Why is Our Society Overreacting to Bullies?

Me as a child, around 8-10 years old. When your head is almost 1/3 of your body, you tend to get picked on.

Apparently the modern thought on bullying is that if you’re picked on for a certain attribute, the onus is on you to give in and change that attribute. At least, that’s what the parents of 9 year old Trenton Vance thought when they elected to give him plastic surgery so he could avoid being picked on at school for his ears. As shocking as that is, if one were to read the comments (both on their site and on Facebook), one would quickly deduce that hardly anyone is shocked by the parent’s actions. Almost every single comment is one in support of what the parents did. Which leads me to believe that I need to explain why the parents are wrong before going on in this post.

First, the parents are wrong because they just told their son, “The bullies are right, your ears are really bad, so we need to change them.” They admitted to their son that he had a defect that needed to be fixed. What kind of message does this send to him for the rest of his life? “When going gets tough, just change whatever it is about you that’s making it tough.”

Secondly, what message does this send to the bullies? It tells the bullies that they actually do have power over him, enough power that he’ll change to whatever they criticize. But take it from someone who was bullied as a kid, no matter what you change about yourself, you’re still going to get bullied. That’s because that’s how kids are – it’s how they were in 1500BC, it’s how they were in 1200AD, it’s how they were in 1950, and it’s how they are today. They’re going to see something different about someone and immediately start bullying the person for it, so when you undergo surgery to change that aspect of the person you validate the criticisms the bullies had.

Third, there’s a scene in the movie Bruce Almighty (I can’t remember if it made it into the movie or if it’s a deleted scene) where Bruce is shown the consequences of saying “yes” to every prayer request. One of them is that he said “yes” to the prayer of a young boy to stop being bullied. “God” points out to Bruce that by being bullied the kid would grow up to write great poetry based on those experiences. And there’s a lot of truth to this sentiment, especially with bullying: A lot of people make positive comments on the stuff I say or the poetry I write, but had I not been bullied then none of this would have come about. When I was bullied as a kid I ended up reading books on history, a ton of Star Wars novels, and even engaged in writing fictional stories. Through that pain I developed a love for learning and art. Today I am on my way to an advanced degree, contemplating writing a fantasy novel and a science fiction novel, and have a very bright future ahead of me. I wish I could tell some of those who bullied me “thank you,” but last I heard one of the most vicious bullies (who did hit me quite a bit, yet shared the same first name as me) was in jail.

As you can tell from the picture, I was a very awkward looking kid (some would argue I’m a very awkward looking adult; I would argue it’s impossible to be awkward looking if you have a glorious beard [see: James Harden]). The reality is when you have glasses that take up half your face and your head takes up a third of your body and you’re growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, you’re going to get bullied. I know it’s popular to think that we can somehow change this, that we can end bullying, but we can’t. So long as humans exist and begin their lives as children, there are going to be bullies.

The difference is how we handle bullying. Rather than overreacting and calling for lawsuits against the parents of bullies (who sometimes don’t even know what their kids are doing), or getting plastic surgery, or telling the victims of bullying to “never befriend those who bully you, ever” (yes, this is actual advice that I’ve seen given quite a bit), we need to look at the causes of bullying and handle it that way. In most cases, a kid is bullied because he is different. Due to our fallen state whenever we encounter someone who is different our first reaction is fear and the way we handle fear is we mock it. Thus, in most cases of bullying, a kid is picked on because the other kids haven’t learned what tolerance is. It’s up to the parents, teachers, and other adults to teach these kids that it’s okay to be different and that we shouldn’t mock people for these differences. In this manner, bullying is a natural part of growing up because that’s how humans develop, it’s how we learn (or should learn) to tolerate those who are different from us.

Another cause for bullying is that the bully is seeking attention, which is often caused by problems in the home. I’ll never forget getting picked on by this one kid in the fourth grade, he was relentless. I found out that his parents were getting divorced during the time he was bullying me (some other kid mentioned it) and so one day, when I had enough, I simply said, “Well at least my parents aren’t getting a divorce.” I remember this instance very well because the kid broke down in tears and I felt horrible about what I did. But the truth behind this is that the kid as bullying me because he didn’t know how to handle the situation he was in. Now, the victims of bullying (at a young age) aren’t typically going to understand this, but the adults should. The adults should pick up on this and address the situation. In some situations the kids are bullies because they’re abused by a parent or both parents. This is really when adults should pay attention.

