disobedia : editorial
are you a bully, a victim or a bystander?
[what it means to be a liberal]

issue 7.2 | winter 2005 - 2006

When you were a child, in the typical playground altercation, were you the bully, the victim, or the bystander?

Sounds like an innocuous question. Perhaps overly simplistic. But it informs the very heart of the issue -- reveals the very essence of the point. How you feel politically and philosophically now is a reaction to what happened to you on that playground then.

So you're an adult now, eh? Yeah, well so what. How much has really changed? Things may be much more evolved, likely much more sophisticated, elaborate, and convoluted -- clearly there's a lot less shoving and crying going on -- but the central problem remains essentially the same.

In this world, where two or more people become involved, the situation can result in a familiar and tragic formula, a formula comprised of bullies and victims and bystanders.

Certainly, there are numerous exceptions. Not every interaction between people is a disaster. Some can be quite beautiful.

And of course, when there are poor outcomes, there is so much variation. There are justifications, varying shades of gray, degrees of crime and guilt.

And yes, it is true that very few people can be categorically pigeonholed; an individual may behave differently simply given a different set of circumstances -- can be both a bully or a victim simply depending on the conditions.

But, deny as you might, a frank evaluation of life will reveal a startling conclusion, that many many situations boil down to these basics: bully, victim, bystander. Now why is that?

Well, you -- like every other living thing on this planet -- are just a big carbon-based (instead of silicon-based) computer. You are a painstakingly intricate vessel meant to accomplish one thing and one thing alone. You are to carry a code. That's it.

Now, this code is not alive per se -- but nonetheless, it "wants" to exist. It does not "want" to disappear. It "wants" to continue. But the world is a harsh place (too many variables). A single copy of the code is not very safe; it can be easily destroyed. So, the code makes copies of itself. That is why every cell in your body carries the code. To ensure its existence, the code must replicate. And since copies keep getting destroyed, the code must keep replicating.

The fancier the code, the fancier the body to house it. You walk, talk, eat, kiss, love and make love. The code makes you do it all. It's survival depends on it. The cells in your body divide, and the code makes a copy of itself. When cells in your body die, new cells take their place. The code lives on. Eventually, your body gets tired and old. Eventually, the vessel dies. But the code does not die. If it is successful, if you are fit in the evolutionary sense, a variation of it lives on -- in your offspring. Hence, our obsession with sex.

As would be expected, such a fancy contraption requires fuel. Hence, our hunger for food and our thirst for drink. When fuel is burned, there are by-products. Waste must be removed. You're beginning to get the picture. For the code, it's all about keeping the machine going for as long as possible, and then making sure there's a working replacement machine when this one reaches it's end-of-life. Thus, survival of the machines becomes all about resources. Resources make life and living possible, sustainable. Resources, resources, resources. Hence, our fixation with wealth. But what if these resources suddenly come up in short supply?

Since the time of the primordial sludge, this has been a serious ongoing problem. Those who have made it this far were the ones who developed successful strategies to deal with a scarcity of resources. Survival depends on it.

In time of shortage, one very effective strategy has been to take resources from another machine. In this strategy, known as competition, the more different the code of the other machine, the more acceptable it would be steal resources from it. (After all, you don't want to kill or injure copies of your own code.) Consequently, since the DNA of all the cells in your body differ from the DNA in your sibling's body, if necessary, you might fight with your brother. Moreover, since the DNA of your immediate family is so similar, and yet so different from those of nearby families, if necessary, you might fight with a neighboring tribe. And so the paradigm grows exponentially; nation against nation, race against race, religion against religion. The basis for all war -- indeed, all crime -- being theft.

Furthermore, as the length of a machine's life extends, survival may hinge not only on securing immediate resources, but on planning for potential future shortages. You may need to gather and save a little, or even go so far as to hoard long-term. All this, of course, leads to more competition.

