part, frequently kindly) with people one has no feelings of friendship for.

How, if you will, to be acquaintances.

#157 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:16 AM:

Magenta Griffith @ 73: There is a world of difference in a conscripted army, and a volunteer army. There is also a big difference between being in place one has no chance to leave (conscripted) and a place in which one can.

That said; and admitting there have been great changes in basic training; and in significant ways, from 1965, to 1969, to 1973 (no draft), the 1980's, early nineties, late nineties, early '00s and the present, I would say that what happened to your friend, was bullyish, but not intentional bullying (and that perspective matters).

Were there bullies in Basic? Sure. There are bullies anywhere there is a great power dichotomy, and a rigid social structure. Is bullying the point of Basic? No. The point of basic is to teach teamwork, socialise the recruit to the culture of the service, teach them survival skills for an environment which is insane, non-rational, unbounded, unpredictable, intensely interdependent on the skills of people you may now know at all... and randomly lethal.

I don't know that introducing massive stress, a sense of no personal control over one's life; and that some of one's liberties, and privileges are dependent on the good behavior of others, etc. is the best way but it happens to have the benefit of practical success.

One of the things my drills pointed out... they were trying to make us into soldiers they were willing to have in the same foxhole they were in.

It was hard; in some ways but I was 26 when I did it, not a kid, and my life experience was of a sort which made the sorts of things drills could do to me vaguely unpleasant, but not miserable. Then again, I was no Soltero, without the wit to know when to keep my mouth shut, and so incur the sorts of extra attention his folly entitled him too.

But to be that dependent on others, some of whom I disliked, and a couple of whom I, more or less, politely, despised that was hard. To work to keep them up to speed, so that we, as a group, didn't fall behind. To have no real time to myself, that was hard.

To be treated as a child; unable to dress myself, make my bed, choose what I wanted to eat; or when, to have a laundry list of tasks, and not enough time to do them (and so learn to lean on my fellows, prioritise the things which could not wait, and hope the lesser things would be done, "well enough", all the while not forgetting to get something done on all of them), that was hard.

And the things which looked like bullying, were theater. SFC Carpiau heaving a set of bunks over (and them splitting apart) because they hadn't been made properly, after almost eight weeks of Basic... no one thought he was that pissed; even though he was (and yes, I know that makes little sense, but there you go).

SSG Gibson looking at us, and shaking his head and saying quietly, "You fuckers just won't learn, will you?" and making us do push-ups. It was a small number of us who weren't getting it, but we all did the push-ups.

When.. what was his name...? I forget, said he'd been being bullied, in barracks (it's possible, but I don't think it was happening), we all got chewed out.

When there was rumor of a blanket party in some other company's barracks, we got a lecture, and the threat of court martial and prison.

Two cycles after I was done, my Basic Training commander was charged with striking a recruit. I find it hard to believe of CPT Chirio, but people do things. More importantly, the Army didn't just ignore it.

So, even if your friend was bullied, that was then, this was now (I put it in the past tense, because that was almost 20 years ago)

ddb: re 78: What do you mean by, "bizarre beliefs about unit cohesion,"?

As to the volunteer army, it's all we've had since 1973. That's 37 years of nothing but volunteers. There is no one in the active army who was in during the draft era. I suspect the men I served with, who were in the army/corps/navy before they joined the Guard were some of the very last. Even at that they were really rare, and none of them had been drafted.

Which goes to another point, by 1969 the combat troops in Vietnam were, by and large, all drawn from the enlistees. It was a political decision, meant to keep the families of the drafted soldier from being actively disontented. This had, perversely the effect of taking people who had enlisted, thinking that would give them pick of jobs, really bitter than someone who was drafted went to Germany, or stayed stateside.

The Marine Corps, with a brief exception in, I want to say 1968/69 has never taken draftees, not even in WW2.

As to inertia, see above what I said to Magenta. The Corps has had a much greater share of inertia, specifically because it has been all volunteer. There has always been less outside pressure on them to change.

Xopher: See above, re the Corps. As to the charge of "brainwashing" in some ways it is. So too is it brainwashing to become truly fluent in any number of specialised disciplines, like SCUBA, or hard suit diving, or being a firefighter, or a doctor, or a pilot, or a welder.

There are things in all of those which change the shape of the world (I know doctors who cannot say, "oops". There are some words they were brainwashed into not saying, lest a patient hear them and panic), and that shapechanging is semi-permanent.

I, for example, cannot ask someone to repeat something on the phone. I will, instead tell them to, "say again," because "repeat" is a very specific term on a radio, and not using is stressed to the point that it leaves the lexicon.

#158 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:20 AM:

Serge @135: It's everyone's responsibility (and we assume they are trying, insomuch as they want to be good member of the community; which we do), it's her job. It's a distinction with a difference.

#159 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:26 AM:

KayTei @146: If someone is really out to get you, personally, all I can say is get out as soon as you can. I've been in some pretty bad situations, but not like that. If you survive and in the end you have minimal regrets about the choices you made, you win. If you choose to tough it out, please make sure you don't take too much damage, emotionally or physically. It adds up. Also, even if you can deal with enemies, it requires vast amounts of time and concentration. In a safer, more supportive environment, you get all that time back, to use in ways that are good for you.

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:51 AM:

Terry Karney @ 155...

True, but what about those of us for whom a job is more than a job, and is in fact a responsibility?

:-)

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:54 AM:

Rikibeth @ 152...

If the coffee urn is shaped like a coffin, does that make it a funeral urn, aka an urn of no-ret/urn?
(Sorry, it's been a long day, thanks to the wonders of telecommuting.)

#162 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:56 AM:

Not sure if it's been explicitely been mentioned before, but what seems to me to play a big part in making bullying not only possible, but almost expected in American school life is that combination of a) intense focus on athletic prowess as determinator of your status as a student, both officially and amongst your peers and b) the amount of time you spent at school before and after lessons.

You have a social structure which just a limited number of people can be succesful in, reinforced from above and largely irrelevant to the reason why you go to school and then you have to spent most of that day in that hierarchy. No wonder bullying exist when most students are shown to be worthless..

Compare with the Dutch experience, where school sports outside of the two hours mandatory gym classes are rare and where school is much more like a job. You spent the required time each day then bugger off home. You see people in class and during the lunch break, but unless you're friends with them, that's it. Much less opportunity for bullying and no real hierarchy for people to fit in.

Bullying still happened of course, as assholes are universal [1] and they'll always find somebody to pick on, but it wasn't as systemic as it seems to be in America..

[1] And I have both bullied and been bullied, but in both cases these were incidents, rather than continuing.

#163 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 08:58 AM:

glinda #151: It had to happen at some point.

#164 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 09:17 AM:

re 159: I went to a small private high school, and while athletics were intensely important, the cachet of it was not especially high. The reason it was not was that everyone did it: even a nerdy klutz such as myself was able to get a varsity letter. PE was small in the fall, large in the winter (because of facility issues) and next to non-existent in the spring. The costs of doing this were that the school had 210 students, and that there had be be a lot of concentration on facilities. Not long after I graduated they enlarged the school to 270 kids and built an indoor swimming pool in order to deal with winter sports (basketball takes up a lot of space, wrestling didn't help with the huge increase in the female population, and there obviously wasn't a future for building a lot more squash courts). The pool was eventually successful, but it's a high maintenance facility, and in their case there were construction problems which took several times the cost of construction to remedy. And every so many years they have to buy a new crew shell, not to mention the support staff and boats.

There was never any bullying during sports, in my experience, in no small part I expect because the supervision was very close. The locker room was of course another story. One of the reasons I preferred running cross-country was that we were finished long before anyone else was, and therefore I could avoid the general scrum in the showers.

#165 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 09:21 AM:

An interesting take tossed into the mix by Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids. TL:DR -- she feels calling the Clementi case 'bullying' coarsens our society, because she feels the Clementi case is a clear-cut hate crime, and calling it bullying implies everything from repeated putdowns on the bus to Clementi is the same thing, and should be treated the same by authorities. She is ALSO anti-bullying, but wishes to draw a distinction between the lesser and greater ends of what some people are seeing as a spectrum of behavior.

Martin Wisse @159: Compare with the Dutch experience, where school sports outside of the two hours mandatory gym classes are rare and where school is much more like a job. You spent the required time each day then bugger off home.

That wouldn't work in the US, because school combines as daycare -- US parents are, in general, not home to accept custody of the kids until well after 5, so the schools have a bunch of extracurriculars to keep the kids busy until then. Some kids do extracurriculars at nonschool places until 'they can' go home. Personally, I was responsible for getting my own butt home from about the age of 15, and for cooking dinner for the whole family once my mom went into grad school (and wasn't home till after 8:30 most nights) when I was 16, but an awful lot of US parents refuse to even consider the thought of their kids on their own unsupervised at those ages.

I know parents who buy babysitters for their 14-year-olds ... I WAS the babysitter when I was 14, and in charge of two younger kids, one in diapers.

#166 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 09:49 AM:

I've been largely lurking on this thread, and the Dysfunctional Families thread, and a couple of others recently ("Political Moderation" and "Passion Fish") - and these are fascinating conversations where I haven't said much because I don't quite know where to come in and how to do it smoothly. (I am yet another big shy nerd, natch.)

But in all three of the contexts (home, school, politics) what I am observing appears to be a common thread that, well, bluntly, it only takes one jerk to really make things miserable even if everyone else is more or less well behaved. And if the jerk is skilled enough at being an asshole, s/he will be able to start trouble without attracting the attention of the authorities, and/or while remaining in the authorities' favor, thereby deflecting punishment onto a designated victim or a bystander of variable innocence. "Let's you and him fight!" "No sir, I wasn't doin' nothin, they was fightin', honest!" "He started it!" If the initial jerk starts out being the authority, well, that just skips a step or two. A casual reading of our recent threads sketches out the roles - instigator(s), aggressor(s), target(s), bystanders who at best turn a blind eye to the situation in the hope of not being noticed, at worst join the pursuing pack for fear of being turned upon and victimized themselves

A school, a workplace, a family - these might be functionally closed systems, at least until a person gets her/himself out of them. But when the dysfunctional agressive-dominant structure iterates out into the larger political culture, where is there escape? How much unbuilding will be necessary in order to rebuild a culture that allows for safe spaces?

I think we are going that direction. But the arc bends slowly.

#167 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 10:19 AM:

Terry Karney@154: On the "unit cohesion" argument, I find the analogies between integrating gays, and integrating blacks (or, given the date, perhaps it was "negros" that were integrated) in the forces. The objections seem, both then and now, to follow two paths; one, that the people proposed for integration are incapable of making the grade (lacking intelligence or "manliness", basically), and two, that the existing soldiers won't stand for them (unit cohesion).

Since it was such nonsense before, I consider it to be nonsense now, too.

#168 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 10:31 AM:

ddb @164:

I've read Terry's comment you referenced with great care, and I see no evidence that he's talking about "unit cohesion" as helping or hindering the integration of [out] gays* or different races into the armed forces.

There's a lot to talk about in that area, of course, but Terry was simply providing primary evidence of boot camp culture in opposition to bullying.

If you want to bring in unit cohesion/integration topics, can you please not do it in a way that makes it look like you're arguing against something he's said? Particularly as though he's said something unpleasant?

-----
* Because there have always been gays in the military.

#169 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 10:32 AM:

Thena @163:

I will need to spend more time thinking about this, but I'd like to just say that this is an excellent tying-together of threads.

#170 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 11:03 AM:

abi@165: I'm not sure I understand you. I was responding to a specific question by Terry about something I said earlier, and was just expanding on that.

Oh, and Terry Karney@154 again: on changing what is possible, I can no longer point my index finger at somebody if my thumb is raised. Kind of an over-reaction really, but relatively harmless (I don't dive for cover if somebody else does, or even tell them they shouldn't).

#171 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 11:48 AM:

re 162: Skenazy, however, seems to be using a decidedly non-standard definition of "hate crime", because I don't think that "the act of broadcasting a private sexual encounter" would qualify as "select[ing] the victim because of his or her membership in a certain group."

#172 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 11:52 AM:

C Wingate @168:

It depends whether the roommate would have broadcast the private sexual encounter had it been heterosexual. If yes, then no, if not, then yes, quite firmly in "hate crime" territory. How not?

#173 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 11:58 AM:

ddb @167:

Whether basic training, intended to create unit cohesion, counts as bullying has indeed been the topic among you, Terry, Magenta Griffith and others.

Whether that has anything to do with "unit cohesion" arguments about the integration of out gays and people of different ethnicities is your introduction to the conversation in comment 164.

That's fine as a topic of conversation, but I think it's sufficiently distinct from what Terry was talking about (and sufficiently prone to flamage if not handled with full clarity) that I wanted to emphasize that Terry has not yet expressed any views on or brought any relevant information about it to the thread.

#174 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 12:15 PM:

abi @ 50/51:

As an American who moved to England at the age of nine, went to private (US definition) English schools for a while, and had to put up with a bit of bullying, I can offer my support for your son. Unfortunately, support is mostly what I can offer, because I don't have much in the way of concrete solutions to offer. Teachers and administrators need to be supportive, and it sounds like yours are. I got mixed messages from mine. You know, needing to toughen up and learn to ignore some things on the one hand, but that they'd have a chat with the bullies on the other. I think it helped (the latter, not necessarily the former).

I do remember, though, when I was about fourteen or fifteen, there was a big, younger kid who thought that me being American was a really great reason to make fun of me. Managed to push my buttons really well. He was behind me in line for the tuck shop one day and started being obnoxious again, and I elbowed him hard right in the gut. He made fun of me again in future, but not as much, only from a distance, and it seemed there was a new wariness about him. I don't think this the sort of lesson you really want to be teaching, but it worked for me, in that one case, at that particular time. Obviously, that was a form of bullying that was amenable to that sort of response. The little whispers, the more general nastiness, not so much.

Actually, what really helped was finding my own, small circle of friends. These tended to be the geekier ones, of course, but there is safety in numbers. And also, they were more or less accepted, and so that rubbed off on me.

Um, I'm not quite sure what my point was any more, other than the general offer of support and the assurance that things don't (usually) stay bad forever.

(Guilty admission: I realize, on reflection, that I also did participate in bullying behavior when I was a kid even though I was bullied and should have known better. It's not really a happy realization. I think part of it was that I knew that while I had it rough, I was still better than him. It made me feel better at the time, I suppose, but now it serves as more of a cautionary tale. I don't want to be like that again.)

You're more than welcome to email me if you want some partial reminiscences of growing up as an expat kid.

#175 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 12:33 PM:

Abi, she doesn't engage in any speculation on motive, and my impression is that she doesn't care.

#176 ::: ClarkEMyers ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 12:58 PM:

Re Marine Corps basic a few words from Gunny R. Lee Ermey of movie and TV notoriety:
The old recruiter, a sergeant E4 was there... he said "you're a farm boy aren't you? ...Yep,
there's a bright future for you in the Marine Corps!

Unlike Gomer Pyle, the nickname of the Private at the center of Sgt Hartman's ire in Full Metal Jacket, Ermey said he found boot camp relatively
uneventful.

"Actually boot camp was easy. My father was more of a disciplinarian than any drill instructor down there that I knew of. He had six boys and when you have six boys, one year apart, you darned sure better be a disciplinarian or they'll make you nuts.

We were raised boot camp style. We had chores. We had to be directly home from school. There was no stopping. There was no lolly-gagging."

Ermey said there was virtually no difference between the boot camp he attended in 1961 and those of the mid-1960s when he donned the Montana Peak campaign cover as a drill instructor for two years in India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at MCRD San Diego. obs SF - The man who was too lazy to fail.

If folks want to talk about bullying in the United States Army and the Army of the United States - it might be more informative to talk about blood pinning and prop blast cups and such as manifestations of bullying or maybe not.

Status and status offenses in any community should I think be avoided - and it's too easy to make a big deal about small differences when it's time to point a finger.

Again I'm sure I don't always know bullying when I see it - though sometimes I do - and I surely don't have a definition to apply. For folks who always know bullying when they see it I'd like to know how.


#177 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:14 PM:

Abi @167, 170, you're treating David as if his comment on unit cohesion was something he was projecting onto Terry's 154, when actually Terry's 154 included a request by Terry for David to clarify something he'd asked about unit cohesion way back in comment 78. Here's the sequence:

DDB @78, asking Terry: "Have the attitudes and procedures really changed that much from when there were lots of draftees? Or have they mostly continued doing what they always did, through institutional inertia and bizarre beliefs about unit cohesion?"

Terry Karney @154, buried several paragraphs down: "ddb: re 78: What do you mean by, 'bizarre beliefs about unit cohesion,'?"

DDB @164: "On the 'unit cohesion' argument, I find the analogies between" etc.

#178 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:34 PM:

Avram @174:

OK, fair do's. Sorry, ddb. I simply didn't want us to sleepwalk into a(nother) minefield in this thread.

#179 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:46 PM:

C Wingate @172:

You're shifting the goalposts there. First you said she was using a definition of "hate crime" you don't agree with. Now you're saying that she hasn't proven it to you.

She was actually talking about what it was not in her view (bullying), rather than what it was. In other words, she was trying to make a different point in her post.

You have no evidence of whether she cares or not. Maybe you could not make hostile assumptions?

#180 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 01:50 PM:

school combines as daycare -- US parents are, in general, not home to accept custody of the kids until well after 5, so the schools have a bunch of extracurriculars to keep the kids busy until then. Some kids do extracurriculars at nonschool places until 'they can' go home.

It's interesting to look back and realize that if today's standards had been in place back in the late '70s and early '80s, both of my parents would likely have been arrested for child endangerment. I was a latchkey kid from age 9 on, which I gather today would be totally unacceptable. (I think the experience was good for me and helped me learn a number of useful skills and gain confidence in being alone. I realize my experience does not generalize to all other kids.)

#181 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 03:12 PM:

RE athletes and bullying.

I have to share this. It isn't technically bullying, I suppose. More of a hit-and-run.

There was a football player in my high school. A big genial lummox named Frank. He was in a few of my classes. I don't remember him specifically beating me up or targeting me for insults, but there was this casual inept "keep the nerds in their place" pranking, of the breaking pencils and pulling out of chairs sort.

I remember he once got it into his head that the graduates in the football team would be treated to a cocktail party by the school. He grinned like an idiot and enthused about this for a whole period. "Yeah, cocktails! We're gettin' a cocktail party!"

Fast forward to . . . well, I guess it was a year and a few months after high school graduation. I'm mopping floors in Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips, my one and only ever fast food job.

One evening I see, in the dining area, Frank and a date. (Were there two girls with him? Somehow I remember it that way.)

He spots me. Big doofus smile of recognition. "Hey . . . you work here?"

I'm wearing an Arthur Treacher's shirt and hat. I have a broom and a scoop. "Uh, yeah. Hiya."

Frank blinks. "You're working here?"

"Uh, yeah."

Frank has a strange far-away look in his eyes. "You work here?"

"Yup."

I go back to washing dishes in the back room. A while later, the manager on duty tells me that there's a clean up needed in the mens' room.

Well. Indeed there was. The toilet stall had been smeared with shit. The walls, the seat, the floor.

This wasn't a "grandpa had an accident and scattered some poo around changing his shorts" sort of thing. It was a deliberate act; whoever had gone to great pains to achieve wide coverage.

Short of a DNA test or spy cameras, I couldn't of course prove that Frank had done this, but I think it is fair to call him suspect number (ahem) two.

#182 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 03:44 PM:

Abi, what I have to go on is her words, and she specifically identifies "the act of broadcasting a private sexual encounter" as being "criminal". She does not further make any distinction, in context, between "hate crime" and "crime". This suggests to me that, again in this context, she thinks of them as being the same thing, especially since she makes no reference to any of the categories which normally distinguish hate crimes.

And it isn't my definition of "hate crime"; I took the quoted definition from a UCLA study which in turn is reference used in the Wikipedia definition of the term. If you want to say that this definition is inaccurate, well, fine, but it's not my definition, but one which I believe to be widely used.

I haven't said a thing about my opinion of her statement as to its worth. There's some irony that I am cautioning against making assumptions, and you accuse me of making assumptions, which you then don't spell out. I do not see how it is making assumptions to work only from the words I have in front of me. I make a cautionary statement, and you come back with a response which I see no way of understanding as anything but adversarial. Can you see why calling me "hostile" rubs me the wrong way?

#183 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 03:51 PM:

SJ @ 178 -- the part of me that thinks up great comebacks years later that I would never have uttered aloud even if I had thought of them at the moment . . . you know, that part of me, wants to say "you shoulda said 'How was your cocktail party, Frank?'" But that would be unproductive.

I wonder if he bragged about shit-smearing to his date(s) (talk about primate instincts). I wonder if he smelled like shit when he tried to put the moves on her.

I must say, you've brought back a slight nostalgic recognition of Arthur Treacher's, a name I had forgotten.

After reading all of this thread, I have a heightened awareness of how I twitch when my loved ones touch me, and of how much it annoys them, and I'm getting more reflective about how I should deal with that. Although I usually go through some self-pitying justification of how I have a right to be uncomfortable with pokes or love pats (and I literally mean gentle pokes and actual love pats), I realize that the reason they get annoyed isn't insensitivity but a feeling that I've cast them in the role of bullies by my reaction. So, when one is ostensibly a grown-up and is dealing with people who are actually not bullies, there is an argument for working on one's own reactions. On the other hand, at work I am still on the lookout for the office-politics version of bullying behavior, which at least doesn't involve punching or shoving.

#184 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 03:52 PM:

Avram: to be fair to abi... what David did was to introduce; by way of elision, a completely new sub-topic (integration of snubbed/outgroups) into the discussion.

ddb: Terry Karney@154: On the "unit cohesion" argument, I find the analogies between integrating gays, and integrating blacks (or, given the date, perhaps it was "negros" that were integrated) in the forces. The objections seem, both then and now, to follow two paths; one, that the people proposed for integration are incapable of making the grade (lacking intelligence or "manliness", basically), and two, that the existing soldiers won't stand for them (unit cohesion).

Since it was such nonsense before, I consider it to be nonsense now, too.

Objection: assumes facts not in evidence. I made no mention of blacks/women/gays/non-citizens/extraterrestrials, etc. in my discussion about basic training. I limited it to what is done, and why, in terms of the desired result.


Absent such an introduction I can’t see why I would be assumed to know that was what you meant; esp. because there is a great deal of emphasis on unit cohesion (which is of a sort to undercut your thesis; since the argument; pounded into recruits, from day one, to [not always as well as it might be done] the day one leaves the Army, that there is only one type of soldier, i.e. green. Which is to say no one is to be separated by creed, color, sex, place of origin).

Even, assuming arguendo, that we were talking about the ideas being discussed (almost exclusively outside the Army) on that subject, for it to apply in this context seems to demand that an active role was being played in Basic to address the subject.

It's not. It doesn't come up (caveat, none of the people I served with mentioned such a thing coming up. It's possible there are pockets of it, but they would have to be at Ft. Knox, or some parts of the Ft. Sill/Ft. Benning OSUT programs [which are combat arms, and somewhat isolated, both because they are longer, and because they are all male] but it is not a thing I encountered, even by anecdote, in 16 years).

Army regs, actually, forbid such things (it's part of the EOPS program, which Drills have a significant chunk of training on).

By way of illustration: I enlisted across the institution of DADT (I was one of the last recruits to ever be asked if I was homosexual, between my starting the process, on a Friday, and my physical, on Monday, the rules were changed.

My second commander at DLI took over the unit in Sept. He issued a policy letter forbidding any guests in a room with the door closed. This was a change from the previous commander's policy of no mixed sex occupation of a room behind closed doors.

His stated reason, "I havve 182 soldiers, statistically I have at least 18 homosexuals. There have been homosexuals in every unit I have ever been in, and there will be in every unit I will be in. I don't see why they should have the opportunity to do things my straight soldiers are forbidden."

That was 1993.

It's only gotten better since then.

#185 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:04 PM:

On the 'what can teachers do to change culture' question, here's a post by my wife on what she did when she realised she'd missed the bullying in her classroom. This sounds like pericat's experience in #102.

#186 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:07 PM:

Terry Karney@181: If your point is that you don't think it's relevant to the discussion, you could say that more clearly and with fewer words (many of which seem to be "comment hooks" looking for more discussion of something I think you're saying isn't relevant). So perhaps you're saying something else, and I'm not getting it?

"Unit cohesion" seems to be the excuse given every time DADT is mentioned. Basic training is where they install the building blocks for unit cohesion, right? Seemed like a natural and immediate (and in fact unavoidable) connection to me.

#187 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:18 PM:

C Wingate @179:

Your original comment was:
Skenazy, however, seems to be using a decidedly non-standard definition of "hate crime", because I don't think that "the act of broadcasting a private sexual encounter" would qualify as "select[ing] the victim because of his or her membership in a certain group."

Broadcasting a private sexual encounter is a crime. Selecting the victim of your crime because of his or her membership in a certain group is what turns a crime (such as broadcasting a private sexual encounter) into a hate crime. You're too intelligent to elide those two in ignorance.

Then you said:
Abi, she doesn't engage in any speculation on motive, and my impression is that she doesn't care.

No, as I said before, she doesn't engage in speculation, because that was not the point of her post. She was, as I said before talking about what it was not rather than what it was.

Combined with your uncharacteristically sloppy confusion between an action and the circumstances of that action, the statement "my impression is that she doesn't care" comes across as though you had already made up your mind to disapprove, and are now casting about for reasons for your disapproval.

