If there was a form of bullying that did more to break my amygdala and cause me severe PTSD, it was vigilante hazing. It was what in “A Few Good Men” was called a Code Red. It is punishment for minor social mistakes. Two of the three times I was urinated on, it was from the moral high-ground. Bullying is too often portrayed as a melodrama of sympathic victims and obvious villians and ones whom the audience does not see humanity in. Ironically, that narrative of the unsympathetic losing their humanity is the source of the worst type of bullying and the greatest moral of the times I was vigilante bullied is that the precedent of denying people humanity for relatively minor transgressions (in bullying melodramas, adolscent bullying) is both wrong and counterproductive.
Furthermore, it is related to the phenomenon of counter-snitching. Zero tolerance policies for minor deviances, including for bullying, sound great until you realize that when everyone is a criminal then everyone can be extorted. We want the victims in our stories to be perfectly sympathetic and we, as a culture, are increasingly allergic to forgiveness. The great problem, one of the great problems, anyway, is that not forgiving people for minor things means not only do their victimizers have the power to turn them into the formal authorities but merely threaten to expose their mistakes.
I think to the book “So You’ve Been Public Shamed” by Jon Ronson. If a tweet can elicit thousands of death threats and online vitriol of equal tempature then someone, say, on the spectrum can easily be extorted by their bullies. If society is too punitive, it is not only the lack of mercy for the relatively guilty that is problematic but for the relatively innocent. I’ve used Taylor Swift as an example before on this blog and if minor, non-abusive, relationship mistakes justify burning someone in effigy then it isn’t long before an offensive tweet can justify a death threat or a social mistake can justify urinating on the autistic person who made it.
I’ve written a lot on this blog about how much the pop culture condones revenge and how absent mercy and grace are. Righteous indignation to the point of literal hatred over fairly minor incidents is increasingly normal and has been for a long time. This trend does not translate to justice but creates a system where people who are mostly good are crucified and destroyed and the people who survive are the lucky ones who the lighting didn’t strike or those with the social finesse to avoid getting caught but it divorces reputation from true moral character and makes moral judgments of people relatively arbitrary. And these transgressions are not always wrong in the normative but merely offensive without being wrong or are, especially in interpersonal hatred, the result of cognative biases that narrate a particular incident in a particular way that make one’s opponent less sympathic and onself as more.
It is the worst form of bullying for many reasons. First, it affects one’s reputation which can have major material effects from being able to get a job from reptuation alone to getting a legal or disicplinary record which is bad, in itself, but can have lasting effects. It, as aforesaid, gives impunity to the bullies by giving them the ability to counter snitch and furthermore lets them psychologically justify more sadistic acts since turning someone into a moral monster absolves one’s conscience of what one does. It is difficult to treat since the fear of judgment precludes admitting it to a therapist and thus effective therapies. And, finally, being turned a monster, especially a public monster, is extremely traumtic. Code Reds and Vigilante Hazing is, by far, the worst and most damaging form of bullying. It was not the most common form of bullying I experienced but it was the most destructive.