Wall Street Journal Editorial … Sanity?

As a general rule I trust the Wall Street Journal only for their “a-heds” — the quirky fun stories — and their car reviews, where Dan Neill makes it more entertaining to read about cars than to drive them (seriously, I’d rather take the train and read his review of a Bentley than be stuck in traffic in a Bentley, or try to find a parking space for one). But sometimes the other writers come up with something that actually makes sense. Not, of course, on economics or science or public policy. There, they are refreshingly, consistently, insane.

But seriously: Bullying.

Yes, bullying is bad. But it’s worth questioning why it’s the cause du jour. WSJ columnist Nick Gillespie:

I have no interest in defending the bullies who dominate sandboxes, extort lunch money and use Twitter to taunt their classmates. But there is no growing crisis. Childhood and adolescence in America have never been less brutal. Even as the country’s overprotective parents whip themselves up into a moral panic about kid-on-kid cruelty, the numbers don’t point to any explosion of abuse.

Similarly, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nahesi Coates points out that the bullying discussion is largely about what Twitter would call #whitekidproblems:

That aside, worth thinking about the unspoken racial component. If you are a black kid growing up in urban America, as I was, you can expect to have a consistent and enduring relationship with violence. You can expect to find yourself ambushed by packs of children simply for walking down the wrong street. You can expect guns to intrude upon your world. And should you be perceived as “weak” in any way, you can expect all of these forces to fall upon you with an exponential fury.

I am glad to see Lady Gaga and Oprah combating bullying at Harvard. It would have been nice to see them in Harlem.

But yes, bullying is terrible. I was bullied for… oh, a long time. Eight, ten years? I was an odd kid, a nerd, a nose-picker, easily provoked to tears, and I didn’t immediately understand which toys and games were for boys and which ones were for girls. So, yeah. I was disliked widely by my peers. And it was unpleasant.

So that leads me to ask: How will these new policies and rules actually help?

More importantly: Is bullying necessary? It’s true, nobody should be cruel. But people are. And while it is almost certainly a good thing to reduce the suffering of children, I wonder whether we’d make more trouble for ourselves if we eliminated it entirely. Not that we could, but imagine if it happened.

Grownups lie to children about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and discovering that lie prepares them for the fact that adults are not always to be trusted. Having a beloved pet die prepares them for the eventual loss of parents and siblings and friends and lovers. Just as rote drills and homework and standing in line teach our children to put up with the inevitable pointless and unpleasant tasks of the rest of their lives, don’t the petty cruelties of childhood prepare them for the greater cruelties of adulthood?

2 thoughts on “Wall Street Journal Editorial … Sanity?”

  1. Aaron, while I agree with your general premise (and that of your sources), there is one thing missing from your analysis, which is tangentially touched on by theirs (save the last one): the homophobia inherent in said bullying. Once again mainstream culture has co-opted a trend started in the LGBT community, and this time they’ve found something with substance, rather than just fashion. How enlightened!

    Racism is undeniably a factor in bullying. (See this story for evidence: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/sep/24/twins-black-white.) Of course there’s geekiness, and a host of other factors. But the *language* of bullying almost always comes down to “gay”. I hear it to this day—people of our generation will sometimes say “Oh, that’s so gay” about something they disapprove of, or think silly, without regard of what their actual words mean.

    I know we’re both on the same side of this issue. And I agree with the folks at The Atlantic that the societal pressures have got to give before homophobic bullying will go away. But I have to believe that even a conversation about such bullying will filter back to make a difference.



  2. My elementary school bully, who told me she’d kill me if I went to her cousin’s birthday party (because she didn’t want anyone caucasian at the party), just tried to “friend” me on Facebook. I don’t know that this actually addresses anything you said, but I thought it was kind of funny. I am politely ignoring her request.

    I do think there is something satisfying about having been bullied as a kid and then becoming an interesting and successful adult. I find that I am no longer afraid of my former bullies, because, in general, I like where I am in life now, and their lives don’t seem better in any way. Plus, it taught me to be scrappy! “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” – Shakespeare


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