First, read this story on MLive.com about the Michigan legislature’s attempts to ban “bullying.” Pay special attention to the part of the law, as passed by the Democrat-led state Senate, that “defines bullying or harassment as abuse of one student by another in any form … bullying includes but is not limited to conduct that is ‘reasonably perceived to be motivated by animus or by an actual or perceived characteristic.'”
Got that? Bullying is “harassment” that is “reasonably perceived to be motivated” by a “perceived characteristic.”
So if, as captain of the basketball team, I choose not to pick the kid who checks in below 5 ft. tall as my starting center, am I guilty of bullying? Or if I don’t let you sit at the same table with me in the lunchroom because I have “animus” that you kissed my ex-girlfriend, am I a bully?
The law is being pushed by that most dangerous of citizen legislators: The aggrieved parent. You know the type — the one who suffered a legitimate tragedy and uses that situation as a hammer to force incoherent, liberty-eroding legislation in a vain attempt to assuage their sorrow. The kind of constituent no politician can safely resist.
So we get utter nonsense dressed up as a child-protection initiative. In the meantime, we deprive our children of the self-defense skills they will need to avoid predation as they get older in life, and we set them up for the false belief that conflict is intrinsically disordered and must therefore be addressed therapeutically, through the authorities. We also send the message that basic human social behavior (the instinctive tribalism that is hard-wired into our social norms) is defective and requires legislative intervention to correct, because heaven knows that Lansing is more effective at imparting essential survival skills by fiat than hundreds of thousands of years of evolution did by flight-or-fight dialecticism.
I am sorry that the chief activist behind this bill suffered a personal loss when his son killed himself because of bullying. But honestly — grow a pair, dude. If you were a better, more attentive father, your son would not have become a statistic. Juvenile suicides are completely preventable, if only parents would be parents instead of disengaged “adult friends” of their progeny. It is not the fault of school districts or teachers or the bullies themselves that the activist’s son took his own life.
The problem with anti-bullying legislation is that instead of criminalizing legitimately aggressive acts (like battery), it criminalizes intent. Newsflash: Getting shoved into a locker is a physical assault that should be addressed by teachers; the act itself and not the “animus” that provoked it is the salient point. Follow-up bulletin: Kids are still figuring out who they are and how to engage with others in a mature way. A one-strike-and-you’re-out approach that tells kids that a normal part of childhood (i.e., figuring out how to overcome the instinctive tribalism into which we are all born, but must escape as we grow from infants into full-fledged members of a pluralistic society) is now a one-shot chance. Instead of learning, perhaps through cruel experience, why discrimination is painful and thus should be avoided, we learn that it’s objectively inappropriate for others to make us feel bad and we can get the authorities involved to restore our wounded self-esteem.
It surprises me that folks who understand child development aren’t being a bit more aggressive about blocking this law. Bullying — whether as a giver, receiver, or observer — is an adolescent rite of passage that provides an additional set of experiences about how the world works. Painful at the time, sure. Yet formative in ways that provide greater sophistication about life as a grown-up.
But, no. Instead of drawing the line at overt violence, we must now outlaw “animus” or awareness of a person’s “actual or perceived characteristics.”
A victory for a dad who seeks to lay blame anywhere but his own soul. A victory for the grievance industry.
But a real failure for Michigan’s kids.