#188 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:27 PM:

ddb: There are a few things going on here.

1: You made an introduction, one which, actually, I found problematic, because it seemed hostile and I could see no reason for it ("bizzare ideas about unit cohesion")

2: I asked a follow up.

3: You gave it.

4: I answered it. I answered in detail. I suppose I could have used fewer words, but,
"no ddb, you are wrong, that has nothing to do with anything we are talking about" didn't really seem to be all that productive, so I tried to answer it in a way which would, in the main, move the conversation to a mode I found less difficult.

5: I answered in that much detail because I presumed, based on past experience, I would end up having to write all of that in the course of replies to my comment, and I have limited time, between work, school housework, homework and social life.

#189 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Constance @30 You can see this happen in tight groups of animals and birds too, like domestic poultry. The yard picks the weakest animal and they all pick on it.

I see this all the time with my guinea pigs. Tiny has become the butt of the herd, in the last few months. She is large, mild-mannered, and slow (and therefore a particularly sweet target). Her chief tormenter is Rabbit. What makes this situation particularly cruel is that when Rabbit was a baby, Rabbit was the favorite target, and would often run to Tiny for protection and comfort.

It breaks my heart but, short of separating Tiny out of the herd (which I'm actually considering), I don't have a good way to address this problem. I really miss Logan, my old long-hair male. He was a great alpha. When fights would break out among the girls, he would let it go on for a few minutes, but then when it was clear the dispute wasn't going to stop, he'd rouse himself from whatever corner he was sleeping in and, with great muttering and fanfare, wade in between the two antagonists. The cursing and name-calling would continue, but the physical fighting would stop, and he would just stand there between the two girls until they calmed down, and then he'd go wander off and have something to eat or something.

But you have to be part of, and have standing, in the community to carry this kind of thing off, and most "authorities" in a school situation don't have that kind of contact with the population.

Actually, I wonder if it would be workable to pick out a few social "alphas" in a school population, educate them in conflict resolution, and then set them to spreading healthy behaviors amongst their peers.

Some variant of this has doubtless already been brought up; I apologize if so; I'm still back in the #30s in this thread.

#190 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 141: I think it's a strategy that can work in some environments, although it is not the only strategy. I perceive it to be an attempt to own the issue, to share the burden of standing up to bullies.

In general, I find it easier to stand up for someone else than for myself. When I was attacked by bullies in elementary and middle school, I responded mainly by freezing them out and ignoring them. I don't know how well that worked, in retrospect. It certainly made me very guarded and protected against all social interactions for a long time. My strategy may also have allowed my attackers to continue because teachers didn't recognize them as bullies. They broke other rules as well, which ultimately led to their expulsion from middle school.

In my experience, standing up for someone else has resulted in the bully backing off, because the other person is not a target, not a vulnerable person, not an identified victim -- this seems to confer some protection. I am sure this would depend on the context. If I were trying to protect someone under physical attack in a public area, I'd probably choose a more discretionary approach like calling for police, before I went charging in to defend.

I think bullying is not a simple issue, and it will take more than one method to eliminate it. There are similarities to successful programs that start with people taking a public stance against bullying, but it needs to be followed with training on how to recognize bullying and how to stop bullies without stigmatizing them.

Some of the same kids who bullied me were not nasty when we met one-on-one; it was a single leader that drove them to attack me in a group. In cases like that, identifying the ringleader and removing him or her will reduce bullying, but then the other kids need to be retrained in how to avoid being used again.

The line about cowards vs heroes also interests me, mainly because in emergency response we have to consider the potential reactions of bystanders. Not everyone is capable of responding to an emergency by acting appropriately, so I think in bullying cases, people also exhibit this dichotomy of behavior. It's not necessarily cowardice as much as fear of the unknown, lack of training, fear of doing the wrong thing, paralysis of thought -- some people just can't think fast in an emergency -- and physical fear of danger. It's not abnormal. I think high school children won't have run into this concept and probably think that all responsible adults would naturally want to do "the right thing" in any situation. As they get older, they may learn that it's not true for everyone. However, training and encouragement from society in general will help reduce the numbers of people who cannot or do not know how to respond to emergencies.

I know from personal experience that training and exposure to emergencies has a big influence on future responses. The first time I had to deal with an emergency -- say, a seizure in a dog -- I certainly didn't handle it as smoothly as I would now. After 20 years of veterinary medicine, I've handled just about every kind of emergency in multiple species, so my reactions have changed.

#191 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:38 PM:

Terry Karney@185: Fair enough.

Also there was moderatorial interest in the exchange, which does raise the stakes a bit and may change reactions of people.

My current understanding is that, while important and perhaps worth discussing in its own right, you don't think DADT and related issues are that significantly connected to basic training and any relationship to bullying. I've explained why I initially made a connection. I'm willing to leave it at that.

#192 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:41 PM:

Ginger, the only physical fight I started was to stop some bullying.

There was, actually, some secondary bullying; sort of, in the course of that fight (someone decided my sitting on Gerald, and waiting for him to cry uncle wasn't entertaining, and pulled me off of him, for more fisticuffs).

The fight ended when I stepped on a rock and twisted my ankle. At which point Gerald, seeing an opportunity, fled.

Oddly, he seemed to think he had won, and tried (this was in my apartment complex) to intimidate me. I have never been easy to intimidate, and I knew I could take him (I had boxed, he hadn't, it wasn't a fair fight), and so he'd try to bump me, or keep me from passing, etc., and I'd look at him like a piece of last week's fish, and he'd step aside.

I don't know what he'd have done if I'd started another fight. But he didn't bother the other kid anymore, so I counted it in the win column.

#193 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:49 PM:

KeithS @ 171: "Guilty admission: I realize, on reflection, that I also did participate in bullying behavior when I was a kid even though I was bullied and should have known better. It's not really a happy realization."

You're not alone--I have to confess to the same. I suspect that if you looked, you'd find that most bullies were/are bullied too--if not at school then in other contexts. Then I think, why is this surprising? Everyone has to learn it somewhere. Misery trickles down the social hierarchy, and kids are the bottom of the heap. Schools can become circular firing squads of emotional and physical abuse, pain swirling back onto itself.

I wonder how many of the popular, over-acheiving, vicious alphas had a mother or father at home carefully installing the Goddamn Tapes in their kid's head.

(ObML: The Bully Pulpit)

#194 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:52 PM:

Terry, the only physical fights I've been in were bullies attacking me. When I came to someone else's defense, it was enough to stand up against the bullies.

I'm a lot scarier now.

#195 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 05:17 PM:

TomB @44: There is a wide spectrum of sanctioned domineering in society, including customary and institutionalized exploitation, discrimination, and phobia, up to and including violence. (And there also is the glorification of the strong, powerful, and brutal.) It's all harmful. People with lower socio-economic status live harder lives, get sick more, and die younger.

And it's not just humans. I rewatched National Geographic's Stress (streaming on Netflix) last night. They talked a lot about this guy who studies baboon society (and the comparison of the baboon results showing status/health correlations alongside the Whitehall Civil Service study in Britain). Short version: baboons have a lot of free time on their hands, which they generally spend making each other miserable.

Funny thing happened with one troop, though. They were hit with a plague of tuberculosis which, as one might expect, cut a swath through their membership. Odd thing: all of the alpha animals died off.

So now, when new males come into the troop from outside, they behave like baboon males usually do. But after six months or so of "education," they learn that they do not get to pick on their subordinates, and if you are having a bad day, you do not get to take it out on the females.

The implication being that, yes, a society really can change in one generation, given the right conditions.

#196 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Jacque@192: And drug-resistant TB is making a comeback in human society. So maybe there is hope for us!

#197 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 05:30 PM:

Stefan Jones #178: I wonder what happened later in life to the idiot. That's the sort of thing that makes me hope that what goes around comes around.

#198 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 05:45 PM:

abi @51: Yup, like I figured, you got there first. :)

WRT your son, I'll pass along a strange recommendation my mother made to me:

There was a girl who gave me a bad time in junior high. I think her maltreatment was mainly in the form of mockery and name-calling, not physical abuse. (That came later, after my mother went to the principle about another bully, to which said bully responded by attacking me—not very effectively— while I was waiting for the bus.) My mother suggested I think up a nickname for her. Something logical, but innocuous. Her last name was Neville, so my mother suggested => "navel" => "Sunkist."

I tried it. Mockingly, she'd call, "Hi, [name]!" To which I'd cheerily respond, "Hi, Sunkist!" Son of a gun if that didn't blow her pattern enough that she kind of let up on me.

Like I say, it wasn't a complete solution, but it did seem to change the dynamic some.

#199 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 05:49 PM:

In The Failure of Masculinity, Matthew Cheney writes of the recent spate of tragedies from this perspective:

[ "This is about homophobia, yes, but it's also about gender roles. Suzanne Pharr has called homophobia "a weapon of sexism," and her analysis seems accurate to me—homophobic abuse is a tool used to valorize certain ideas of masculinity and punish deviations from it." ]

and:

[ "The harassment of Tyler Clementi was somewhat different from the bullying of Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and Seth Walsh: it was not only about enforcing norms of masculinity and heterosexuality, but also about sex as spectacle and homosex as freakshow. It's possible that Clementi's harassers would have watched and encouraged other people to watch if Clementi had a woman in the room instead of a man, but it's unlikely that it would have been as fascinating to them. The roommate watched from a woman's room ("Molly's") while the room he shared became a stage for homosex, though the actors had no idea they had an audience. They watched because they perceived what they saw as abnormal, worthy of notice, and they shared because doing so not only punished the abnormality (through assumed shame), but also strengthened their own claim on normality. We watch freakshows not just to gawk at monsters, but to feel less strange ourselves." ]

Love, C.

#200 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Further pondering my post above, I'm uncomfortable with having posted it. The real solution is for the bullies to stop bullying. And for bullying to stop being okay. The solution my mother gave me sort of worked for me, in that it messed with the pattern. But on thinking about it, I'm not sure I'm comfortable suggesting it for anybody else.

#201 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 06:23 PM:

Okay, this is triggering on all kinds of levels (as I said in the Dysfunctional Families thread, school was "my DF"). However:

On not noticing: I am quite certain that there was bullying of some sorts that every teacher at my school at one point or another walked by and didn't notice. Not 'easier/better to be unaware'; more 'too subtle to notice when..., or opportunity taken when something else was going on requiring the adults' attention' style. I am reasonably certain that that still happens, and things get missed even by the best of teachers with the best of intentions toward noticing - there's just too much stuff going on to catch it all. This is *not a criticism*; but I do believe the first half of Russell Coker's most controversial statement is true; just not (with good teachers) the last half. They just don't notice every last bit of it, for the same reason they can't always see Waldo on the page in the first 2 seconds.

Yes, there were those who were deliberately oblivious, either because they approved of it or because it was easier to ignore it; there were those who were actively complicit; there were those whose classrooms were safer than others, and some who tried hard to work non-standard me into their class in a way that worked (I remember the one English teacher who found me jobs to do that got me standing and walking two or three times a period; I literally couldn't sit still then for that long. It worked, even if it caused other problems). I even remember the one incident where the teacher was late enough coming back from recess that the "let's enjoy beating the Mycroft" (you know, not serious or dangerous or anything, just fun) that stopped when the bell rang, had time to start up again. That got Drill Sergeanted - I could hear every word the man said through the wall; I can't imagine how loud it was in the room. And *everyone* was at fault, whether they were in the back of the room or at their desks, waiting.

On advisory: From the description given here, I don't know if it would have helped or hurt me. it could very easily have helped by giving a community of several people who realized I was something other than 'that smart kid who's really weird, and fun to pick on' earlier than I did get it - and when I got that community, things got better. It could easily have hurt, however, if that place (or the hallways to and from it) wasn't safe, either - or if I was excluded while present (massive introvert here - I've been more alone in a group of 15 than I have at home for weeks at a time).

I was a hard kid for a school; so strongly biased educationally in certain directions, so incapable of being "a good kid", and I wouldn't take BS answers to questions (I was very happy with 'I'll look that up' or 'that's really more complicated than it looks, you don't have the tools to understand it yet', though); and I actively pushed the "weird" up, because that way they were attacking that shell, and not me. Took me 20 years to take it down fully again (well, there's still a couple of things, but they're really minor). But still, things could have been done better. And some of the teachers did think that being a bully themselves was the best way to make me 'normal' and 'teachable' - for them I have little to say. That one of them was legitimately surprised when I chose not to take his Biology AP class...I have no words.

And yes, I have been a bully myself - usually with really cutting remarks. I try to notice when I do it and avoid doing it, but it still happens.

Let me add to the collection for whom Junior High (well, gr. 6-10) was the worst - in High school things got better. I think that was mostly due to graduation of a number of the people; the new students coming in under me were less likely to actively bully me than the older ones who had been doing it for 5 or 6 years.

Constance@58: Yeah, I've mentioned my aversion to embarrassment comedy before - on a different bully thread, strangely enough.

#202 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 06:48 PM:

Kevin Marks @ 182:

That gives me a tremendous amount of hope for the world.

Jacque @ 197:

That's why I dithered about putting my own example of physical retaliation in my post. Some people will bully you if you seem to be an easy target, and if they don't perceive you to be one they'll leave you alone (chances are they'll go find someone else instead, not stop). This can, however, range into blaming the victim territory (why are you making yourself such a good target?). It also has the potential to escalate the issue rather than deescalate it. I left it in to say that this is one option in a toolkit that worked for me that one time, but the real solution, as you say, is for an end to bullying.

The fight I picked with the bully in the changing room did not go nearly as well, for example.

#203 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 06:58 PM:

Lexica, #177: This particular trap is one of the jaws of the catch-22 applied to any single parent on welfare. Assuming that they could even get a job (or, more likely, combination of 2 or 3) which would allow them to support their families, they would then immediately have their children taken away for neglect. And it's amazing how many of the people in my generation who slam welfare recipients talk about how their parents worked multiple jobs rather than taking "other people's money". Well, DUH -- they didn't have to worry about CPS snatching their kids!

rm, #180: There does come a time when it's important to draw a distinction between acknowledging damage someone else did to you in the past and continuing to let that past control your behavior in the present and future. I finally managed to disconnect the reflex negative response to having a loved one ask me an ordinary question about my telephone conversation with someone else (not grilling me, and not with hostile intent), but it did take some work. I wish you similar success in defusing your touch-related hot buttons.

Kevin, #182: This has reminded me of an incident in my 11th-grade English class. We were doing some sort of group assignment, and the teacher told us to split ourselves up into groups of 3 or 4. When all that was done, there were 2 people left over -- me, and a boy I'll refer to as K. I wasn't surprised that no one had wanted me in their group, but I was a little surprised that K was left out -- he was nasty and a bit of a bully to me, but he seemed popular with the other kids.

The teacher didn't quite seem to know what to do with this situation. She suggested that K and I could be a group by ourselves, and for once the God of Appropriate Responses was at my shoulder. I said, "Well, if you want one group that does absolutely nothing, that's the best way to get one!" This produced general laughter, and rather to my surprise, one of the popular girls spoke up and said, "Lee, you can be in our group." Then the teacher called for volunteers to work with K, and nobody spoke up -- she had to assign him to a group.

This is a memory I have treasured for decades, without ever really understanding what was going on there. But for once, I got what felt like a big win over one of the bullies... and it made me realize that perhaps K wasn't as popular as I thought he was.

#204 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 07:43 PM:

Jacque @195, 197 The real solution is for the bullies to stop bullying. And for bullying to stop being okay. The solution my mother gave me sort of worked for me, in that it messed with the pattern.

It doesn't seem like a bad suggestion. As the discussion points out, there are many variations of bullying. While one doesn't want to blame the victim ("why don't you handle this better") it's still helpful to have tools in your toolkit. And disrupting the pattern is a useful tool. It won't always work, but it sometimes will. I remember reading somewhere about a marriage counselor that told couples that every time they started a "same old" fight (verbal, obviously), they were to change something, even something trivial, about the way they fought - each put on a hat, or sit in the bathtub. And often that was enough to disrupt the old patterns. Different from bullying, of course, in that involves people who both want to improve the situation. But still a testament to the value of the unexpected to derail the usual downward path.

#205 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 07:48 PM:

Nycroft 198

How I loathe what mostly passes as comedy these days!

Fortunately, I wasn't bullied at school. School was my safe space. My father was a patriarchal bully, with a hair trigger temper, who understood girls not at all, there being none at all, not even cousins, in his family. So I gotten beaten a lot, and never knew when it would come. He also liked to 'tease,' in many various manners.

Still though, I think it is temperament, at least in my case, rather than virtue, that makes me sensitive to seeing it around me and hating it so much.

I grew up on a farm, and evidently most farm kids at some point will abuse and animal, if only to see what it is like. A bunch of our community kids started to do this one summer day with one of our feral barn cats, chasing it, throwing things and so on. It was so ugly, so not fun, that I -- the oldest and biggest, fortunately -- made them stop.

Abuse and bullying profoundly disturbs my sense of -- well, call it harmony, beauty, grace, whatever. I hate it. This isn't virtue. This is profoundly personal and selfish.

My husband says that one day I'll get myself killed because I will try and stop certain actions and verbal behaviors as well. I will always call a thug a thug and a bully a bully and an abuser and abuser.

Love, C.

#206 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 07:50 PM:

So, this topic? All kinds of triggery for me. I skipped commenting on last year's bullying thread, because it was still too much for me. I'm composing this in a text editor, and I'm still not convinced yet I'll post any of it.**

I'm not quite riffing on Mycroft's 198, but it's a good jumping off point for my sophomore year of high school. I don't know that there are any good lessons to be learned here. More likely, even after more than 15 years, I'm still too close emotionally about the events to really draw any conclusions.

About a month before school began, I broke my collarbone. I started the school year with my arm in a sling. You want something that screams victim? Take a kid who is known to be a good target (ie, guaranteed to react when you pick on her) and give her an obvious injury.

First, the bad teacher. Gym was my last class of the day. I was allowed to walk laps around the gym to get credit for gym class. A group of 4 or 5 boys decided that instead of shooting baskets, it would be fun to throw basketballs at me as I walked past their hoop. I told the gym teacher. Her response? "Oh, they just missed the basket." Every time? And only when I walked past? And always at shoulder height?* I'm a lousy shot when I'm healthy, and I could have done better than that at the time I was making the complaint! Repeated complaints failed to inspire her to keep a closer eye on that group of boys.

And the good teacher. Band practice was most days after school. The band director could tell, without fail, when I'd had a particularly bad day in gym class. On the worst days, he would excuse me from marching practice (I could march, or I could play, but not both at once with the sling) and let me practice piano for the jazz band instead. This was a polite fiction, since the jazz band had no concerts scheduled until marching band season was over, but it let me take my frustrations out on by banging on the piano for a few hours.

Eventually, the situation came to the attention of the school administrators. I'm not sure if I should thank my parents or my band director, or both. But however it happened, the principal pulled me aside one day to tell me that unless the gym teacher took action, or I specifically asked him not to, they were going to start action to expel that group of boys for hazing. "Go ahead," I said. "I won't miss them." The gym teacher finally took action. (My theory has always been that she didn't like the idea of someone else usurping her authority over her class - nevermind that she hadn't been exercising it in the first place.)

The boys involved were all required to apologize to me. I had my response planned - I'd had plenty of time to think about these things while I was walking laps around the gym. "I'll accept your apology when you prove you've earned it." Nice? No, not particularly. That might be a good description of me at that age. They had been instructed to apologize. No one had instructed me to accept their apologies and make nice. The first boy to apologize got a really frightened look in his eyes before he scurried off. The only other boy to apologize looked me in the eye and said "OK." He spent the better part of the next year doing exactly that. (At that point, I gave up ignoring him as a bad job. He's now one of the few high school classmates I make even a cursory attempt to keep in touch with.)

*No additional injury resulted from this, but it now occurs to me that my doctor probably would have revoked my permission to walk laps if he'd known about it.

**Posting now, before I lose my nerve. Like I said, way triggery.

#207 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 08:12 PM:

Terry 154: So too is it brainwashing to become truly fluent in any number of specialised disciplines, like SCUBA, or hard suit diving, or being a firefighter, or a doctor, or a pilot, or a welder.

No, because they just teach you those. They don't destroy your personality first and then give you a new one.

Lee 200: An absolutely heartwarming story! I wonder if K took a lesson from it too.

#208 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 08:18 PM:

Wren 203: The only other boy to apologize looked me in the eye and said "OK." He spent the better part of the next year doing exactly that. (At that point, I gave up ignoring him as a bad job. He's now one of the few high school classmates I make even a cursory attempt to keep in touch with.)

Sounds like you did him a LOT of good by your response to his apology. I would conjecture that he's a better person today than he would have been had you accepted his apology without conditions.

#209 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Mycroft @198: Gods, yes -- I cannot tolerate embarrassment comedy under most circumstances either, and reading this thread reminds me of why I can't. Way too many triggers for me there, and way too much of an opportunity to empathize.

#210 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 08:38 PM:

Terry Karney, #189, I never fought, exactly, but three times I defended myself:

1. When I was eight, my mother left me at a park where some kids from her school were. I just sat on a tall rock and read, but the kids wanted to play softball and needed even teams. I kept telling them no and eventually, a girl pulled me down from the rock and pushed the bat into my neck against the rock. I managed to get the bat loose and hit her in the head.

2. When I was 18, I was at a college with truly hideous rituals. For girl's birthdays, they were taken out early in the morning and tied to a tree. When some stranger let you loose, everybody went to Sambo's to celebrate. My birthday is in March and through all the earlier birthdays, I refused to participate because I thought it was cruel. When my birthday came and they tried to get me to go with them and I said no, they kept telling me I had to. Eventually, one tried to pull me out of the bed and I slugged her in the stomach. She left, and later talked to the resident supervisor who apparently had been expecting something like this. She explained that I hadn't done it to anybody else and when I didn't want it done to me, they had to let me stay in bed.

3. When I was 28, there was a guy at my defense contractor who, when introduced to me, grabbed my breast and said I looked good. I moved away and told him to never do that again. A bit later, we'd been in a meeting with an admiral I'd worked with before and I was talking with the admiral when the guy put his arm around me and his hand on my breast again and the admiral's aide moved him off and talked to him. One night I'd worked late and couldn't go out the back door and stairs, I had to go out the front door and use the elevator. The elevator was diagonal from the door and until I got in, I didn't realize the guy was there. He put his arm around me again, feeling me up again, and I stomped on his foot and slammed my elbow in his gut. (I'd forgotten he was short and I hit his ribs with my elbow.) He leaned against the back of the elevator and I pushed the button to take it to the floor where it would open in front of a security desk. The next morning he called in that he'd tripped over his dog and fallen down the stairs and had broken ribs and broken feet.

When I was 38 and 48, I'd become sick and disabled and had retired.

#211 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 09:40 PM:

Xopher @ 205:

Like everything else, it's a bit more complicated than that. Here's the bit of the story I left out (cut for length*), and this bit I have drawn a few conclusions from.

Primary conclusion: In the absence of a friend, an accquaintance who is a known quantity can sometimes be good enough.

In Advanced Biology my sophomore year, we were allowed to pick our own lab partners. Neither V. nor I had any close friends in that section. But we'd gone to the same elementary school, and often ended up in the same classes. We were both introverts, and didn't know each other well. But we were known quantities to each other, and neither of us had any reason to dislike the other. She and I ended up lab partners for the year. And having an established lab partner means you don't have to ask to be in someone else's lab group.

Shortly before the apology incident I mentioned @203, V started dating K (the second boy to apologize to me). By the time of the apology, K was spending more time with his girlfriend, and less time with the boys from gym class. I'm pretty sure she was a good influence on him. His behavior in general improved when they started dating, but I have no idea what (if any) specific situations V may have discussed with K.

I didn't keep in touch with V after graduation, but AFAIK, she and K are still married.

*Everything looks longer on a 9-inch netbook monitor. :)

#212 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 11:09 PM:

once you go nuts on someone for trying to hurt you in school, no matter what the grade, it appears to get out. My high school years were relatively uneventful in the bullying phase. As i said before. part of it was the 'if you touch me, you are going to be done with it, I'll go nuts on you." Part of it was that i was part of a geeky but successful program called Categories, which was televised on the school district video programs and got me a letter for participation in a program that won us kudos,.

#213 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:28 AM:

Xopher: Neither does Basic Training (unless you think I was a completely different person before I joined the Army). What all of them do is give a new template to work with. Some of those templates are pretty hard wired, and some are not. Some people adopt them as their own, without any modification, and some don't.

#214 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:37 AM:

Confession time: and no blame attached, even if I am sounding bitter. This has been a case of focus, not of things being taken to some hideous extreme.

Want to know one of the things that makes me feel bullied... having to defend my understanding of the Army.

To make a parallel, it's like talking to non-fen about fandom. They all know what they know, and they all have nothing better than bits and pieces of it, and those bits and pieces are, usually, distorted.

But it doesn't stop them from telling you what it's really like.

In the main, I can cope with it, because it happens pretty much everywhere. But I'm not going to talk about in, in this thread, anymore; because I am in the uncomfortable position of feeling beat up on, for things I had nothing to do with. Things which may be true, which may not be true, but for which I refuse to accept blame, and don't feel like standing in as scapegoat for.

#215 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:44 AM:

God damn it, what is it about this thread? That's two useful, informative, helpful people out of the pool now.

Seriously, people, is this the best we as a community can do? Because if it is, then I think we're all learning something about the people we label as bullies and write off from there.

