On Bullies


In 1796, Edward Jenner invented the first vaccination when he purposely inoculated an eight-year-old boy with the cowpox virus. In doing so, the eight-year-old's body was able to develop antibodies that enabled him to resist the deadly smallpox virus that was epidemic in Europe at that time. Neither disease was welcome in ideal circumstances, but in the plague environment, the boy developed the vigor to resist smallpox after cutting his teeth on the less dangerous cowpox virus.

As a fact of life, we live in a world of bullies, an environmental pest of comparable virulence to germs. The bully writ large is the authoritarian state ' the oligarch on a perpetual quest for the monopoly on murder and intimidation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we might find the barely ambulatory toddler who likes to snatch toys from his weaker playmates. The species of bully in between range from homicidal criminals to seven-year-old playground goons. Bullies can also operate outside of the realm of physical aggression. Workplace bosses, hostile neighbors, and bureaucratic thugs can use monetary and legal clubs to lord over their fellows.

To remain free, a person must defend himself or find others willing to provide him protection. Where self-defense is concerned, a person doesn't generate this ability as a side effect of debating moral behavior over the Internet. A minority of people is born tough, and they are able to stand firm in the face of a threat and take care of themselves. For most of us--myself included--we have to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We learn to fight for our self-respect with baby steps. In the beginning, we may shut up and cower before aggressors. Later, we might risk now and then the gamble of speaking up to power. Then at some point down the line, a few of us will come to blows to defend our turf. The crux of the matter is that the small victories built the confidence we needed to fight the big battles down the road. It was a maturation process. We learned how to defend ourselves, our sisters, brothers and friends. The process wasn't automatic.

I've debated libertarians about bullying who are obviously still carrying childhood traumas. Obviously, if one eight-year-old makes an unprovoked attack upon another, the attacker has violated the libertarian principle of non-aggression. Now as adults, these libertarians hatch proposals to remedy these unpleasant episodes from their childhood with fines, imprisonment and banishment for the perpetrators. In the current societal environment, I think their cures are worse than the disease. Bullying is bad and potentially dangerous, but so is cowpox. And quashing the little threats will leave many individuals unprepared for the greater dangers out in the world waiting for them. Meanwhile, having adults hash out relatively trivial disputes between children in our arbitrary state courts is just a misuse of a scarce resource and will contribute, along with firecracker bans and diving board-less swimming pools, to the infantilization of Western humanity. I believe the wiser adult response is to try and let children work toward moral behavior on their own while paying enough attention from the sidelines to mitigate any real danger.

In what I realize to be a vain attempt to ward off the inevitable misunderstanding of what I'm stating, I'm not advocating that effeminate 13-year-old boys be left to fend for themselves against 13-year-old violent thugs. Using the metaphor of the vaccine, that's comparable to using a disease germ in your inoculation that is as deadly as the smallpox. Rather, I'm voicing strong skepticism that you'll fill the ranks of the libertarian warriors' caste from the bodies in the seats of the peer-mediation room of the local junior high school. Physical courage and mental toughness do not grow out of a vacuum. Warriors learn how to slay big dragons by first learning how to slay little dragons. So before you drag your nine-year-old and the parents of a classmate off to a state run court to adjudicate a playground dust-up, give a moment's pause to consider whether or not you're contributing to the infantilization of the next generation that accompanies hand-in-hand the oligarchy's assault on liberty.

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Columns on STR: 27

Bob Jackson is the author of "The Amazing Liberteens."  His libertarian comic book can be viewed online by clicking the SANCTUARY link at www.amazingliberteens.com.