Bullying is a hot topic but it is too often treated as the monolith that it isn’t. There are multiple forms of bullying with different psychological roots. The type of bullying most common where I grew up in and around Charleston was the pseudo-ethical type where the bullying takes the form of vigilantism. Furthermore, it took the form of class-based bullying and both types were integrated in their application. The popular kids bullied the unpopular kids with ethical justifications on the belief that the popular were ethically superior to the unpopular. The bullying incorporated significant ideological elements related to politics, culture war, and society. Brimming through every act of sadism and degradation I endured was the sentiment that I was an anti-American, socialistic, degenerate whose disability was a burden on society and I was a welfare queen for expecting social acceptance for it either for expecting people to be kind to me which was an undue burden on people who found me annoying or being a material welfare queen being an unproductive drain on resources.
While the story of my being bullied is tragic, as a social and political scientist, I find it fascinating why what happened to me happened and how it happened. Most psychological theories of bullying miss significant elements that were present in my case and the cases around me. The bullying was not in the form of stereotypical bullying and was instead in the form of vigilantism for claimed and/or perceived ethical failings on the part of the victim. The bullies didn’t regard me as lame but as malicious, they were ethically superior citizens who were punishing an ethical inferior. As evidenced in the pieces of text I received from my bullies, both my being a rare liberal in a conservative area and my being autistic were the basis of moral shaming and thus justified punishment of me in the form of what was sadistic and savage forms of bullying.
They grew up in a Deep South that believed that dragging screaming, crying children into a bathroom, stripping them to their bare buttocks, and beating it was totally okay. That childhood experience was so traumatic for me, I hid under a blanket whenever trailers for E.L. James movies came on when I grew up. Their parents and my parents thought that was okay and if physically hurting toddlers to the point of tears is kosher, then doing that to one’s ethical inferiors elsewhere is as well. My bullies, on a fundamental level, usually didn’t understand what they were doing to me, peeing on me or throwing rocks at me or much more, as unethical but they saw it as righteous vigilante punishment. It should also be known that their cognitive biases that inclined them toward this were as strong as any cultural more. Below are listed the cognitive biases that germinated the bullying:
The Five Cognitive Biases of Pseudo-Ethical Bullying:
- Conformist Ethics- The idea that greater social deviance or deviance from what is perceived as mainstream or popular is less ethical and more conformity to those things are more ethical.
- Righteous Classism- The idea that those of higher status in financial, social, or other forms of capital are ethically superior because capital is a sign of work ethic and reflects and/or relates to character.
- Eugenic Malthusian Thinking- The idea that disabled, dispossessed, and otherwise disaffected classes and people are burdens on those of higher status and that this makes the higher status classes and people victims of the lower classes and people.
- Righteous Discipline- The idea that suffering builds character and that corporal punishment is appropriate to improve character and also that suffering is deserved by wrongdoers not as a deterrent but as justice.
- Authoritative Integration- The authorities share the above beliefs and take the side of the higher status classes and people as well as preferring them for the social reasons that the authorities, themselves, are integrated with and not above or impartial to the societies they oversee and rule.
Perhaps, the most surprising is the last one but it makes perfect sense. The kids got their beliefs from their parents and almost all of their beliefs about the micro adolescent society they lived in equated to their political and social beliefs about their macro society. These beliefs were believed in by their culture and socialized into them, the only difference between the bullies and the adults in terms of beliefs is the class-system they were most concerned with. The exact same arguments their parents made about various subgroups of society were the same ones they made to me about why I was a bad person. So, it stands to reason that the adults believed the same stuff about the micro adolescent society they were less concerned with and that they oversaw as their adolescent children did. Which is why they both did nothing to help the victims and gave the popular class enormous breaks in overlooking misconduct and bailing them out of problems.