#216 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:58 AM:

I just had a thought: which I think ties into the problem we are having.

We aren't "bad" people, though we have unpleasant blind spots.

We are the people out parents warned us about.

#217 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:59 AM:

abi, I'll be back--we had a productive discussion of bullying in my middle-level-theory class today, and as soon as I get over this sleep debt I'll relay the information. Midterms are nearly over!

#218 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:02 AM:

re 184: Abi, we are not going to get anywhere on the matter of her intent; your hermeneutic and mine are just not going to be reconciled. What bothers me more is how you think I was "hostile" to her. I gather that you think I'm trying to shoehorn her into some position, but I cannot follow what that position is supposed to be. Meanwhile you've used a series of expressions which could be read as saying I'm being dishonest in pressing the point. Why should I not read that as hostility?

#219 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:07 AM:

C Wingate @215:

Given your intelligence, I have had a very difficult time seeing how your inability to distinguish between the commission of a crime and the circumstances that might turn that crime into a hate crime are anything other than indicative of underlying bias. That's colored my reaction the whole way through.

If you want to talk me through how you got to that confusion without starting out disliking what she said, I'd be happy to listen to it. It just seems like such a clear distinction to me that it's hard to imagine crossing those two streams in good faith.

Happy to be convinced otherwise, really.

#220 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:18 AM:

I was planning on reading all the way through this thread before posting, assuming I had anything to say, but that won't happen until late tomorrow afternoon because I have appointments to go to, and I need to go to bed soon because I'm minus on sleep as it is. But I've just read the last few comments, and I fell I must say something in response to Terry's upset.

I went through Basic back when most of us were draftees (I was drafted and then enlisted), at a time when the pressure on the Army to field troops was even greater than it is now, and so the training was in some respects rougher. But even under those conditions, the training was not brainwashing. There are military units in other places which brainwash their soldiers (several of the factions in the central African civil wars, the Russian Federation army (the draftees in the Infantry, at any rate), the paramilitary units in Columbia, and others. But that's not what happened here in the US when I was in the Army, and from the information I have it is not what happens there now.

When I have time, I can try to explain to those who are interested why the training in the US Army and the other services (with, to some extent, the exclusion of the Marines) is not brainwashing. I don't have the time, or the patience right now (I know better than to comment on a subject I feel very strongly about when I'm this tired). But I would like wish Terry well, and ask him to try not to take the position he feels put in too much to heart. I think the problem is a misunderstanding resulting from lack of first-hand knowledge of military training. So I would like to ask you, Xopher, to think about why Terry feels uncomfortable about the way this subject has played out.

abi, I would like to return to this topic in a day or so, if that's possible. In the meantime maybe we all need a cooling off period. This thread contains a lot of volatile subject matter; it's been hard for all of us, I think, to keep our feelings from getting a little out of hand.

#221 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:28 AM:

Jacque@195: Mockingly, she'd call, "Hi, [name]!" To which I'd cheerily respond, "Hi, Sunkist!" Son of a gun if that didn't blow her pattern enough that she kind of let up on me.

When my older daughter was small, my husband taught her the "oh, you have something on your shirt" trick: the person looks down, you tap her nose. In several cases it threw the bully off enough that she never got around to bullying. In one notable case the would-be bully was so charmed he took her around for a day making her show it off to everyone else. And just knowing she had a trick up her sleeve made her more confident, which may have sent some potential bullies off in search of more fragile fare. Of course, with the heat off my child, it's not unlikely that some more vulnerable kid got harassed instead.

#222 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:34 AM:

Bruce: It's a here and now problem (well, no, it's an everywhere problem; it's just that here and now, in this context, I've had as much as I can take).

I'm more than willing, in another context, to try and explain the differences, and how the training of interrogators builds on the theme, as well as all sorts of other things (including the various understandings I have of the Corps, from playing with them, and studying them, and training them; and with them, and studying them).

Because, warts and all, I am terribly fond of the Army. It's why I did it for 16 years, but in this context, I don't think I can talk about it, much less why the other talk about it is qualitatively different to the other talk about it, without causing more pain than an already Damoclean thread needs.

#223 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:50 AM:

The internet has left its mark on me;
Raw wounds from bitter words best left unsaid.
The thought behind their meaning one could see
Was brutish, red in tooth and claw, misled.

Before that, USENET also left its scar,
The epic rants lit all the world ablaze
If only one believed the words bizarre
And lavished on the ranter mawkish praise.

Another bloody path, the BBS,
The home of local flame wars, before memes
Were analyzed in rigorous excess,
Was destined to be obsolete, it seems.

The playgrounds of our youth had sticks and stones;
As adults we have vicious, wild cyclones.

#224 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 02:00 AM:

TomB @ 156
Oh, for sure. I've done my stint in a hostile environment "for the good of the program." Seriously, seriously got that lesson down.*

It's part of why I asked the question, actually. Because there was talk about tools that adults have. And I thought... "well, I have part of that toolkit, I think, but I'm not sure what the tools are in this specific instance, except to walk on and shake the dust from my feet."

It's always seemed like such an extreme solution. I just wondered if there were other specific tactics people would recommend. As they have, to my appreciation, though... eh, I still haven't seen anything I prefer to walking away, except in situations that are relatively more stable or protected than in my hypothetical.

(Also, lest I inadvertently cause some sort of concern, I am not actually at present in any such situation.)


*Of course, I am now more-or-less immune to a wide range of generally dysfunctional but not actively hostile behaviors, which has stood me in fairly good stead... proving only, I suppose, that one can learn something from just about anything...

#225 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 02:17 AM:

Lee @ 200: "I said, "Well, if you want one group that does absolutely nothing, that's the best way to get one!" This produced general laughter, and rather to my surprise, one of the popular girls spoke up and said, "Lee, you can be in our group." Then the teacher called for volunteers to work with K, and nobody spoke up -- she had to assign him to a group."

Reading this story has me flashing back on the countless times I played the role of K, unwanted by all. How is this not a classic example of group bullying dynamics, with K in the role of the bullied and you winning group approval with your clever cruelty?

A trigger, yes; I have been pulled.

#226 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:01 AM:

Terry 210: I was talking about the Marines, remember. That's the only BT about which I keep hearing that thing about how they "tear you down, then build you back up." I haven't heard the tearing-down part about any other branch.

Ibid. 210: I'm sorry you feel that way, doubly sorry if I've contributed to it. I don't mean to tell you about the Army; you know about it, and I don't. Do you think Army and Marine BT are the same?

Ibid. 213: We are the people out parents warned us about.

OK, now you're back in MY world! :-)

abi 216: Given your intelligence, I have had a very difficult time seeing how your inability to distinguish between the commission of a crime and the circumstances that might turn that crime into a hate crime are anything other than indicative of underlying bias.

Especially since the perp's underlying intent is the ONLY thing that gives a crime the hate-crime enhancement.

#227 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:09 AM:

heresiarch @222 It would be hard to expect Lee to cheerfully accept being in a workgroup consisting of herself and K, considering she'd said K bullied her. Her story reads to me like she inadvertently put one of her oppressors in the hot seat in her place, but her intent was only to avoid being isolated with him in a situation she might well have expected him to use to continue being mean to her.

#228 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:38 AM:

Earl Cooley III #220: Ooo, very nice!

heresiarch #222: I'd say rather, that Lee's story illustrates that there's more than one reason people can get stuck in that "unwanted" corner... but some reasons are stickier than others. Lee says "she wasn't surprised" about her own exclusion -- I'd guess that she had an Aspie-style "lack of connections", whereas K, despite Lee's impression, had actually made himself disliked.

abi #212: God damn it, what is it about this thread?

Take it easy on yourself, Abi! "Can't be heaven; it's got people in it." This is a topic that's intensely triggering for lots and lots of people -- indeed, that's why I've only just started tiptoeing around the edges. "Safe space" does not mean that nobody ever gets triggered; one aspect of "safety" is being able to retreat for a while when overstressed.

You can still help by interrupting cascades and enforcing civility, but spotlighting people when they're trying to withdraw for a while is not helpful. (Indeed, Terry was only backing off from the topic which is his own hot button!)

KayTei, #221: I tend to prefer withdrawal too, but it's not always an option for the moment or the situation. In the worst work environment I've been in, I was trapped there by a mixture of my depression, and my assumption that "I'm a grownup, I need a job or I've FAILED"... so I wound up completely burned out and on disability.

And speaking of triggers: Marilee #207.2 they were taken out early in the morning and tied to a tree. When some stranger let you loose

<hair stands on end> I wonder how many of the girls were molested or worse?

#229 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 09:33 AM:

Note: what follows is an anecdote about my particular idiosyncratic bullying experience, and should not be interpreted as 'data' in any way. Me saying it happened this way for me DOES NOT IMPLY I think it's this way for many -- or any -- other people.

I got bullied a lot as a kid. For me, it took three major forms: social exclusion, nasty words whispered where teachers couldn't hear, and active shoving-downs and light assault on the playground.

When I was 7 or 8, my mother argued the school into allowing me to wear the pants from the boys' school uniform (with shirt, weskit, etc from the girls') instead of the otherwise-utterly-required skirt-and-tights (tights in winter; socks in summer), because two to three times a week, EVERY week, I was shoved down on the playground hard enough to rip the knees out of my tights and bloody me☂.

There is no excuse for bullying, not ever. However, it is a quirk of my own messed-up brain chemistry★ that I also egged them on. At the time it felt like a compulsion, like I couldn't keep my frakkin' mouth shut, but it wasn't far enough out on the spectrum to be like Tourette's. In hindsight I think I was subconsciously getting off on the control ... even when what I was controlling them to do involved making them so incandescently angry (with a few words and no action the teachers could see) that their forebrains went out the window and they had to HULK SMASH.

Reading this thread, I've realized it's a weird kind of counterbullying. I managed to be the only kid in my grade to get seriously bullied for years, possibly because I made myself such an attractive target ... possibly because I was just so miserable for other reasons that nobody else could compete in terms of looking preylike.

This is not to blame the victim in bullying the way it's routine to do in rape ... but the misery and self-hatred that initially isolates some bully-prey may also seep out in incitatory behavior. In fact, if I had been an extrovert instead of a terrified introvert, the same social skill and misery might have made me an active bully instead of, I dunno what to call it.

--
☂ I was also a tree-climber and good at ruining my clothes, so I had always WANTED to wear the pants anyway ... but my mother couldn't get me an exception until she could show the principal photo-sequences for two weeks demonstrating how damn many pairs of tights she had to go through for me. Considering we qualified for subsidized uniforms, buying that many tights was a not-inconsiderable expense, and the principal bowed to the economic issue (while claiming there was no real problem she could do anything about on the 'bloody knees three times a week' problem).

★ My brain chemistry with some help from my nurturing environment; I don't post on DFD threads because I haven't figured out how to anonymize enough to protect those who, years ago, were guilty, but have since changed ... and who are now on Teh Intarwebz, and have told me repeatedly they would regard it as actionable slander if I were to speak about it publically in a trackable way.

#230 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 10:37 AM:

#207 Marilee

"3. When I was 28, there was a guy at my defense contractor who, when introduced to me, grabbed my breast and said I looked good."

Yeah. When does bullying fall into sexual harrassment? I wasn't bullied in school, but all my life I've been the target of a lot of, and varied forms, of sexual harrassment. Of course I label all unwelcome, uninvited sexual attention and remarks as harrassment, including "Smile!" Maybe "SMILE!" in particular.

I know, I know, she repeats wearily, that how is a guy supposed to know his attentions are unwelcome until he tries? But what she wants to know, she repeats wearily, why when she says go away he doesn't, and even, why in the world when she is so obviously minding her own business he could even assume she wants him to intrude himself for her attention rather than continue attending to what is her own obvious agenda?

Love, C.

#231 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Personally, I was responsible for getting my own butt home from about the age of 15, and for cooking dinner for the whole family once my mom went into grad school (and wasn't home till after 8:30 most nights) when I was 16, but an awful lot of US parents refuse to even consider the thought of their kids on their own unsupervised at those ages.

...people don't let their 15-year-olds be at home unsupervised?

My mom was often out of the house by the time I was 12, and there was no issue whatsoever. Sometimes it was for work, sometimes it was so she could go out for the evening, whatever.

As long as you can trust your kid not to burn the house down or open the door to strangers, where exactly is the issue?

#232 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Bruce, #217: I wonder if Xopher's experience has been anything like mine, namely having seen people I knew and liked return from basic training as... not themselves any more. Not bad people, but almost unrecognizable. That's not a comfortable thing to witness, and it left me with a certain distrust of the military process, though not necessarily of people in the military.

What I do seriously dislike are the people who try to say, "Until you've been thru it, you can't possibly understand how much better it is." The ones who consider the military to be some sort of exclusive and superior social club, and brush off the opinions and experiences of anyone who isn't a member. Terry isn't one of those people, but we've had a few around here -- remember PRV/CRV?

heresiarch, #222: pericat has it right. Remember that I was also unwanted, and surprised when G offered to let me be in her group. But K, from where I sat, appeared to be one of the popular kids -- the whole thing was like a sort of weird inversion of my normal experience.

It may be that my willingness to stand up for myself was what prompted G to make her offer. OTOH, maybe she just had a moment of feeling sorry for me, I don't know. As I said originally, I have never been able to figure out what the dynamics of that situation actually were, and I'd love to know.

I should perhaps mention that I was rarely physically bullied, and not at all after junior high. It's just that I was outcaste and unpopular until I got to college, where the student pool was large enough that I was able to make more than one friend at a time.

Elliott, #226: Re your second footnote -- frankly, that doesn't sound to me as if they've changed all that much. Being ashamed of their former behavior is one thing; blackmailing you to continue your isolation over it (and it is blackmail -- because it's not slander if it's a true statement!) is something else altogether.

#233 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 12:53 PM:

Carrie S @228 ...people don't let their 15-year-olds be at home unsupervised?

It's no longer illegal to leave them alone by the time they are 15, but the after-school hours are when kids tend to get into the most trouble with alcohol, drugs, sex, petty vandalism and theft, etc. My older daughter stayed home alone after school from the time she was 13 (she would have been up to it sooner, but I was working part-time and it wasn't necessary). But she has always been a sensible kid and had sensible friends and I wasn't afraid I was going to come home and find that the liquor cabinet had been drained in my absence or some such. I don't think a kid that age needs to be supervised every minute, in general, but leaving them alone day-in and day-out may be a different matter. I wouldn't automatically characterize a parent who avoided that as overprotective or paranoid.

#234 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Speaking of bullying...

speaking of hair standing on end...

This link is not for the weak of stomach. Woman taunts her neighbor, both online and in the neighborhood, about the deaths of neighbor's daughter and granddaughter from Huntington's Disease.

Move over, Fred Phelps.

#235 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:27 PM:

Lee @229 -- "... But K, from where I sat, appeared to be one of the popular kids -- the whole thing was like a sort of weird inversion of my normal experience." In several groups I've been in, it's become obvious at some point that nobody thinks they're in the "in-group", however that might be defined. In part, this is because "in-group" is a poorly defined concept (socially, "group" is a poorly-defined concept, in a Popperian sense -- no grouping is falsifiable, though membership in a particular group can be), and it's always easy to find some way in which I'm not part of it. With popularity groups (as this story shows) membership is fragile. And to some extent, bullying in these situations seems to be about enforcing one's status as a member.

abi @212 -- taking a time out or saying one isn't talking about a specific topic isn't the same as leaving the conversation; praise, no blame (both to them for taking care of themselves, and you for your moderating skills).

#236 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:30 PM:

Lila@231: Ouch.

I notice that, at least, sufficient pressure has been brought to bear that the fsckers are now apologizing and saying most of the right things. (I don't rule out that they've had an actual change of heart, instead of just responding to pressure).

#237 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:38 PM:

[posting here under the pseudo I use on the DFD threads.]

Tom Whitmore @137, here's an alternative to the Haden Elgin books, which my psychotherapist assigned me to study: Taking The War Out Of Our Words by Sharon Ellison. I think you'll find her message is the exact opposite of "turning everything into an assault," and the tools and tactics she advocates really do work. I'm living testimony in support of that.

#238 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 01:42 PM:

Constance@227: Speaking as a man, and probably as a somewhat shy one at that (at least in terms of sexual advances)...I've never found it necessary to go to the point of groping somebody to determine if they were interested in me (you raised, I think preemptively, the "how's a guy to know then" question). Please count me as a datapoint against that being necessary or appropriate.

(I've probably missed noticing that somebody was interested in me; but I can't think that groping more people experimentally would have lead to better outcomes.)

(And, just for the record, I'd "resort" to verbal communication before trying actual groping, if those were the last two things that could be tried and I still didn't know. Obviously.)

#239 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 02:16 PM:

Thank you, xiaoren -- that looks quite interesting, and parallels some of the work I've already done in other areas. I'll spend some time with it over the next day or so, at least.

#240 ::: jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 02:39 PM:

TrishB @145 : I am that same Jenett! (I still hang out on TC, too.) Thanks for the lovely compliment.

In more general notes: realised no one's brought up useful resources here. Rachel Simmons has a book called Odd Girl Out which is all about relational aggression (the in group/out group kind of bullying, rather than the physical stuff, though obviously, there are places the same tools are very helpful.)

One of the things that makes it my favorite of the books of this type is that she is bluntly honest about the fact that she was bullied - but she was also a bully. It was trying to figure that out that got her writing about it. It's been hard reading for basically everyone I've ever discussed it with, but very worthwhile, in terms of being able to figure out what happened to them, and how to spot it when it's happening to people you care about.

#241 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Xopher: I am going to try and explain what happened, without ruining my flouncing recusal. This is about more than just you, though you were the one who got the brunt of the reaction.

I'm going to break down what happened, and then (without too much button pushing, try to point out what else is going on [and goes on, all the the time, even here] on the general subject)

Terry 54: It's not bullying. I've been there, and it's not.

No, it's really more like brainwashing, especially the way former Marines describe their boot camp. "They break you down and then build you back up as a Marine" is the description I've heard many times, and that sounds pretty much like brainwashing to me. And they don't know how to turn them back into civilians when they leave, either, or at any rate make no attempt to do so. That people ever manage it on their own is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

That's the kernel. I was talking about Basic/boot, in general, with specifics from the Army. You replied to that,and used the Corps as a specific illustration; and language which all the services use, to greater or lesser extent.

When I expanded on the ways in which all sorts of disciplines change the practitioner (and let me tell you, the people who come out of law school, or med school, are not the people who went in, and that person will never be seen again. It's why so many marriages end so shortly after those are completed), you replied:

Terry 154: So too is it brainwashing to become truly fluent in any number of specialised disciplines, like SCUBA, or hard suit diving, or being a firefighter, or a doctor, or a pilot, or a welder.

No, because they just teach you those. They don't destroy your personality first and then give you a new one.

Now, it seems you didn't mean all such training, but (and here's were some of those little bits I admitted were brainwashy come into play) the Marine Corps does not do Basic training. They do Boot Camp. I was talking about Basic Training, and making reference to the Corps (and, for a description, from an outside observer, of what Boot Camp for Marines is like, you might want to look at "Making the Corps") Also, the Army has, in the past five years or so, incorporated some of the training ideals, and events, of the Corps. Mostly around issues of stress management/induction, and some about unit behavior, but I digress, as I so commonly do.

So, I never stopped talking about one thing, and you never thought you had started talking about it. That was the crystalising moment.

But the solution has been being saturated, for years, here, there and everywhere.

Lets skip down a bit, to someone else.

Lee's comment has some of the more pernicious aspects of it: What I do seriously dislike are the people who try to say, "Until you've been thru it, you can't possibly understand how much better it is." The ones who consider the military to be some sort of exclusive and superior social club, and brush off the opinions and experiences of anyone who isn't a member. Terry isn't one of those people, but we've had a few around here -- remember PRV/CRV?

That's the hardest part. The bit where I get to be "different". Where the stereoptype is said to be, more or less, true, but I'm special. I'm not like, "them". That's hard.

It's meant to be buffer, a way to not offend the person in the present group, who also belongs to the described group. Sometimes it's phrased as a compliment, but in neither case does it really do the trick. It's, probably not intentionally, a way to make it harder for the person named, to reply, because, "so and so is, not like that."

It's othering.

In more extreme cases, usually to my face, people see me in uniform, for the first time; and only knowing me in social removes where my being a soldier has never come up, and say things like, "Oh... how can someone like you be in the military". That's even before the subject of what I do/did came up. The shock reactions after that could be stellar. Some of the more subtle reactions to that; the assumptions people make about interrogation, and don't share, just project onto me... those can be ghastly.

So, to quote Bugs Bunny, what we had was pronoun trouble, couple with vehemence, married to common elements in all forms of recruit formation, attached to other people telling me about what it was like to be in the army.

For what it's worth, there are aspects of it (Basic Training/Boot Camp, and the rest of the acculturating aspects of making a civilian not a civilian: I am not who I was before) which cannot be understood without having lived. Some of it is an institutional rite of passage, and there are some hazing aspects to it, but it's not meant viciously (though the clark's comment that Ermy says Boot Camp was a walk in the park in the '60s.... My father, who did Navy Boot, than Marine Boot, pretty much back to back [long story, he was young, and more foolish,and the Navy had lied to him], didn't quite think so. The Dept. of Def. didn't quit think so, or pehaps Ermey was in after the Drills at Parris Island were stripped of batons, because they had been killing recruits with jabs to the solar plexus, but again, I digress; and I agree, the Corps is run differently. There are some , appalling, historical reasons for this,and they go back to the Royal Navy, and the age of sail, and the fetish the Corps has for tradtion over all).

So that's how it got there. A lot of little things, most of them not ill-meant; not all of them done here, but all of them galling.

#242 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Lila:

That story is a fantastic example of media operating as a sort of global outrage-seeker-and-amplifier. Godawful behavior that gets amplified to make some kind of broader point, when the only meaningful point to make is the one their neighbors surely made: Christ, what an asshole.

#243 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:31 PM:

It seems to me that a great many things, good and bad, fit this category of "you can't really understand it until you've been through it" and "you'll never be quite the same person afterward." I'd put raising children and being married[1] both in that category. I just don't think I can use words to explain more than a fraction of the full experience. It does change you, or at least has changed me and those I know who've gone through it. I'm inclined to say the same thing of college, being bilingual, traveling a lot overseas, studying any technical subject to the point of genuine mastery, being seriously committed to your religion, and dozens of other things. At various levels, each of these *changes* you, and is very hard to explain in words to someone without relatively similar experiences.

That can be used as a kind of club to beat people over the head with, or for that matter a club from which to exclude others. But that doesn't change the fact that there are many experiences which probably can't be conveyed in words very effectively.

I think that kind of experience lends itself to a lot of wild speculation and extrapolation and assumptions. People being people, those extrapolations are often as much based on wishful (or fearful) thinking as on any kind of reality. It's a useful thing for me to remember how much of the human experience I *haven't* had, but which I've seen portrayed in movies or books. Those are dangerous areas--I'm liable to feel like I know a great deal more about those things than I do. For example, I've read all kinds of books in which characters are in pitched battles. And yet, the reality is, I've never experienced anything remotely like that, so my "knowledge" of being in combat ranges from real portrayals at one remove to complete bullshit I don't know enough to realize smells bad. What would I really do in those circumstances? I have no idea. Probably the precisely wrong thing, and get killed.

An interesting political twist on this is that a lot of stuff Americans watch a lot of movies and TV about (war, crime, terrorism, espionage, torture, conspiracies) is also stuff that we're expected to make good decisions about, as voters. And yet, most of us are horribly uninformed about that stuff, without realizing the depth of our ignorance. Watching lots of movies with combat in them has prepared us for making sensible decisions about war in much the same way that watching lots of episodes of Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Firefly has prepared us to make good decisions about the space program.

[1] Or in a really long-term, committed relationship--I doubt the marriage license makes all that much difference to the experience. But I doubt my ability to use words to convey to someone without that experience the full depth of the experience. And I'm just flat not the same guy I was when I entered the relationship that led to my marriage.

#244 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Terry, what you just wrote has brought up a whole lot of material for me.

This is a confession: when I was much, much younger, I was foolishly and thoughtlessly prejudiced against people in the armed forces. I don't think I ever expressed it openly, or in a hurtful way, to anyone in service, but the attitude was there, unexamined and unchallenged, for many years. It developed during a time in my life when I was protesting the Vietnam war. I do not regret my protests; not at all. But I regret the thoughtless assumptions I made about people I didn't know, and about the value of their service.

My attitudes have changed. Growing older and expanding my worldview made a difference. But what mostly changed them was encountering, training in Aikido with, and making dear and beloved friends with some Marines: several of my own generation, who fought in that wretched conflict, and several younger men, who are still in the Corps. Knowing these men, watching them go to war and come home, praying for their safety every day, meeting their families, wives, kids -- how could I be prejudiced against some stranger in a uniform, knowing that that stranger might be in my friend's unit, under his command, or guarding his back in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq?

I could say more, but won't, for now.

#245 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 03:59 PM:

albatross@240: The point about distinguishing fact from fiction is very important indeed. Lots of my almost-experience comes from fiction, but it always has to be handled carefully and thoughtfully (and I'm sure I've got time-bombs planted in me by fiction that slipped past the filters and are just waiting for an opportunity to go off).

