Update: See Karen DeCoster, Back to the Bullying Topic, and Mike Masnick, Rethinking Bullying: Kids Don’t See It As Bullying.
From a series of posts on LewRockwell.com a few years back:
Okay, that’s too grandiose a title. But as I mentioned briefly in my entry in Walter Block’s Libertarian Autobiography series [update: How I Became A Libertarian, December 18, 2002, LewRockwell.com (published as “Being a Libertarian” in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians (compiled by Walter Block; Mises Institute 2010))], I think one reason I developed libertarian views is “my strong sense of outrage at injustice, which probably developed as a result of my hatred of bullies and bullying. I was frequently attacked by them as a kid, because I was small for my age, bookish, and a smartass. Not a good combination.”
A couple years ago I had a conversation with some libertarians about this, and brought up bullying–many of them had had similar experiences. Maybe there is a common theme here.
Which leads me to my main point here: it’s astonishing, to me, that bullying is permitted and laughed off as some natural kiddie thing. Even in good schools, bullies exist, and they mercilessly prey on smaller, weaker, meeker kids. We are talking serious violent crime here: assault and battery. Physical violence. Beatings. Theft. Why is there no outcry over this? Why is it tolerated? I am not fond of the over-litigiousness of modern American society, but if my boy were attacked by another kid in school, I would sue the attacker and his parents for assault and battery. It’s outrageous. I just don’t get why there are so many bullies: why don’t they teach them never to be cruel to the weak and innocent and defenseless. Followup: Lew agreed with the bullying point, and pointed out that “The creation of the kid culture, separate from parents and other family members, encourages this sort of evil. Thanks, public schools. We will never know the proper educational organization until we allow freedom. Mothers cooperatives, etc. As it is, the government defines what a school is.” For a partial explanation, see Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why, by John Taylor Gatto.
Followup 2: One reader writes:
“This blog got my attention right away. Not pretending to be a psychologist, but having been bullied and done a little bullying myself as a child, let me offer this explaination: a bully bullies because he can. The humiliation of another enlarges the bully in his own mind (and there only). He picks his victims purely on the basis of risk. That is, the lower the risk to himself the easier the target. (Sounds like a few chicken-hawks we know in D.C.)
“The bully is essentially a coward. But the answer with childhood bullying (and probably with occupied states) isn’t litigation or bureaucratic intervention, just plain old self-defense. The easiest way to back down a bully is good right cross to the nose, and that’s exactly what I’d tell my own kid. One shot and he won’t be bothered again. Very laissez-faire I think.
“The problem with our cowardly lions on the Potomac is that they face no personal risk to there own lives, liberty, and property. Until they do they’ll continue to stalk the global schoolyard in search of easy prey.”
I agree in part. However, I think it’s incorrect to think that self-defense is “the answer.” Certainly, kids should be taught self-defense. But sometimes the kid is too small or weak. And in high school, we are talking seriously possible harm now. It’s akin to organized crime.
What interests me most, however, is not the psychology of bullies–there are many reasons some people choose to be thugs, and as they are not excuses, they are not that interesting to me–nor techniques for self-defense, but why libertarians don’t see bullying as aggression. Surely, you wouldn’t say, to women, that “the answer” to rape is self-defense? Surely, they should defend htemselves if they have to, but far better to prevent it and if they do it, you arrest and hang ‘em. Why does a bully get away with it?
In my view, if a kid bullies, he ought to–quite literally–be arrested and imprisoned for a time, and punished with severe pain. And if he does it again, he should be imprisoned for a long time, if not ejected from society. I am quite serious. They are criminals, pure and simple. There is no excuse for it. [Update: I am now opposed to state imprisonment, and even private imprisonment as a general matter, as discussed in Fraud, Restitution, and Retaliation: The Libertarian Approach.]
In response to my post about bullying, a reader writes:
“I like almost all of your columns and you’ve been educating me on property rights, but this business of suing the parents of bullies is childish and a symptom of the times; handing a state institution the means to intrude into ordinary disagreements between children. 90% of political correctness comes out of crap like this. Were you irrevocably damaged by your tormentors all those years, or are you a smarter stronger person today? It takes a little bit of trial to forge a character worth having.
