Of Bullying and Bloggers

Why do we tolerate bullies in our midst?

HAPPY NEW YEAR! This year, one of my resolutions is to hone a pre-existing resolve of mine: fight bullies. I’ve always hated bullies, probably because I was the littlest kid (except one of the girls) in my class, and early on I used to get picked on and bullied. Yeah, I did hear the phrase “he gotta learn how to take care of himself” and yeah, I s’pose I did learn – there’s lots of tools to diffuse bullies like humour, defensive grouping of other kids, outwitting them, and the occasional fighting back. I won’t discuss any of that. Suffice it to say, that I was pretty lucky, I didn’t get picked on much after taking care of a few bullies. But I did learn a few things along the way.

Much like the (more) recent psychological studies, I came to realize that bullies are part of human society. Bullies are a product of millions of years of biological and psychological social control evolution. I’m not justifying bad behaviour, just pointing out that bullies fall into one of the categories of social engineers, or leader classes if you may. Before modern complex societies came onto the scene very recently in human history, social order was maintained by strong alpha males and females who would impose order and allegiances by picking on those who were weaker or different. This would be done openly so that all could see in order to have the greatest impact on all members of the society.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on the topic, but by gar Wikipedia does a pretty good job of summing it up. Slide on down to the characteristics section. There are three main ingredients in a bullying scenario:

Bullies and their accomplices

Many recent studies (like this quip) show that those bullies may not, as we previously believed, have low self esteem. They don’t just pick on other kids because they feel bad about themselves, because they’re poor, or not very smart. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Bullies are clever enough to target those they feel they can make an example out of in order to maintain a level of intimidation and respect from their peers. They find a balance between keeping people afraid enough to not want to be singled out by standing up to them, but not going so far as to cause widespread revolt.

Accomplices are those that like to be in the sphere of power, without suffering (much) of the wrath of the bully. They are those that are often sub alphas, or betas in social groups. They enjoy the protection and the ability to impose power through the bully. Though they can be players in reducing the amount of bullying, standing up to the bully often leads to being bullied as well, or being cast out of the group.

Targets of bullying

These are often the easiest targets of the bullies. They’re identified by the bully – and by the bystanders – as those who can be made an example of. They are usually the most defenceless of the social group, but not always. If a bully feels there may be a threat to their power in any way, then those too are made to be a target. They are chosen by the bully usually only when the bully is assured that they can win over approval, or at least silence, from the majority of the bystanders.


These are found throughout society in general, whether in the schoolyard, in the workplace, or in politics. As found in this site, or this one, bystanders have a key role to play. Bullying is most often done publicly in order to let the bystanders know that the bully can do it to them too if they dare to stand up: if they do, they will get taught a lesson by the bully. But the vast majority of the time they do nothing, which is a source of empowerment for the bully. However, many studies show that it’s not just silence that the bully wants from the bystanders.

Bullies need consent, and approval from the bystanders. There is some primal drive in our being that causes us to “bandwagon” and goad the bully on. There is something in us that looks to this kind of bully to lead our societies. Perhaps it comes from the tribe versus tribe mentality: if our leader is strong, and structures our tribe, we can be stronger than the other tribe.

Hypocrisy of the anti-bully

But there is a point to all this rambling which I’m sure many of you have already been made aware of either in the anti-bullying campaigns or in the school yard of your youth. I’ve noticed a skyrocketing rate of bullying in our province, perpetrated by those who are supposed to set the example for our kids – for our society – by those who produced that self same anti-bullying material I’ve just mentioned.

Our politicians are the worst bullies. And it has gotten significantly worse since 2003. Do we not recognise the traits? Throwing your own caucus members (accomplices) out of caucus for standing up for what they believed in, threatening to sue people who call into open line shows. They have called out, and threatened time and again politicians and whole provinces in this country, which has resulted in – roll the drums – increased popularity at home.

The us and them, the singling out and attacking

One of the scariest things of all to me is that they threatened to sue the media, and called in to open line shows to threaten members of the media. There are those out there that strongly suspect that they juiced polls and troll comment sections in the media to create an air of consent about the direction the leaders are taking. These are the peoples’ institutions and they seem to have been relegated to quiet bystander role in the past number of years.  [enter Englishman accent] This is real “bully” politicking I dare say.

But the worst – and I mean the worst – thing in my view is the full attacks on members of the public. I’m talking about tweeps and bloggers. All coming from a person who used social media to go on the attack while our speaking house was closed, precluding proper discussion in the proper venue. And don’t get me started about our speaking house: have you ever read a Hansard or attended a session? All those “oh, ohs” and “hear, hears” are more like fuddle duddles and rowdy rants.  We – the public – have been called “naysayers”, “mean”, “traitors”, “quebec-lovers” (how is this bad?), “rabble”, “inadequate”, and much worse outside of the media.

Tell me, where is the new energy?

According to studies on bullying, it requires the bystanders to take action to end the cycle. We all went to school with it, and according to psychologists we have been conditioned not just to accept bullying, but to condone it. In order to break the cycle we must – en masse – call for an end to it.

Yeah, sure it’s easy to just jump in and call down the egg-head NDP’s, or the fallen Liberals. It’s also easy to agree with the bullies and say that it’s just a vocal minority of bloggers, tweeps, or rabble rousers who are causing problems. But guess what? It’s true, we have lost the vocal majority. Especially in Labrador: I have never heard so much silence from people who, not so many years ago, were vocal about everything. They wrote to the editor, called into the open line shows, stood up for justice, and even protested. Is it that we have learned to keep quiet so our communities and institutions will continue to be funded? I’m thinking of the Combined Councils of Labrador that lost funding shortly after being vociferously opposed to government actions (there are many other examples).

We have to support some of the rabble/bloggers/twitterers because they are some of the few remaining people who are standing up to the bullies. Check out a local blogger for a full list of bullying antics; they’re much more up to speed than I and have wonderful graphs and facts!

PS – I’ll probably get bullied for this.

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