And sometimes people who don't have the direct personal experience may do their research well enough that they still describe things more accurately than people who were there in person (or the people with the direct experience are still too close to it and can't get it down on paper convincingly). I think, in theory. So it's not even as simple as always believing people with first-hand experience over others on these self-changing topics (though that's the way to bet if that's the only information available).

Part of my reaction: it's really creepy to talk about taking somebody and turning them into somebody else. And somebody consciously choosing to go do that is even creepier (yes, I can imagine cases where it's the less-creepy alternative, of course). (I find the psychological "essence" more basic than the physical, so the kind of re-making of personality that's been alluded to is for me more drastic than for example gender reassignment.)

#246 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 04:10 PM:

I don't think I said Ermey said anything was a walk in the park - rather that given his own particular personal background it wasn't that different or that tough for him.

And so it follows that results depended very very strongly on what people brought to the event.

Folks whose experience in high school was varsity athletics where the football coach is really roughest on the players he expects to contribute will bring a different experience to training than folks whose high school experience was with a faculty adviser for the (then) Westinghouse Science Fair - though there is some overlap.

Friend of mine who was Marine DI and also drilled troops in the Army (as an Army reservist post Marine active service) (I was dubious about some of his Army stories until I talked to one of his officers who had saved pictures) was asked once how he did it - and said it's easier to pace yourself if you set the pace.

See also Rick Jamieson's memoir of his own experience constantly being pushed to slow down! - happens he won the NCAA collegiate mile his senior year in college and went straight into the service - and being habituated to running - training for and running a pretty fast pace when pressed - found that he was constantly being pressured to slow down. What folks take away depends very much on what they bring -

As I also suggested there are other aspects of the military experience - my own father hated the plebe experience at Annapolis in the run up to WWII - and never really got to enjoy the joys of doing it to others as they rushed to commissions after 7 December - but I'm sure he would have.

For a revenge of the nerds in pickle suits story the intelligence geeks who did signals intelligence and listening in the Berlin Brigade once found themselves being pushed to shape up and meet regular combat solder PT standards. Accidentally on purpose a gripe that they were in fact geeks and that was really what the Army wanted in that role so don't exhaust a guy who was doing listening and interpretation of noisy signals was given a wake up the SecDef we're about to go to war heading and sent. One interesting and I think significant thing is that the NCO's responsible for planning (plotting) isolated some of the potential scapegoats by getting them out of the secure tank for a little while that night.

Yes indeedy law school sharpens the intellect by narrowing the mind and so do many other aspects of life.

#247 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 04:53 PM:

Lizzy @241 -- shared much of the same prejudices, and now work against them (as I do with prejudices against strongly religious people). I'm hoping that I learn as I grow older to appreciate people more for exactly who they are, rather than what sets they seem to represent.

#248 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 04:54 PM:

Terry 238: I'm with you right up to this:

That's the hardest part. The bit where I get to be "different". Where the stereoptype is said to be, more or less, true, but I'm special.

I didn't read Lee that way at all. I thought she was saying that you're not one of the people who snoots people who've never been in the military, just as my friend John never snooted us state-university grads over the fact that he went to Yale. PRV did that, and it was really annoying. I guess that's not too different from your reading, except that I didn't think Lee was saying "most of them do, but not our Terry"; rather, I read her as saying "we've had occasion to be annoyed by military and former military doing this, and thank gods Terry is better than that."

I confess I don't really know the difference between Basic Training and Boot Camp. I stress again, I've only heard the horror stories about the process in the Corps (and I don't include the batons, which I didn't know about).

Lizzy 241: I've been through a similar process at a less intense level. I was too young to protest the Vietnam War personally, though my sentiments were with the protestors; I developed a (fairly typical, I believe) knee-jerk anti-militarism; and I got over it by knowing former and current members of the military.

#249 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 05:10 PM:

Lizzy: We all put people into groups. There isn't much other way to do it. We make patterns of what we do know, and weave a larger cloth from the threads.

The hard part (and perhaps the crucial one) is not separating the one person you know, who "isn't like that" from the rest of the group she belongs to. All groups are mosaics, and each piece is part of the whole.

#250 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 05:47 PM:

DDB #242: it's really creepy to talk about taking somebody and turning them into somebody else.

The rudiments of that have been part of our "folk technology" for millenia -- it's just that in the last century or less, we've started getting halfway competent at it, as our knowledge of human psychology developed. (I'd put Skinner as the dividing line there.)

#251 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:07 PM:

David Harmon@247: And most of us recognize some situations where people decide to change themselves as beneficial -- usually by deciding they're "wrong" and will be "fixing" themselves. Probably the two most-common examples are people deciding to stop smoking, and non-functional alcoholics deciding to give it up. (Also of course loosing weight, though that one is a bit more controversial at least in the circles I hang out in.)

Yeah, some of the technology makes this scarier. And reports of some of the Korean work with prisoners of war, too.

#252 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:07 PM:

#235 ddb

There are an infinite number of ways to sexually harass that don't involve touching at all.

Love, c.

#253 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:09 PM:

Constance@249: Yes, of course. Sorry if I wrote so clumsily you actually thought I didn't know that.

#254 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:10 PM:

Terry Karney@246: There are two kinds of people in the world...those who divide everything into two groups, and those who don't.

#255 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Xopher: Hoo-boy.

I am not special. I do do that (say that there are aspects of the Army which are different, and set us apart. How much of that comes across as me saying soldiers are, "better" is largely effort, and some part take away).

The real point is. I am a soldier. When someone says, "soldiers are like 'x'" part of that group is me.

It's that same reason that I get so annoyed when some idiot gets up and says, "All of us in uniform believe 'x'"

And, while she may not have meant do, Lee did some of that, she singled me out as being, "not like the people who do 'x'". Given that doing "x" is what we are talking about, it has the effect of saying I'm different from all the other soldiers.

It's sort of like (and this is the part I didn't want to try to talk about), the guy who is allowed to sit at the table because, he's not like, "all those other (insert group identity here)".

Well, I am like all those other soldiers, and being told they are all, in some way, not really acceptable, that hurts, even when it's done without intent.

And that's a form of social pressure. How can the person who's given that special privilege challenge the idea that he's not like them. If he were like them, he'd lose his place, not be allowed to sit with the cool kids, drink from the fountain, share the bench, have the job, whatever the thing he's been allowed; which they are denied.

It's not as big a deal here, because I know that my bringing this up won't get me ostracized, here. There have been times, on both sides of this coin, where to speak up, is to cause acrimony, and unlike this forum, that was where I lived. People I saw, face to face everyday. No way to skim past a name.

So no, I don't really see the gentleness of that sort of well-meant comment as changing the actual content.

#256 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:25 PM:

Clark E Myers: No, he didn't say it was a walk in the park, what he said was, per your quotation:

"Actually boot camp was easy. My father was more of a disciplinarian than any drill instructor down there that I knew of. He had six boys and when you have six boys, one year apart, you darned sure better be a disciplinarian or they'll make you nuts.

We were raised boot camp style. We had chores. We had to be directly home from school. There was no stopping. There was no lolly-gagging."

Now, I don't know what sort of boot camp he went to, but that's not how I'd describe it, "chores, with no lolly-gagging."

Was it easier for me, as a someone who had been in charge of groups of people, who had once had to fire his roommate, who had been attacked; incidentally shot at a couple of times, gone hungry; and sleepless at times.

Someone who had been part of a greater whole in the past?

Yes.

But it wasn't easy. It wasn't brutal, but it wasn't easy. And, even as well as I did (Number 1 recruit in my company, had I been in the Corps and done that, one ea. set of dress blues as a reward), it's not something which was easy.

It wasn't anything one could prepare for. I suppose, were I to completely change how I think one ought to live one's life, I could try to emulate the quirks which most people wouldn't expect, but I know guys who do that. Guys who have kids who can make a rack to bounce a quarter, scan for avenues of approach and lay down a base of fire, who have noise and light discipline at the age of 12.

For them, yes, Boot Camp would be easy, but at what cost?

No, that's not what you are talking about, but that is the sort of thing one really needs to have, for that to be the case. A whole lot of simple (but not easy) tasks have to be trained; or at least the rudiments instilled (and I don't know that the, "knows too much" problem might not set in. I had some of that, because I had a some training before I got to Basic; couple with being 26).

It's a different mindset to the civilian. Some of us are better suited to it. I don't know that bringing up an outlier, presenting him as some sort of normative example, as you did with this:

Re Marine Corps basic a few words from Gunny R. Lee Ermey of movie and TV notoriety:

The old recruiter, a sergeant E4 was there... he said "you're a farm boy aren't you? ...Yep,
there's a bright future for you in the Marine Corps!

Unlike Gomer Pyle, the nickname of the Private at the center of Sgt Hartman's ire in Full Metal Jacket, Ermey said he found boot camp relatively
uneventful.

is really all that helpful. If you wanted to say, Basic/Boot is an different experience for everyone who does it, that's one thing.

But you didn't do that. You said,"Abour Marine Corps Boot Camp, here's the word, from someone who has been there."

#257 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:53 PM:

Xopher: The batons have not been allowed in decades. I think Ermey's character in FMJ has one, but no one presently in has seen them in use. I think they were outlawed in 66-67, so it's been almost forty years since they were banned.

#258 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 06:54 PM:

ddb: No, there are 10 types of people in the world.


Those understand binary, and those who don't.

#259 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 07:01 PM:

The batons are described in Starship Troopers - and one reason they existed. See also Space Cadet for some exposition on differences between Space Marines and other services.

When a Roman Centurion carried one they called it a vitus.

From Wikipedia this date
Swagger sticks were once in vogue in the United States Marine Corps, starting as an informal accessory carried by officers in the late 19th century. In 1915, it gained official approval as recruiters were encouraged to carry them to improve public image. This tradition grew when Marines deployed for World War I encountered European officers carrying swagger sticks, leading to an entry in the uniform regulations in 1922 authorizing enlisted Marines to carry them as well. The usage died down in the 1930s and 40s, excepting China Marines, and returned in vogue when a 1952 regulation encouraging them; reaching a peak from 1956 to 1960, when Commandant Randolph M. Pate encouraged use. While stressing the need for uniforms to be simple and rugged, with no need for gimmicks and gadgets, General Pate commented:

There is one item of equipment about which I have a definite opinion. It is the swagger stick. It shall remain an optional item of interference. If you feel the need of it, carry it…

However, his successor, David M. Shoup, quickly discouraged their use:

..."the swagger stick symbolized elitist affectation, and it reminded him of some unpleasant experiences he had had in China.” He had seen British officers toss money at Chinese men and then strike them with their swagger sticks as they picked up the coins off the ground. Few Marines carried the swagger stick after that.[1]

Renewing the personal tales - to expand on the reference to my own father - he really did start life as a Kansas farm boy - his mother my grandmother went west in a covered wagon - and I rather suspect but will never know that the Naval Academy was much harder on him than either boot or basic would ever have been.

I can certainly point to - and introduce folks to - Marines who on the whole enjoyed Boot and likely others who didn't but only the ones who did talk all that much about it - so I suppose but don't know many didn't. Those who drowned on night marches could not be reached for comment.

Again I suspect there is more bullying -and sometimes less - in advanced individual training than in basic. And see Lieutenant Fuzz (Beatle Bailey) for bullying a butterbar ROTC in the old army (Beatle Bailey is the very old army by now) - and perhaps some of the reasons it happens as well.

#260 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Terry @252

It's sort of like (and this is the part I didn't want to try to talk about), the guy who is allowed to sit at the table because, he's not like, "all those other (insert group identity here)".

Well, I am like all those other soldiers, and being told they are all, in some way, not really acceptable, that hurts, even when it's done without intent.


Thank you for saying this.

Because it's going to require some difficult thought, at least on my part.


#261 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Strike the substitute an alternate or one man's - I do seem to have difficulties expressing myself on this forum maybe it's partly a generation gap?

Perhaps an extended introduction saying: here's another view of an elephant and other things too big too varied too spread out in time and space (to make 4 dimensions if you will) for anyone to see entire - described after the manner of a hypercube to those in 3 space or a cube to those in 2 space - this view is from a different background and so a different frame and so a different picture - and equally valid or equally invalid. The actual quote is from an interview following the National Matches where Ermey shot and then helped make awards to women who in the event shot better than he did.


#262 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 08:45 PM:

Terry, #238: I would like to note that you misinterpreted my meaning @229. It was not my intent to say that the stereotype is broadly true and you the exception to the rule; rather, I was saying that I have encountered both types of military people, and providing an example of each from our shared experience in this community. I'm sorry if it came across like "present company excepted"; if anything, I believe that the sort of person I was griping about is a minority among active military and veterans both, based on the people in those groups that I have personally known.

#263 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 09:06 PM:

Lee I am sorry my reaction is painful. I didn't want to be as specific as I have been because I don't think anyone here has, in the main, tried to cause that sort of pain. I don't want people to feel guilty for things they didn't intend.

May I make a suggestion: If you want to talk about P/CRV, or those like him, do so. Hold them up as outliers, that is a decent case to make. Don't muddy the waters with "good" examples, because, no matter how one tries to make it plain the comparison is likely to take unpleasant aspects.

#264 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 09:12 PM:

pericat @ 224: "Her story reads to me like she inadvertently put one of her oppressors in the hot seat in her place, but her intent was only to avoid being isolated with him in a situation she might well have expected him to use to continue being mean to her."

Why is intent exculpatory? Does bullying stop being bullying if you're doing it for the right reasons? Lee humiliated someone, and won social approval and a warm glow. What do you imagine the psychological economy of bullying is among habitual bullies, if not this? "She put one of her oppressors in the hot seat in her place." What do you think drove K, not-actually-that-popular K, to the bullying he did? How alien do you imagine his motivations to be, that you will forgive in Lee what you condemn in him?

I'm not upset that Lee did this--I'm in no place to judge others for what they did to survive adolescence--but I am shocked and appalled that in this conversation, within this group, people are reading this story and not identifying this as bullying.

Lee @ 229: "Remember that I was also unwanted, and surprised when G offered to let me be in her group."

And so was K. So what then, is the difference between the cruelties that won you your temporary, conditional acceptance and those that won him his? Well, you did not do it habitually, and that's no small thing. But this incident was what it was, even if it wasn't part of a larger pattern for you.

"As I said originally, I have never been able to figure out what the dynamics of that situation actually were, and I'd love to know."

If you don't know what the dynamics were, then why are you so sure that I am wrong?

#265 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 09:16 PM:

I think, actually, Clark, I'm not going to chalk it up to it being blind men and elephants.

I don't know quite what it is you are trying to do, but I don't think it's helping. What you are doing is making apologetics for Marine Corps Boot Camp. Fine.

You are also making apologetics for swagger sticks. More to the point you are doing what Xopher did. You haven't been there, not in any form of it, not Air Force, Navy, Marine, nor Army (I might be wrong, but since the nature of this discussion, and based on past habit, is such that had you been to one of them, I should have expected you to trot that out as bona fides). So you are telling us, from, at best, second hand accounts, what it was like.

I freely admit I've not been to either MCRD San Diego, nor to MCRD Parris Island. I have been to Ft. Leonard Wood. I've been to Ft. Huachuca, I've talked to people who have been to every single US Army Basic Training facility still in operation. I've sat and swapped stories with people who went to places like Ft. Dix, and Ft. Ord, which are now closed.

Basic training, as I said, is; for all the services, a combination of things, one of which is an initiation rite. Those rights (like becoming a shellback) aren't the sorts of things which translate well. Make them something which lasts for weeks, and has other overtones, and it's not going to end up like a subprime tranche: no one piece can be abstracted out.

When I talk to a Marine, (like my father) and we swap stories about being a recruit, we have a common understanding of the basic rubric. We can laugh at the guy who, when told not to call his TAC, "sarge", did it again, and got sent to ponder the error of his ways while learning how to use a buffer to wax the floor (and at my misfortune to be standing next to him, and so sent to keep him company).

We can also, without any rue, talk about things like Magaña grabbing Sergeant Gibson's unbuttoned pocket,and making a loud, "gryaarryh", in teasing mockery of how said drill sergeant would point out our uniform infractions.

Sergeant Gibson (whom I keep trying to leave the rank off of, when mentioning, and can't), got down, did his 25 push-ups for being out of uniform. He then got up and said, "Private Magaña you're wearing the summer weight BDU, it has an interior fly button. I assume you have it fastened."

Magaña got down and started pushing.

We can collegially make gentle mockery of the parochial ways of the other services.

Why? Because, to trot out that old saw, we've been there. We've seen that elephant, and from it we can extrapolate the form of other elephants, and compare them.

I can read about them, and make judgements on how effective they are, or how abusive. I can do that, because, contra ddb, it takes some intimacy to really describe things. Like parenting, it's not something one can truly apprehend without having a taste of the real thing.

But, for all that one can visit, vicariously, a foreign country. I can tell you all about it, as best (and honestly) as I remember it, but unless you take up residence, you can't know.

So you telling me how it is, even by abstraction (cf. your use of Heinlein to defend the swagger stick) is pretty much wasted breath. Yes, that's dismissive, and you may feel free to say I am any number of things, but what I am not is persuaded that you have any real clue about the subject at hand, and that you do have some agenda behind showing up to explain how it really wasn't all that bad.

It's a funny thing, I was the one defending Basic Training, and here I am saying it's not all that nice. Something to ponder when my continued defense of the thing still has me thinking you are painting too rosy a picture and using a really poor example in support (because, contra Heinlein, the use of swagger sticks wasn't "a dispassionate swat", it was a device of distancing, which made it possible for recruits to be, "impartially" killed).

#266 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 09:29 PM:

heresiarch: I feel I am splitting talmudic hairs (given my recent stand on this issue).

I don't think it was bullying. I think, as with murder, or fraud, intent is part of bullying.

I didn't say I was being bullied, I said I felt bullied. The small scale marginalisation that the comments I reacted to created was, in the main, not intended to make me feel apart. Some of it was meant to make me feel not-apart.

Lee didn't, so far as I know, set out to make K feel isolated, unliked, or anything else. That was a side-effect of what happened.

Did it have bullying-like aspects, sure. Does that make it bullying? I don't think so.

I think the aspect of it that makes it seem as if Lee was bullying was how it made her feel. Given the circumstance, it would take a rare person to not feel a vague sense of satisfaction in such a situation. I am, if nothing else, by training more empathetic than most, and I'd be likely to have a certain moment of schadenfreude at such a moment.

#267 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 10:04 PM:

Basic Training & bullying.

I know practically nothing about Basic (Training, that is) today, or as it was in Terry's time (though I trust his description of that), but as of c. 60 years ago, in my experience, it was /h/e/l/l/ certainly unpleasant, but not really all that bad. After it was over, anyhow. (Okay, so I'm suddenly thinking about Root Canal dentistry.)

They certainly pushed us physically (which a skinny & bookish runt like me found especially difficult), but they were aware that we were Draftees -- practically a random cross-section of the late teens/early 20s male population -- and that many would find tech niches that didn't require being a superjock, so they settled for doing the best job possible of getting what they had to work with into reasonably good physical condition in the course of six weeks.

Bullying? Actually not, IMHO. Sure, the Cadres ordered us around, roughly, constantly, and often humiliatingly, but with utter even-handedness. Whenever they actually Picked On someone extensively, it was someone we all knew to be a chronic fuckup. (Whether such a Draftee got an Unsuitable for Service Discharge or not depended, I think, on whether the Powers That Be thought that was what he wanted.) As for bullying among the troops ourselves -- not in Basic; we were too busy & tired for that. None that I noticed or experienced later, either -- there are too many subtle ways of Getting Even, and we had to depend on one-another too much. Occasionally a newly-promoted NCO would throw his weight around a bit, but soon got slapped-down by his peers.

Brainwashing? I'd say not, because that's a useful term that shouldn't be debased. More like "readjustment" without the connotation that might have of being a euphemism. Basically (there's a reason this is called "Basic Training"), perhaps the one single thing a recruit _must_ learn is to obey, instantly & reflexively -- without talking-back or questioning, any order given by a superior in rank (Officer, NCO, or appointed leader). That can be a vital matter in battle, and almost so in ordinary Service life. It's also something that practically no-one brings along from their civilian family or job background, certainly not to anything near the degree that's required in the Armed Services. To instill this deeply enough, in a very short period of time, requires a level of psychological manipulation that makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I'd liken it to rubbing at a food-stain on your shirt with a wet napkin, vs. putting the shirt through the laundry.

Does going through Basic & the standard Enlistment period change a person? Absolutely. And probably considerably. Most often, this happens in a person's early 20's, when any significant Life Experience (& being In The Service is that) is going to have a considerable effect on the personality. It's more striking with some people than with others, of course, and I haven't noticed the long-term effect being consistently bad, or good, or much different from various other major Life Experiences.


#268 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 11:16 PM:

heresiarch, #261: If you don't know what the dynamics were, then why are you so sure that I am wrong?

Because I wasn't even thinking about K, except in the sense of "Oh ghod, that won't end well!" I was interacting with the teacher, not with the other students, and everything that happened afterwards was (1) a complete surprise to me and (2) incomprehensible in terms of how I had thought the class dynamic structures worked.

If you want to think of what I did as bullying, I can't stop you. But to me it feels like being accused of assault because I tripped in the cafeteria and my fork poked someone in the leg as I fell.

#269 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Terry: Let me tell you a story. An acquaintance of mine (we were never friends, and I would not speak to her if we met today) once attached herself and her husband to a group of people going out to dinner after a Pagan gathering: "Are you going out to eat? Can we come too?"

When they arrived at the restaurant, she loudly announced that there should be a separate table for the vegetarians, "so we won't have to watch you people [!] eating dead animals."

I wasn't there, but if I had been, I'd've said "Well, it won't be a separate table for the vegetarians, because I'm going to sit with the polite people!"

I'm aware that there are asshole vegetarians. I'm not one of them. I will sit at a table and eat with people who eat meat, no problem (there are certain things that make me queasy, but I just try not to sit next to someone eating one of them). I don't tell people they shouldn't eat meat, or try to guilt trip them about the poor fuzzy aminals, or anything like that. Certainly I never do anything like what this obnoxious woman did. I abhor PETA and all its works, and all its pomps.

So when someone says "Vegetarians are..." and lists some of those things, I get annoyed. But in my case I'm more annoyed by the people who create that impression (PETAphiles and all their unholy kindred) than with people who think all vegetarians are jerks. I believe that people like the woman described above are a tiny minority of vegetarians, outliers if you will.

Am I getting anywhere near the same feeling?

#270 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2010, 11:52 PM:

heresiarch, I think turning the tables on a bully is a good thing. Actively a good thing. And it wasn't even Lee's intention to do that; it just happened because the bully had made himself so obnoxious to others.

#271 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 12:11 AM:

Xopher, I don't think so. It's related, but the ways in which the, "soldiers/the army/etc" are talked about, and in my known presence; often with caveats about how I'm not "one of them" isn't quite the same.

Part of it is that you can distance yourself from PETA, etc. I can't really say, "Not all "x" are like that, look at me" in quite the same way. I, to take the obvious example, have to explain how it is the interrogators who are bad, differ from those who haven't, and then try to explain how it is they are sanctioned, supported, protected, or not.

I can't say, "I was never a member of "x", because we all went to the same schools, did the same basic, are; in fact, cut from the same cloth.

#272 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 01:18 AM:

Don Fitch @ 264:

My experience in Basic 45 years ago was similar to yours. There was no bullying that I saw, though the D.I.s were hard on us because they needed to instill the habit of obeying orders, as you said. All of our instructors used humor, irony, and logic as appropriate to get their lessons across to us (even some of them who couldn't have defined irony if you asked them). All of them were concerned that we be prepared as well as possible if we were sent to a combat zone.

Basic was physically hard, and somewhat dangerous: during my cycle at Fort Gordon, Georgia, 3 recruits died from contagious disease, an epidemic of upper respiratory infection, and one man in my company got a medical discharge because he had a heart attack while in the dentist's chair. But none of the deaths or injuries that I heard about were the result of negligence or cruelty.

Nor were any of the other common brainwashing conditions present: we all got enough (but only just enough) sleep, the food was plentiful and good (the food in my Basic company was the best I had in the first 2 years of my enlistment), we were allowed several hours personal time a week to play, read, talk, go for walks around the base, or whatever. And the D.I.s did not use the common bonding tactic of isolating some individuals and using them as scapegoats.

#273 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 03:26 AM:

Xopher, a lot more apt analogy might be to look at the way some people discuss gays, especially in the context of "recruiting" young men to "become" gay...

#274 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:42 AM:

heresiarch @261

I'm strongly of the opinion that what distinguishes bullying from regular (social or physical) aggression is that the former is an ongoing habitual pattern. If it's a bad Monday and Melvin gets picked on for wearing a really hideous plaid shirt, that's not great for Mel - but it's qualitatively different happening once than if it happens every single Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday...) for months or years.

This is one of the things that makes bullying (the pattern sort) harder for authorities to see: they might see some "isolated incidents" but without close examination it's hard to tell whether a particular behavior pattern is repetitive to the point of being systemic.

This is not to say that one specific incident can't be clearly and egregiously out of bounds (for example, the behavior region "sexual harassment" quite clearly applies to the uninvited groping incident described upthread). It's more to say that any time a bright line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, there's the possibility and opportunity for somebody to repeatedly act just on the "ok" side of the line and still violate the spirit of decent behavior while obeying the letter of the law - the harassment equivalent of making a whole bunch of $4999.00 payments on an account to avoid having to send a payment greater than $5000.00 to the Budget office for tertiary approval.

