Given the age of our junior martial art students (4 – 15) most of the behaviors currently listed as bullying are more often than not, unintentional – the result of the social ineptitude, lacking impulse control, and cognitive ability common at these ages. When adults view such common childhood behaviors as bullying, we are projecting an adult level of understanding and intent that simply isn’t there for children.

Point 1. I think that kids are awesome and capable of a lot more than we often give them credit for.

Point 2. I'm not a parent.

I do however think that this article makes a good point about how part of being a kid is making certain social mistakes or errors as part of the process of learning how not to be a total drag on the rest of humanity. Pathologizing the learning process is probably also not a good idea.

I've been very much into the idea of anti-fragility lately, especially with how it could possibly apply to parenting/education.


Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids outlines how we got here, chapter and verse. Fundamentally, Jon Walsh, America's Most Wanted and an industry of Sunday night made-for-TV movies fueled a thirst for "child in peril" narratives at exactly the time the Fairness Doctrine was struck down. News ceased to be about what journalists thought the public should see and became what journalists could get advertisers to pay for. Into that abyss throw CNN - nobody watches Baby Jessica for a day and a half straight without this witches' brew in place.

Bullying, however, is another thing. I think you had to be there. Because throughout the '80s... well, hang on a sec and give me a few minutes of your time.

The social outsider paradigm from the end of the Weather Underground was "weak outcasts to be mocked." Sure, we had mass shootings but generally, it was white men losing their shit and slaughtering kids. I mean, Stephen King wrote a novel in which the school shooter is the protagonist. Car wars, a game that celebrates road rage, had a module in which you drive your car into a mall and kill as many shoppers as possible. This was all light-hearted fun until Kip Kinkel.

It was gonna happen somewhere. The jocks TP'd and shoe polished all the nerd cars in '92, except my buddy Bob, who had an AR-15 and an M1 Springfield in his gun rack. Another guy I knew got to beat his girlfriend in public view before class without so much as a protection order. The administration even knew he brought a Luger to school. It took him telling a friend of mine "I'm going to kill her today" to get him expelled - not charged with anything, mind you, but expelled. Social dynamics got tense enough that one side was celebrated for victimizing the other while the other side marinated in a culture of imaginary vengeance. The hardware's there. All it takes is the belief you have nothing to lose.

I doubt Kip Kinkel was the first nerd to snap, write a manifesto, murder his parents, haul a bunch of guns to school and spray it down but he was the first one to merit 24-7 news coverage. So far as I know, he was the last to scream "I'm sorry" as he did it. And maybe there was a poignancy there that tasted delicious to CNN. Maybe it was that he shot at so many people (he killed only two kids but he wounded 25). Whatever it was, "nerds" weren't people you stuffed into lockers anymore. They were the ones who might snap and kill the people you really cared about. It's worth watching that Frontline because it perfectly encapsulates the "someone think of the children" mentality that took over in that brief shining moment before April 20 1999.

Nobody remembers Kip Kinkel anymore. That's because Columbine was nine months later and a lot more cut and dried. Social loners. Art kids. "Trenchcoat mafia." Sociopaths. Gun shows. Video of shooting practice. Kip Kinkel didn't leave nearly the footage of Klebold and Harris so they became the face of it. Taunt a nerd, launch a death squad. Taunt a nerd, get a Myspace suicide. And since we can't do anything about the guns (OBVIOUSLY) and since we can't do anything about Myspace (OBVIOUSLY) what we can do is clutch pearls, wring hands and declare war on "bullies" who - more often than not, remain the social outcasts, the ones who don't have six friends to back up their story, the ones who aren't completely plugged into the varsity sports network.

On the one hand, the schools do duck'n'cover drills because they're more likely to be murdered by a classmate than anything this side of a car crash. On the other hand, be sure to cast out The Others as fast as you can because if we're all in the same clique we're a lot less likely to shoot each other up, right?

Martial arts is useful because it teaches discipline and gives kids something to do. I did tae kwon do; I wasn't about to do football. Martial arts is unhelpful because only nerds do martial arts. You can train twice a week to throw and pin someone in a gi but doesn't take more than a couple Youtube videos to figure out how to kill someone with a .45.

It's never been about bullying. Not really. It's always been about how to keep the outcasts down. Charles Atlas will help you not be the 90lb weaking with sand kicked in his face but Taxi Driver was 40 years ago and in lieu of making it harder to kill people, we're trying to make it easier to cast out the people we might drive to kill.

It's a worthwhile discussion to have? And I celebrate a dojo figuring it out? Even if they're using frickin' Taleb terminology to do it, I celebrate it. But "bully" is just another way of saying "burn the witch" and I don't know that we can really do much about it without some deep societal change.

The Zero Tolerance Generation (pdf)

posted 253 days ago