The overreaction to bullying, however, simply has to stop. The biggest irony is that in overreacting to bullying we’re promoting bullying. We tell the victims to not befriend the bullies, ever; we say we want the parents to go to jail or face fines for their kids being bullies (because parents are responsible for how their kids act when not under their supervision?). These are overreactions. We hate bullying not because it leads to adult intolerance, but because it hurts a kid’s “self-esteem,” which is the highest virtue one can have in our society (it’s the only virtue really). To be quite honest, I’m not all that concerned about a kid’s self-esteem because I think it’s more harmful than helpful to try and develop it; America ranks the highest among industrialized nations in terms of self-perception among teenagers, but near the bottom for anything related to education. We feel really good about ourselves, yet we’re failing more than any other generation or nation. What concerns me about bullying is that the kids who do the bullying need to learn to celebrate differences and realize that these differences are a good thing.

So yes, bullying is wrong and needs to be addressed, but it’s not this epidemic that we think it is. Furthermore, there’s no reason at all to ever undergo corrective surgery because you’re getting picked on for a physical attribute, especially at 9 years old. We need to teach our kids to fight through difficult times, to ignore what the naysayers say, and that they’re fine as they are and don’t need to change a thing about them.

My questions/issues with the homosexual marriage debate

The issue of homosexual marriage is one of the more polarizing issues in our modern society, that almost goes without saying. Yet, it seems that whenever a state decides to take it upon themselves to define marriage as between “one man and one woman,” an overwhelming majority of people support such restrictions.

To me, however, the issue boils down to “What is the role of the government?” Let us simply accept that most laws are enacting some form of morality, especially major laws concerning marriage. Thus, the whole, “The government can’t legislate morality” argument doesn’t hold up; while they can’t make people act a certain way, they can declare that moral x and moral y will be codified, thus to act out against x and y comes with consequences. That being said, what is the role of the government in this morality?

I would contend that the role of the government is to prevent our freedoms from coming into conflict with each other, that is, to prevent us from harming each other. Thus, we have laws against murder because such an act harms an individual (or individuals). We have laws against rape for the same reason, against pedophilia, and monopolies, and the list goes on. Laws created that have nothing to do with protecting us from one another – such as seatbelt laws – tend to be viewed as arbitrary and almost tyrannical. Even some laws that prevent us from harming one another can sometimes be tyrannical if taken too far (simply look at TSA procedures).

The purpose of the government, then, isn’t to enact a theocratic form of government where the government follows God’s laws. Rather, the purpose of the government is to keep us from harming each other and to prevent outside forces from harming us. It eradicates exploitation (e.g. slavery, insurance companies taking advantage of the poor, etc), but doesn’t become a tyranny.

If I am correct on the purpose of the government, then there are a few questions concerning homosexual marriage:

  1. Why is the government involved in marriage in the first place? While I can understand civil unions for tax purposes and other legal rights, if we are trying to protect the “sanctity of marriage” then it seems absurd to bring the government into the mix. Few Christians would argue that the government is sanctified or holy, so how can the government protect what is ultimately a holy institution?
  2. We should respect religious liberty, meaning that if a state does allow for homosexual marriage a priest/pastor should not be forced to perform the ceremony. Likewise, religious institutions should be allowed to not hire people due to sexual preference (this even includes people who are living together in a heterosexual relationship). At the same time, if we respect religious liberty, what if a church wants to wed two men or two women? While some would argue that such a church has abandoned their Christian principles, it’s not up to the government to decide when that has occurred. By banning homosexual marriage, aren’t we also banning the right of some churches to practice what they believe? Again, this is why the government should probably move towards purely civil unions rather than marriage licenses.
  3. Is homosexuality inherently abusive or bad, that is, is it any worse than people engaged in open relationships or Hollywood marriages? While people try to bring up statistics showing the homosexual lifestyle is destructive, such statistics typically aren’t good arguments against homosexual marriage, even if one is arguing the morality of the issue. For instance, even if 95% of homosexual males had 50 partners or more (I’m making up a statistic to show a point), this wouldn’t show that homosexual actions are inherently destructive; it could simply be explained that by an action being taboo, the risk involvement increases. Besides, their heterosexual counterparts are catching up quite quickly. Furthermore, while it was true in the 80s and even 90s that homosexual activity tended to come with a higher risk, anymore when it has been normalized it’s almost no different than heterosexual couples. Many homosexuals are able to find stable relationships. Now, I must stress that this has nothing to do with the morality of the issue, but everything to do with the legality of the issue. Unless it can be shown that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive (and this can be disproven by finding multiple stable homosexual relationships, which has been done already…), one is left without an easy argument against banning homosexual unions.
  4. Even if we did show that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive, this still would provide great difficulty in “outlawing” it. The main reason is because of something I alluded to above; what do we do with open heterosexual relationships? In an open relationship, there is a tendency for one partner to get hurt. In addition, do we outlaw adultery? Do we outlaw divorce? What punishments do we place on those caught in such abusive situations? Do we really want to live in a nation where the government is in charge of instilling values into our families? Perhaps we should ban all marriages in Hollywood, or among celebrities. Since the divorce rate is higher for celebrity couples, why haven’t we passed a constitutional ban on Hollywood marriages, which are seemingly inherently destructive? There is just a lot of inconsistency here.
  5. Shall we ban fornication (sex before marriage) as well? If we’re following Biblical morality and want to protect the “sanctity of marriage” via legislation, then shouldn’t we also ban fornication? This situation is far more analogous to homosexual marriage than even adultery or divorce (where someone is harmed). The statistics behind sex before marriage are also staggering, showing that when both partners have engaged in premarital sex, especially with other people, the chances for divorce or adultery increase dramatically. In other words, the argument that by allowing homosexual marriage we will somehow destroy the fabric of our society may be true, but it’s no more true than the argument that fornication among heterosexual couples does the exact same thing. Thus, if we outlaw one, why aren’t we outlawing the others?
  6.  Perhaps one could argue that while homosexual activity isn’t harmful to others, it is harmful to the participants and therefore the government must stop it, but even this argument is full of inconsistencies and problems. For one, why not ban all homosexual activity, not just marriage if this is the case? But more importantly, how is this any more dangerous than couples who engage in open relationships, any more dangerous than adultery, any more dangerous than heterosexual promiscuity? I ask again, shall we enact laws against all of those actions as well? Should we pass a law saying that you can only get married once (as multiple marriages can ruin the institution of marriage)?

Ultimately, I’ve yet to discover a good argument from Natural Law on why homosexual marriage should be forbidden, other than “It’s not the job of the government to issue marriage licenses.” On this point I agree and think the government should only be involved in civil unions. But even if we reduce the government to civil unions, I’ve yet to see a reason to prevent homosexuals from engaging in those unions that isn’t simply arbitrary or inconsistent.

I understand that Christians want to protect the sanctity of marriage. But it’s not up to the government to protect what is holy; in fact, using the government to protect what is holy ultimately makes something unholy (as history has shown us). It makes sense to use the government to stop abortion as abortion creates a victim. It makes sense for the government to prevent certain types of drug use as the drug use is so harmful to the individual and the community that it simply can’t be regulated for positive use. But it doesn’t make sense for the government to try to protect the institution of marriage.

I would argue that traditional marriage is the foundation of a society and that as a society loses that traditional marriage, the society begins to collapse. At the same time, this stands far more true for divorce rates, abuse within marriages, and adultery than it does for homosexual unions. What is more important, however, is that since the traditional family stands as the foundation for a society, the government, by its very nature, can’t protect it; the walls can’t protect the foundation of a building. Only individuals through grassroots movement can protect the family.

Now, I must stress that I’ve made absolutely no comment on the morality of the issue. I would argue that while all legislation is the act of legislating morality, the two must still function on different codes. What is moral is dependent upon what aligns with our telos, or our function with God. God created us for a certain end and to go against that end is to be immoral. The law, however, must function on the code of preventing us from harming each other. The old maxim, “So long as it doesn’t harm you, what do you care” doesn’t work for determining what is moral, but it does work when attempting to legislate morality. For instance, it is immoral to blaspheme God because He has created us to love Him; but very few Christians would want to outlaw blasphemy against God. Likewise, even if homosexual actions are immoral, it makes little sense to outlaw them (or marriage).