“Read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (got the idea from this site). Nice long episode on bullies there (complete with the murder of a teacher by bullies), but was their society so hopelessly horrid because of it?”
Re the society of Wilder’s time–I suppose, society was kind of horrible for that teacher who got murdered by the bullies.I don’t disagree that being the victim of violence can help shape one’s character; however, I don’t think this excuses the aggression. Some women survive rape too and become stronger, or other people survive muggings etc. But that does not excuse rape nor do we say we want just a little bit of rape in society to keep us on our toes. The ideal is the elimination of all aggression, even if this might make us more docile or something. It might be a good problem to have, to learn how to adapt to a violence-free world.
But in any event, if “adult” crimes like rape, theft, murder, etc. are condemned, why in the world is bullying excused? I agree, people need to be stronger, but bullying is not only wrong, and intolerable, it is aggression, pure and simple.
To me, the key to libertarianism is a paramount concern for the victims of aggression. I don’t have any sympathy for aggressors, even if they have psychological reasons for being thugs, and even if their acts of aggression end up helping their victims–the ones who survive, anyway–to “forge strong characters”. Bullies are nothing but thugs and should be physically beaten and imprisoned.
Therefore, I don’t see that it is childish to defend your children, or to hold people accountable for their violent, aggressive actions. Probably the best aproach would be to go to the dad of the bully. If he didn’t see reason and give his son a good, vigorous talking to and appropriate discipline–then, since corporal punishment or imprisonment or ejection from civil society is probably not possible, I would sue, yes, and also try to get the thug expelled from my kid’s school.
In a followup, the reader writes: “I want to differentiate between clear lasting damage to a person (you hospitalize him) and getting nagged and pushed around. Learning how to deal with bullies is part of becoming an adult. Parents suing the parents of other children is the infantilization of society John Taylor Gatto was referring to in the link. Being ready to bring the family demolishing arm of the state in to solve your problems gives the other whiners the same tool they cry about all the time.
“What about the “emotional bullying” minorities claim on campus to the point where points of views aren’t even allowed (And that’s private speech codes a lot of the time)? Some people might be able to claim physical disability and damage from emotional distress. Other kids will shrug off some fisticuffs after school.”
I agree, that you can distinguish between more-severe and less-severe acts of aggression; the former should be punished more severely. But both are aggression (battery). It is a crime to use someone’s property or body wtihout his permission. Even if there is no “lasting damage”.
It is of course true, that “Learning how to deal with bullies is part of becoming an adult.” So is becoming aware of criminals and taking appropriate defensive and precautionary steps. But it does not mean the aggression should not be outlawed and severely condemned and censured by society.
As for “emotional bullying” claims–libertarians distinguish between “emotional bullying” and physical violence. Physical violence is simply impermissible, and it is a punishable crime, in my view. Regardless of the “lasting damage” it causes. I am firmly convinced that teachers should keep a close eye on bulllying and stop it. It is aggression. But they don’t, and parents don’t seem to mind. And, apparently, even some libertarians think some forms of aggression are okay–even necessary, and good for us.
Posted by R Kirkwood at September 30, 2003 02:37 PM
Lawsuits over bullying? Whatever happened to defending yourself with your fists?
Two points: First, the criminal bullies are just another reason to home school.
Second, what?, you’re going to sue some third-grader’s parents if he takes your third-grader’s lunch money? Teach your kid to fight. If he gets kicked out of school, so what.
If it’s a matter of an older bully, say, a 12-year-old picking on a 7-year-old, the answer is similar, only it doesn’t involve the kids, because your kid can’t win. You should, by the way, teach him to fight back as best he can.
You visit the 12-year-old’s father and tell him that if the bullying doesn’t stop tomorrow, you’ll be there tomorrow night and he’ll get the same treatment. If 12-year-old doesn’t have a father, well, you’ll have to play it by ear.
