You know who are the most likely victims of bullying? If you answered “the less fortunate”, the “marginalised”, the “powerless”, or the underdogs”, you answered wrong. Because these types of “victims” are no more than the traditional poster children put up by “activists” who are driven more by a political agenda than by any real empathy for real victims of bullying. The “victims” they put up are proxies for their opponents in their politics and are not representative of the types of people most likely to be bullied.
So who are the bullies’ real victims? Simple. Real victims of bullying are people who are different.
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Humans are programmed by millions of years of evolution to conform to their communities. The alternative to conforming is to face expulsion which, on the African Savanna, is pretty much a death sentence. Outside the protection of the tribe, a lone human individual in the wild is no match against predators and has no chance of reproducing. Bullying seems to be the pervasive social problem that it is because it likely served a purpose back in those days on the African Savanna — to maintain a cohesive band or tribe of individuals conforming to proven collective survival strategies. As such, a behaviour that came to be at the cradle of humanity got carried forth by succeeding generations of humans that ventured out of Africa and colonised the rest of the planet. Most individuals are inclined to bully or be on the side of bullies.
A truly compelling and resonant anti-bullying advocacy, therefore, needs to start from the perspective of the bullied and, from there, build a clear understanding of why certain people attract the attention of bullies. The bullied are not necessarily enemies of bullies. Bullies don’t see their victims as a threat to them. Rather, people who attract bullies push a button in the recesses of bullies’ psyches that go back to that primal instinct on the African Savanna to keep a tribe in line and every individual marching to the same drumbeat. Perhaps, modern-day bullies are individuals who grew up in environments that still resemble those primitive communities of yore where conformity was maintained by force.
This could be the reason why bullying seems to be generally tolerated by authorities and even institutionalised, such as in fraternity hazing. Indeed, most institutions and organisations that are the most demanding of conformity in its members — fraternities, the military, secret societies, etc. — have one form of insitutionalised bullying ritual or another that go by seemingly benign terms like “initiation”, “baptism”, “rites of passage” and the like. All these seem to serve as ritualistic ingraining in the minds of neophyte members that they are about to become part of a hierarchy where they are expected to fit in.
Does all this make bullying right? Not anymore. We now live in an age where modern laws and institutional processes have taken over the rule of personalities which, in comparison, is arbitrary and inconsistent. Thus, bullying has become an illegal assertion or expression of power over another. A police officer, on the other hand, asserts power and authority over another person within prescribed rules of engaging that person. These rules are expected to be applied by all police officers to governing their actions and therefore make the channeling of power even by individuals consistent and transparent.
A modern-day bully, on the other hand, is one who is seen to be acting outside of any authorised framework for expressing power. He or she expresses power on the back of his or her own perceived ascendancy over another. The most successful of such bullies manage to build a cult following — those who watch submissively or, worse, cheer them on — that further enhances his or her ability to bully.
It is therefore no surprise that bullying continues to be a normal practice in Philippine society. This is, after all, a society of rule by people and not of laws. In such a society where the expression of power is arbitrary, bullying is an accepted survival mechanism. Indeed, it is evident now in light of recent events, that this style of thinking is already ingrained at an early age. It can also be seen in what supposedly is the Philippines’ “grown-up” politics where personalities rather than ideas and principles are what loyalties are built around.
Again, the key to finding the right solutions in this instance is to understand and squarely-confront the root causes at the systemic level. Understanding the problem of bullying under this light brings to the fore not just the bully but the nature and character of the bullied. The bullied are, for the most part, individuals who beg to differ to the established norm and, in so doing, attract derision from his or her peers and are ostracised often with the veiled consent of the very authorities supposedly tasked with protecting individual liberties, specifically an individual’s right to differ. Indeed, this likely explains why authorities are generally slow to act on bullying cases — because they themselves are accomplices (who enjoy plausible deniability) to the schoolyard bullies who serve as the small-time fall guys when the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.