In fact, since I’ve basically alienated myself from my conservative Christian friends, let me further my alienation from my liberal Christian friends by stating that I do believe homosexual actions to be a sin. God created humans for a certain economy (or telos) and when we violate this telos, we are committing a sin. Homosexual activity simply doesn’t fit within God’s design for humanity. The whole argument of, “Well I’m born this way” doesn’t fly in a world full of sin; while I accept and argue that homosexual attraction is, for many, an at-birth disposition, I don’t think this justified homosexual activity anymore than an at-birth disposition towards alcoholism justifies drinking.

However, I don’t view the sin of homosexuality (the actions, not the attraction; being attracted to the same-sex is no more a sin than a married man finding a woman other than his wife attractive) as any worse than other “sexual sins.” All sexual sins – with exclusion to ones where a victim is created, such as in rape or pedophilia – fall in the same category as going against humanity’s telos, specifically for sex. Thus, if we are willing to accept that one engaged in premarital sex can be a Christian, we should be able to accept homosexuals as Christians. That is to say, how we react towards those in sexual sin (such as pornography) should paint how we act towards homosexuals; we shouldn’t alienate homosexuals, but instead should love those in that sin as Christ loves us in our sins. If we can befriend someone engaged in some type of sexual sin, then certainly we can befriend homosexuals. If we can say a guy who is addicted to pornography is a Christian and will go to Heaven, certainly we can say the same thing of those engaged in homosexual activity.

All of the above considered, it should be understood that I’m simply asking questions and pointing out problems with the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage. I would say that one negative repercussion I see coming with homosexual marriage is that it could inhibit religious liberty. Just as I argued for religious liberty in questioning the outlawing of homosexual marriage, I too will argue for religious liberty should homosexual marriage be allowed. This means that private charities, adoption centers, churches, or religious organizations should be allowed to practice their beliefs regardless of whether a government recognizes a marriage or not. If a Christian adoption agency doesn’t want to adopt out to homosexual couples (or even non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or non-Religious couples) then it should be their right not to do that.

In other words, the issue of homosexual marriage is far more complicated than, “God said it’s wrong.” There are a myriad of issues that must be tackled, specifically concerning the sanctity of marriage. It just seems to me that if we’re going to protect the sanctity of marriage via legislation, we must first (1) eradicate the First Amendment and (2) outlaw all other instances that challenge the sanctity of marriage (should we allow atheists to marry since nothing is sanctified to them?). To say that homosexual activity is “just different” from adultery, fornication, pornography, or the like just seems arbitrary.

In the end, perhaps there is an argument against homosexual marriage that isn’t tied into heterosexual activity. Perhaps there is an answer to my questions/issues. But thus far, the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage have simply been problematic. Thus, for those that oppose homosexual marriage, one must find better arguments or realize that even if such an activity is impalpable to you, there isn’t a reason to outlaw it.

An Empty Generation

At what point did Americans begin to classify who they are by the stuff they have rather than their essential identity? The idea that, “I could be somebody if I did this or had that” is really a shallow way of looking at life. With my degree in philosophy I’m asked all the time, “Yeah, but what can you do with it?” Of course, being sarcastic my reply is usually something to the effect of, “Anything I want” or “Your job, only better.” After all, a business degree teaches you terminology and what to think while philosophy teaches you how to think. Regardless, a philosophy degree teaches you about the world, how it functions, what moves it, and so on.

But when people ask, “What can you do with that degree,” they essentially mean, “How can that degree get you stuff?” My degree is only as valuable as the paycheck it will bring me. No mother is aghast when her child decides to be a doctor or a lawyer because those vocations create capital. But if that child decides to be an artist or an English major, there is immediate panic; not because these are useless vocations, but because the mother has been trained (via industrial Capitalism) to evaluate degrees based upon the amount of money they produce.

What, exactly, has this produced in our society? There are less artists (or at least people who can legitimately be called artists), less thinkers, and less culture. When we look to a culture, especially the great cultures of history, their thinkers, artists, musicians, literary writers, and even their historians define them. Rarely do we think of a culture as great because of their litigious nature or how much stuff the people had. In fact, a Roman who had a lot of “stuff” means nothing to us; we have better “stuff” now. But a Roman who was educated in philosophy is immortal.

We live in a shallow culture, one that was created by and is now perpetuated by pragmatic Capitalism. In order to make money, companies had to convince people that without the company product, individual lives simply weren’t fulfilling. “Your life isn’t complete until you drive our newest car.” “With our dress you can stick out in a crowd.” “If you drink our brand then people will be drawn to you.” It all plays off narcissism and, in many ways, increases our tendency towards self-centeredness.