Point is, you don’t resolve with lawsuits what you can reasonably resolve with your fists.
Kirkwood: “Lawsuits over bullying? Whatever happened to defending yourself with your fists?”
I’d say, whatever happened to not feeling sorry for people who are sued when they are actually responsible for damage done to others. Whatever happened to taking the side of victims–without exception–over that of the violent thugs, predators, and other outlaws of society?
Self-defense, and other measures are not mutually exclusive. What’s wrong with suing someone legally responsible for damage to you or yours? I’ve yet to see a principled, libertarian-based argument against the notion that bullying is a clear instance of exactly what libertarianism opposes: violent invasion of rights, which should not be tolerated. Aggression should be countered with punitive force and restitution should be made.
The degree of the punishment and amount of restitution, should of course take into account proportionality concerns, but that’s just a detail. But let’s err on the side of the victims. I have an idea: expel the thugs among us and put them in school with other like-minded thugs and let them beat the hell out of each other. Fine with me, let’s separate the the riff-raff thug children of jock parents from civilized children of civilized parents.
If the parents of a thug get sued by the parents of one of his many vicitms, instead of whining about it, they ought to figure out how to teach him that thuggery is intolerable.Another followup: another reader writes:
“Stephan, you ask, “Why is there no outcry over this? Why is it tolerated?”
“Gatto writes, ‘Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant they need to be controlled and regulated for society’s good. Under such a logical regime, school terror can only be regarded as good advertising. It is sobering to think of mass schooling as a vast demonstration project of human inadequacy, but that is at least one of its functions.’
“The problem of bullying is a symptom of the failure of both compulsory-schooling (as distinct from education; thank you, Mr. Clemens) laws and unilateral-personal-disarmament (“gun control”) laws. Compulsory schooling violates the principle of freedom of association; restore the freedom of (non-)association, and the problem of bullying “withers away”.
“I also think being bullied amplifies and focuses one’s desire simply to be left alone, so libertarianism’s attraction for the bullied might be described as ‘”leave me alone” writ large’.
“> Certainly, kids should be taught self-defense. But sometimes the kid
> is too small or weak.
“Well, right there is an explanation for why so many kids bring guns to school.
“I have long thought that the reason “an armed society is a polite society” is very simple: because in an armed society, those who are impolite are dead, at the very least.
“> If the parents of a thug get sued by the parents of one of his many
> vicitms, instead of whining about it, they ought to figure out how to
> teach him that thuggery is intolerable.
“I agree completely; sadly, I fear that the more likely response will be the same as that of most businesses — blame lawyers for the problem instead of their own behavior, and then hire other lawyers to “game the system” to shield them from consequences instead of changing their behavior.”
Whatever happened to the non-aggression principle? Doesn’t Rothbard introduce this on PAGE ONE of For a New Liberty?
Understanding that principle, what’s the problem of understanding the bullying question? Bullying is not necessarily a minor problem; not when there is an attack on one’s person involved. And I think Kinsella is making it clear that he draws a line between squabbles and aggression. There is a distinction to be made between a “squabble” and a physical attack: the squabble is not a physical confrontation wherein someone is physically harmed. If Kinsella’s mother and wife disagree on what socks he should wear to a Board meeting – wife wants black, Mom wants yellow with green diamonds – that is a “squabble.” If his Mom gets so angry that she attacks his wife, bloodying her face and breaking a bone or two, there has been a violation of his wife’s rights.
Being part of an overly litigious society, even if to an infantile degree, does not mean we allow others to perpetuate what constitutes actual aggression against the person or property of another. The “infantileness” comes from all of the illegitimate cases being taken into the court systems. This “it’s no big deal” attitude says to us: “Oh, your ADD 13-year-old beat the crap out of my bookish 13-year-old for kicks, but I’d really hate to contribute to an already-packed court system, so I’ll let it be.”There was a mention about a bully taking your kid’s lunch money, as if there is nothing wrong with this sort of theft. If a child’s lunch money is taken, whether it’s $5 or $20 or $100, you go get it back, however that is. If your child is beaten up by a bully (ie, his person is aggressed against), that is aggression, pure and simple. And aggression against the person of another is a crime, and the victim should take action against the perpetrator. And if the crime is serious enough, where restitution cannot be worked out between the parties, then it goes to a court (or hopefully, an arbitrator), where a third party decides the case.
