There is a documentary on Netflix called Bully that’s worth watching, especially at this point of American history. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and are being forced to confront the entire history of American iniquity: crimes against native Americans, enslaved blacks, women, LGBT communities, and so on.
All of the foregoing revolve around the theme of Bully. The word bully has an obscure history and etymology, and has meant darling, gallant, protector, admirable. The sense relevant here: to bully is to intimidate, overawe, harass, gang up on, mock and make fun of. Bullies in a high school setting are petty tyrants, and more often than not, cowards. One definition of a ‘bully,’ listed by the Oxford English Dictionary: “A tyrannical coward who makes himself a terror to the weak.”
The film is about bullying in American school systems, and follows the stories of young people around the country whose lives are made miserable, especially with the internet that increases the bullying by thrusting it into the public domain. Cyberbullying has been linked to the high rate of teenage suicide in America.
Where does all this mean-spirited bully energy come from? Bullying is common among kids everywhere, but is also a window that opens onto American history. Former president Jimmy Carter recently referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” America has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation, he pointed out. Racking up such a history of belligerence implies quite a bit of bullying!
To begin with, before calling ourselves the land of the free we had to manage the holocaust of the native peoples that lived here for thousands of years. Creating a new nation with its new laws and ideals called for a staggering amount of bullying. The budding American state had to extinguish indigenous cultures, languages, and of course, millions of lives.
We are now talking about bullying on a grand scale. It becomes more pervasive and more devastating. The new technological society begins to bully the Earth itself. We have so polluted and overheated the planet that climate catastrophe now threatens to bring down world civilization, along with countless forms of life. Technology is indeed marvelous, but it’s also an omnipresent bully.
The American history of slavery in building the wealth of the young nation required enormous, unrelenting , and systematic bullying. And apart from the Emancipation Proclamation, the bullying of black people continues to be part of the American way of life. If we factor in the reality of the racism, sexism, and pathological indifference to truth found in the highest echelons of power, we have to conclude that bullying, and all it connotes, is ingrained in the American psyche.
What fires up the bully? Two items stand out. One is difference; the second is any sign of weakness or vulnerability. These pretty much apply to the range of bully victims: women, indigenous people, dark-skinned people, foreigners, immigrants, refugees, queers, disabled people; strange, solitary, crazy, eccentric, sensitive people—to give a few examples.
Bullying, a versatile monster, has been a drag on the history of the human experiment. It’s an obstacle to the evolution of our species. What then is to be done? The problem of bullying is a problem with the perception of difference. Take the binary notion of black/white, implying mutual exclusivity. It’s an abstraction in our heads that you won’t find it in the real world.
When I look around I never see black or white people; I see a spectrum of infinite nuances, shades of dark brown, tan, pale pink, sallow, and so on. I’ve seen ‘black’ people with lighter skin than the average white person and ‘white’ persons I’d call swarthy. The simplistic opposition doesn’t exist in nature.
All we need do is open our eyes, use all our senses, and notice that all people are colored! A world in which all our senses were fully active and awake would appear extraordinary to us; its wonder, beauty, and variety would attract not frighten us into becoming bullies.
Bullying is an attempt to compensate for feeling like an isolated particle of conscious ego surrounded by an alien universe. What’s needed is an expansion of consciousness, not an expansion of power over other people. What’s missing is a sense of the unity of life, a sense that the diversity of the world, its people, landscapes, collective wisdom. Missing is the awareness of the one transcendent consciousness. No one perspective is absolute; all perspectives are complementary. With a little thought and a greater consciousness, identity in difference is the liberating conclusion we come away with.
When I read about the factors that fire up a bully, I immediately thought of parapsychology; a shrinking field devoid of financial support and one that especially vulnerable to criticism given the insurmountable difficulties in being able to properly study psi and related phenomena. It seems to me that some of the self-professed ‘skeptics’ who so vociferously object to, not only to the careful examination of the evidence for psi but even to the existence of the field of parapsychology itself, are good examples of bullies.
No question about the role of bullying in a wide range of experience--not least in the world of science and matters of the paranormal.
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