#275 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 08:02 AM:

Thena #272: Also, a skilled bully can "work the social fabric" to avoid sanctions for things that would have gotten them in trouble if they were caught, or the victim pressed charges, or the observer weren't conflicted, etc. I just had a similar discussion at work about thieves -- my comment there was that a common thief can rip off someone who's not paying attention, but a professional can rip off more or less anyone. (And, I should have added, "get out while the getting's good".)

In either category, spotting and nailing those hardcore types requires uncommon perception and fast reactions.

#276 ::: Susie ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 10:31 AM:

(delurk)

Lila @231:

Horrifying indeed.

Fortunately, since this hit the news, there's been an outpouring of support for the child, including this event planned for tomorrow.

#277 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 12:05 PM:

I'm just going to leave this here, without further comment.

#278 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 01:45 PM:

heresiarch @261: as you addressed me directly I feel I should respond, though others have already expressed much of what I would have said.

When you quoted my words back, you omitted the 'inadvertently'. Intent really does matter. Lee intended to extricate herself from having to work closely with someone who was mean to her, who bullied her. K's more general rejection by the class was two steps later, was not something she could have foreseen, and certainly not something she expected, which is possibly why she remembers it so clearly.

Secondly, the account we are all reading is Lee's. It's her experience she is relating, not yours or mine. If she says it happened in a particular way, I don't get to tell her, you don't get to tell her, that she's got it wrong.

#279 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 02:26 PM:

Terry Karney @ 263: "I think, as with murder, or fraud, intent is part of bullying."

I'm not happy with a definition of bullying centered around intent--intent is hard to prove. I think bullying is a set of interactions that win social or emotional benefits at the cost of social or emotional damage to someone else--intent can figure into it, but it's not the heart of it.

But let's talk intent. It seems to me that Lee's intent was to avoid working with K, and the mechanism used to achieve that end was mockery. It wasn't private--directed at the teacher or not, K could hear, and so could the rest of the class. At best, that looks to me like reckless disregard for the potential fallout for other people.

If this had happened in an office, with a worker using that language to reject working with a co-worker in front of their boss and all their co-workers, what would we call it?

Lee @ 265: "Because I wasn't even thinking about K, except in the sense of "Oh ghod, that won't end well!""

If someone who bullied you came up to you and said, "I didn't bully you, I wasn't even thinking about you at all! You were just an unfortunate outcome to avoid," would you consider that exculpatory?

"But to me it feels like being accused of assault because I tripped in the cafeteria and my fork poked someone in the leg as I fell."

You are trying to disown the choices you made. You didn't trip and fall, you chose to say what you said. Are you saying you weren't aware that it would be hurtful?

Xopher @ 267: "I think turning the tables on a bully is a good thing. Actively a good thing."

Because you think that that will teach them something they didn't know? Do you think bullies are bullies because they've never been bullied before?

#280 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 02:41 PM:

heresiarch @277 -- I'd have said Lee's comment was at least as much directed at herself as at K. The comment wasn't "If I have to work with (that asshole) K I won't do anything" -- it was "If you put the two of us together nothing will get done." How other people reacted may have been easily named as bullying, but what Lee did wasn't. To me, bullying needs a direct object; and K was not the direct object of Lee's comment. If anyone was, it was the teacher, who might be expected to understand the class dynamic a little better than the average student.

Neither of us were there, and tone would be incredibly important in understanding this. I think I'm hearing a very different tone in my imagination than you are. And, as I said -- I see the teacher as the one being castigated, not K.

#281 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 03:19 PM:

ddb @89: maybe it's something that continuing education would have picked up for people of my generation still teaching.

It's a different age, ddb, a different age....

(Thinking back on how many iterations of New & Improved have come and gone since I was in school.*) (And I post-date you slightly, if memory serves.)

*The future is a very odd place, you know?

#282 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 03:21 PM:

heresiarch @277: I also find it a little disturbing that the implication being given here is that standing up for yourself against a bully is a wrong thing to do. Especially since all that was done here is telling a teacher that no, making a bully and their victim have to work together is not going to work out.

Yes, it was with snappier words than that, but you're effectively telling Lee that it was more important for her to think of the bully's feelings than her own.

And Lee has said that she never had an inkling of the fact that her bully was also something of an outcast until that point.

#283 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 03:53 PM:

Tom #232 said:

In several groups I've been in, it's become obvious at some point that nobody thinks they're in the "in-group", however that might be defined. In part, this is because "in-group" is a poorly defined concept, and it's always easy to find some way in which I'm not part of it. With popularity groups (as this story shows) membership is fragile. And to some extent, bullying in these situations seems to be about enforcing one's status as a member.

I think this circularity is how the bullying gets propagated - that part of my wife's response where she first asks them how they've been bullied so they can see the sin of omission in not preventing bullying of others.

The 'how to not get bullied' advice is like the 'how to not get raped' advice skewered so well here.

#284 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Without meaning to turn this into a pile-on, I too am struggling with the idea that telling a teacher ""Well, if you want one group that does absolutely nothing, [putting me in a two-person group with the person who has been bullying me]'s the best way to get one!" means that one is somehow bullying the bully.

#285 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 04:54 PM:

Zora @136:1 Sapolsky

That's the guy in the NG video mentioned @192.

1I've resigned myself to being hopelessly behind the curve in this thread. Apologies in advance for "Me too"s.

#286 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 05:11 PM:

re 277: I think there is a fault in this definition which is perhaps neatly illustrated by the example in question. That fact that K was put on the spot by Lee's refusal to be his partner relies upon the reason that Lee refused in the first place: that as far as the micro-society of Lee-and-K was concerned, K had put himself outside the pale through actions which merited that response (giving Lee the benefit of the doubt in that regard). Some people are pariahs for perfectly legitimate reasons, after all. Unless you are willing to have a moral system in which one cannot refuse to be bullied or for that matter ill-treated in any fashion, there are going to be situations in which people are going to experience hurts and slights which, in a different context, we would all likely identify as resulting from bullying. Intent may not be the right word, but it seems to me that there are aspects of reasons behind people doing things which distinguish bullying from (in the Lee-K instance) merited ostracism.

As far as turning the tables is concerned, sometimes all one can teach a bully is that the consequences of bullying you are adverse. I'm pretty certain that the part of the reason bullying ceased in middle school was that I scared the bejesus out of the main bully at one point, and other people who were inclined to be cruel got the message that they weren't safe either. The main reason I got out of bullying in high school was that the school did not invite most of the bullies back to 4th form, but there was also some stuff at the beginning of that next year which may well have gotten quashed when I retaliated violently against someone who was really totally innocent-- but the word surely got out.

#287 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 05:21 PM:

KayTei 270: But people choose to be vegetarian or to join the army. (Um. Oops. I mean those things are both things one chooses!) Being gay is not. I was looking for something I chose which is also chosen by people who are obnoxious about it.

Mattathias 275: Thanks for that. I really like it.

heresiarch 277: Xopher @ 267: "I think turning the tables on a bully is a good thing. Actively a good thing."

Because you think that that will teach them something they didn't know? Do you think bullies are bullies because they've never been bullied before?

Yes; it teaches him that that particular person isn't a helpless victim. No, I think they've been bullied before, probably at home, but they haven't taken it from someone they formerly thought was powerless.

We've been discussing how bullies go about avoiding the consequences of their actions. I know from experience that defending yourself (and remember, Lee was also avoiding a situation where she could have been bullied further) does make them avoid you, at least for a while. Remember my story of shoving a two-inch thorn into a bully's calf? That helped. I wish I could have broken his knee.

Also, what Matthew and Lexica said.

#288 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:00 PM:

KeithS @171: Heh. I'm reminded of a story a friend tells from back in the Stone Age:

School bully caught him out alone on the way home and set about mocking him for his nerdy ways. After he'd had his verbal fun, he made to assault the little four-eyes. Only did that once, though. Seems a brief-case full of math texts to the gut, followed by a metal slide-rule over the back of the neck proved an effective deterrent to future aggression.

#289 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:20 PM:

But people choose to be vegetarian or to join the army.

Well, *some* people choose to join the army. I think some of the "basic training is abuse/bullying/brainwashing" sentiment comes originally from people who *didn't* choose to join, which was not all that long ago.

People who are *still* in the military *now* are there because they have chosen to be, but it wasn't always so.

Relatedly, I think nowadays someone who wants to leave basic has a right to do so, but they didn't always. Right to leave (that can be practically exercised) seems to me rather relevant to whether something can be considered abuse or bullying as opposed to a voluntary process, and why so much of it occurs in places where the victim *can't* leave, like families, schools, and prisons.

#290 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:24 PM:

Good points, chris. I'm talking about the present-day military.

I would point out, however, that fraternity hazing is still considered abusive, even though the pledges' presence is entirely voluntary.

#291 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:42 PM:

heresiarch, #277: If this had happened in an office, with a worker using that language to reject working with a co-worker in front of their boss and all their co-workers, what would we call it?

A career-limiting move?

More seriously, I'm glad you said that, because now I think I understand where you're coming from. I believe you to be mistaken on two points:

1) You've described what I said as "mockery" and "cruelty"; I think you're reading tone into it that wasn't there. Hurtful? If anything, I thought that he would feel the same about working with me!

2) You appear to be assuming that I had some sort of social advantage in the situation -- something that made me the one with power, and K the downtrodden victim. I assure you that this was not the case. There were plenty of people who appeared to enjoy hanging out with K; he was on several of the athletic teams and didn't lack for dates. Either he wasn't as unpleasant to other people as he was to me, or for some reason they were all willing to overlook it with the exception of this specific incident. Nor did it make any difference to his overall position WRT the class dynamics, AFAICT.

Bullying shares one important characteristic with racism: it doesn't flow from the oppressed to the oppressor. In order for it to happen, there has to be some perceived privilege of rank on the part of the one doing the bullying.

#292 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 06:59 PM:

Xopher @287 said: I would point out, however, that fraternity hazing is still considered abusive, even though the pledges' presence is entirely voluntary.

A potentially-related example: my sister is currently a Second at Annapolis (pardon any misuse of terminology; she is in her third year attending. Next year she'll be a Firstie). Her class got SIGNIFICANTLY less hazing-type attention when they were plebes from the then-Firsties ... because a bunch of Marine priors☂ straight from Iraq and Afghanistan were in her class at NAPS☀. As I understand it, the conversation from the profs to the Firsties went something like this:

"Yes, I know it's a grand tradition, valuable to the service. Yes, I know you've been saving it up for three years and are rip-rarin' to go on this year's plebes. But if you put a pillowcase over THAT guy's head and grab him from behind to do some friendly hazing, he WILL kill you, completely by reflex. He'll be sorry he did it, afterwards, but you'll still be dead, and we'll be out all your training. So please don't do it."

They found ways around it -- more marching in squares for hours and less head-in-toilet-style physical juvenilia -- but scuttlebutt has it that her class did have a significantly different plebe experience than was previously the norm.

---
☂ Enlistedmen with 'prior' service who are now shifting gears to do officer training.
☀ Naval Academy Preparatory School. An extra year between high school and Annapolis (or several years of enlisted service and Annapolis) to help you hit the ground running your first year. My sis was in it because her physical scores were juuuuuust under the bubble. Most of the priors are there because it's a long time since they took any serious academic classes, and it wouldn't be fair to throw them straight into precalculus without a year of swotting up. My sister tutored a bunch of the Marines in her group informally, and got friendly thereby.

#293 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 07:24 PM:

OtterB @201: While one doesn't want to blame the victim ("why don't you handle this better") it's still helpful to have tools in your toolkit. And disrupting the pattern is a useful tool. It won't always work, but it sometimes will.

After reading the book What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage (which somebody here recommended; I wish I could remember who), the "just ignore them" strategy makes a lot more sense to me.

Actually, I generally found that one to be pretty effective. But my personal take on it was a little different than the general run. It wasn't "ignoring" them, so much as "fail absolutely to react." As in, behave as if the unwanted behavior hadn't happened. (Tough to do when they're pounding on you, I concede, but that calls for a different category of response anyway, which the book also addresses.)

In Shamu, the author explains that having any reaction to a behavior (especially one geared to getting a reaction) tends to reinforce the behavior. Absence of reaction will tend to suppress the behavior. (Modulo particular circumstances/personalities involved, of course.)

It's sort of like dealing with being rushed by a dog: tensing up and cringeing or running is far more likely to get you bitten than simply standing still and being a tree.

(If I ever am confronted by a police dog, I'm going to be in big trouble: I understand that K-9s are trained to stand down when a suspect puts their hands over their heads; my conditioning is that you don't move your hands at all when dealing with an aggressing dog, to the point of conditioning comparable to what Terry reports wrt the word "repeat.")

#294 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Matthew Brown @ 280: "I also find it a little disturbing that the implication being given here is that standing up for yourself against a bully is a wrong thing to do."

I have nothing against, am indeed in strong favor of, standing up to bullying. But when you start standing up to bullies even when they're simply sitting there saying nothing, you're crossing a line.

Let me illustrate: when I was in high school, I said something cutting about B. B turned to me and said "Why are you so mean to me?" I gave a little, "tsh, duh," but then I thought about it. B had been awful to me throughout elementary school and middle school. But in high school, B had left me alone. We hadn't exchanged ten words in the last year and most of them were me saying something mean to B, because in my mind it was still an all-out war and I was determined to get my blows in wherever I could.

So in high school who was bullying who?

C. Wingate @ 283: "as far as the micro-society of Lee-and-K was concerned, K had put himself outside the pale through actions which merited that response."

Putting people "outside the pale" is not a privilege I am content to allow me and mine because it is not a privilege I am content to allow to my enemies. If I get to declare others unworthy of respect and decency for criteria I get to choose, then why don't other people get to declare me unworthy on the basis of whatever criteria they prefer?

So no, there is no action that justifies putting someone beyond the pale of basic civility.

Xopher @ 284: "Yes; it teaches him that that particular person isn't a helpless victim. "

Wonderful! So now they go seek out someone who is, in truth, unable to retaliate to work out their emotional issues on, plus whatever extra anger and self-hatred they just got from being beaten up by a former victim. Truly the world becomes a sunnier place by this process.

I understand that turning the tables on a bully feels really great. I understand that sometimes it's the best of a set of bad options. But it's never worth encouraging.

Lee @ 288: "You appear to be assuming that I had some sort of social advantage in the situation -- something that made me the one with power, and K the downtrodden victim."

Of course you were the one with the power--you created that power by your actions. Power isn't static, it's something that's annihilated and recreated through social interaction. You created power when you made the class laugh, the other girl created power when she invited you in, you created power when you accepted.

"In order for it to happen, there has to be some perceived privilege of rank on the part of the one doing the bullying."

No, there doesn't. If there's one thing I hope people take away from this conversation, it's that bullying is a way of creating social power. It's not exploiting it, it's not rubbing it in, it's manufacturing it.

#295 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 08:16 PM:

heresiarch @291

bullying is a way of creating social power. It's not exploiting it, it's not rubbing it in, it's manufacturing it.

Arguable - though I'm inclined to disagree, but that's because I don't see power as being quite as dynamic as you seem to - however I would note that even if bullying is (as argued) a way of creating social power, it does not follow that the creation of (dynamic or temporary) social power or leverage in a specific situation is therefore actually bullying.

In Lee's example, did she create social leverage for herself? Absolutely. She made a remark that turned out to have a lot of social power - by her comment, a lot more than she expected it to at the time she made it.

But leveraging social power is not equivalent to bullying, unless you want to use 'bullying' to refer to any kind of competitive behavior whose reward is improved social status in a stratified system (power-over), which I kind of think dilutes the word into uselessness.

#296 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 08:55 PM:

I have nothing against, am indeed in strong favor of, standing up to bullying. But when you start standing up to bullies even when they're simply sitting there saying nothing, you're crossing a line.

So, because K was "sitting there saying nothing," Lee should have quietly accepted being put in a group with K? Even given K's known history of doing a lot more than "sitting there saying nothing" when the teacher wasn't there to catch K at it?

Or should she have said something less pithy? I can't see, "Please, teacher, don't pair me up with K, K has been bullying me and I'll be miserable," as having the desired effect. In addition to risking the teacher denying that bullying is what's happening, possibly insisting on the pairing because it would have taught Lee that you just have to toughen up and deal with people (Ick!) it would also position Lee as a begging victim in the eyes of the rest of the class, with predictable results.

You seem to be wanting the rest of the people in this conversation to disapprove of Lee attempting to extricate herself from a miserable situation. What could she have done then that would have both kept her from being paired up with her bully, AND would have earned your approval today?

And why do you continue insisting you know better how to interpret Lee's personal experience than Lee does?

#297 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 09:11 PM:

heresiarch #291: So no, there is no action that justifies putting someone beyond the pale of basic civility.

I think I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one. At some point, inaction becomes complicity with injustice. I am satisfied with the consequence that when I judge, I will, in turn, be judged.

#298 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Like Mattathias @275, I leave this with no comment...except to stick around until the end.

#299 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 10:29 PM:

Xopher @ 284
Yeah, I know. But I think the question of voluntary membership is less relevant to the problem Terry's describing. More relevant is the question of people who:

  • are outside the group,
  • assume they know all about it, on the basis of their research/what they've been told,
  • deny and invalidate the experience and opinions of people who are members of the group, despite the fact that the people they are ignoring directly experienced the situation under discussion, and
  • use their research/second-hand opinions to cast moral aspersions on the group or experience under discussion.

"Choosing" to join a group is not a relevant consideration to that argument.

Also, there is nowhere near the ignorance about vegetarians among nonvegetarians that exists about the military among civilians. But there is that level of ignorance on the part of some conservative christians about gays, to such an extent that they would deny your earlier point about "choice."

I further note that many people are called to avocations, who feel that they could "never have been anything else" because "it's such a central element of the kind of person they are." And that one common avocation of that sort is miltary service. "Choice" is a really shifty concept, even if we admit it's relevant, which I don't.

Finally, I just mention that that kind of "invalidation of the other person's experience" gets seriously critiqued around here, when the person in question is perceived as a "victim," instead of as an "aggressor." It's an interesting sort of double-standard.

#300 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 10:32 PM:

I remembered about bullying today, but it was to my brother. He's 17 months younger than I am and as soon as he could talk, he stuttered like crazy. Back then, it was considered a psychological problem and he saw new psychs every time we transferred, but the big problem was school. He could stutter for two to three minutes and even "nice" people would try to get the word to hurry him up. Rude people would laugh and point or the equivalent.

That lasted until he learned Spanish and found out that he didn't stutter in foreign languages (I think it's one of the reasons he went to Taiwan as a missionary for so long) but still stuttered in English until a few years ago. He tripped on a slate in front of their house and hit his head on another one. After the metal plate went in, his stuttering almost stopped.

His other kind of bullying wasn't my fault, but I caused it. When we transferred here, I went to school and all the teachers knew who I was. His teachers would compare him to me and tell him he had to try harder and be smarter. He was smarter than most of the others in the classes, he just wasn't as smart as I was. In his first job, he designed something so valuable for NASA that he got an enormous bonus.

I think all that bullying is why he only dated and married women who were not very bright and/or subordinate.

#301 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 10:37 PM:

Thena @ 292: "But leveraging social power is not equivalent to bullying, unless you want to use 'bullying' to refer to any kind of competitive behavior whose reward is improved social status in a stratified system (power-over), which I kind of think dilutes the word into uselessness."

That's not the definition I'm forwarding here. Bullying is leveraging social (or psychological) power that comes from humiliating or harming other people--that last bit's rather key.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 293: "You seem to be wanting the rest of the people in this conversation to disapprove of Lee attempting to extricate herself from a miserable situation."

No, I'm not. See comment 261: "I'm not upset that Lee did this--I'm in no place to judge others for what they did to survive adolescence." I want the people in this conversation to stop trying to explain away bad behavior because it was done by someone they're friends with, because there was no better choice.

"What could she have done then that would have both kept her from being paired up with her bully, AND would have earned your approval today?"

I don't know. I don't think you need to be able to give a viable alternative to a bad situation before you can say it is bad. Sometimes life hands you options ranging from bad to worse. That's where Lee was. But when you start pretending that magically makes "less bad" into "morally neutral" or even "good," then you've strayed into dangerous territory.

Earl Cooley III @ 294: "At some point, inaction becomes complicity with injustice."

Explain, please, how you got to "inaction" from "civility." Because people do that a lot, and I really don't get it.

#302 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 11:29 PM:

heresiarch, would you put what Lee did in the category of self-defense? So that it's never right like killing someone is never right, but killing someone in self-defense when you can find no other way to save your own is the least bad alternative?

Because if so, this might just be a matter of definitions. I think choosing the least bad alternative is the right thing to do, and therefore it's "right." I think you would still not call that right, though you'd agree it's the least bad thing to do. Am I correct?

Where we part company, I think, is in punishing bullies. I think giving them a taste of their own medicine from an unexpected source is a positive social good. Making them afraid to bully anyone because they fear the consequences is as good as it gets.

#303 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 11:36 PM:

heresiarch #298: Explain, please, how you got to "inaction" from "civility." Because people do that a lot, and I really don't get it.

Civility in the face of overt evil is useful, at times, as a delaying tactic, I suppose. Civility as a sole means of contending against evil is less useful; there you have a choice between inaction and appeasement if persuasion fails to work.

#304 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:02 AM:


I don't know if this anecdote applies to bullying (_in extremis_), to "unit cohesion" (which sounds to me like FancyTalk for "you gotta back-up your buddies to survive", a concept that probably dates back to before the dawn of written history), or to something else but...

When President Truman's Integration decree finally worked its way down through intake, training, and assignment, to our level (in Korea, c. 1951/2) our first replacement group included two Black guys. One was a crackerjack mechanic, who went straight to the Motor Pool (where he hung out mostly with other Southerners, the unification factor of that apparently being greater than the racial divisiveness one) and seemed to be reasonably satisfied. (Show me a soldier who's completely satisfied, and I'll get the Section 8 (Psychiatric Discharge) papers out for you to start working on.) The other was very young, very intelligent, highly-qualified as a Medic... and more female-acting than any male I'd ever encountered before (& maybe since). (Today, I'd think "Stage one transsexual", though I might not have the terminology right.)

There was an opening for a Company Medic in the Mortar Company, so that's where he was posted. Mortar had the reputation of being the roughest-toughest guys in the Division, and of being the eventual destination of chronic trouble-makers when other Company Commanders decided to transfer them away.

A couple of weeks later, we got word that the guy had been "accidentally fatally shot when someone else was cleaning a hand-weapon in the bunker". [Pause, blink, breath deeply, raise eyebrows, pointedly say nothing (which is what many of us did upon hearing that news, and the supporting conclusion of the Official Investigation).]

Was it an accident, or was it bullying to the point of murder because he was Black, perceived as Gay, or both? Was the "accident" finding cooked by the other troops lying about things as an exercise in Unit Cohesion? I don't and can't know (but tend to vacillate between "wouldn't be surprised" and "direly suspicious").

What I do know is that a few weeks after this a Memo Descended From Above (not Division, or Tac.Ops. Command, but from the Tokyo-based General in charge of the entire Theater). I didn't see it, but people who did reported that it boiled down to something very like -"If anything even remotely like this ever happens again, there will be Courts Martial extending up through at least three levels of Commissioned Officers, with brig time & dishonorable discharge if found appropriate"-

Was that the fairest and best way of handling it? Again, I don't know -- but apparently it was The Army Way, and as far as I've been able to learn nothing like that _did_ happen again in the 60th Division, at least during the following ten years, for which I had some scuttlebutt sources.


#305 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:51 AM:

re 291: This is going to depend a great deal on what one considers basic civility and what it demands. To take an object case from our household, when we get cold calls and I say "no thank you," if they insist on continuing I then say, "I'm sorry, we're not interested, goodbye" and hang up. I do not consider that the demands of civility pin me to the phone and require me to listen to their spiel until the choose to quit. I would not take civility as a moral absolute, and even less so respect; and I think neither of them obligates one to suffer abusive behavior in their service.

Also, I think your first example is perhaps inadvertently pointing up the contextuality of it all. I do agree with your assessment that you were bullying B, but (a) after all he wasn't doing anything to you, and (b) if self-defense is acceptable, that kind of response nevertheless isn't defensive. If you had simply chosen to continue to avoid B, well, I suppose by some standard you could have been held to be ostracizing him, but I also think that the avoidance, based on the past, wasn't unreasonable.

Moral systems, in general, do not take a context-free approach to the badness of action. To take a case from Torah, the command says, "do not murder," not "do not kill."

As far as the definition you give in 298, I'm largely in agreement except that I would refine the whole "leveraging" bit, if for no other reason than that I abhor that word. I would more succinctly put it as "taking advantage of a superior position to inflict hurt on another for one's gratification." (Humiliation I would subsume under the general heading of "hurt".) I don't think Lee's response in the Lee-K example therefore counts as bullying, even though a lot of people would call it tactless. As far as acts of retaliation are concerned, the line gets muddy, particularly when the response largely is to bring the position of superiority to an end (i.e., that it isn't safe to pick on the intended victim). Acts of revenge fail the gratification test.

#306 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:10 AM:

heresiarch: I'm not happy with a definition of bullying centered around intent--intent is hard to prove. I think bullying is a set of interactions that win social or emotional benefits at the cost of social or emotional damage to someone else--intent can figure into it, but it's not the heart of it.