And so we come full circle. Every time a person interacts with others, he evaluates the given set of criteria and may determine there is a shortage, or an impending shortage, or simply a perceived shortage -- and wham! If his DNA is programmed for the competition strategy in such situations, and if he is sure he can pull it off, then in that given situation, he is the bully. He may not even be aware that he is making the evaluation or perceiving the shortage.

If you end up being his victim, naturally you have to choose whether to fight back or to accept it. The decision is often decided, not by the likeliness of a successful outcome, but by your DNA. You're either born with the fighter genes or the tolerance genes. The genes drive you to feel you must follow a certain course of action, must react a certain way, regardless of whether or not it is a good idea. Thus, sometimes the fighter fights back and triumphs, and other times, he fights and loses - hell, sometimes he fights and dies. On the other hand, the one who takes it, he may suffer but he may endure and may even prevail. And yet, there are countless instances when he may choose to persist in quietly carrying the load... until he eventually perishes under its ever-growing weight. Natural selection favors the guy whose genes drive him to have the correct reactions.

If you happen to be the bystander, your success comes from knowing not to get involved or not to get too involved, lest you yourself become an actual bully or a victim. You may even be blessed with the cherished gift of self-denial, and in such case, you are able to dismiss any vague notions that your inaction makes you complicit in the bully's trespass. Still you are human: you have an opinion, you have feelings about the matter. Maybe you sympathize with one of the sides. Maybe you wish you had the guts to be that way. Maybe you're just afraid you'll get hurt. Maybe you have something to lose; maybe that something is so valuable you're not willing to gamble it. Maybe you simply feel guilty for not getting involved. Or, maybe all you feel is relief -- relief that it's not you. Makes no difference, the bystander just stands there. Hence the name. Oh, you may be emotionally conflicted, but being a bystander is really the safest place to be. Consequently, bystanders often opt to remain bystanders.

Which brings us to the bully. If you find yourself to be a bully, it may just be situational. You may normally be a nice person, but now that you think you have a good reason or you simply think you can get away with it, you are suddenly not such a nice person. Or perhaps, as with the playground bully, you just can't help it: everything in your DNA screams for you to compete at all times -- sometimes with apparently no limit or reasoning. If you are a skillful full-time bully, your instincts urge you to demoralize the opposition. It's easier to fight a battle if the other side is frightened, feels worn out, or merely thinks they are weak. Experience only serves to reinforce this as gospel for the bully.

Funny thing is, as we grow older, we tend to assert that a bully is only someone who overtly pushes us around. We remember our tormentor fondly as the nasty kid who shoved us when no one was looking, who called us mean names. But now we are adults; we are all grown up. There is no shoving and no name calling. We have all matured.


The bully has simply taken it to the next level. It started out with a little playground roughhousing. But now -- now it's been refined. Back then he was practicing on small unimportant targets for small unimportant prizes. Cutting in front of you in the lunch line at school. But he's graduated since then. Perhaps he is now a feudal warlord or a Mafia boss... or perhaps he is the CEO of a big corporation. Either way, he's the guy at the top. He has now cut in front of everyone in the lunch line of life. He has become the ultimate bully.

In this capacity, he sets the tone for all the rest of us. A cascading hierarchy of bullies and victims. He announces his agenda -- usually some quest for the accumulation of resources, and the rest is history. Those who work under his immediate command make demands on their subordinates, the subordinates tax their underlings, and the underlings, in turn, exploit all of us. He may call himself supervisor or manager -- but he's nothing more than a glorified henchman, executing the will of the bully above him. Interestingly, he is in as much danger of having his throat slit by the guy above him (if he does not deliver) as he does by the guy below him (who is looking to climb up). If you're lucky, the bully just wants you to come into work early, leave late, and accept unpaid overtime. If you're unlucky, he bankrolls a militia that slaughters your family and burns your village to the ground.

What a terrifying world.

Well, this is not the world I want to live in, this dog-eat-dog world. I yearn to live a little differently. Maybe it's just my stupid DNA whispering in my ear.

