Bullies in various spheres
Alternet has an excerpt from Jesse Klein’s new book:
The following is an excerpt from Jessie Klein’s new book “The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools,” (New York University Press, 2013).
Schools are microcosms of American society where students are told that financial wealth and superficial gender markers are compulsory for social acceptance. They learn these lessons from each other but also from grown-ups—parents, teachers, and the wider culture they inhabit. As they prepare to enter the adult workforce and social life, children come to understand that being perceived as the richest or prettiest, or the most powerful or confident, could dramatically enhance their futures—and that without these marks of American success they may become lifelong outcasts. They also learn to see life as a zero-sum game, where they can win only if someone else loses, rise only by ensuring that someone else falls. These values are at the core of bullying behavior, and they are also the foundation upon which much of the economic, political, and social life of our nation is built.
Not all cultures are so obsessively focused on winning. In the Southwest, for instance, coaches say that teams of Hopi Indians want to win but that they often try not to win because they don’t want to embarrass their opponents. In some traditional cultures, the game isn’t over until the two sides are tied. They work hard to make sure no one loses. Even in Europe, as T. R. Reid writes in “The European Social Model,” some core human needs are seen as everyone’s birthright rather than as something to be “won” through competition with one’s compatriots. “To Americans,” Reid writes, “it is simply a matter of common sense that rich families get better medical care and education than the poor; the rich can afford the doctors at the fancy clinics and the tutors to get their kids into Harvard. But this piece of common sense does not apply in most of Europe. The corporate executive in the back seat of the limo, her chauffeur up front, and the guy who pumps the gas for them all go to the same doctor and the same hospitals and send their children to the same (largely free) universities.”
In the United States, however, hardcore competition and striving to be the best are generally considered vital to keeping people motivated and functioning at optimal levels. Harsh inequalities are considered, at best, an unfortunate consequence. Yet gender pressures—and especially the expectation to embrace hypermasculine values and behaviors—are seldom examined in the context of the larger socioeconomic forces that shape them.
In one of my criminal justice classes, I asked students to tell me what words they associated with capitalism. What qualities do you need to be successful in our society? The board filled up quickly: competitive, aggressive,and powerfulwere some of the first suggestions. At that point, we were discussing white-collar crime and the unprincipled behavior that had produced both the Enron scandal and the economic meltdown of recent years. Later in the course we discussed school shootings and their relationship to gender, and I asked my students to list some words they associated with masculinity. The same list emerged—competitive,aggressive,and powerful. Without intending to, my students had highlighted the link between the values of masculinity and capitalism.The school shooters, for the most part, grew up in the 1980s or later. The rise in school shootings roughly coincides with the Reagan administration’s restructuring of the American economic, political, and cultural landscape—a period that glorified unrestrained capitalism and reemphasized an “up by your own bootstraps” ethos. Following a landslide reelection in 1984, Reagan promised an America rich with freedom, individualism, and financial reward for those who skillfully met the standard, coupled with a lower degree of support for those who did not. Increasingly, success was defined in terms of power, economic attainment, and social status—the same barometers increasingly used, at the high school level, to assess masculinity.
Capitalism is hardly new to the United States, nor is the system’s relationship to core American values. But as former labor secretary Robert Reich observed in his book Supercapitalism, in recent decades the power of unregulated, unrestrained capital has increased to such an extent that it has outstripped democracy as a primary foundation of our society. According to Reich, Americans became identified more as investors and consumers and less as citizens and members of a community.
Further, in this same period, . . .