Dethroning Regina George: How to Redistribute Social Capital

Before on this website, I have written articles about the realities of being bullied for a disability, many of which people wouldn’t guess. Within those, I wrote about how anti-bullying policies tend to not be effective for various reasons. First, in Circus Monkey bullying that the bullying is consensual and to separate the victim and the bullies would be to deprive the victim of the little social interaction they might have. And vigilante bullying where the bully has the pretext of punishing some social misdemeanor committed by the disabled person and therefore a grain-of-truth to hyperbolize however they like to counter-tattle, a fairly effective means of extortion.

Thirdly, and similar to the second item, the anti-bullying policies can backfire and be abused if they are used to micromanage adolescent behavior. If a mean-girl wants to get an unpopular boy away from the popular table, she can claim that he’s making her “uncomfortable”, is “strange”, and/or “creepy”. Not claiming some provable violation which would take much more temerity but using unfalsifiable ambiguities based on subjective emotion. It may be fully true that she feels that way and it’s excellent marketing to utilize the fact that awkward teenagers are commonly described the same way child molesters are. In effect, using punitive measures as the primary means of regulating minor behavior results in a myriad of problems as we saw in Giuliani’s reforms of New York City.

The alternative is to use psychology and sociology to counter the phenomenon. The best ways to prevent bullying is to address the primary source of it: disparity in social capital. Bullying happens largely between different classes of people and how to reduce prejudice and increase empathy is a well-studied science. Social capital comes from many places, attractiveness, money, personality, material style and the ability to pull one off, and more, but the greatest source of it is friends and connections. Furthermore, prejudice is exacerbated by insularity of cultures. If peoples have less exposure to one another, then they have less empathy toward one another, and the capacity for greater cruelty toward one another.

Both of these factors in prejudice and how people manifest it can be addressed. Now, traditionally researchers in this field have thought to programs to teach people but that doesn’t really fix these problems. What actually fixes these problems to a much greater degree is to break the metaphorical walls between cliques. To engender greater cross-cultural exposure on a close interpersonal level. This both makes them less capable of cruelty toward each other and redistributes social capital by giving less popular kids more popular connections. On a one-to-one basis, these connections are usually fleeting as I have alluded to in an earlier article. However, if the connections are made on a larger scale then they’re more likely to be successful.

The first solution is to have extra-curricular exchange programs. As is stereotypical, cliques are still largely centered around whatever extra-curricular activity the members share. Thus to mix cliques and in a captive enough setting where they must cooperate and empathize, sports teams and clubs would send portions of their membership to practice with other groups for many months per excursion. This wouldn’t end the cliques but it would severely lessen their exclusivity and insularity and thus their disconnection to others and facilitate friendlier relations between them and others. It’s based on tested and accepted sociological theories including Contact Theory and Expanding Circle Theory.

The second solution is to have a group of peer allies for disabled kids from all cliques. There is no better defense against bullying on an acute and immediate level than having a jock friend. So, find people who want to be allies in the various cliques and have those allies facilitate social interactions thus exposing the cliques on a personal level to the disabled person and getting that disabled person social capital. Also, it would give the disabled person more of a social life since the ally could invite them to and get them information on parties and other social events.

The allies would also replace SPED teachers in many areas. So, in my high school, I was given a personal escort and inclusion teachers in my mainstream classes. Both of these were horrid ideas because one of the things that singles out disabled kids as vulnerable is the conspicuous presence of Special Needs staff in public with them. Peer allies are much better, they are not recognizable as SPED staff and therefore don’t increase the likelihood to be targeted by bullies. SPED staff needs to be discrete and work backstage and leave the ground workers to be peer allies.

In terms of teaching social skills, nothing works better than immersion. The disabled person is going to screw-up and take longer but it’ll be a lot shorter and more thorough if they get lots of social interaction but if they do, they both need someone to get it for them and protect them from retaliation of they screw-up and from any other abuse they may suffer resulting from their being placed in a social situation. These strategies would integrate way more people with disabilities than the current programs that exist in addition to lowering the rates of bullying and these ideas are based in social science I’ve spent years studying.

In the end, the punitive and unscientific approaches taken to addressing adolescent society need be foresworn in favor of scientific and mostly non-punitive approaches. It is the third-way that could have solved the crime wave of the early 1990’s without all of the collateral damage created by the primitive way it was handled. The same can be done with lots of adolescent behavior with policies implemented by many institutions. It saddens me that people don’t rely on science when ultimately science is what everything is made of. The people who run these institutions are plagued by a Dunning-Kruger Bias that makes them think they don’t need science to design policy but are smart enough to do it themselves. I’ve done the science and I pray that my work can go toward reducing human suffering and increasing human welfare.

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