Half-Truths in the schoolyard

It seems like there always has to be some issue For The Children to inevitably lead to more idiotic Zero Tolerance rules and further regimentation of lives, and this time it is bullying. Shows are discussing it, a movie is being released on the subject, and the federal government even has a website run by the Department of Health & Human Services about it.  Oh, the irony of government officials expressing concern about bullies while they steal your lunch money to fund the harassment and worse of people the agents of it happen to not like…

Anyway, Nick Gillespie recently wrote about this, stating his view that the issue is overblown:

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

Also, he says that to the extent the problem persists, contrary to expectations it is most common where school officials are actually present:

Though it may not be surprising that bullying mostly happens during the school day, it is stunning to learn that the most common locations for bullying are inside classrooms, in hallways and stairwells, and on playgrounds—areas ostensibly patrolled by teachers and administrators.

Of all the topics to come up in the Wall Street Journal, I didn’t expect this to be one of them. Then again, I don’t read it, and got the fact that this article existed 3rd hand.

In one sense, that of the conventional socio-political terrain where “this is a serious problem” translates to “we must throw your money down a rathole and whittle away at your rights”, approaching the issue not with a mind towards actually addressing it but rather offering it sacrifices as if appeasing an angry Aztec god, he’s right.  That so much of this occurs under the noses of government employees voids right off the bat any arguments that this is a matter of lack of authority.  Besides, considering the function of bullies separating and maintaining power over classmates they see as undesirable, calling the formal part of the ruling class to stop them is a bit like calling a pyromaniac when your house is on fire.

Now for the sense in which Nick Gillespie is dead frickin’ wrong…

There is a frequently invoked falsehood that because one does not believe in force via the state to address a problem that is equivalent to saying “what problem?”.  Yet, here it is edged towards for real by not being enough of a skeptic.  The parallels between how wicked children can be towards each other and what adults do to each other under a flag actually show how deep this cultural rot goes, as the root is the same: the simple, terrible, refusal to accept the existence of difference.  The attempts to impose cultural conformity come from somewhere, and their place among children suggests that it is learned early on in life.  A worrying proportion of kids are being taught to “cut down the tall trees”, and placed in a regimented environment with further incentives to discourage questioning of How Things Are.  Many go on to positions in life where such viciousness towards divergence from the status quo is rewarded. 

Nick and his fellow Reasonoids tend to avoid deeper radical implications when it comes to their form of libertarianism, preferring more of a reformist and lifestyle-based focus. DL has criticized this for its demonstrated political ineffectiveness.  It may be even weaker in terms of cultural effectiveness.  Concentration of power marches on, we’re fighting culture war battles that were supposed to have died long ago, and we’re still as a society rewarding being a dick (speaking of which…), meanwhile our scope of what individual liberty means shrinks to choosing what background we want on our smartphone screen.  I don’t lay at the feet of him and his cohorts the entirety of the failure to make a dent in the troubling tendency of people to give a damn what anyone else does provided it is not harming them, but you can’t simultaneously claim counterculture cred and say all is fine.

This isn’t a political issue. It’s more than that.

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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