Then we shall have to accept that we disagree. I happen to think bullying, like racketeering is a pattern of behavior, not a specific instance (though I will grant that being one of many who pick on a known target is bullying, even if one only does it once). I also know that, for things like schools, to not treat it as a crime of intent is to end up with "zero tolerance" policies. Those are, in my opinion, at least as bad; because they end up, in a different way, sanctioning some types of, just below the threshold, behavior. Behaviors which an intent/pattern model might be able to stop.

But let's talk intent. It seems to me that Lee's intent was to avoid working with K, and the mechanism used to achieve that end was mockery. It wasn't private--directed at the teacher or not, K could hear, and so could the rest of the class. At best, that looks to me like reckless disregard for the potential fallout for other people..

Lets look at the teacher. The situation was already problematic. She had set up, in a circumstance which an experienced teacher ought to know has he possibility of remaindered students, without a means in place to correct it. Then she doubled down. The class called her bluff.

At that point the students in question, if they don't get along are in an untenable spot. Lets say "Lee" decided to suck it up, and take K on, for the nonce, and then went to the teacher. What happens if the teacher refuses? Who suffers then? What happens if the teacher listens, and assigns them to groups?

What whispers about why it happened will start? Because there will be whispers, and the odds are the "K" figure in that will come out of it tolerably well. The instructor made it a public issue. Lee was within her rights to make her response public.

If this had happened in an office, with a worker using that language to reject working with a co-worker in front of their boss and all their co-workers, what would we call it?

That would depend on context. Had the manager set things up as poorly as the teacher did? Why was the manager doing that sort of grouping? Why was the employee put on the spot like that? What was the motive? if I am going to be assigned to work with someone, and the result of that collaboration is going to be a failure, damn right I'm going to speak up.

I'd expect my subordinates to speak up too, because that's a livelihood on the line.

On topic, and closer to home: How, in this context, is calling people bullies not bullying?

You have, in general, a decidedly authoritative way of expressing your views (it has, as I recall, caused some misunderstanding in the past). You are, here and now, being derisive, and scornful, of others.

When you lay onto Xopher a hint of responsibility; by standing up for himself, someone else gets injured, and worse than Xopher might have, because Xopher made the bully angrier, how does that, truly, differ from what you are saying Lee did, which you said was bullying (remember, you said intent isn't a factor, merely the result).

A person (you) with social standing, is calling people out for being unkind; in public.

Something to think about, when one is using inflexible definition.

Because, as I said, We are the people we are warning ourselves about. The bully isn't "other", and wanting to be right can be a form of bullying (in fact, if there is an intrinsic way to bully on ML, it's that one; coupled to not being able to not respond).

Bully is a loaded word, a charged state. None of us (esp. those who were bullied) want's to accept that we might bully. Well, I know I have the means. Hell, I have the tools; grade A, No. 1, US Gov't issued, and honed to a brilliant shine.

I've been known to use them. I've taught others how to use them. This, perhaps, is why I think it's matter of intent (and that the intent is sometimes context dependent). We all have the seeds of the bully. The bully is not apart from us, any more than the Divine is apart from us.

Just as the Quaker works to see the light in himself, so to does he work to keep the darkness, The Bully, at bay. One of the best pacifists I know, is self-described as a "bad pacifist." Why? Because this person often wants, desperately, to indulge in mayhem. Said person used to lash out, when attacked, and rend and tear at the attackers.

I am not sure (and this has nothing to do with the subject I was initially upset about) that I can long continue to take part in this thread.

Why? Because what I am seeing is a lot of people working really hard to not be defined as bullies. I see justifications for actions (some of which I agree with, some of which I don't) and I see the people who disagree not addressing the merit of the action, but the worth of the person.

And it's spilling over into the time I spend away from ML (which is no surprise, a lot of ML spills into my everyday). I like to think I manage a balance, of holding to my own principles, and being empathetic. I am, in this conversation, losing my empathy. Worse that diminuition seems to be seeping into other actions.

Working against bullying is good. Refining the tools of othering, in the guise of fighting against bullies... isn't.

#307 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 07:34 AM:

Terry Karney at #303 writes:

> The bully isn't "other", and wanting to be right can be a form of bullying (in fact, if there is an intrinsic way to bully on ML, it's that one; coupled to not being able to not respond).

Bravo. And not just wanting to be right - wanting to be good.

Once you get a few dozen people all being too polite to take the last slice of cake it can get pretty ugly.

#308 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 09:16 AM:

C. Wingate #302: I'll also point out that retaining "civil behavior" in the face of extreme provocation is itself a dominance strategy. On the moral level, it drifts into a different virtue, perhaps "dignity".

Then too, letting students self-assort for workgroups is dubious in itself, precisely because it provides such a splendid opportunity for ostracism.

Steve Taylor #304: Or fighting for the check....

#309 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 09:32 AM:

David #305:

It depends a lot on the audience, right? Dignity of that kind impresses some people, but looks like weakness to others. You can see nonviolence as a special case of dignity--a refusal to violate your principles even when visibly, badly provoked.

#310 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 09:44 AM:

I'll throw in my two cents: bullying, like theft or murder, is a matter of intent; it cannot be defined in terms of pure actions -- although it would be normal to use a pattern of actions to determine intent on an evidentiary basis. A single action can be a bullying one, if done with the appropriate intent, though.

This can, of course, lead to ambiguity, and as with other things in life sometimes we have to live with ambiguity. It doesn't hurt an organization to rule out certain sorts of behviour regardless of intent, although it should certainly be taken into account when considering sanctions to avoid serious injustice of the sort that "no-tolerance" policies tend to generate. (These also seem to me to have their roots not in a genuine desire for justice but in a distrust of the ability of teachers and local administrators to use their own judgment -- unfair to the staff if they are capable, and an indictment of staffing and training policies if they are not.)

One thing that may confuse the issue is that we tend to use the word "bullying" to describe two different patterns of behaviour. One is the one most on show here: childhood bullying, where some of the characteristic markers are that (often) the only connection between the bully and the bullied is the bullying -- they otherwise belong to different social groups with few contacts (usually an in-group and an out-group). In those cases "intent" is actually fairly straightforward to define, since the bully him-or-herself would be likely to recognize his-or-her intent as being one of taking pleasure in making the bullied person unhappy.

We also use the term, though, to define interactions between adults in tightly linked social contexts -- adults who "bully" the other spouse, or their children, or their parents. In those cases it's (in my experience) likely that the bully doesn't recognize their own actions as bullying, but self-defines it in terms of trying to get what he/she wants: an intent which wouldn't be a bullying intent if it took the form of, say, negotiation with a genuine willingness to compromise. In many of these situations the key is frequently just an unwillingness to give in: the gap between being willing, in the end, to agree to disagree (or to compromise regarding joint actions) instead of continuing to insist on one's own rightness and being willing to escalate any disagreement into a major one. In this case intent is much harder to define simply as an intent to bully.

#311 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Terry, may I respectfully and lovingly suggest that you take a rest from the thread? You've been doing a lot of heavy lifting here.

#312 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Marilee @207: he called in that he'd tripped over his dog and fallen down the stairs and had broken ribs and broken feet.

Hee. Go, you! I hope it was a while before he felt up any other unwilling women.

I'd become sick and disabled and had retired.

Somehow I intuit that this shouldn't make bullies feel any safer around you. Do you have occassion to carry a cane? (See also.)

#313 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:24 PM:

Terry Karney @219: I'm more than willing, in another context, to try and explain the differences, and how the training of interrogators builds on the theme, as well as all sorts of other things (including the various understandings I have of the Corps, from playing with them, and studying them, and training them; and with them, and studying them).

I, for one, would like to put in a vote to hear this, mainly just 'cause I'm confident your account would be fascinating.

I have to guiltily report that I, too, had heard the "brainwashing" meme. In all fairness, the report came from a friend's account of his own experience of boot camp. (This would have been...20-25 years ago?) But this, and TV, are the extent of my knowledge of the subject.

I would enjoy learning more, especially from Sgt.1 Karney.

1Is that the right rank?

#314 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:43 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 289: "Yes, I know it's a grand tradition, valuable to the service. Yes, I know you've been saving it up for three years and are rip-rarin' to go on this year's plebes."

(To be clear, I know this is something you are quoting as having come from another person. It's just what I wanted to address.)

This is, in fact, an attitude that I have never understood, on a deeply fundamental level. I recall seeing it come up in some book I was reading in a child, and immediately putting down the book, baffled, because I couldn't understand this alien thought from the protagonist, who I'd assumed to be human. And...well, as an adult, I can sort of wrap my mind around how other people would come to that conclusion, but not why, or why anyone would think it'd be reasonable.

Because if I've suffered some sort of abuse when in a position of less authority, and I expect to have that position of authority over others later... it seemed obvious and natural to me that I should take that as a lesson in what not to do. The sorority I joined had initiation rituals that were extremely mild and carefully checked for participant comfort levels, and I still found myself thinking that I'd as soon cut them out, if I ever got a chance, so as not to put other people through all the fuss and bother.

And...well. It boggles me, really, that not only is it expected that people would want to haze people, having had such things done to them before, but that this would be seen by an authority figure as right and proper. People go through pain, and get the reaction, "What jolly fun to inflict on others!"? Really? I just...I really don't get this, and I sat there and reread your post a few times to see if maybe I was misinterpreting something.

"I didn't like that happening to me: therefore, I'll make sure not to do it to anyone else" seems like a basic aspect of very elementary empathy, to me. Encouraging people to act contrary to that impulse--and calling the act against that impulse "valuable"--gives me a flinch and back away reaction. Because that reads to me as training people to enjoy inflicting pain, and to take pleasure in ignoring consent.

But you're not presenting it as that here, so I'm really wondering what I'm missing in this.

#315 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Terry @ 303:

Your comments here begin suggest the reason I've become obscurely uncomfortable about this discussion. Some actions, practically everyone agrees are "bullying" (& hence bad). Some, only a majority agrees to being in that category. Then we start to Get Picky (and, often as not, prickley), working our way down from the obvious through the probable and the possible to the increasingly-highly-questionable & quibbling.

It's beginning to look, to me, as if the word "bullying" is (or has become) so vague and broad as to be virtually meaningless for the purposes of useful discussion. I don't like this because (as Partick rightly (IMHO) pointed out in the originating posting) we're dealing with a very real, and very serious, problem involving a severe and pervasive systemic cultural defect that we really need to do something about. I *sigh* because I have no useful suggestions to make.

#316 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Fade Manley: It's more complicated than that (and plebe year is about as complicated as it gets... speaking of the Break them Down to Build them Up model of education).

The best example of how/why it ought to work is probably James Webb's (yes, the senator from Virginia, now entitled to two, not three, federal pensions, but that's a whole 'nother subject) book, "A Sense of Honor".

The theory is that plebe year teaches order, time management, an understanding of the way subordinates feel when dealing with arbitrary rules, how to deal with sudden changes of the rules, adherence to *all* the rules, unit cohesion, mental toughness, determination, and a certain grasp of how vast the things with which an officer must contend are.

The firsties are also being given, absolute power, in a constrained situation (and for proto-officers in a Navy, where, so long as he is at sea, a Captain is a minor god, be that captain benevolent or petty, this is an important lesson to learn).

There are limits (and reasons for them; from both ends of the equation... see again, Webb's novel). Go too far and enter into treatments of plebes which count as, "hazing" and one can be in mufti again.

Is there a sense of glee in it? Sure, and the first weeks (plebe summer, and then the return of the entire acadamy, oi...) are hellish. But some of the hellish is the newness of it. The plebes, when things are being run well, know what the mission is, and the cadre pay as much attention as they can to what is going on.

But the plebes... for them it all new. They have no basis for comparison. The funny thing is, the dangerous ones Elliot Mason was talking about, are the ones who can take a whole lot more than the firsties are allowed to dish out, and not bat an eye.

Not only do they have time in a combat zone, but they did Boot Camp first, and they are older. That's three things which put the petty into perspective.

#317 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:35 PM:

Terry @ 303

Re: Why? Because what I am seeing is a lot of people working really hard to not be defined as bullies. I see justifications for actions (some of which I agree with, some of which I don't) and I see the people who disagree not addressing the merit of the action, but the worth of the person.

Taking into account that I feel rather nervous talking about the community dynamic on this site because I'm not sure I've become part of it yet ... I think the above is a valuable observation. And it's an observation that I think has held true in any number of fraught discusions in this community (and in just about every other community I've observed).

We want to believe that the people we like -- the people we hang out with and consider friends and community -- are "good" people. That if they do or think something that shares properties with something we disapprove of, that it's important to re-define either the problem or the actions/thoughts so that we can continue to consider them "good" people and to consider ourselves "good" while doing so.

Heck, it's one of the stumbling blocks in dealing with school bullying: getting parents to move past "if I love/support my child I am required to believe/act as if they could not do this wrong thing."

And life isn't that simple. If I describe an event from my life that gave me important insight into how easy it is to slip from being one of the "good guys" to one of the "bad guys", I don't want people to argue that my actions were justified or weren't that bad after all because, after all, I'm a "good" person. And conversely, I don't want people to decide that if I could have done that then I must not be a "good" person after all.

We're all complex, flawed human beings. Defining reality such that everyone we like and approve of can simultaneously be saints requires impossible contortions. Communities that cannot admit of (and accept) flaws must end either by rejecting reality or shrinking until each community is a perfectly consistent judgment of one. (Heck, I'd have a hard time including myself in my community if I required an absence of recognized flaws and failures.)

Understanding is important. Justification is often the enemy of understanding.

#318 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Fade Manley @ 311:

There is a certain thread of human behavior that works against "I didn't like that happening to me: therefore, I'll make sure not to do it to anyone else", often wrapped around the idea of tradition.

It often starts with "I didn't like that happening to me", but a combination of one or more of the following:

  1. The distance of time,
  2. Accumulated seniority,
  3. The idea that since you had to suffer through it, the new guys should have to as well (either in a misguided sense of fairness, or some sense of making sure that you weren't hurt for no reason (or, worse, a silly one)),
  4. The idea that you may not have liked it at the time, but it somehow made you better or stronger,
  5. The feeling that you've suffered working your way up, and now it's time to reap the benefits of your new station,

and possibly a few others that I'm not thinking of at the moment. All of these work to subvert an empathic response.

If you ever come across some accounts of the ways that British public (US: private) schools used to be, it could actually be quite harrowing to read. That was institutionalized bullying on a grand scale.

#319 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:43 PM:

@#312 - I, too, have become very uncomfortable about this discussion. I try to be very careful about "power with" rather than "power over" and bullying is very much an exercise in "power over" - but when is the attempt to reclaim your own power a gesture of equality and when is it trying to establish "power over"? I think that's what Suzanne Hayden Elgin is trying to get at with her verbal self defense, although it's been a long time since I read the books, and I'm not sure I can find my copy anymore.

some people only think hierarchically, and fighting back in some form or another is the only way that one can stop bullying from flowing downhill through a power differential. Is that by definition bullying the bully? or is it claiming equality. Sometimes the only way to win is to not play the game... but if the other person doesn't let you opt out, what recourse do you have?

#320 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 01:49 PM:

Terry Karney @313 said: The funny thing is, the dangerous ones Elliot Mason was talking about, are the ones who can take a whole lot more than the firsties are allowed to dish out, and not bat an eye.

As related to me third-hand, the staff was more worried about the unpredictable interactions of PTSD with the sleep-dep and other stresses of plebe summer. Plus the plebe class my sister was in had a far higher proportion of priors (and far LOWER proportion of just-out-of-high-school-aged kids) than usual, and what worked on teens was unlikely to on mid-twenties veterans. So they shifted strategies to obtain similar outcomes, while using different means.

And, Fade @311: It is my understanding that the teaching staff and most of the firsties do not view what happens in plebe summer as in any way abusive, and that in fact they consider it a constructive, essential part of the military academy experience.

There are many reasons I never considered for one second going into the military, but that is certainly one of them. I doubt we'd be a good fit.

#321 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 02:07 PM:

C. Wingate, #302: "Tactless" I would say is accurate; I was less worried about being polite than I was about getting out of the trap. You could also argue that being blunt was the only leverage I had against the teacher's authority.

Jacque, #310: Cane as fighting stick! I like that, and I know a number of people who might find it useful.

Fade, #311: I had the same reaction to reading the quote in question. That some people respond to being abused by becoming abusers themselves* is a known phenomenon, so I can understand why that happens. But calling that response VALUABLE? That's just wrong.


* The mechanism appears to be less "what fun to do to other people" than "by ghod, it's MY turn now". At a guess, some of it is sublimation -- the one being abused is a stand-in for the one(s) who originally abused the abuser.

#322 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 02:19 PM:

Terry Karney @303 We all have the seeds of the bully. The bully is not apart from us, any more than the Divine is apart from us. This excellent point sent me off looking for the old quote from Pogo about "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

I found that that had been shortened from the original: (see reference here )

...Specializations and markings of individuals everywhere abound in such profusion that major idiosyncrasies can be properly ascribed to the mass. Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly...

There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve, then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tiny blasts of tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.

I liked that, so thought I would share.

James @307 I agree that part of the disagreement in this thread is due to ambiguity around the edges. In that sense, I see the same dynamic as in the recent rather contentious discussion about racism, where there is a core of behavior that everyone having the conversation would agree is completely out of line, and fuzzier cases. And exploring the nature and degree of problems in the fuzzy cases can sound like equating them with the core behavior.

#323 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Elliot Mason: I understood that aspect of the dynamic. I am not sure, given all that I've done (heck, all that I had done by 25, which is the last age at which one may enter one of the adacamies) that I'd be safe to play some of those sorts of games with.

I'd probably not have killed anyone, reflexively, but hospital time for sure, and death a possibility.

Which means the sorts of acculturating lessons of the rituals have to be taught in other ways. We can hope the lessons learned will persist.

#324 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 03:15 PM:

re 312: I think part of the reason we fall into quibbling is that the social contexts supply a lot of the meaning to actions which are hostile but may not be bullying.

Let's take the example which David Harmon supplies in 305. If it's two people, then there are class issues which help to shape the encounter. If we are talking two people who are ostensibly peers, then the signal from the civil person is, "you are out of line, violating the rules which I know you are aware of." I don't think there's any way to construe this as bullying. I think the same meaning would be true if a social "inferior"1 applied it to an offending "superior". Reverse the roles, though, and the "civility" gets pulled into the expression of social roles; it may be construed as condescension. OTOH, it is questionable whether harm can be imposed in any of these situations, however gratifying it may be to the "civil" actor.

Put it in the context of a set of bystanders, though, and it gets vastly more complicated. The alliances of the group and the larger context of the encounter all start to shape what this "civility" means. This is where I think intent starts to show itself, because there is a very subtle difference between the embarrassment of being exposed as a wrongdoer and the embarrassment of being simply singled out as deviant. But there is also another factor, which is that harm thing again. The civility example, after all, relies upon the offender getting the message. If they place no value in civil behavior, then they cannot be harmed by playing civility up. However, if they are registering it as a social signal, then they can be hurt by registering it as an assertion of social inferiority, but only to the degree that they participate in that valuation.

It occurs to me that a subtext of much of the more recent discussion (non-military-related, at any rate) keys into the issue of the victim being able to respond. I'm beginning to think that it isn't the relative power of the bully that matters, but rather the powerlessness of the victim that sets the tone. That's why, for better or worse, the various comeuppance situations break the cycle: if the victim is able to respond effectively and on his own, then we get a fight, not bullying.2 So I think the focus on the power/dominance of the bully is a little off the mark; dominance contests between unequal opponents are not per se bullying, I don't think.

1 By "inferior" and "superior" I mean positions of felt social status, not value judgements on the parties in question.

2 Which may be the source of the "bullies are cowards" meme-- they may not really be cowards, but retaliation doesn't fit into the interaction pattern, so they actively avoid it.

#325 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 03:57 PM:

heresiarch @291: So are you saying that Lee should have just held her tongue and been K's teammate and set herself up for more bullying?

Seriously, how would have felt it proper to handle that situation, had you been in her place?

#326 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 04:00 PM:

AAAAnnnnddddd Niki gets there first. :-)

#327 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 04:09 PM:

David Harmon at #305 writes:

> Steve Taylor #304: Or fighting for the check....

Yeah - I remember a friend telling me about her first date ever ending in an argument because her date wouldn't let her split the bill, insisting on paying himself.

I wrote:

> Once you get a few dozen people all being too polite to take the last slice of cake it can get pretty ugly.

You know, it never occured to me that that those words might be taken non-metaphorically too :)

#328 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Terry, take off whatever time you need, but know that the discussion that is going on is to me educational, and very interesting. I can see you feeling permanently on the defence, and that is wearying (especially here, as I'm guessing it's usually a respite from where you do this on the interrogation vs. torture issue), and I'm sorry. And I clearly am not entitled to your knowledge or answers; I simply am stating that they are being heard, and appreciated.

I don't understand the military ethos, and never will; nor can I reconcile my spirituality with the job the military does. I realise I'm unusual, though, and I also realise the necessity of a military (although more on the scale of my country's than yours). I'd also love to see what Basic would do to me, *now* - I know exactly what it would have done to me before, "bullying" or no, "brainwashing" or no, "volunteered" or no - it would have killed me, quickly. But with the above and my age, it's sort of out of the question.

302 C. Wingate: Remember, sales people (and market research people) have been trained to not do the end ritual of a conversation until they get what they want, for exactly the "civility" issues you mention. They *won't* stop pushing after the first "not interested, thank you", or the second, or the tenth. "If they're still on the phone, they want to be convinced" - and sometimes it's even true. It's not uncivil to hang up after "not interested, thank you" - in fact it's best for all. Yes, I know I was slammed the last time I mentioned this, by people who seem to think that if they drive away that one call centre employee, there won't be 5 more waiting for the job, but it's still true.

In general: I have bullied in the past; I try to avoid it, and am rather embarrassed when it happens; but denying it isn't going to make it never happened. I have also responded "in kind" to dominance games of the kind that were bullying when I was at a school that I couldn't get away from, and I think that's fair game. Those people I don't want dominance over, I just want to cause their status-raising attempt fail spectacularly, in front of their friends (as he'll never be, and has no interest in being, mine).

#329 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 05:03 PM:

Mycroft, #325: Remember, sales people (and market research people) have been trained to not do the end ritual of a conversation until they get what they want, for exactly the "civility" issues you mention.

Which is a very deliberate attempt to put people who do play by the rules at a disadvantage. I spent the better part of 20 minutes on the phone with one of these creeps before I understood that, going round and round and round again over "Yes, it's a good deal, but it's not a good deal for ME because I wouldn't use it -- for me it wouldn't be money saved but money wasted." I couldn't understand why HE couldn't understand that.

Once I figured out that he was operating from, "As long as you can keep the mark talking, you haven't lost the sale," I felt no further need to waste my time trying to be polite to someone who'd been told not to be. These days they get ONE chance to do the right thing, and then it's straight to the tactical nukes.

And it's working -- in the last year or so, I've had a number of salesdroids respond to my chilly, "Are you aware that this number is on both the State and Federal Do-Not-Call lists?" with, "I'm sorry, we'll put you on our list as well," rather than trying to argue with me about how they're a Special Snowflake and don't have to pay attention to that. So they (or rather, the people above them) can be taught.

#330 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Serious words from a serious guy - son of my mother's best friend:

http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial_opinion/opinion/paladinos_bias_and_charedim_time_speak_out

It's not just physical bullying - social pressure against homosexuality can be expressed other ways, but be just as painful.

#331 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 05:44 PM:

re 325: Mycroft, I've seen some shift in that. I suspect that some places have done the calculations and decided that getting more calls in beats dragging calls out in hopes of getting people to give in. At any rate I've noticed a drop over the past years in cold calls who won't take no for an answer.

On the other hand, with caller ID I don't answer many of those calls anyway. You would think that I couldn't figure out that an 800 number calling at dinner is someone I don't want to talk to.

#332 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 05:53 PM:

Jon Baker @ 327: Thanks for the link; a very interesting, thoughtful piece of writing.

Terry Karney: I've been lurking and not contributing on this one, because (a) I've been busy; (b) every time I think of something to say someone else says it first, and generally puts it better than I would have done. However, I did want to say how much I've appreciated the conversation in general and many of the points you have made in particular. Very informative, very thoughtful and thought provoking. So, thank you.

#333 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 05:54 PM:

C. Wingate #321: The civility example, after all, relies upon the offender getting the message.

Well, sort of... there can be other "games" tied into the interaction as well. There was one time when I "stared down" a would-be bully on the NYC subway; part of my stratagem was simply telling him that if he laid a hand on me, or even kept abusing me verbally, I would step off the train at the next stop and call the police.

Remaining civil there (and ignoring his continued threats) was partly a matter of refusing his dominance attempt, but it was also a refusal of his entire "game" -- I wasn't part of his "street crowd", and attacking me wouldn't get him "cred", it would just get him in trouble. There was also the point that I was quietly balancing myself to deal with a potential attack, and hefting a book-laden backpack. (I don't know how much difference that made, or if he even noticed that -- but I wanted to cover the possibilities. ;-) )

#334 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 08:21 PM:

Jacque, #309, when I need to use a cane, I use a quad cane because part of my problem is balance and falling over. It's from the first big stroke. But I'm pretty sure I could still take eyes out.

#335 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 08:57 PM:

marilee @331: four eyes at once, given the right targets!

#336 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 09:05 PM:

I never understood why people remain on the phone after telling a cold caller they aren't interested. What do they want to happen then? What conversation is expected?

