Bully For You
Recently, I was in a camp ground. A little girl was playing frisbee in the roadway with her dad. As we approached, she yelled, “Get out of the way!” Those five words sum up the state of our culture today.
The roadway was intended for everyone: people, cars, frisbee throwers. When I walk, my assumption is that I should not knock down people in my path. When I drive, the expectation is moreso the case that should treat people with respect and literally steer clear of them. This girl’s position was that it was on me to dodge her actions. Her father didn’t admonish her for her position. Why should he? This is the new normal: getting people to dodge trumps being mindful of others. This is the approach that benefits assailants and presses down victims. Our town is good for its marked crosswalks, but lousy when it comes to obeying the rules of the road. Two weeks ago, a man was killed at a well lit, well marked crosswalk. Almost immediately, people started saying, “watch where you’re going” and “those crosswalks don’t make people invulnerable.” The local stand-in for government, the Capital Regional District (CRD) has gone as far as putting out PSAs about crosswalks putting the onus on pedestrians for watching out for drivers without putting out something similar to warn motorists to not murder pedestrians.
This is happening in so many levels of society that it speaks to shift in mindset. We’re aligning ourselves with those who act even when their actions cause harm to others. Rape victims are asked if they were dressing provocatively and encouraged rapists. Recent shootings of Blacks in the U.S. is more about how the Blacks were making aggressive moves rather than the question of whether going into your glove box is a capital crime. We can all be outraged, but the system isn’t going to change because of two videos of different being murdered by police. The police will get a slap on the wrist and slip into the backstory of history like the Rodney King assailants and the RCMP officers who murdered Robert Dziekanski. This is because we’ve shifted our mindset away from the sorry gaze of the victims. An assailant can be victorious even in his infamy. A victim can either be stoic and quiet, soothing society’s wish that problems go away; or they can be loud and pitiable. That latter get shouted down for “playing the victim.” Gender-loaded phrases like “man-up” and “don’t be a pussy” identify weak behaviour as feminine; and masculine behaviour as the ideal. The median male is physically stronger than the median female, so traits like power, aggression and strength are idealized, but only when they are displayed. If power and aggression bring about positive feedback, then power and bold behaviour are encouraged.
There are example from the very small all the up to the international stage. Our perception of the personal autonomy, permission and respect has eroded. Our martial attitude makes others into opponents. We have flattened them down to "The Other:" an obstacle that can heed commands or be yanked around for fun and profit. There is this cresting inability to put ourselves in other people's shoes. We discount others and then make them into pawns. We have taken ourselves out of the position to consider, "this person has all the rights I want to enjoy." Maybe when people say that TV and video games are desensitizing us to violence, this is a manifestation of that phenomenon. I don't blame TV and gaming. I think those media are capitalizing on our societal psyche. Maybe they fanned the flames, but they didn't start the fire.
My 2015 was not as stilted as what people who have been shot or raped have endured. I know the scope and scale what I went through. I also know that a lot of people were quick to discount what I had started to admit to having experienced. Whenever I said things in reference to my abuse, people would shout me down with phrases like “you’re better than that.” and “don’t be a victim.” It was as simple as people being unable to listen to a victim. At the same time, they celebrated the newfound freedom of my abuser. A whole host of reactions came from that dynamic. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to shut up so that I wouldn’t be ostracized. I wanted like to be normal. But that’s the problem: life can’t be normal. When life can’t be normal again, you end up finding ways to compensate for your position. There are so many ways that the reaction to abuse can create a long term spillover. There is shame: shame that you could have acted to have prevented what happened and that you’re buying into the bully approach that the attack was, in part, your doing. You can download the abuse: if you move from victim to assailant yourself, you get to escape being at the bottom rung.
There is a lot of talk that the support base for Trump as these disaffected white men who feel like the economic power structure they live in has left them for dead and adopting a leader who preaches hate gives them some place to go with their rage. Comparatively few of us suffer direct abuse and physical harm. What is much more prevalent is intimidation that the system alludes to and what the media peddles. There are approximately 37,500,000 Blacks in America. In the last fifteen years, police have gunned down about 1300 of them. That means there was a 1-in-28,000 chance of a Black person dying through the actions of a cop. The spectre of that possibility is our societal problem. Intimidation casts a shadow over the remaining 27,999 and keeps them fearful. It’s the same math that talks us into buying lottery tickets: the chance that it could happen to us makes us think it will happen to us. This intangible effect of being coerced leads us to looking for a way to rise up and be the victor not the victim.
We’re living in a society that lauds bullies and mutes victims. There was this machismo martial tendency growing in our culture. It crescendoed after 9/11 because America was able to wear the mask of Janus and be a victim / bully for the world to soothe and fear. We are in a social dynamic of either letting bullies and abusers have their latitude while we clamp down the losers. Speaking for my society, I think I can say we don’t like this. Where do we go from here?
Maybe victims need to live with the “man-up” approach of crushing their pain into a prologue. Victims have to do that. An assault never has an adequate reparation. Abuse survivors and those who are on the crap end of a social power dynamic do this by default: the turn off the broken record about the unfairness of their position. They do it as long as they can, but they are unlikely to be able to crush that down forever and then the mute and hidden volume of outrage will pop out in some ugly way.
Maybe we need to jump on bullies as soon as possible. Show no tolerance and use our societal force as a means to attack bullies. I would argue that we’re then attacking the end result and leaving the root causes intact. How did the bully get to be a bully in the first place? If you do the math of why someone is who they are, you will find a lot of rational fodder for how they became someone capable of dishing out harm and degradable. Their history doesn’t excuse their actions. We’re not robots reacting to conditions. We’re supposed to stop and ask, “Is this right?”
Maybe the answer doesn’t come from within the bully-victim dynamic. At some point in all of our lives we’re going to be the victim of someone’s abuse and coercion. At some point, we may be the abuser. When a given situation happens, there are lots of bystanders: people who only have an existential stake in the game. Rather than be a passive onlooker, we need to be active. Ask: “Why?” Ask the bully, “Why did you do this?” Exhume what their deal is and bankrupt their investment in their position. When a victim limps off from a skirmish, compassion leads us to help and offer some sort of aid. When a bully struts off in victory, we’re supposed to admire their accomplishment or fear their power. What if we soothed the victim and helped them understand the place of darkness that their attacker acted from; but we shone a light into that darkness and revealed the mechanisms that made one person so wholly discount the life of another?
Victims are unwilling participants. Being involved in something with an uncontrollable scope is unfair. The world is unfair and how we deal with hills and valleys shapes our lives. Do we avoid the effort of getting out of a hole? Do we bulldoze a path? Being shaped by the actions of others is unfair. A victim cannot be held accountable for their role in an assault, but the fallout of the assault could be a cycle of harm they deal out later. Understanding the darkness of the attacker and understanding what that looks like when it take root within one’s self could help the attacker understand that they are acting from darkness; and the victim could understand how they could take their actions out of the equation of the next cycle of impacts.
This is about understanding your role in the world and how your actions and reactions impact others.
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