"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Thoughts on Bullying and Respect
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
When I was in my teens and twenties, John Wayne used to annoy the Hell out of me. Nowadays I see that that was so because I was ignorant. There was actually a lot I could learn from his movies, and I was thoughtlessly rejecting his message out of hand.
One standard plot element of his films that I found completely implausible was a conflict he would have with an antagonist. At some point it would degrade into a knock-down, drag-out fist fight with the guy. After the fight, in which both gave and got their fair share of licks, they were no longer antagonists, but great friends! I mean, how ridiculous was that?
Except that, it turns out, there was nothing ridiculous about it! Not only that; it’s a pretty damn important thing to know--at least for men. I’m not so sure it applies to women; in fact, what follows here may well completely mystify women. Perhaps in the recent feminization of society, these lessons have gotten lost or been suppressed.
When my son was a little guy, we had him in Montessori school for a couple of years. At one point, picking him up evenings, he was always crying. I got it out of him that another boy had taken to pushing him around and knocking him down. Unlike most folks who might have consulted with the teacher or that kid’s parents, I took him aside and told him that the only thing to do when someone tries to push you around is to push back! I went through a little role-playing with him where I played the other kid and pushed him, and got him pushing back enough to knock the other kid down. Next day, when picking him up, it was the other boy who was crying, and mine had a smile on his face. He’d knocked the other boy on his butt. Dad was proud!
However, the weird part came next. From that day on, my boy was good friends with this other boy. So . . . John Wayne was right?! What the heck was going on in the minds of these boys, anyway?
There is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the libertarian community about bullying. I’m thinking, after actually observing human behavior, that most of these folks simply get it wrong or completely miss the point. They sure don’t help any kids in the process of being bullied. Probably they themselves suffered from bullying, never figured it out, and are advising others to use the same tactics that didn’t work for them!
I am going to propose something radical here: Much of what we today consider bullying behavior is actually an attempt by the “bully” to find others worthy of his respect. If this is so, it explains the strange behavior of two men after a fight. They’ve found someone worthy of respect! That’s why they become friends.
If this is so, then all the standard responses to bullying are exactly wrong. Consult an authority figure? How can anyone respect that? Besides, it props up authority! Avoidance tactics? How can anyone respect that? Chicken! People will laugh at you. You will simply attract more bullying; do you want that?
The proper response to bullying, and the only one I am aware of that works, is to push back. To be prepared to both give and take a beating if necessary. It is NOT required to actually beat the bully, which is a good thing because some are hard to beat and you might not quite be the powerful martial artist yourself. But inflicting some pain should be your goal. Taking everything he dishes out, and never giving in, should be your goal. Remember that scene in “Cool Hand Luke”?
With this response, if it is a simple example of the “bully" finding someone to respect, that problem is dealt with by fighting back. If the bully in question is more pathological, it still works; he will look elsewhere for his victims because the last thing he wants is to experience pain himself.
It’s not just respect of the “bully” that you harvest from this process; it’s also self-respect. It’s the respect of others too--the observers of the event. You can take care of yourself, and they see that. People who do not take this course, who run to authority figures or other such non-productive tacks, lose both the respect of others and self-respect. This in turn might lead to further issues in that person’s personality, down the line. It’s a bad thing, certainly much worse than a little temporary pain dished out to you in a fight.
I have a quote here from John Taylor Gatto’s pivotal book, The Underground History of American Education about the upbringing of Col. Edward House in the 1870s, that is instructive. Here is Col. House speaking about his school experience:
I made up my mind at the second attempt to haze me that I would not permit it. I not only had a pistol but a large knife, and with these I held the larger, rougher boys at bay. There was no limit to the lengths they would go in hazing those who would allow it. One form I recall was that of going through the pretense of hanging. They would tie a boy’s hands behind him and string him up by the neck over a limb until he grew purple in the face. None of it, however, fell to me. What was done to those who permitted it is almost beyond belief.
