Bullying Is Horrible, Wrenching, Sometimes Fatal And…perfectly Natural
My colleague Kelly McParland has posted a blog entitled “Bullying is an evil on the same level as sexual abuse.”Such statements may be morally satisfying. But they do nothing to inform an intelligent policy response to bullying. In fact, they may even hinder such a response.
I don’t dispute that bullying can have horrible effects on a victim’s psyche. In some tragic cases — such as that of Amanda Todd — it even can lead to death by suicide. But it also is a scourge that has existed in every society on earth — from the Arctic Utku Eskimos to the African mountain Ik. The appetite to bully cannot be treated as a social sickness, or the product of maladaptive psychological development — which is how it is universally depicted in the media, and in government-funded public-service announcements. Bullying is in our genes. And any effort to fight it must reflect that fact.
The reason that bullying has become part of human evolutionary psychology is that it works — for both males and females — as a strategy to increase one’s attractiveness to the opposite sex, one’s perceived social status, and the cohesiveness of one’s social alliances.
In movies, bullies are shown to be wounded individuals whose bullying is a perverse symptom of the pain that’s been inflicted on them by abusive parents inhabiting poor and broken homes, or by more dominant figures in their social pecking order. There is no evidentiary basis for this stereotype. In fact, research cited by Anthony Volk, Joseph Camilleri, Andrew Dane and Zopito Marini in a 2012 Aggressive Behavior journal article indicate that bullying-induced social dominance is correlated with reduced stress and improved physical health. Amazingly, “bullying is also positively linked with other positive mental traits such as … cognitive empathy, leadership, social competence, and self-efficacy.”