#337 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Nancy, #333: They expect to hear something on the order of "Okay, goodbye" because that's how they're used to social or business conversations ending. Without hearing that "goodbye" from the other end, it feels like they're hanging up on the other person, and that's RUDE. So they keep trying to elicit the cue that the other person has heard them and is also ready to hang up.

Note that this all happens on a reflexive and habitual level. Once it bubbles up into the conscious brain that you HAVE to hang up on these creeps to get rid of them, most people don't have a problem with it.

#338 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 10:20 PM:

To put it in less pejorative terms, I'm willing to give them exactly one chance to observe the standard courtesies. These days a pretty high percentage (at least to me) are willing to say "Thank you, bye." Charity calls in particular tend to be polite; perhaps getting a rep for being rude inhibits donations.

#339 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2010, 10:38 PM:

Having once been the one in the call center - surveys, not sales, and even then I could only hack it for 6 months before I began to feel physically ill walking into the building - I remember being taught the following:

"Do not take them off your list if they just hang up. Do not take them off your list if they say, 'Not this time.' Do not take them off your list if they say, 'No thank you.' ONLY take them off your list if they say, 'Please take me off your list/Do not ever call again/I do not accept calls such as these.'"

So. I learned from that to tell people calling "No, and do not ever call again," or "No, I don't do donations by phone. Mail me something if you want me to consider you."

I am under the impression that this is still the rule in many call centers, especially because so many of them have gone to robocalls so that you *cannot* tell them "Take me off your list."

But of all the strategies for denying the call recipient any way to say "Take me off your list," this is the one that sent me into a blinding red rage.

"May I speak with Ms. LeBoeuf-Little?"

"This is she. Who's calling please?"

"Well, Ms. LeBoeuf-Little, I'm Officer [Name] with the [some sort of police association] and don't worry, you're not in trouble, in fact I'm calling about..."

...and he went on, and on, and he would not yield to any interruption. I continued saying things like, "I do not accept telephone solicitation, take me off your list, do not call again," but he continued down his script without pause, without acknowledging that I was speaking. I'm pretty sure I could hear him starting to grin wider the longer I tried. What fun this was for him! I eventually began shouting obscenities at him in a nonstop near-illogical tirade--"YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE, YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE FUCKING DOING?"--until he paused, either for breath or because he ran out of script, I don't know. I dropped a big fat "AND DO NOT EVER CALL ME AGAIN!" into that silence and hung up.

I mean, spitting, screeching, blindingly enraged. More so even than the creep who actually called me back to (attempt to) chew me out for having hung up on him.

I strongly suspect that the most egregiously rude of the telemarketers--I mean, the ones who operate from a position of absolutely NO plausible deniability, the ones who transparently burn their bridges, the ones who unashamedly verbally abuse the call recipient--are actually scammers. My assumption is that non-scammers actually care about not burning bridges with potential customers, and so never cross that certain line from civil-but-manipulative into downright abusive; while the scammers figure "Oh well, this one won't cave; might as well see how much fun we can have at their expense."

On the one hand, my assumption may be a tad naive. On the other hand, the set of unabashedly abusive/rude telemarketers I've experienced almost entirely overlaps with those come-ons that are known to be scams 99% of the time (cold-calling timeshare resellers, for example--my call-back creep was one of these).

I suspect it's time I re-upped with the various do-not-call lists. They expire after 5 or 10 years, don't they?

#340 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:58 AM:

@#335 C. Wingate: I've had to be exceptionally firm even with charities I've monetarily supported in the past. Yes, I am against mountaintop removal mining, but perhaps when you're asking a person, who just explained that she's been unemployed for 5 months, to give money to your cause, understand her answer the first or second time. Yes, $25 dollars doesn't seem like much, but it can feed both me and the dogs for 2 weeks at this point. I'm rather fond of food, as are the dogs.

#341 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 03:29 AM:

Callers at the house can also be bad. I had one from A.N.Other breast cancer charity the other day. I was in my running gear, it was about 30-40 minutes away from getting dark, and I said right at the start that I was trying to get out before it got too dark. It still took five minutes (with me standing on the doorstep wearing not-enough and getting cold) before I finally decided/managed to break into the painfully slow preamble (and, y'know, I'm more concerned with the effects of chemo on the immune system and the gut than having my hair fall out - which was what she was trumpeting as being so awful about it) to find that she was, indeed, soliciting for money, not mounting an awareness campaign. At that point I explained that, although we do give to charity, we have a policy of not giving to doorstep callers. At least she did then leave. We must put up a sign - anyone know some good standard wording?

#342 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 03:42 AM:

Xopher @ 299: "So that it's never right like killing someone is never right, but killing someone in self-defense when you can find no other way to save your own is the least bad alternative?"

Yes, very much like that, thank you. Maybe "violence" is better: I feel like people are saying in this conversation, "But she didn't commit violence against anyone, violence requires intent!" Bullying is a form of social violence, and even in the clearest-cut cases of self-defense no one would deny that violence took place.

Earl Cooley III @ 300: "Civility as a sole means of contending against evil is less useful; there you have a choice between inaction and appeasement if persuasion fails to work. "

Again you talk about civility like it implies passivity--as if you can't civilly point out hypocrisy and injustice, or civilly demand to be treated as a human being, or civilly hold someone accountable for the wrongs they have done.

C. Wingate @ 302: "To take an object case from our household, when we get cold calls and I say "no thank you," if they insist on continuing I then say, "I'm sorry, we're not interested, goodbye" and hang up."

I would consider that perfectly civil.

Terry Karney @ 303: "I also know that, for things like schools, to not treat it as a crime of intent is to end up with "zero tolerance" policies."

In my experience, treating it as a crime of intent is to open it up to endless rules-lawyering about what intent can be proven, arguing about what someone really meant by something, if they really knew that it would hurt, and so forth. More to the point, whenever we talk about bullying it's always from the victim's view: this happened to me, it made me feel this way. No one asks about intent. No one says, "Wait, are you sure they meant to hurt your feelings? Maybe they just didn't want to work with you!" To adopt a new rubric now is inconsistent.

"How, in this context, is calling people bullies not bullying?"

I haven't called anyone* a bully. It is a term I'm deeply uncomfortable with, because I think it casts bullying as a thing which is done primarily by a single essentialized group. That others those who get tagged with the label and gives the rest of us an unearned pass.

"A person (you) with social standing, is calling people out for being unkind; in public."

If I have any social standing here right now, I cannot feel it. I feel as though everything I have built on ML has turned into sand and ash. I am so disoriented, so lost. I am trying to stand up against what I see as a crucial mistake about a topic that is central to this community's concerns, and people I respect are telling me I'm just upset people won't join in my group-hate.

I think that what I said to Xopher fails as bullying on numerous grounds. It lacked intent, which matters, and it also lacked effect: I did not gain any social status by it.** But it was meant to hurt. That is my darkness and I own it. I do not pretend it isn't there just because I didn't feel I had a better choice.

"None of us (esp. those who were bullied) want's to accept that we might bully."

I accept without question that I have bullied, and might again, even though (because) I have been bullied.

* Anyone present in this conversation. I've used it as a shorthand for hypothetical/anonymous others because it's onerous to explain all that above all the time.

** Bullying is not an -ism like racism or sexism. However it is something of a building block, a component of those more codified and institutionalized forms of abuse, and like them you can activate its structures and reap its benefits without intent.

#343 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:31 AM:

Heresiarch: You asked why we couldn't see to call what Lee did bullying (Reading this story has me flashing back on the countless times I played the role of K, unwanted by all. How is this not a classic example of group bullying dynamics, with K in the role of the bullied and you winning group approval with your clever cruelty?). If what she did was bullying, then she was a bully, QED.

As for the issue of what you gain by (per the hard and fast rules of act, not intent, which you advocate), that's not a factor. There is no question of intent, only effect.

What is it you see as the mistake? The difference between intent and effect?

I suspect that difference is part of the problem; one which I actually brought up, in my complaint about the pattern of behavior I saw in re how people talk about the military. I said I didn't think there was intent to cause me pain, but I felt bullied none the less.

I'm sorry the confusion here is disorienting you. You aren't alone (see my comments on the difficulty in continuing the conversation.

If I may make so bold, I suspect some of the disorienting aspect is that it's so rare for you to be so out of synch with so many people, and for so long. It's precisely because you, normally, have the power which comes of social standing, and it's not feeling that way now.

But that's just me, looking at both how I feel when you really disagree with me (i.e. very defensive, and wondering how I might be as mistaken as you seem to think) and the generally supportive response to most of what you say.

#344 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:32 AM:

heresiarch: "I am trying to stand up against what I see as a crucial mistake about a topic that is central to this community's concerns, and people I respect are telling me I'm just upset people won't join in my group-hate." As someone who's been lurking not posting on this one, that's not how I read it. My feeling was simply that people generally disagreed with your opinion that Lee was bullying, in the example given. I disagree with you on this as well. I suspect (although I cannot prove) that "K" would not have described this incident as Lee bullying K - embarrassing K, possibly - and Lee has admitted to having been tactless - but bullying? No, not by what most people appear to consider to be bullying. That's all.

You asked Lee, back at 222: "How is this not a classic example of group bullying dynamics, with K in the role of the bullied and you winning group approval with your clever cruelty?" I would say, because Lee had no expectation of winning group approval, and was not trying to do so, but was only trying to defend herself against having to spend the session with K - who had a past history of bullying Lee. That Lee's words, and the group response, turned out to hurt K, I would accept. But that it was an example of bullying, no. Not every occasion on which someone is hurt by someone saying something thoughtless -even with group dynamics adding to this - is an example of bullying.

It's a nuance, perhaps, that we're disagreeing with. But I come to this from the POV of someone who was bullied, a lot; while you were "flashing back on the countless times I played the role of K, unwanted by all", I was flashing back on the countless times I played the role of Lee, and never managed to think up that witty comment which might, for once, have defended me againt an instance of being bullied. Yes, I feel somewhat for K, caught in his lack of popularity at that moment, but what you are saying appears to me to be coming perilously close to saying that Lee should have accepted being stuck with K - with the expectation of being bullied by K during the session - in order to protect K's feelings, rather than trying to protect herself.

The previous dynamic - Lee being bullied by K, is relevant to this, in my opinion. You asked: "Are you saying you weren't aware that it would be hurtful?" Lee has answered @288 "Hurtful? If anything, I thought that he would feel the same about working with me!" - so no, no intent, no expectation of the words as hurting K, no expectation of power on Lee's part - NOT bullying.

We may just have to agree to disagree.

#345 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:33 AM:

heresiarch: "I am trying to stand up against what I see as a crucial mistake about a topic that is central to this community's concerns, and people I respect are telling me I'm just upset people won't join in my group-hate." As someone who's been lurking not posting on this one, that's not how I read it. My feeling was simply that people generally disagreed with your opinion that Lee was bullying, in the example given. I disagree with you on this as well. I suspect (although I cannot prove) that "K" would not have described this incident as Lee bullying K - embarrassing K, possibly - and Lee has admitted to having been tactless - but bullying? No, not by what most people appear to consider to be bullying. That's all.

You asked Lee, back at 222: "How is this not a classic example of group bullying dynamics, with K in the role of the bullied and you winning group approval with your clever cruelty?" I would say, because Lee had no expectation of winning group approval, and was not trying to do so, but was only trying to defend herself against having to spend the session with K - who had a past history of bullying Lee. That Lee's words, and the group response, turned out to hurt K, I would accept. But that it was an example of bullying, no. Not every occasion on which someone is hurt by someone saying something thoughtless -even with group dynamics adding to this - is an example of bullying.

It's a nuance, perhaps, that we're disagreeing with. But I come to this from the POV of someone who was bullied, a lot; while you were "flashing back on the countless times I played the role of K, unwanted by all", I was flashing back on the countless times I played the role of Lee, and never managed to think up that witty comment which might, for once, have defended me againt an instance of being bullied. Yes, I feel somewhat for K, caught in his lack of popularity at that moment, but what you are saying appears to me to be coming perilously close to saying that Lee should have accepted being stuck with K - with the expectation of being bullied by K during the session - in order to protect K's feelings, rather than trying to protect herself.

The previous dynamic - Lee being bullied by K, is relevant to this, in my opinion. You asked: "Are you saying you weren't aware that it would be hurtful?" Lee has answered @288 "Hurtful? If anything, I thought that he would feel the same about working with me!" - so no, no intent, no expectation of the words as hurting K, no expectation of power on Lee's part - NOT bullying.

We may just have to agree to disagree.

#346 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:55 AM:

And I promise I only hit the "Post" button once!

#347 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 07:40 AM:

heresiarch #339: If I have any social standing here right now, I cannot feel it. I feel as though everything I have built on ML has turned into sand and ash. I am so disoriented, so lost. I am trying to stand up against what I see as a crucial mistake about a topic that is central to this community's concerns, and people I respect are telling me I'm just upset people won't join in my group-hate.

No. Your "social standing here" does not vanish, nor your works "turn to sand an ash", because we won't join you in being triggered by one anecdote. Nobody is proposing to banish you -- heck, nobody's even abusing you! People are disagreeing with your take on the situation, and declining to accept your (re)-definition of "bullying". That's all.

#348 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 07:50 AM:

heresiarch at #339

> I think that what I said to Xopher fails as bullying on numerous grounds. It lacked intent, which matters

Surely Lee made it clear - in her original post - that there was no intent in the incident you're accusing her of. Doesn't that matter too?

#349 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 08:57 AM:

re 339: I think we're hitting upon some basic points here that for me at least are helping to explain where some of the disagreements are coming from. Let's start backwards:

Bullying is not an -ism like racism or sexism.

OK. here's where we most sharply disagree. I think bullying is an -ism of a different sort: that it is the product of a predatory (and therefore dehumanizing) attitude towards other people, specifically that of taking advantage of their relative powerlessness to gain gratification by hurting them without fear of retaliation.1 It goes in a different direction than group-based prejudice, but it is systematic (which is what grants it its -ism status.) I'm not sure this point is all that important in the end, but there it is.

I also think we are getting tripped up by the difference between a general definition of bullying and a system of schoolyard jurisprudence. I am comfortable with a definition which the school authorities cannot necessarily act upon in all cases, or maybe even in a lot of cases. There is no system that cannot be gamed. In my own experience there is a major shift in the attitude towards bullying in the lower grades between my days as a elementary/middle school kid and my kids' experience. I was, shall we say, not very emotionally controlled as a kid, and bullies took advantage of this to hurt me surreptitiously enough that they didn't get in trouble, but I did when I fought back. My kids' teachers on the other hand were rather often benignly indifferent to retaliation, within limits. Kids still got in trouble for fighting, but a great deal of casuistry got applied in distinguishing fighting in general from bullying in particular, and the latter was treated more seriously.2

And I think there is a qualitative difference in the way different people engage in bullying. We all engage in some degree of what might be called opportunistic or situational bullying, but I think that in general we are also subject to social or internal moral pressures which keep that in check and can cause us to regret the behavior afterwards. I do see people, however, whose bullying is sociopathic, and whose entry into a new social system is specifically a point at which they begin to search for victims. The line between the two isn't sharp, and there is a subspecies in which people act sociopathically because their subculture reinforces rather than suppresses bullying. But in general the solution, such as it is, for sociopathic bullying is separation of the bullies from the victims, and that reform has to take a back seat because if only because it is rarely accomplished. So I'm willing to label some people in a general sense as bullies.

(which leads to a digression: there is a great deal of parenting, and therefore school situations, which depends upon stepping out of the legal model and acting autocratically. One can be a fair autocrat, after all. Of course one is subject to corruption, but a system which is too inflexible to deal with rule abusers ends up being held captive by them.)

Stepping back to the Lee-K example: I'm tending towards something similar to dcb's exegesis, though intent plays a smaller role. I think K being hurt by Lee was essentially incidental. The social system of the class victimized Lee by putting her in the impossible place of either having to put up with K because the rest of the class wouldn't, or completing the rejection which the rest of the class had already made. I think that to defend an insistence on the second choice, you have to be willing to defend Lee sacrificing herself on the altar of the local social system, which I have to say I doubt any of us would be willing to defend.3

Finally, H, you've stumbled upon a phenomenon which is important in on-line bullying. (Been there, been the victim.) There's too many of us for you to respond effectively. I don't think we're all in agreement; in particular there's a lot of what Xopher is saying here which I don't agree with (short form: I think he's allowing a lot of behavior which I would disallow as retaliation). However

(takes deep breath)

in general I cannot argue with Xopher here on these issues, because I think people would turn on me. So I don't. I think perhaps that your perception was that you were someone who had the standing to say certain things, and now you've discovered that the zeitgeist of the group is located around a particular viewpoint and that expressing dissent attracts a lot of fervor against you. I'm something of an accidental contributor to that because I manifestly don't have standing, but I'm not attracting darts at the moment because I happen to be closely aligned with the consensus that I can swim with the school.

This is typical of online forums, and why they tend to get purified into single viewpoints. Strongly-held minority views tend to get chased out unless those who hold them are willing not to pursue them, because the stress of being the respondent to a lot of contrary voices tends to get to people. I've spent 25 years doing this, so I've gotten used to that kind of sublimation. (And also, I'm quite bull-headed in the one crucial respect.)

1 which I suppose classifies it as a kind of torture

2 In practice this was vitiated by the sheer size of the bullying problem in middle school.

3 I could defend it from a system of Christian ethics which I don't think is widely accepted here, but the form of the sacrifice would be different.

#350 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 09:39 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (336): I once had a caller from a political campaign call me back to say, "Be more polite next time." I had repeatedly told callers from that campaign to quit calling me, so I had been rather short with her. Also, she sounded young; I'd guess no more than 20. I'm afraid I wasn't very nice at all the second time.

In general, other than the outright scammers (most of whom seem to be using automated messages these days), political campaigns annoy me the most. They will *not* honor "don't call me again" or "put me on your do-not-call list." It's infuriating.

#351 ::: A Public Service Announcement from the Union of Lurkers, One-Off Commenters and Allied Trades ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 10:06 AM:

@lots.

Ppl! Yes, y ppl!

We would like to inform you that in view of a possible increase in demand for our email support services from several unexpected quarters over the forthcoming weekend, we have agreed a new national agreement via a fair prcss f cllctv brgnng.

As of today, Friday 15th October, email support services from registered lurkers will only be available at normal rates between the hours of 6.30 and 7 am. Email support services requested outside of these hours will be paid at the standard out of hours over-time rate of 3 extended pieces of light verse or 17 clerihews or limericks per line of email support.

You are encouraged to take a few moments to make timely plans in order t ccmmdt ths sttn. Thank you fr yr ttntn.

Your moderators will be informed of these arrangements in due course and v th pprprt chnnls.

#352 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 10:34 AM:

C. Wingate
"We all engage in some degree of what might be called opportunistic or situational bullying"

No, we do not all do this thing.

#353 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 10:52 AM:

heresiarch #339: Again you talk about civility like it implies passivity--as if you can't civilly point out hypocrisy and injustice, or civilly demand to be treated as a human being, or civilly hold someone accountable for the wrongs they have done.

Certainly, you can actively, civilly point out injustice; my point was that civility is often an insufficient force multiplier for effective change. As Will Rogers once said, "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock."

#354 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 11:44 AM:

Arrrrgh!

re 346, it should read, The social system of the class victimized Lee by putting her in the impossible place of either having to put up with K because the rest of the class wouldn't, or completing the rejection which the rest of the class had already made. I think that to defend an insistence on the first choice, you have to be willing to defend Lee sacrificing herself on the altar of the local social system, which I have to say I doubt any of us would be willing to defend.

#355 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:32 PM:

Nicole #336:

re the police officers charity: Are you sure you're not me, even down to the obscenities? Unfortunately, it didn't quite get me off their list.

#356 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:33 PM:

Thinking about the definition of bullying, I'm thinking it may be better to limit the definition to a pattern of one person being "picked on" (need clearer language obviously).

In particular, I think trying to judge individual incidents to be, or not be, bullying is not productive. Individual incidents can be assault, bad-taste jokes, put-downs, even battery, but whether they're bullying seems to me, the more I look at it, to depend on the pattern of actions between the two people, and between the victim and the rest of the world. (Note that there is no shortage of negative descriptions to apply to the individual actions; you don't need to define it as bullying to call them wrong, from either side.)

The people who commit each individual incident can defend themselves on various bases, and possibly be right (in that their claims are factually sound); and yet, if the pattern exists, the victim is still being bullied.

#357 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:34 PM:

dcb #338:

"No solicitors". Yes, I know that in Brit-speak it means no lawyers, but that's the US version for "Don't you dare come to my door and try to sell me anything, including charities and religion".

#358 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:41 PM:

joann @354 said: "No solicitors". Yes, I know that in Brit-speak it means no lawyers, but that's the US version for "Don't you dare come to my door and try to sell me anything, including charities and religion".

However, because people are convinced that they are special snowflakes, you have to put more text under it. A friend of mine's sign says something like this:

NO SOLICITORS

Yes, this does mean you. Even if it's for your church or your school. Especially if it's for your church, actually.

Do not ring this doorbell and expect money to change hands, or we and our dogs will be most cross with you.

#359 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 12:55 PM:

@346 I think the -ism you're looking for in relation to bullying is "ostracism."

I've been bullied (mostly in grade school) and the core motivation seems to be "Not-like-me-and-mine". It's a more localized and highly contextual form of racism and sexism. I've seen a lot of it in professional work places where the me-and-mine have some sort of certification or affiliation or belong to certain schools of thought. Only there the bullying is very verbal and much more subtle. Which is another -ism for you. Elitism.

I figured out coping strategies as a child, although at the time, I didn't recognize them as such until now. Since then, I've shamed one bully* into acceptable behavior in a public place. Plus I have a boss who has bullying tendencies - disguised as humor. I've had to manage him, too.

---
* I didn't think to call him a bully at the time. I just thought he was an ass play fighting with his girlfriend in public. But after reading this thread, that's what he was doing. Bullying retail clerks for the fun of it. Or, to be more exact, calling a new employee stupid and running her down for not knowing everything^. The trainer was rendered mute by the attack because retail lives and dies by returning politeness for rudeness. It took another customer, me, to point out to the bully he was being rude, juvenile and inappropriate.^^

^ Which is attacking because of perceived elitism. I knew the clerk under attack had been on the job three days because I'd been there her first day and watched her correct a newly made mistake without her trainer being present to correct her - while the cash register kept beeping at her.

^^ He tried to charm his way into my good graces, but apparently I've developed a look that says, "I'm neither amused nor charmed and you will not like what comes next if you continue." After seeing it, he meekly paid for his stuff and left. I will also add, (with a nod to Terry Karney) that this guy was in the Army and very young -- 19 or 20. I got the impression that he used to get away with a lot of similar stuff based on charm and good looks as a child and teen. I'm sure his Sargents put a quick end to that behavior. I didn't get a salute out of him, but he did come to attention at one point. I think it was in response to my Voice of Authority tone and not my actual appearance because once he took a good look at me, he tried the charm-my-way-out-of-trouble route. Old reflexes vs. new reflexes and the new ones won. Go Army!


#360 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 347 (re: the resistance of political phone soliciters to A Clue)

[I figure the phone solicitation sub-thread is compatible with the bullying topic because it shares the property of demonstrating that those who willfully violate the rules of social civility automatically gain a power differential over those who follow them.]

When I once informed a political phone soliciter that I was on the "do not call" list she very snottily (my interpretation) informed me that they weren't bound by that list. I then asked her to explain to me what their "business model" was such that there as any benefit to further antagonizing someone who had already expressed disinterest -- nay, hostility -- to being contacted.

She had no answer; they never do. I confess it's a hobby of mine (when I don't simply say "no, sorry" and hang up) to try to change the script by introducing a meta-analysis of the purpose of the call and how the interactional style serves or fails to serve that purpose. (Such as the home repair salesman who made the mistake of asking to speak to my "husband".)

I don't only do it for negative purposes though. (If I did, I think it wouldn't say anything very good about me.) I've been known to cut short a donation pitch from a cause I strongly support to assure them that I've donated through other avenues and strongly support their cause but I never respond to phone solicitations on principle. I also cut short a solicitation call from my favorite public radio station (to whom I'd meant to renew my subscription and hadn't gotten around to it yet) to suggest that we go straight to the part where they record my credit card number. But in a way, both of those are in the same cataegory of interrupting the script in order to feel that I've taken control of the situation rather than passively responding to their request. So really, it is all about me, in the end.

#361 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 02:41 PM:

heresiarch, #339: I have to disagree with the premise that bullying doesn't require intent. When I think back on my junior-high and high-school experiences from the POV of someone who was bullied, it's clear to me that intent and pattern are what makes a bully. Sure, I had unpleasant interactions with other people that were one-offs, but that's normal for any group of people who spend a lot of time in each others' company. The things I remember as bullying were the ones that made me feel targeted, repeatedly.

So how does one identify intent? By pattern and repetition. If one person is being routinely tormented by another, or by several others, that's a pattern of bullying. If one person is tormenting several others, that's a pattern of bullying -- even if they don't do it to any one victim more than a few times. It's the only definition that makes any sense at all.

Elliott, #355: We have a "No Soliciting" sign on our door, which is routinely ignored by (1) people asking if we want our lawn mowed*, (2) people trawling for fresh meat for their church, and (3) kids selling candy or magazine subscriptions. There was a salesdroid from Clear (a new wireless network company) who not only didn't pay attention to the sign, but when it was pointed out to him, tried to argue with me about it! I'm thinking of having our friend with the laser engraver make me a more specific sign, along the lines of:

We won't give you money, or buy what you're selling.
We don't want to go to your church.
We don't have time to answer your questions.
GO AWAY.