What’s not understood about this basic axiom of libertarianism? Isn’t “teaching your kid to throw some fists back” at the perpetrator infantile? Isn’t that a bit antiquated? Sure, it makes sense to teach any kid some street smarts, but that is another issue, and this does not excuse criminal aggression. This is not a “politically correct” issue, as Kinsella’s reader makes it out to be. In addition, the reader asks: can being a victim of aggression against your person “make you a stronger person today?” And he adds, “It takes a little bit of trial to forge a character worth having.” So now, we have to have character beat into us? How about women having “character” raped into them?
Foreign policy-wise, the US of A is taking Iraq’s lunch money, and it is aggression on a far bigger scale, only there’s not a court in this country that will convict that bully. Only it’s not “character” we are beating into Iraq, it is “democracy.”
In a previous post (followup1, 2, 3) I mentioned my aversion to bullying and my perplexity that it is not viewed by parents and libertarians as what it is–outright aggression. The thuggish bullying student and his parents should be sued if not incarcerated. I got a surprising amount of flack for this perspective, none of it coherent or libertarian or on-point. The criticism amounted to the cro-magnon “we already have too many lawyers and lawsuits” or “kids should be taught to be men–if a small kid gets the crap beat out of him repeatedly by a gang of thugs, that’s bound to be good for his character in the long run.”
I stand by my original opinion 100%. Nothing that was said to me caused me to rethink a word. Which is rare.
Anyway, this min-rant is but a prelude to the events told here: Violent School Bus Beating Caught On Video. Yeah, this one was caught on video–how many others aren’t? Gee, I wonder.
The story reports that “The beating suspect was arrested by police and charged with battery and disruption of an educational institution and he could be expelled.” I suppose those who dismiss the criticism of bullying with a neanderthal wave of the hand would say the parents and police here are “overreacting”. Harrumph.
Posted by Daniel McCarthy at March 3, 2004 12:16 AM
From what I recall of his article, McGrath was not writing about bullying. The fights he describes were essentially duels. One young man would challenge another to a brawl; the offer could be accepted or declined. The latter must have had some consequences, but there would not have been any honor or glory in beating up a wimp, so probably the most common consequence was just to be labeled a chicken. I think there’s something about that in Rebel Without a Cause, if memory serves.
If two young men agree to a fight, well, that may be something you don’t like, but it isn’t coercion. When the millennium arrives and we’re all living in Ancapistan, some folks can send their kids to Kumbaya Daycare. I’m sending mine to the Roger McGrath Academy of Gunfighters, Highwaymen and Vigilantes.
Posted by Marcus Epstein at March 3, 2004 12:53 AM
I agree with David. McGrath’s article was essentially about “turf wars” a la West Side story about whether blacks or whites would control some local club or disco. Both sides agreed to go to the brawl, and unlike West Side Story, no one got stabbed or shot.
If anyone has the basic understanding of how human societies have operated for hundreds of thousands of years, this is completely natural activity. Like I said in my last post on the subject, I would refer people to E.O. Wilson’s chapter on aggression in On Human Nature.
Pat Buchanan similarly celebrates his boyhood fights in Right From the Beginning, which many neocons and leftists used as evidence of his fascist authoritarian personality. Murray Rothbard dismissed this and wrote, “[Most articles about Buchanan], dredges his ‘authoritarian Catholic’ background (ooh!) and the fact that he fought a lot when he was a kid (gee whiz, like most of the American male population).”
I agree that Fleming’s article imploring everyone to go hunting and get in bar room brawls was a bit over the top, but so are these blogs saying that normal, healthy, behavior of boys and young men is somehow some great crime against the non-agression axiom.
