Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

Advertisements

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

De Facto Abusers

 

A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker ran an article (see it here) detailing alleged sex abuse at Horace Mann, an elite boys school in the Bronx. It should come as no surprise that nearly institutional abuse at Horace Mann was uncovered. Like so many cases before it, from the Catholic church, to Jerry Sandusky, to Robert Berman, and on and on, the problem lies less with the abuser than those who would do nothing to stop him. These abuses proliferate because the people who have the ability to stop the harm are more concerned about their own reputations than protecting innocents. They are willing to sacrifice the truth and integrity in order to maintain the status quo for themselves. They lie and tell these children who come to them to keep things quiet and not “make waves” because it won’t stop the abuser. They refuse to speak out because to do so might bring shame upon themselves. In their cowardice they maintain the status quo in order to remain anodyne, leaving their images intact and their lives unruffled. No matter if other’s lives are destroyed in the process. We need a means to hold these souls accountable for doing nothing, saying nothing, turning the other way as the accounts multiplied. They are equally wicked accomplices because in doing nothing, they consent.

 

Good People Turn Away

I have been studying, trying to come to an answer that may not exist, thinking about psychopaths/sociopaths, and further, about those surrounding psychopaths/sociopaths, and why it is these people support those who carry out evil, both on the micro and macro level. Ultimately, it seems to me that the danger of these people is greatly increased by these people who support them, the people who take action on their behalf, the people who stand blindly by and allow them to destroy.

This led to my wanting to know more about the citizens of Germany who allowed the Holocaust to happen. I keep thinking about average citizens walking down the street, passing internment camps where children were being gassed, their bodies burned in smoking ovens as the smoke rose into the sky, where people were being used as slaves or medical experiments and then murdered. This led to more reading. I spent a term at the University of Munich after a semester of intense study on the rise of Hitler and the NSDAP (Nazi) party, so I have some frame of reference.  We spent hours watching the videos of camp liberation. We studied the party’s propaganda videos, and learned of the history in the decades leading up to the second world war.

In researching the participation of ordinary people, or the ignoring of atrocities by ordinary people, I found a book by a man named Daniel Goldhagen that posits the theory that the German population simply harbored a massive hatred of the Jews, and therefore they were more than happy to participate, either directly or indirectly, in their extermination. There is much debate about Mr. Goldhagen’s perspective. He became an instant celebrity in a certain community and was hailed by those who want this simple answer, for whatever reason. I also read the primary criticisms of his perspective, and while they made some very good arguments against Mr. Goldhagen’s thesis, I did not find any satisfactory alternate response. I concluded that I do not agree with Mr. Goldhagen’s theory; while German antisemitism certainly played a part in the population’s participation and consent, implied or otherwise, it is not a complete answer. Ironically, Mr. Goldhagen came off as anti-German; is this somehow acceptable because of what happened to the Jews? But this is beside the point.

The world has experienced many genocides since that perpetrated against the Jews by the Germans, and the explanation that they are all singularly driven by the hatred of one population against another does not satisfy. There is more to it than this, and there can be no one answer as to why. However, it is important to consider why it is that seemingly ordinary people go along with murder, mass or otherwise. Why go along with any destructive behavior? Fear is an obvious culprit, and cowardice, but there is definitely more.

Recently I posted a story on Facebook originally published on Truthout about the crimes (both moral and actual) of the Obama administration. A Facebook “friend” (a person I have never actually met, but we were friends in the land of social networking because of some political similarity or other) attacked my post, stating his support of Obama, and pointing out my delusions. I countered, stating that I could not support someone who murders children with drones. He stated that Obama had not “murdered children” and that I was silly for even considering such a thing. I then posted for him two photos, one of a specific named, dead child, and a collection of several dead and injured children, all murdered or injured by American drones. The “friend” then unfriended me. I can only speculate at his reasons for doing this, but it seemed to me that in showing him what he did not want to see, he simply cut off the conversation. This led to my further rumination on those who would stand by as evil occurs. This man was not in any manner obviously fearful or even cowardly, but he supports Obama and he therefore did not want to hear any contradictions of this position, even if it meant ignoring the murder of children. To some extent, I was not surprised by his response. He was dismissive of what I was saying, and in some of his comments, sarcastic towards me, both critical and superior in his responses, as if I was just being a dolt who didn’t know any better.

More recently, while conversing intimately with a person who is quite thoughtful about the causes and effects of human behavior, I was surprised at her unilateral defense of Obama. She has been critical of him in the past, but it was always cautiously critical. Now that he has won the election, she is sure that he has changed, that things will be different, that he will go against his own words and make different choices. Without being sarcastic or nasty, she was unwilling to accept that this might not be the case. She was not supportive of him out of fear or cowardice, but she was supportive in spite of any abhorrent actions of this administration. She wanted to believe in him and was therefore supportive, in spite of what has been.

Somewhere in this is part of the answer to why we support those who harm others, from small abuses to genocide, why we as humans allow atrocities to occur. It’s not a simple answer. We participate, and through our participation, evil occurs. It isn’t only that we must examine the extremes, the angry man watching FOX News and ranting ignorantly against false birth certificates and making incongruous spelling errors about the socialist government while cashing his unemployment checks. Good people turn away too because they do not want to see or because they want to believe we are better than the worst of us. It is towards those living in this grey area that we need to turn our attention, because it is they who must see the damage that is done by standing idly by if we are ever going to stop abuse and human destruction.