About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seanan McGuire on bullying at school

Please do read this wrenching post by Seanan McGuire. Speaking for myself, I never experienced bullying on the scale that she describes, though she does say: "I was rarely the target of violence." Now that is not actually my experience: when I was at school I experienced plenty of violence. But even if McGuire was never or seldom (surely even one time is too many!) actually beaten up ... well, some of the things she describes, such as being pushed into traffic, are terrifying and horribly dangerous. And perhaps more importantly, it sounds as if the cruelty that she faced was absolutely fucking relentless, driving her to multiple suicide attempts.

Reading her article, I feel quite fortunate - I never faced anything so relentless that it made me feel suicidal. But then again, that's a stupid response. Notice that even McGuire says, "In a way, I was one of the lucky ones." But she wasn't of course. There's nothing "lucky" about what she describes, and it's worth pausing to note the self-deprecation of people who've experienced bullying: always bending over backwards to say that others had it worse. I reckon we ought to stop this. Compared to me, she did in fact have it worse, and doubtless we could find worse experiences still. But that shouldn't be the point. Even the degree of brutality that I experienced in school, and even the less-relentless-than-McGuire's level of harassment and intimidation that I put up with so many of those days in primary school and the first several years of high school, are the sort of thing that no child should have to endure and which our society should absolutely not tolerate.

There's doubtless some explanation for how each bully turns out that way, but there are many calls on our concern and understanding. If I have to pioritise, I want to see understanding and assistance given to kids who are bullied for being "different", in whatever way it may be, and usually without giving anything even remotely like provocation. Adults must be approachable, supportive, and decisive.

McGuire asks us to break the cycle. She concludes:

We've known for a long time that school bullying was out of control, but every time it gets "uncovered" again, people react like it's some sort of shock. Kids can be mean? HORRORS! Kids bully other kids? HORRORS!


Everyone at my high school knew that bullying happened. If you were a bully, you knew. If you were bullied, you knew. If you were neither of the above, you tried not to align yourself too closely with the bullied, because there was a chance the big red target we all had painted on our backs might rub off. No one in the American [or any other - RB] school system is ignorant of bullying. But still, we take the word of the bullies over the word of the bullied. Still, we allow for the mistreatment and marginalization of anyone labeled "different."

And still, kids are dying over it.

This whole situation hurts my heart. Please, please, speak out against bullying. Break the cycle. Humanity will always have the potential to be cruel, but isn't the world already difficult enough? No one should die for the crime of being different. No one should learn the lessons so many of us were forced to learn.

No one else should die because we didn't stand up and say "enough" to the bullies of the world. The fact that I have to write "no one else," and not "no one," just shows how bad the situation has become.

Please. Break the cycle, before it's too late for someone else.


Frankly, I'm at a loss to know how to do that, apart from pointing you to her post. It's not as if I have kids in my life whom I'm in a position to listen to and protect - I'm not a schoolteacher, and the children who occupy a place in my life are either grown up now or a long way away. Perhaps there's something more concrete that you can do. If not, just passing on McGuire's post might help.


Metatwaddle said...

I may be missing something, but is there a link to McGuire's post here?

Russell Blackford said...

I hesitated to write this. Years later, it would be a lot easier to just shut up about bad personal experiences. But I took McGuire's post to heart. I think that at least some reference to my personal life experience, just this once, is owed to all those kids out there who are still experiencing intolerable behaviour.

Russell Blackford said...

There should be, but maybe I stuffed it up. Will go and fix.

ColinGavaghan said...

Well done,Russell.

Something I've often wondered is whether there may be some sort of evolved trait related to the prevalence of such conduct. Seeing a crowd of kids set on a vulnerable target - whether physically or verbally - it can look more than a little like a pack of predators - wolves or jackals or maybe our primate ancestors - hounding its prey.

And it doesn't always stop with children. Ever seen footage of the 'angry mobs' hunting for 'paedophiles' in southern England a few years ago. There's no doubt in my mind, from watching and listening to them, that at least some of those 'concerned parents' were motivated by something other than rage and fear. Something that put a smile on their faces, that exhilarated them.

I think it's too common just to be written off as simply deviant behaviour. Those kids (and adults) may indeed be 'total fucking assholes', as Harding puts it, but if we're going to address this problem, it would be good to understand why.

stuart peace said...

i am one who has experienced bullying, but also to lessor degree that mcguire.

i am actually glad that i went through that in school. at the time, i hated it, of course, and in turn developed a hatred of school that didn't really change until my second degree at uni. but i look now at the people my age (27) who went through school without ever going through something like this - and i dont like what i see.

yes at the time it was incredibly difficult. but there are parts to my personality now that wouldnt be there otherwise. sensitivity that is lacking in men of my age.

i am not sure how stupid this sounds.


PS. again, i did not experience something like mcguire did, and that probably IS relevant given my above post.