Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

One of Rory Miller’s most formative experiences came from playing football at his tiny high school:

My school was small. Graduating class of six. My junior year, for the first time in almost a decade, they had enough boys to field a B-league (eight man) football team. If I went out for it. As a junior, I was almost the smallest kid in the school. I didn’t break 5 foot tall or a hundred pounds until the summer before my junior year. (I did basketball and track, too. Really small school.) It was a lot of pressure, but we had a team and I played.

And I learned more about human dynamics, and power plays and politics and bullying in that locker room than any academic could ever dream. As did damn near every male (I have no idea how women’s team sports are) who has been through the same thing. Most importantly I learned that size was not a tenth as important as the willingness to stand up. And knocking people down was not as important as getting up yourself. And stepping in to help others is noble, but expecting people to step in is stupid.

And there is a qualitative difference in every aspect of life between the men who have navigated that experience successfully and the ones who have not. I see most of the anti-bullying industry as weak people who failed at overcoming it as children fantasizing about a solution from the distance of adulthood.

Sometimes I see anti-bullying causes as wanting to create a world where it is safe to be weak. And I get that. I like the idea of a safe world. But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak. The mild. The insipid. And that is one of the inevitable unintended consequences of making a world too safe.

Much of ‘good’ is unnatural. It takes a sustained act of will. It would take an enormous and coherent act of will to make bullying go away, and even then it will keep cropping up. But if we were to raise children in that perfect environment, would we make them incapable of dealing with adversity? Would the weirdness of people who believe that hurt feelings are are more real than spilled blood, spread? Would our society become a hothouse flower, beautiful but incapable of surviving without the charity of others?

If people never learn to stand up, they become dependent on others to stand up for them. It’s personal, but dependency is one of my core sins. It is the other half of slavery.


  1. ASDF says:

    The summer after fifth grade I had to have major surgery on my chest. Several ribs needed to be removed and they eventually regrew (this can happen before puberty because its still cartilage). I spent middle school having to wear what amounted to an ugly piece of armor over my chest, because without rips anything that hit me there would hit my heart directly. This did not make me too popular.

    Before the surgery I got in fights every once in awhile and lived a normal life. After I was at the bottom of the hierarchy and got beaten constantly by bullies. Despite being told that hits to my chest could kill me one beating almost did just that.

    When you think bullying you are probably picturing the kind of back and forth ripping that characterizes normal teenage males. When I think bullying I think back to the constant beatings that nearly killed me.

    These bullies were not strong. The worst bullies in my life nearly always fit the stereotype of a middling nobody with an abusive father. The most athletic and popular kids I grew up with never felt the need to bully, they were secure in their position. If anything those people occasionally helped me out.

    Was I weak, sure. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about being born with major health problems and requiring extensive surgery. You might as well claim Stephen Hawking is weak and blame him for it.

    The sadism of the bullies I knew growing up with is not new. It has a long history. I’ll always see bullies as weak willed and scared men who ambush cripples:

    “Commodus raised the ire of many military officials in Rome for his Hercules persona in the arena. Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus’s eccentric behaviour would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants.”

  2. Isegoria says:

    Certainly too strong a stressor can make one weaker rather than stronger, but the answer is not to eliminate all stressors. Rather, it’s to make sure there’s enough stress to toughen one up, but not too much.

    I think we all agree that physically beating up a kid who’s recovering from surgery is way too much stress.

  3. Spandrell says:

    What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger blablablabla

    In the old days, a kid being bullied could summon his brothers and uncles and have a clean fight. Today he’s a scapegoat without allies in a bureaucratic environment where the teacher most of the time enjoys watching it.

    It’s fucked up, and the stupid gung-ho conservatives who talk about being tough aren’t any less retarded that the Support the Troops retards who enable USG dysfunction to spread abroad.

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