October 13, 2012

Bullying – Mark of the Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
Last month one of the saddest stories in the news concerned a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide as a result of harassment from her peers.
The story reminded reporters of previous cases where young people took their life when overwhelmed by the pain from bullying. In response, there was the expected outpouring of grief, search for culprits, questions raised over why these tragedies happen. The question of 'why' is even more acute after society recognized the problem years ago, implemented 'programs,' and attempted to do what the experts recommended. Yet the problem persists. We go back to 'Why?'

 Here's my observation. 'We,' meaning society at large, and schools, in particular, are telling our children that bullying is bad and should be stopped... while our 'adult' institutions are doing the opposite. What do I mean? Consider these illustrations. Police will send a PR officer to a school to lecture the kids about bullying... while their colleagues on the beat are out there beating a 'suspect' so badly that he (or, sometimes she) ends up in the hospital recovering from multiple injuries. Then, the police charge the suspect with 'resisting arrest.'

 Does anyone see a radical disconnection here, or is it just me? Oh, and if someone happens to photograph the cops beating up on a 'take-down' (great euphemism, btw) then they stand to be subjected to the same treatment, or at least have their cell-phone/camera confiscated. Is all this behavior by our 'peace-keepers' not bullying, or what?

We can also look at those who are often held as role-models for young people. Think of professional sports, where whatever it takes to win seems to be approved. In Canada, where hockey has the status of national obsession among a certain proportion of the populace, the game, in recent years, seems to have devolved into organized thuggery on ice. The hockey stick, besides being useful for moving a puck, has proven effective for clubbing opposing players, sometimes with tragic results. Yet the big-wigs in charge of enforcing the rules show no serious sign of wanting to end the modern gladiatorial combats on skates.

 In practically all professional sports, intimidation is considered an integral part of the game. It may be mostly verbal, but very often gets acted out in physical clashes. Either way, it's really bullying, plain and simple. And it's in our faces.

From the universities, those bastions of higher learning, emanate many of the proposals that get realized as behavior-modification programs. Yet, there's a dark side hidden within those ivy-covered walls. The custodians of knowledge have a bloodless, sophisticated form of bullying, based on their rigid, hierarchical pecking order, that ranges from lowly lecturers to lofty deans. Within the overall pyramid, there are sub-pyramids by faculty, with everyone scrambling to become tenured professors. Woe-betide any bright aspirant who produces an idea that bucks the current orthodoxy of his/her area of study... they don't call them 'disciplines' for nothing!

For those who bother to take notice, there's the world stage, where nations have been competing for regional and global hegemony from time immemorial. Since the collapse of the USSR, there has only been one 'superpower'; and it's produced total mayhem. The 21st century opened with a bang, on 9-11-01, and we've had virtually on-going war since then. And every war has been one where the world superpower has taken upon itself the imperative to invade and subdue other, sovereign countries.

Looking at the world stage, it becomes evident that the USA and NATO are on some kind of bullying binge, determined to provide secular democracy in every Islamist state, regardless of the cost in lives and money. Even in our institutions, we hear self-serving baloney along the lines of 'We aren't bullying/abusing; we're just applying enhanced interrogation techniques.' Ya, right.

None of this institutionalized bullying can be a surprise in a society that has essentially embraced a 'scientific', secular paradigm for the cosmos, and prides itself on casting religion on the scrap heap. There's a serious problem with that choice, though. The so-called science we've exalted has no place for morality; the best it can produce is what's considered the driving engine behind the theory of Evolution, the dogma that does away with God. That driving force is called 'survival of the fittest,' and has been adopted as the prevailing moral code of the capitalist paradise.

In the human sphere, survival of the fittest has come to conveniently justify predation by the strong against the weak. At minimum, Christian society paid lip-service to the concept that the measure of civilized society was how we treat the weakest members. Under neo-Darwinism, the predators have come out of the woodwork, practically boasting of how they trample the 'weak,' whom they regard as not worthy of living.

All this implosion of society is predicted in various traditions. The Hindus call this age the Kali Yuga, with the salient features outlined here. The Hopi and other aboriginal tribes see this age as a time of choice between a self-destructive status-quo and a radical change in consciousness. In the biblical eschatology, the final days are characterized by global strife and social breakdown fostered by self-centeredness.

The point is, that while we prepare programs for our kids, and document news stories on the evils of bullying, Western society shows its true colors in what it tolerates (or celebrates) in all areas of life. The news features are followed by your favorite crime drama, whose violence is the model for extreme bullying. Our politicians hold press conferences to convince us that War is Peace. In short, the spirit of bullying is broadcast into the very aether, subtly pervading every aspect of our mental/moral landscape.

If there's a zeitgeist of the third millennium, we have created it. We could likewise dismantle it. The question then, is 'Do we really want to?'

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