Bullying and Social Relevance

Why do people bully? Because it works. It helps them achieve some social control and gives them access to other social resources. And this is accomplished by taking those social resources away from someone else. Bullying, is all about social relevance.

Younger sister offers comfort to her big sister after a fall.

95% of all verbal bullying, according to dr. Lieberman at MIT, is about 6 things: race, ethnicity, sex, appearance, intelligence and social inclusion. And really, it’s all about social inclusion. If you can denigrate or dehumanize someone, you make them socially irrelevant.

People who bully or harass are using whatever means necessary to make someone irrelevant so that they can “win” whatever it is they  thinks they wins by being a jerk.

Case in point: A friend of mine who is active online was flabbergasted when someone told him, in a rare bout of honesty, that being abusive online to people you don’t agree with, specifically using racist language to be abusive, doesn’t make him a racist.

This troll excused his behavior as not being racist despite the clear use of racist language this way. (Note: This is a synopsis by my friend who was flabbergasted at what this person said and argued).

“You can exploit racist language to try to hurt and infuriate a black person without actually being a racist so long as you’re on the internet and either (a) doing it for lulz or (b) doing it because you don’t like just this particular black person. This is because even though you find racism to be a toy for abusing black people it’s still totally possible for you not to have a trace of racism in your heart. … So even though you are attacking a black person with racist language and even though you are actively engaging in behaviors that can reinforce black people’s sense of danger and oppression in a racist society you can be TOTALLY not a racist because you don’t belong to the Ku Klux Klan.”

When I saw this – I wasn’t surprised. Because for this troll, his trollish behavior isn’t motivated by the race of the person he’s trolling. It really isn’t. It’s about social relevancy!  It’s about winning whatever it is he thinks he’s winning by being an obnoxious troll. And yes, this attitude is disgusting. But is it racist?  I’m going to side with the troll on this.

He isn’t a racist. He’s just a horrible human being.  He’s not a racist; he’s just a bully, exploiting other people’s perceived weaknesses for his perceived gain. For black people living in a society that has institutionalized violence against them in SO many ways, that weakness is their skin color or ethnicity.  If he was dealing with a woman, he would and probably does use the fact that society has also institutionalized violence against women against her.  He will call her names that will intimidate her by invoking her sense of danger in society in the same way he does so for black people.

This isn’t about racism, this is about social relevancy. And yes, racism is about social relevancy. As is sexism and ageism and all the other ways we discriminate against people. That’s why bullies resort to these 6 topics 95% of the time. Because it works to make people socially irrelevant.  Or at a minimum, it allows the troll to think they won an online debate by invoking the – your irrelevant and so I don’t have to listen to what you say fallacy. “nya nya nya – I can’t hear you because you aren’t relevant” fallacy.

The problem with all this denigrating people by exploiting their social weaknesses, that are institutionalized against them is that it reinforces the institutionalized violence against these people. And that’s not ok.

So while these trolls might not think of themselves as racists or sexist or ageist or whateverist, they are perpetuating a system that allows these destructive isms to flourish. And that means that what they are doing isn’t ok. And it doesn’t matter how they rationalize it. They, by definition, are part of the problem by virtue of their attempt to exploit and undermine people they don’t like using abusive, harassing and socially threatening language.

Civilized people don’t act like that. People who want to eliminate all the different ways society marginalizes people unfairly don’t act like that.  And while you yourself might not be a racist, exploiting racist language to win an argument or to bully people into agreeing with you (which by the way – never works) all you are doing is perpetuating the racism, sexism and marginalization of other people. So no – that’s not ok. Ever.



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