OK then, but what about nonviolent resistance? Doesn’t the success of that practice disprove my thesis here?
At first glance it might appear to, but I’d argue it actually supports the idea. For one thing, what is nonviolent resistance but taking everything the bullying government enforcers can dish out? Isn’t that half of my thesis?
OK, but what about inflicting pain? Isn’t that counter to nonviolent resistance?
Just ask yourself, what is crucial in a nonviolent resistance? Observers, lots of them, the more the better. “The whole world is watching!” So, I would argue that the nonviolent resisters are still inflicting pain on the bullies. It’s not physical pain or harm, but psychological pain--the pain of being thought of, by observers, as an ugly, nasty psychopath. Who wants to be thought of that way? So nonviolent resisters are still inflicting pain! By the way, a righteous cause is also a crucial part of nonviolent resistance. It doesn’t work so well when your cause is more goodies from the state, like some of those kids looking for a free college “education.” The point is to make the resisters look good and the enforcers look ugly; you can’t do that with a cause that is not righteous.
Think of all those pictures and videos of cops or military, lined up facing a protesting populace. Now think of the minds of those enforcers. What are they looking for? A reason to respect those they are facing. Failing that, a reason to dehumanize them so they won’t feel bad bashing their skulls in. Well, from the point of view of the protesters, you certainly want to engender respect in the enforcers’ minds, and avoid at all cost dehumanizing. Your behavior must reinforce the response you are looking for, and avoid the response you don’t want. Use your imagination here, how that is done. It is not that hard to figure out. Put ex-cops and ex-military on your front line. Be friendly, not disrespectful. And that is why, by the way, provocateurs always break windows. They are looking to create a dehumanizing state of mind in the enforcers.
My thesis apparently, actually gains support from the idea of nonviolent resistance.
What about responding to bullying cops with lawyerly references to the Constitution? But isn’t that just running to authority again? Think the cop will respect you for it? I’m about as doubtful about the mantras, “Am I being detained?” “Can I leave now?” It’s like people memorize these phrases as a secret code to get cops to go away. But do they engender respect?
It’s relatively common in Wyoming to carry a pistol openly. I do it frequently. Interestingly, one does not hear of assaults by cops happening in Wyoming much. When one has a gun, or the likelihood to be carrying one concealed, the unstated point is that one is a lot more difficult to push around. There has to be some respect for that, in the cop’s mind. I do know of one case, a couple friends of mine actually, where a two cops took issue with them carrying guns openly (likely new hires from out of state!). My friends did not back down or hand their guns over. They did not get taken down or beat up; a verbal disagreement was as far as it got.
Now, at least in other parts of the country, a complicating factor has been added, in that cops can literally get away with murder. This has unbalanced the earlier equation that I mentioned, the notion of looking for someone to respect, tied to the possibility of receiving a beating. That possibility is essentially gone now. No wonder cops are going crazy these days; there is literally nothing to inhibit their worst impulses. All that is left is complete and utter submission, or a lethal escalation.
This state of affairs cannot continue.
On another point, there is a noticeable difference between the way young men and old men are treated. I used to think that older men were simply not thought of as threats, they didn’t get into trouble and attract attention from the law. Maybe that factor is present, but I think also that old men, some of them anyway, have a reputation for not putting up with crap. Like that old Internet meme that was floating around a while back, “Don’t mess with old men. They won’t fight you because they are no longer capable of it. They will just pull out a gun and shoot you.”
Ultimately, the answer to bullying is to put yourself in the bully’s shoes. Look at yourself from his point of view. Then refrain from doing those things that would make him think of you as an insect. Do things instead, that makes him unsure of himself. It is usually not necessary or even desirable to go overboard with challenging him. He has to retain “face” after all, among the observers. It may be a fine line, but I believe the best action is to calmly, quietly, not back down.
Oh, and go out and rent that old John Wayne movie, “The Shootist.”