You see there is another survival strategy. It's called cooperation. Living in such a vehemently capitalistic society, we rarely get to hear about this. In capitalism, we only hear about competition. In capitalism, we only get to hear from the bullies (and those who aspire to be bullies).

Competition is unavoidable, but it is not the entirety of life. In measured doses, competition can be good. Obviously, we have advanced this far, in part, due to competition, survival of the fittest. But competition is not everything.

Now that we are so developed -- now that we have time to observe and draw conclusions, now that we are able to question, now that we can think big thoughts, now that we have masterminded microsurgery and missions into space -- why not at least aspire to a slightly kinder world, right here, right now? With all this knowledge and technology, again with the shortage of resources? Still with the constant fighting?

Well, I for one am sick and fucking tired of this crap. I never get to relax. I'm miserable and exhausted, and it's because of all these stupid bullies all over the place. They are always ruining everything.

Bullies like a game where they can always win, where they can change the rules when it suits them, where they can escalate things constantly. Well, I propose a different game. In this game, the goal is not to score the biggest prize for yourself or to score a prize at any cost. The object is to be nice and share a little. If the prize is not big enough, you work together to make it bigger. There are so many external forces working against us humans -- floods, tornados, earthquakes, drought, disease -- it is baffling to me why we still spend so much time fighting amongst ourselves. We need a system to keep this ruthless competition in check.

Let's call this system, Government with a capital G. The purpose of Government should be to inject civility into natural law. There is so much suffering in this world that is beyond our control, we ought to aspire to a system of governance which works to minimize any suffering that is within our control.

Government should recognize that while all men are not actually created equal, they deserve to be respected as such. Government should care for the weakest, should encourage the gifted to flourish, should work to level the playing field for all. Government should not only have empathy, but compassion, unwavering compassion.

The role of Government should be to promote fairness and justice for everyone. Individuals should be free to do as they please, so long as they do not harm others. Government should protect such individual freedoms, but within reason, because Government must also protect us from harm. Government should make judgments free from dishonesty and prejudice, and should apply the rules with conformity. Government should create a truly open forum for the constant discussion of such rules and of what constitutes harm, and should defer to facts and science over anecdotes and superstition.

Government should struggle to find a balance between the individual and the group, lest there develop a tyranny of the many against the few or a tyranny of the few against the many. Government should stimulate cooperation and reciprocity. Government may advocate healthy competition, but there should be no contest which results in the destruction of one's opponent.

In short, Government should be like a good parent or a merciful god. Government should be a fair-minded referee. Anyone who does not subscribe to such a philosophy is, no doubt, a bully.

The bully does not approve of any governmental or economic system which might restrict his ability to run rampant. Naturally, he wants to operate unfettered. Go figure. The bully loves a free-for-all because he is endowed, and in such an environment, he can thrive, can win and win big. Often he wins everything, leaving little or nothing for the rest of us. The bully does not see anyone else's point of view, and if he does, he does not care. Rules are good -- but only if they apply to you and not to him. The bully is all about protecting freedom -- that is, his own freedom -- and usually at the cost of others. And the bully will say anything, will tell outright lies, to stay on top. It's all part of being a real bully.

So I guess it's time for you to decide. Are you tired yet? Tired of being pushed around, tired of being taken advantage of, tired of the disparity? Are you tired of being poisoned, and of being lied to? Are you tired of being afraid? Are you tired of being just plain tired all the time?

This next election, join the revolution. Join the Liberals. Liberal is not a dirty word. Literally, it means to be generous. Quite simply, to be a liberal is to permit yourself to see the other guy's point of view. You must be open-minded enough -- must be brave enough to set aside your own point of view for just a moment.

It's about trying to be fair. It's about being compassionate. It's about understanding that competition may be normal and natural -- but so is cooperation and reciprocity.

And, it's about bully containment.

home to eristikös | contact us | disobedia menu | exsanguinate menu | subscribe

eristikös launched exsanguinate online in April 1996
Are you a bully, a victim or a bystander? copyright © 2005 eristikös multi.media
this page design copyright © 1999 eristikös multi.media