Obviously fights can get out of hand, just as bullying can, and if someone seriously injures another person they should be punished. But a black eye and few bruises never killed anyone who wasn’t a hemophiliac, and I don’t see any reason to dwell on how we must root this terrible aspect out of society. Most males my age that I know start or get stuck in a fight every once in awhile and regardless don’t see it as some terrible crime against their rights.
Bullying “out of hand”
Posted by Myles Kantor at March 3, 2004 06:59 AM
Marcus wrote, “Obviously fights can get out of hand, just as bullying can…” From a libertarian perspective, bullying is inherently out of hand–definitions of bully including “to treat abusively” and “to affect by means of force or coercion.” As the protagonist of The Big Lebowski would say, “This aggression will not stand, man!” That’s as politely as I can put it.
Posted by R Kirkwood at March 3, 2004 07:54 AM
The sense I get from some posts is that some bloggers believe those of us who don’t think bullying is a big problem also believe we excuse it. Not true. We just don’t think the acts or their consequences rise to the level of serious philosphical discussion. In other words, all this is a little silly.
You can have all the theoretical and ideological debate you want about aggression and how its violates libertarian principles, but your average bully isn’t really concerned about this or that libertarian axiom, and the kid who loses his lunch money can’t whip out a copy of “For A New Liberty” and explain to the bully why he’s wrong.
You handle bullies the way Andrew Jackson and Audie Murphy handled them: by kicking the living crap out of them.
And one more thing: bullying and violence against innocent people or the weak aren’t wrong because they violate some esoteric libertarian principle about “non-aggression;” they’re wrong because they violate the Fifth Commandment.
I must say the pro-bullying comments are baffling. They seem either confused or unlibertarian to me.
Kantor is quite correct here: “Marcus wrote, “Obviously fights can get out of hand, just as bullying can…” From a libertarian perspective, bullying is inherently out of hand”. Sure, there is minor bullying and more severe bullying; just as there is minor and major aggression. But giving someone a “wedgie” is not some trivial, minor event. A large kid grabbing, roughing up, manhandling a small kid in this way is a clear-cut, significant act of aggression and cause severe emotional torment in the victim. A bunch of beer-swilling, frat-boy, jock types who watch pro football and throw their empty beer cans at the mom’s chihauhau sitting by the TV might yuck it up about this and guffaw about little puny kids getting wedgies–but this is not the stuff of libertarian discourse.
Kirkwood writes: “The sense I get from some posts is that some bloggers believe those of us who don’t think bullying is a big problem also believe we excuse it. Not true. We just don’t think the acts or their consequences rise to the level of serious philosphical discussion. In other words, all this is a little silly.”
This reply does not counter the assertion that bullying is immoral and aggressive, and a crime. What is clear is that libertarianism opposes aggression–whether minor or major–and that clearly, bullying is a type of aggression. What is strange about bullying is that it is one sub-class of aggression that is overlooked by most people and blown off as if it is “no big deal”–including some of the posters here. Now libertarianism can distinguish between minor and more severe acts of aggression by having the proportionality requirement for punishment; but it is not clear that bullying is per se trivial or minor aggression. In fact it is typically significant aggression.
Kirkwood continues, “You can have all the theoretical and ideological debate you want about aggression and how its violates libertarian principles, but your average bully isn’t really concerned about this or that libertarian axiom, and the kid who loses his lunch money can’t whip out a copy of “For A New Liberty” and explain to the bully why he’s wrong.”
But this is completely irrelevant. The same could be said to a rape victim or murder victim–that their little theories about why rape or murder is “wrong” won’t be listened to by the perpetrator. Of course they won’t; perpetrators are animals, which is why we should deal with them as such–e.g., locking them up, shooting them, etc. But that does not mean we who are purportedly on the civilized side of the fence should dismiss the rightful claim of a victim that aggression against them is wrong. This is what being a libertarian is all about: being willing to stand up with the victim and proclaim that aggression, while sometimes unavoidable, IS WRONG!