* This might be because the person asking isn't fluent in English, and doesn't understand what the sign means.

#362 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 02:51 PM:

Re signs: I'd be tempted to try the simplest possible: "NO."

Victoria @ #356: I was a secret shopper once. During one of my visits to a fast-food chain, the manager ripped the very polite young counterperson a new one for not offering me a straw. In front of me and all the rest of the customers.

I took great delight in sending his bosses a long, detailed account of his actions, what a good job the counter kid had been doing, and how the former made me never, ever want to patronize that restaurant again, whereas the latter had made it a pleasant experience up until his 'superior' intervened.

#363 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Re phone solicitors - I heard about one fellow who enjoyed getting the calls. He'd hand the receiver to his two-year-old who was delighted to talk at length with the funny man on the phone.

#364 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 03:48 PM:

heresiarch:

Being willing to take on a position that almost everyone disagrees with, just because you think it's right, a really good thing. I know that it's damned uncomfortable, though. One thing I find useful is to remember that, even when I'm arguing against 20 very smart, verbal people (and so can't possibly keep up), it's only 20 people--not the community as some amorphous mass, even if it feels like that at the time. Absent emails from the silent lurkers, you don't really know what the other participants are thinking.

One of the things I like best about your posts is that they make me think seriously about stuff I have previously taken for granted, even when I'm not entirely convinced. My own initial read of Lee's comment was entirely sympathizing with Lee (both because she was telling the story, and because I remember the experience of being on the receiving end of bullying more than the giving end). It didn't really occur to me to think through what was going on with K. Thinking about it, it strikes me that I'm not even sure I can meaningfully define bullying. I'm pretty sure you need some context, as C Wingate pointed out.

For example, one social mechanism that can stop bullying is this: When Alice starts picking on Bob, the rest of the class gets mad at her. Inevitably, Alice is going to be really unhappy in that situation, and is likely to feel ganged up on, and even picked on. Similarly, if Alice has a reputation for treating other people badly, for always finding someone to pick on in any group, then one way she might learn not to do that, and a natural consequence of her actions in any event, is for her classmates not to want to play with her.

Now, the social mechanisms here are often used in bullying. Ostracism is awful to experience. And yet, it seems like in some cases, it's one of the ways bullying is stopped. Where I live, bullying my neighbors would, long before it led to any kind of legal response, turn me into a pariah. That's rough in any number of ways, and yet, it's also pretty effective at preventing some kinds of bullying.

#365 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:10 PM:

Re: telephone solicitors et al., putting myself on the Do Not Call list helped cut down their numbers rather a lot, but not to zero. And I ran into a similar sort of behavior when I had to call the local paper to cancel my deceased roommate's subscription. The woman on the other end of the phone offered her condolences, paused a moment, then asked if I wouldn't like to keep the subscription for myself. I told her that not only would I not keep the deceased's subscription, she had just guaranteed that I would NEVER subscribe to that paper.

I made a similar statement to a donation-seeker who didn't take no for an answer the first time.

At this point, I stay on long enough to determine their purpose, then say, "Not interested, please take me off your call list," and then hang up.

Re: the larger thread, being both smart and chubby, I was on the receiving end of a lot of teasing in grade school--I once got flack for NOT raising my hand to answer a question in class ("What? You didn't know? What's wrong with you?"). I still don't know whether I'd classify any of it as outright bullying...and I don't recall (maybe I don't want to recall?) any situations where I did the teasing/bullying.

Forty years on, this thread is enough to make me feel guilty for anything I may have done that looked anything like bullying, although I can't point to even one situation where I gave it instead of getting it.

#366 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Lila @ 359

Your fast food experience puts me in mind of ...

So it was the coffee shop of a hotel restaurant on the Monday morning after the convention. There were five or six tables seated, which was probably twice what they usually had for Monday morning and the lone waitress (who I think was also cashier and bus-person) was doing her best to keep up. One table felt her best wasn't good enough, since not only was the food not delivered instantly, but their constantly-changing order had gotten somewhat confused in the process. So they were not only berating her to her face but saying loud derogatory things about her among themselves in her absence, using an abundance of four letter words.

I and several of the other tables had been trying to give her quiet moral support via facial expressions and whatnot, but finally a guy at one of the other tables stood up and told the offending table to cut it out. They told him to mind his own business. I pointed out that they'd made it our business since we all had to listen to them. Another table put in an explicit defense of the waitresses competence.

It didn't hurt, I think, that with the exception of the offending table we were all convention leftovers and recognized each other as such. It was a prime example of turning the tables on bullying. The OT had the social power of being customers; the rest of us had the social power of knowing we had a community that had our backs. Would any of us have taken the same action if it had been just us and the OT? Or us, the OT, and several tables of complete strangers? I'd like to think so but it's hard to be sure. I'd also like to be able to define what we did as not being "bullying" since we had no functional power over the OT (except to make their breakfast less pleasant ... but they'd already made it unpleasant) but I won't claim the right to define it away that easily. Life is complex.

(Postscript: after breakfast I went straight to the hotel manager and told him I wanted to speak up for the waitress and her professionalism under fire, since I strongly suspected that the OT had lodged a complaint against her. He grinned and said I was about the third person who had come to him with the same purpose and the waitress had nothing to worry about.)

#367 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 04:52 PM:

A Public Service Announcement from the Union of Lurkers, One-Off Commenters and Allied Trades @ 348:

*peals of laughter*

(Thank you, I needed that. This topic brings up rather painful memories.)

#368 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 05:48 PM:

Lee at 334, and everyone who followed:

Thanks! That makes sense. My parents taught me to say, "No thank you," and hang up.

#369 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 08:36 PM:

dcb, #338, usually something like:

No Solicitors

No Solicitors Allowed

My hair fell out after both renal failures and it changed each time. Starting last year, I had cytoxan (not for cancer) for about a year and had weird hair. Now my last regular hair is starting to come in, except it seems to have an odd crimp in it.

As to immune systems, I had cyclosporin save my life with the second renal failure and the nephrologist kept me on it for a while. People always thought I was rude to bow or something instead of shaking hands -- even when I said my immune system was suppressed.

---------------
My sliding glass door faces the parking lot/street and one Sunday afternoon I saw a group of dressed-up black folk carrying bibles. When my door got knocked, I answered and when the man saw I was white, he asked me where the blacks lived in our development. I told him I wasn't that rude and shut the door.

Heather Rose Jones, #363, the first Capclave was in a small hotel that had never had a con before. The organizers told the restaurant to expect a lot of people coming in to eat, but weren't believed. So when Mary Kay and I went to lunch, not only were they slow, but they were out of a lot of menu items! I didn't hear of any complaints, but I'm pretty sure that they didn't make the money they could have because other folks heard what happened and went out for food.

#370 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 09:18 PM:

"No Solicitations Allowed Except For Cookies"

#371 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 09:36 PM:

heresiarch 339: If I have any social standing here right now, I cannot feel it. I feel as though everything I have built on ML has turned into sand and ash. I am so disoriented, so lost. I am trying to stand up against what I see as a crucial mistake about a topic that is central to this community's concerns, and people I respect are telling me I'm just upset people won't join in my group-hate.

Good grief, I had no idea you were feeling that way. If anything I've said has contributed to that, I apologize. I for one have great respect for you and your opinion, and nothing in this conversation has changed that.

I think that what I said to Xopher fails as bullying on numerous grounds. It lacked intent, which matters, and it also lacked effect: I did not gain any social status by it.** But it was meant to hurt. That is my darkness and I own it. I do not pretend it isn't there just because I didn't feel I had a better choice.

You said something to me that was meant to hurt? It probably did, then...but I can't seem to recall it, and I'm disinclined to go searching (and would not appreciate anyone reminding me, thanks). I remember that you challenged me on something I said, as you've done in the past, and it may have stung, as it has in the past, and it made me think...as it has in the past.

This, I believe, is what friends of good conscience do for one another.

I am not the world's most forgiving person. I am capable of holding a grudge for decades (perhaps centuries, but I have no way of being sure of that). If I'd felt bullied in this conversation, I would certainly remember. I do not. So I can corroborate that whatever you said fails as bullying from the "victim"'s point of view as well: I have not felt bullied by you, in this conversation or ever that I can recall.

C. 346: I don't think we're all in agreement; in particular there's a lot of what Xopher is saying here which I don't agree with (short form: I think he's allowing a lot of behavior which I would disallow as retaliation).

In fact, what I say about what I would allow as retaliation depends on how angry a particular instance of egregious behavior has me. This means I'm inconsistent and volatile, which is MY darkness/besetting sin/struggle for this life. I really try to resist it, but I don't always succeed.

However ¶ (takes deep breath) ¶ in general I cannot argue with Xopher here on these issues, because I think people would turn on me.

Words cannot express how deeply I regret that you feel that way.

#372 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Re phone and door-to-door solicitations:

I found the book _Influence_ by Robert Cialdini really helpful in understanding various marketing techniques. A kind of fundamental idea there was that the normal rules of politeness and fairness that serve you well in normal life are routinely turned against you by people trying to manipulate you. One mild version of that is the refusal to politely end the conversation, in hopes that maybe you'll eventually buy or donate something. The telemarketer is exploiting your polite habits (which keep you from hanging up on people by mistake) to keep you talking.

It's useful to recognize that, so you can be clear in your own mind when someone is using your own politeness as a weapon against you. At that point, I find it relatively easy to just abandon politeness in a way that stops treating the interaction like a normal human attempt at communications, because it's not. Instead, it's an attempt by one person to get something out of the other he doesn't want to give--first, his time and attention, then later his money. Thus, when I tell the door-to-door solicitor I'm not interested, I'm closing the door as I say it--better to be unambiguous that I am not interested in discussing the issue in any way. Similarly, when I tell the telemarketer I'm not interested and please never call me again, I don't wait for a response, I just hang up.

#373 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 11:38 PM:

C. Wingate, #346: I would like to note in passing that you seem to spend an awful lot of your time here shouting from the rooftops that you're afraid to speak above a whisper. This is the second or third such incidence I've noticed in the past couple of weeks, and it's a recurring theme in a lot of your posts.

Whether you realize it or not, the mere fact that you keep repeating this meme over and over again gives the lie to it. You seem to be confusing the right to express a contrary viewpoint with the privilege of being agreed with.

#374 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2010, 11:59 PM:

Lee at #370 writes:

> Whether you realize it or not, the mere fact that you keep repeating this meme over and over again gives the lie to it.

I'm not C. Wingate, but I certainly understand the concept of not wanting to speak against the group concensus for fear of what may land on ones head. Mentioning this is not the same as mentioning opinion X which is thought likely to cause a dogpile.

> You seem to be confusing the right to express a contrary viewpoint with the privilege of being agreed with.

And I think that bit's a non-sequiter. Not wanting to get jumped on is not the same as demanding agreement.

#375 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 12:01 AM:

re 368: This means I'm inconsistent and volatile, which is MY darkness/besetting sin/struggle for this life.

Fair enough. Perhaps I have misunderstood you.

#376 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 01:14 AM:

Mary Aileen - Oh, how I hate the sanctimonious demand that I be more polite from the person who struck the first blow of rudeness! But of course, see, their rudeness didn't count; *yes* they cold-called me, *yes* they were persistent, BUT they were "civil" the whole time, so I *owe* them. Gah.

Joann - You got the same dude? Ick. I'm sorry. The other "police officer association" type I deal with almost weekly--maybe it's a firefighter association, I don't know, I always hang up when I recognize the spiel--it's always a robocall. "Hi. My name is Bob, and I'm with--"[HANG UP]. Maybe next time they call I will remain on the phone until the recording is done, just in case there is some opportunity to respond that I am missing.

--

On the topic of using the tools that bullies use, and whether this necessarily results in bullying--

I am reminded of the young man at Gen Con who sidled up to me while I waited for my turn at Ergo (a card game involving formal logic). "So, speaking of logic," he says, and he proceeds to show me on his cell phone the old tired misogynist saw that starts "Time = Money" and ends "Women = Evil."

I absolutely used bullying tactics when I responded to him. I said, loud enough for the whole group around the table to hear me, "What makes you think a woman would find that sexist joke funny?" thus inviting them to dogpile him. Which they did. He very soon scuttled away.

I intended to cause him embarrassment. I intended to get the ostracization ball rolling. And I'm not ashamed.

I think the reason for ostracizing a person makes a difference. I didn't do it because he was fat, or wore glasses, or was a boy, or just wasn't cool in some indefinable way. I didn't do it because I get a kick out of hurting people and he was a convenient target.

I did it because he was spouting sexism and expecting women to applaud him for it.

I think it makes a difference that the shaming he experienced was intimately tied to his bad behavior, like the people at the restaurant mentioned above. And I think it's pretty damn important to female gamers everywhere to stamp down hard on the attitude that "sexism is OK at a gaming convention, right?" If one less man brings that attitude to Gen Con next year, that's a good thing.

I suppose one might suggest I be nicer to people, but when the man opens the conversation with "YOU ARE EVIL, isn't that a laugh?" I suddenly feel utterly without obligation to preserve his feelings.

So even in light of this conversation we've been having here, I can't find it in me to feel bad for shaming, ostracizing, bullying if you will, that young man. Hell, I'm actually proud of myself, because I felt like for once I managed to respond to sexism *effectively*. And I feel that institutionalized misogyny, which is what underlies the phenomenon of a man telling a woman a sexist joke and expecting her to laugh, is itself bullying; I may not have felt seriously threatened or harmed by that kid's joke by itself, but his behavior and expectations were part of a larger societal pattern that has to be effing STOPPED. One tool for helping to stop it is making it clear, under no uncertain terms, that THAT SHIT STOPS HERE. ("Not cool, dude.")

So. Is it ok to bully bullies back? Is it ok to ostracize people whose behavior is beyond the pale?

People's answers will differ. Have already in this thread differed. Me, I don't subscribe to Geek Social Fallacy #1.

I think the social dynamics/peer pressure that reinforce the message "That behavior is not OK" is a bad thing when "that behavior" means "that harmless way in which you are different" (or indeed "that you exist", which is what a lot of classic bullying is about) but I think it's downright necessary when "that behavior" is "that way in which you are hurting people or perpetuating social norms which hurt people."

#377 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 02:13 AM:

Re phone and door-to-door solicitations

I have no compunctions about interrupting a telephone solicitor. Since I'm not going to give them anything, I'm actually doing them a favor by cutting the call short. I speak pleasantly, ask who the firm/charity/whatever is*, tell them to take me off of the list, and hang up.

I usually take a similar line with people who come to the door. On one occasion, I did confound the earnest young soul from Greenpeace/OSPIRG/whatever by instructing them on proper clipboard technique. They were just holding it up for me to read, which is all wrong, as I learned from someone who used do that sort of work. You hold the clipboard out towards the mark edge-first, urging them to look at the useful info on it. Since they can't read it at that angle, they take it in their hands to read. Voila! You've got a beachhead. Perhaps that was unkind of me towards his next mark, but it was fun to do.


*I try to find out who they are, because if they are a legitimate charity that I like, I can contact them by email to tell them how annoyed I was by the call and that I'll never donate again if they keep calling.

#378 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 02:24 AM:

I'm reminded of when I learned that there's a limit to how much one can be bullied over the phone:

Harley is on the phone. He's not speaking, but has been listening for some time.

Harley: You know, Charles, I don't have to listen to this.

Harley listens for few moments.

Harley: No, I really don't, because you're talking to me on the phone. Good-bye, Charles.

Harley hangs up the phone. After a brief silence, the phone rings. Harley turns it off.

This was at work. Charles' office was several thousand miles from Harley's, so he didn't have the option of storming over to Harley in person. Charles was throwing tantrums to get his very own field service engineer. It didn't work. I've never seen a tantrum work for an adult, though I suppose they must occasionally.

#379 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 03:54 AM:

There's all the difference in the world between ostracizing someone as a means of exerting social dominance, ie bullying, and removing yourself from the company of someone who is hurting you, ie self-defence. I agree with Nicole @373 that confusing the two is often a consequence of the first Geek Social Fallacy. If you think of "ostracizing" as an absolute evil, then any decision, for any reason, not to engage with someone, looks like ostracizing. It's not, not even when a numerically large group refuses to allow a noxious individual person to be part of the group.

Look at the Dysfunctional Families threads; nobody accuses the people who have cut off contact with their abusive families of "bullying" their parents or siblings. That may seem like an extreme example, but it's exactly the same phenomenon. Lee wasn't bullying K when she said she couldn't work with him. Wiscon isn't bullying Elizabeth Moon when it resolves that the con may not want an openly islamophobic GoH. Making Light isn't bullying trolls by encouraging multiple articulate people to explain exactly why their offensive opinions are offensive, and it isn't ostracizing them when the moderators eventually ban them. Communities which draw together to condemn homophobia (or racism, or whatever) aren't bullying the homophobes, racists, fill-in-the-blank.

#380 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 09:59 AM:

You want an unpopular opinion? I'll give you an unpopular opinion. I spent a week trying to wrestle my demons back into their cage, so I could come (to what I thought of as) home and contribute to the discussion. So now that I'm caught up, what do I find? A stupid fucking wank about edge cases. Thank you all so very much.

(For the record: school bullying is most easily stopped before it starts, by teachers who pay attention and care, but it works only if all teachers do it all the time, and only if the administration backs them up against the parents of the bullies, who are the ones who taught them to bully in the first place, so good luck with that.)

#381 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 10:11 AM:

I'd suggest that it's time to shut this thread down, ladies & gents.

#382 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 10:27 AM:

I think you may be right, Serge. This is hurting too many people and making too many others angry.

I'd like to have a conversation about the core issues sometime...like about a year from now. But this thread is becoming a tar pit.

#383 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 11:26 AM:

All: Sincere apologies if I've added to the bad feeling.

TexAnne @377: Thank you for your input re. the role, effectiveness, and limitations of teachers in stopping/preventing school bullying. No experience of being a teacher, but what you said sounds right to me.

#384 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 01:02 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little #336:

Someone claiming to be from a local police benevolent society called my late mother-in-law. She put me on. The caller's spiel included the phrase "death benefit". "Why would you benefit from my death?" I asked innocently. "Are you going to kill me? Is this a murder threat?" The caller was completely thrown off her spiel. I suspect she'd been trained to handle insults and ride over the polite. But she'd never run into something like this before. She insisted that she wasn't threatening me and wouldn't benefit from my death, but I was having none of it and told her to go away. I suspect that she was a most bewildered telephone solicitor.

#385 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 02:17 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @336: would not yield to any interruption

This is the ghods way of offering you a Growth Opportunity.1 :o)

I've gotten to be an old hand at this: the minute I detect solicitation (which is usually within their first five words), I respond with "ThankyouIdon'tacceptphonesoliciationofanysortthankyouverymuchgoodbye"*CLICK* whether or not the other party is speaking. Two can play at the "no pause for interruption" game. I'm going to have to remember "pleasedon'tcallthisnumberagain" to the reflex.

1I really shouldn't say things like that; she Knows Where To Find Me.

#386 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 02:22 PM:

dcb @338: We must put up a sign - anyone know some good standard wording?

"We shoot every third solicitor and the second one just left."

#387 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 03:19 PM:

Jacque @ 383: I like it! I am thoroughly fed up with the number of people who assume that, because I'm at home and answer the doorbell, I must be bored and have nothing better to do than listen to their spiel. I work from home a lot; I answer the doorbell in case it's a neighbour in need of assistance, not because I've nothing better to do.

On one occasion I got quite irritable with a young man because he was the Xth doorstep interruption in two days, then felt bad. He was actually pretty good and had, on my request, given the URL of the charity in question. and gone away. So I looked it up, discovered it was one I knew and approved of, under a new name (rebranding - argh!), and actually went down the street to apologise and to thank him for his courtesy in leaving when I asked him to - I told him that had left me much more likely to donate.

#388 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 03:25 PM:

Door-to-door salescritters: this is why ghod gave us peepholes. I look out, see if I recognize the knocker. If not: "Who is it?" Any response other than the name of someone I know, they get "Not interested, thanks!" through a closed door.

If I'm hearing knocks on other doors in my hallway, I don't even go to the door.

#389 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 03:54 PM:

I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who said something kind. It's made a huge difference to me--it's amazing how much a few sentences here and there can change the feel of a whole conversation. I feel right now like I could continue the conversation on less fraught terms, but I think it's best if I err on the side of caution and recuse myself. In order to stick to that, I probably shouldn't continue reading either.

For all its problems, I've learned a lot from this conversation. I hope everyone else has too.

#390 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Xopher @ 379 "This is hurting too many people and making too many others angry."

I'd like to add bewildered to that list. I'm not upset, I just can't figure out what this conversation is about anymore, or h

#391 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Xopher @ 379 "This is hurting too many people and making too many others angry."

I'd like to add bewildered to that list. I'm not upset, I just can't figure out what this conversation is about anymore, or h

#392 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Xopher @ 379 "This is hurting too many people and making too many others angry."

I'd like to add bewildered to that list. I'm not upset, I just can't figure out what this conversation is about anymore.

#393 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Drat. I was trying not to do that.

Argh, slippy fingers! Argh!!!

#394 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 04:35 PM:

heresiarch @386: I hope you're still reading, because I want to say that yes, I think we've all learned a lot, including a reminder to make sure our conversation remains civil, that phrasing matters, and that words can hurt unintentionally - and we're none of us immune to either hurting, or being hurt, in that way. Thank you for your input - which has made me think - and for this return to the conversation.

#395 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Texanne @ 377

1) Thank you for coming back; and thank you also for bringing a healthy dose of common-sense to the conversation. (And, you know - I'm not sure whether I have the standing to say this, but those who do don't seem to be around to do so - Welcome Home; even if you do feel that the other people who live here have been being idiots while you have been away.)

2) Also for the record: I think that reading 200-plus posts on this thread at once must have been a fairly wrenching experience. As someone who's been watching the convesation go off the rails more or less in real time my impression is that for the last twenty-four hours or so it has been slowly going less wrong.

(That said, I don't know whether the threat of further industrial action from ULOOCAT@348 has entirely subsided. I'd hope that people wouldn't push their luck, or we might find we have an all-out national lurkers' strike on our hands; and then where would we be?)

@everybody else: No-one seems to be around right now to shut the thread down. So could I suggest that instead of making further requests for this sort of action, we devote our energies to baking a cake (or similar) to greet other wanderers on their return - should we be lucky enough for this to happen.

(FWIW I'm fairly sure that abi @ 212 has undercounted the number of people who had left the pool in this conversation.)

#396 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 05:19 PM:

heresiarch@386, dcb@391: many thanks for your contributions of eggs and flour, which I missed due to cross-posting.

#397 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Incidentally, while I'm an enthusiastic cook, I'm no great shakes at baking. Can anyone suggest a suitably luminificent recipe?

#398 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 06:15 PM:

praisegod barebones, 392: That's the first time I've ever been complimented for my common sense while angry. Thank you! I'm less upset now. I caught up in large chunks, not all at once, and after the application of knitting, Dowland, and cat, I feel much better. (Dowland is so *very* emo that I can't compete, so I'm forced to give up and laugh.)

Here is a cake called "gâteau soleil." It's pretty!

#399 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 06:32 PM:

Steve Taylor: There is a difference between not wanting to bring things up, and making a point that one dare not. There are any number of things I am not all that interested in discussing here; some because they are enough against the grain of someone that I don't feel like dealing with the subsequent disagreement.

That's not, actually, what C. Wingate is doing. His choice of words is that of the martyr. I have a pretty good idea of his views on a couple of issues; because he has made it plain that they are so at odds with what he sees as the "acceptable" view of the majority here. He has, on more than one occaision dropped that little mal mot into the middle of a topic.

It bothers me, because it adopts the air of the martyr, the smugness of the person who has, "told someone off", the self-satisfaction of the person who is standing lonely in the right; all of that gained by boldy not standing up for his beliefs, while abusing us fot not being tolerant of them.
It's actually a fairly classic act of passive agression. Done repeatedly, in person; since one can't do much about it (the only real options are to ignore it, which is mostly what I've done; browbeat the person into sharing [which sort of gets them a free ride, since one can't really then go into a detailed critique, having convinced them to share against their better judgement], or cop to their being right; which admission must come absent actual evidence).

It is, in short, petty.

(and I apologise for the hit and run aspect of this, I am just told my lunch break is over; back to work)

#400 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 07:40 PM:

Terry:

I've felt the same way C Wingate reports feeling, at times, here in this community. If having a flinch reaction from being dogpiled in the past isn't passive-aggressive, then I'm not sure why describing it in yourself is.


#401 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 07:43 PM:

Cake? Cheesecake? Yum!

#402 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 08:38 PM:

The cake is a pie! Cake! Pie! Brownies!

#403 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 08:50 PM:

Bill Higgins recently posted on his own blog about the 10th(?) anniversary of the Tevatron going online. Cake was served. In spite of rumors, it wasn't baked by putting it inside the Tevatron where the protons and the anti-protons run into each other.

#404 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2010, 09:06 PM:

I've just read this entire thread in one go, and believe it or not, what I'm most struck by is its continued civility. Even when people have been obviously very stressed.

That said, I have rarely seen a stronger community consensus that a particular branch of the greater conversation should be, if not brought to a close, at least capped off for now. We will revisit these subjects in other times and contexts, and we'll be smarter for the things we learned this time around.

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