Remember when airlines used to train everyone that in the event of a hijacking, you should cooperate fully and do everything the hijackers demanded? Because the professionals knew how to handle it properly? And do you recall how well that worked out? And how ignoring that imbecilic advice was the only effective alternative to even worse disasters? And think: if intolerance of evildoers' assertions of authority to oppress were more widespread on those flights, how might the scores onboard have succeeded in stomping their attackers at the first sign of their insurrection? But I get ahead of my story.
Now – today, in 2012 – CNN is running an article explaining that the solution to bullying isn't self-defense, but for bullies to stop bullying. That we wait for authorities to better teach bullies the error of bullying. I'll wait while you digest that one. Obviously, the kids who can be reached with the "don't bully" message aren't by their teens still intimidating underclassmen out of lunch money or homework services. Oh, better training might improve detection and response, and there could in theory be great gains to be made by authorities (if they can be bothered to direct scarce funding at this, rather than curriculum development or administrators' salaries). But the idea of stopping bullying at school with a new policy announcement is like halting crime with a new statute.
Bullies pick victims based on their vulnerability. They pick the time of an attack to ensure rescue is improbable. They pick the means of attack to ensure maximum control, and minimum risk. While it's possible that an incompetent bully might actually get caught, evidence sufficient to support a meaningful sanction is simply implausible to amass. Certainly not by a terrified, isolated victim who's been cut off from support by blackmail or threats against a victim's person. What makes bullying possible is the certainty of non-retaliation.
The math on the commandeered 9/11 flights shows that certainty there is no risk of self-defense is the only rational way fewer than a half-dozen bullies can assume control of even so isolated a community as an assembly of passengers. Look at the sheer numbers involved in each vehcle. Anyone who's seen an angry mob on the move knows full well that a handful of people with boxcutters or less haven't a prayer against a mobilized mass. Now, move this to a school. Teaching children to cry quietly until rescued by officials is not just offensive, it is absurd. Despite aspirational slogans like "To Protect And Serve", officials out in the real world have no duty to protect citizens.* They may have a duty to write a report (which they may neglect out of convenience; I've seen cops talk complaining witnesses out of filing reports by convincing them it will affect their insurability or insurance rates), but that didn't do much good for Joshua DeShaney or his distraught mother.
Doing the right thing is not without consequences. Allowing evil to continue simply because it's easier to teach compliance than spine is no virtue.
CNN's article – by an author earning an income from the current excitement about bullying – goes so far as to equate self-defense with bullying itself. Earth to Carrie Goldman: nobody outside your distant orbit is likely to accept, after thinking about it, that using force to obtain freedom is a moral equivalent or a practical equivalent to using force as part of a planned scheme to elevate one's social or financial standing by repeatedly injuring victims selected for the certainty of a clean escape. Goldman says that educating children on the rules and methods of appropriate self-defense that a parent will support is doomed because "It teaches kids to out-bully each other, rather than to focus on restoration and restitution." Her very premise is flawed because it equates bullying with self-defense, and suggests that self-defense depends for its success on becoming a successful bully. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No one suggests that self-defense won't lead to sanctions – the isolation obtained by the successful bully may make self-defense claims hard to prove – but the safety of the bully depends on the certainty that self-defense is absent. Parents who support their children's efforts to protect themselves will help their children send the right message to would-be bullies: this one is a bad victim. Bullies who don't get the message without a round of self-defense will get it soon enough . . . and there's always a real victim to pursue someplace else. Parents need to be supported in teaching their children not to be victims. Whether the schools eve get their heads on straight may be a matter of hope, but parents' education of their children in their own survival is a matter of necessity.
Parents must teach their children they are worth fighting for, that they are worth defending from villainy, and that they will be supported by their parents no matter what idiocy may be accepted by absent authorities. Parents have to believe it for their children to believe it. Sabotaging this important work – by urging parents to teach children to be pliant victims instead of agents of their own personal protection and that of their larger communities – suggests that even thousands of murders can be shushed by a schmuck chasing a buck.
There are a lot of things worth doing in response to bullying – and schools' inaction – but preventing students' own assertion of self-determination by dismissing self-defense in favor of advancing further victim-culture is just not part of the equation.
*: A careful look at the facts of DeShaney v. Winnebago City Social Services Dept. is instructive. The only reason the victim's mother didn't protect the boy crippled by the ongoing attacks was her voluntary compliance with a government official's order requiring the boy to be turned over and over into the custody of his attacker. Her pleas for Social Services to take action resulted in a number of reports that fully substantiated her claims the boy was being horribly abused, but no action that prevented his eventually being beating to the point of permanent brain damage. The Supreme Court held the government had no duty to rescue the boy even from a known attacker, and had no need to change any of its practices in the future.