There are some posts flying around where self-defence instructors advocate for letting bullying take its course as the best (or only) solution to the issue. As far as I can understand, these posts are predicated on a syllogism:
- Bullying is only, solely, and uniquely a form of social violence, i.e. a monkey dance.
- Monkey dances are structured in a way that makes them self-limiting, hence inherently safe.
- Hence bullying, if allowed to take its proper course, is self-limiting, hence inherently safe.
The proponents of this theory then go on to suggest that the proper course of action is to teach kids how to engage in/with bullying, and that all bullying-related problems stem from the fact that kids are prevented from learning the “rules of violence.” Which sounds like a nice, epic statement, but is actually a crock of shit.
The basic problem with this line of reasoning is none of the premises are accurate.
The first premise contains two major holes. The first one is that social violence can take many forms, and the monkey dance is only one of them. The two terms are nowhere near equivalent, and cannot be used interchangeably. The second one is that a quick check of the dictionary informs us that bullying means “using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.” That is not the definition of a monkey dance. It’s not even close.
A monkey dance is a type of duel – a mutual context for the purpose of gaining or maintaining social worth. If my friend Dillon, who is three times my size and trained in all the martial arts, forced me to fight him, there’s no way in hell that his goal would be to prove himself in front of our peers. People who can bicep-curl my weight do not need to throw down to prove that they are stronger than me. The resulting physical confrontation wouldn’t be a duel: it’d be a stomping. It may be a form of social violence between Dillon and his friends, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be a monkey dance between the two of us. If we were looking for a parallel in adult life, I’d look under “assault.” If the relationship was ongoing, I’d check out “abuse.”
The second premise conflates “self-limiting” (i.e., the fighting stops as soon as one of the fighter stops) with “safe.” Monkey dances are a damn sight safer than assaults, no doubt, but they are not inherently safe. People can take a lucky punch, fall over, smack their heads on the curb, and change their lives forever, or end them. While this is a statistical unlikelihood, it is a possibility. It is not entirely unreasonable for people responsible for (or invested in) the survival of minors to want to avoid that risk. Schools cannot just let kids “fight it out” any more than jails can, for the simple reason that they are tasked with keeping their charges safe and sound.
When you combine the risks inherent in any physical confrontation with the strength imbalance inherent in bullying dynamics, things can get really dangerous really fast. It would be easy for Dillon to subdue me without damaging me, but if he didn’t want to damage me in some way, why would he have engineered the confrontation? On the other hand, it would be incredibly difficult for me to prevail upon Dillon without damaging him. Seriously, the safest way I could win that game would be to take him out. In the parking lot. The day before we were due to meet. And to take my friends along in order to do so.
I can’t even be bothered arguing with the conclusion. A syllogism is only ever as good as its premises. As these do not hold water, the syllogism is worthless.
It isn’t, however, useless. On the contrary, it is incredibly useful: it tells us a lot about the people pushing it. I can see two main possibility:
- They are lying to suit their purposes, or;
- They are genuinely clueless.
I am struggling to decide which option I find most repugnant. Being willing to peddle advice that could severely harm children for profit is hardly admirable, but being that oblivious to the realities of bullying requires serious dedication, or a genuine inability to hear victims’ voices. I have serious reservations as to whether either of these is an attribute suited to a self-defence instructors.