Online Learning Has Schools Nervous explains that public schools in Colorado are getting worried about losing students to online schools, “because losing a student means losing accompanying state funding. … If I lose two kids, that’s $20,000 walking out the door,’ said Dave Grosche, superintendent of the Edison 54JT School District.”
So–good for online schools. One drawback, however, is that students going to class online don’t get the beneficial and essential learning experience of being bullied. (Sarcasm intended. See Toward a Theory of Bullying, and followup posts:
More on Bullying, Re: Bullying, More on Bullying/a>, and Bullying.)
Karen, your post called to mind Fun Fair Positive Soccer, a kids’ soccer league near Houston, that one of my friends is involved in. Personally I’ve always despised the way too many parents at little league games etc. go completely bonkers, yelling from the stands, ruthlessly making it into some life or death competition, etc.
FFPS has a system that limits what parents can do, to make soccer a positive experience for the kids, instead of making them pawns of their parents who are using them to vicariously re-live their own childhood. As FFPS states, they see “the main problem as parents who put too much pressure on the kids to perform and the programs that emphasized winning as the main focus. They developed a system so the kids could play and enjoy the sport without demands from adults to win or perform. They modified the rules and designed a process of 5 aside rules, equal play with a unique equal substitution system, balanced teams, and parent training to ensure that it would be fair. The parents would behave and be positive so it would be really “Made For Kids”.”
So, all players rotate to each position and every player plays equally each game; and parents are not permitted to yell things like, “KICK IT! KICK IT! KICK IT!!” Hey, the kid knows he needs to kick it. Or, if some hapless kid starts going the wrong way down the field, the parents are not permitted to say anything. It’s up to the kids, players, and teammates.
You know this has to drive the type-A former-jock soccer-dads nuts. But I hear the kids love it.I wonder, by the way, how many of those ex-jock over-excited types were into bullying when they were younger? A fair amount, I’d bet. Speaking of bullying, I wonder what the libertarian defenders of bullying (2, 3) would say about the recent videotaped school-bus beating (2, 3) of the 10-year old boy. Ah well, I guess it’ll toughen him up. Let’s give him another few doses of tough-love.
If the Va. Tech psycho did this in part because he was bullied, then those who bullied him are partly responsible. They should be expelled from society (civilization), at the very least. These are the feelings that motivated an earlier exchange on this topic: my post Toward a Theory of Bullying; More on Bullying; and Re: Bullying; and Stephen Carson’s Bullying and Lawlessness; Karen De Coster’s great post Aggression is Aggression is Aggression is Aggression; and Tom DiLorenzo’s post The VMI-Approved Way of Dealing with Bullies.
And this reminds me of why I send my son to a Montessori school: their focus on peace and conflict-avoidance: Out of the Mouths of Babes.
In the Dec. 18 Slate Political Gabfest, the three liberal hosts discuss a case (also discussed here by host Emily Bazelon) of whether a high school could “punish” a student who posted a YouTube video mocking and insulting a fellow student of the same high school. The mean girl was suspended for 2 days (some punishment!) and of course sued for violation of her “right to free speech.” The case apparently turned on whether the mean girl’s out-of-school actions “caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities.” And the Slate pundits seem to have no problem with this framing of the issue.
Incredible as it may seem, the quite obvious solution never seems to occur to them: and that is that the issue is now what the school’s policy should be, but what the law should be. A school has the right to allow or disallow, to suspend or expel, or to set rules for same, on any grounds they want. If a school chooses to permit students to use its private property only if they comply with certain rules of conduct (whether on or off campus), that is the school’s right. Period. It has nothing to do with free speech. Free speech only means the state itself may not use force of law to censor or regulate speech. The right against the state committing this form of aggression has somehow been transformed into a right to use others’ property even if they don’t want you there. (Arguably if the school was public, some of the restrictions that apply to the state could apply to it; I can’t tell whether it’s a public school here or not, but apparently neither do the Slate pundits, who seem to think this is irrelevant, and would favor such a lawsuit even against a private school.)