In all of this we have adopted an individualistic hive mentality. The use of the contradiction is intentional as we live contradictory lives; we think we’re individuals and we want to stick out in a crowd, but we buy into the hive mentality that x is popular and therefore we’ll wear x in order to “stick out.” At the end of the day, we look like everyone else and have nothing to show for it. Continue reading

A More Virtuous Society

There can be little doubt that we live in a society that lacks virtue and that such a lack of virtue is causing the downfall of our society. While there are those who would disagree with my assessment, the fact is those who disagree are part of the problem.

By denying an ethical standard based upon virtue – which is external to humans and leaves humans attempting to achieve a standard – many people are turning to Hedonism, where man becomes a measure of himself. Hedonism teaches that so long as you’re not harming anyone else, what you’re doing is ethically good. This is the predominate ethical standard in America and is sadly being co-opted by Christians as well. Whereas one used to engage in moral actions for a multitude of reasons, including a desire for good judgment in the afterlife, in modern times men are only moral so long as it is within their best interests to be moral. At the point morality would prevent a hedonistic desire and violating such a moral code would come with little to no consequences, modern man then acts out against that moral code.

We see it in our CEO’s who will bring in $9 million in bonuses a year, but then put a pay freeze on their employees paychecks or induce economic panic by saying that their company teeters on the brink of bankruptcy and therefore needs a bailout. We see it in the MTV culture that has turned sex into a recreational tool or a commodity to get what they want rather than a mystical act that brings husband and wife together. We see it in our young teenagers and in our Congress, who often only differ in their vocabulary, but not attitudes and thought processes, in wanting everything to go their way rather than come to a compromise. Our society is becoming more individualistic because it’s becoming more hedonistic. At some point, hedonism will lead to dire consequences.

How much longer before our young people begin to ponder the possibilities of eradicating those who are of lower intelligence? After all, such people require sacrifice and require us to help them. Perhaps our society will refuse to devolve to a position where we are eradicating undesirables, but can we not see how we’re moving towards a classist society? Again, the hedonism of America is beginning to procure a class society where the rich can avoid the poor. We send our extremely poor to public schools, but we should never pretend that they get the same education as the child of rich parents, who generally send their children to private schools. A hedonist looks at such a situation and asks why people can’t have disparity in education, never realizing that it creates a permanent disparity between the classes, which soon become castes that people are not allowed to leave. Continue reading

Random Thoughts (on marriage and family) for July 15

* Love is not something that is found, fallen into, or discovered. Love is something worked at, toiled over, and must be brought to fruition. Love is not an oasis we discover, but an artisan’s masterpiece, something that has much work put into it, but the rewards are more than the artisan could ever imagine.

* Marriages fail because we do not understand the essence of love, which is self-sacrifice. Such sacrifice is anathema in today’s world and yet we can’t figure out why divorce is so common.

* There is nothing more destructive to a man than to have a sensitive ego. The only thing more destructive is to have an ego to begin with.

* Our society rarely produces art or things of worth. Everything in our modern world is merely a fad and nothing is lasting because nothing is worth holding onto.

* The rich man hordes up his treasures, condemning the poor man and making his profit off his worker’s backs, but he will die just like them. It is in death that all men are truly equal.

* The family is the cornerstone of a society. When we normalize the unnormal, when we make conventional the unconventional, then we hasten our society’s destruction. If the traditional nuclear family (one that is structured properly and acts properly, for both are needed) remains normal for a society, then the society shall never fall. If the family structure breaks down, then the society will not last for more than a century.

* What is it that destroys a family? Individualism, the idea of “his” and “hers.” What is it that heals a family and protects it against all storms? Self-sacrifice.

* Sex is not “love making” because sex is not love. Sex is an expression of love, but not love itself. Love making occurs when the husband loves his wife when she’s being unlovable or the wife gives up her needs for those of her husband even when he’s been an ass.

* Couples today don’t want kids because kids are seen as inhibitors to a career and autonomy. Alas! We no longer have need of Zeus or Jupiter, for in our own narcissism we have become our own gods! We are our own idols and we sacrifice to ourselves. Even the ancient pagans weren’t bold enough to attempt such arrogance.