Bullying has been part of the recent news cycle, before being drowned out by the elections, because of the tragic suicides of several children (and one Rutgers student) driven to despair by the relentless harassment they allegedly endured from schoolmates. Some were taunted for promiscuity, others for homosexuality (the Rutgers student was publicly outed), all of which naturally led to a campaign to denounce bullying, bullying against homosexuals, or laws to prohibit bullying or cyber-bullying.
It will surprise no one that bullying has been a fixture of the schoolyard since time immemorial, and usually was handled quite adroitly by the victim, his/her friends, or peers of the bully. Children who are different are teased for those differences; it is one way that the young learn (sometimes slowly) to relate to and respect those who are different from them. It affects the tall/short, fat/thin, smart/less so, athletic/not at all – and whites and blacks, Jews and non-Jews, citizens and foreigners, and these days, children who are perceived (rightfully or not) as having homosexual tendencies. While the number of suicides is quite small, every death is of course a tragedy. The numbers, though, do provide perspective: A much-trumpeted 2007study reported that 17% of “homosexual” teens consider suicide, and 5% actually attempt it. That is a devastating statistic, until one considers that the Center for Disease Control reports that (http://www.teensuicidestatistics.com/statistics-facts.html ) that 60 percent of high school students claim that they have thought about committing suicide, and approximately 9% of them say that they have tried killing themselves at least once. Obviously, the problem is greater than the mere bullying of one sub-group, as the statistics reveal that fewer homosexual youth consider suicide than heterosexual youth. Apparently, then, the crisis is deeper than we think, and for reasons other than we assume.
That is not to minimize the anguish felt by young people who sense they have homosexual tendencies. What is often perceived as a crisis depends more on perception than on reality (e.g., an average of two dozen IDF soldiers commit suicide every year, but that sad fact is not advertised as a crisis and the IDF deals with it in a discreet manner), and this particular crisis has gained its notoriety owing in large part to the zeitgeist that sees legitimization of homosexuality as a societal imperative.
Thus the response of the liberal elites, as always, has assumed the usual forms of regulating feelings and promulgating laws. For example, I was badgered by a reporter several weeks ago because I refused to pass the latest litmus test for sensitivity: would I denounce violence and bullying against homosexuals? I stated repeatedly that I would enthusiastically denounce violence and bullying against any person or group – the whole list mentioned above, and including homosexuals – but I would not single out one group for special treatment. No person – of whatever religion, race, sex, orientation, sports team affiliation – should be bullied, harassed, tormented, etc. by anyone for any reason with legal and moral justification. That was not enough for the intrepid reporter, who likely deemed me hopelessly insensitive.
For the same reason, I oppose “hate crimes” legislation. I do not believe that my life is any less meaningful because I do not belong to one of the protected or favored classes in society. People who murder others and are convicted should be executed regardless of who they killed or why they killed them. In law, motive is almost irrelevant; actions matter. Motive is important in the media and movies because they help tell a story, but the story has little probative value in the courtroom. Motive need not be proven, and is rarely an element of the crime. But liberal society has two obsessions: one is defining people by the group to which they belong, and bestowing special rights on members of that group.
In such an environment, the only eligible victims of hate crimes are blacks, sometimes Hispanics or Asians, women, homosexuals and Muslims. Whites, Christians, Jews, men, or heterosexuals need not apply. Rabbi Meir Kahane could be shot or Yankel Rosenbaum stabbed to death without the assailants charged with a hate crime. The Fort Hood shooter, a Muslim named Maj. Nidal Hasan, could kill 12 people (white American Christians, and soldiers at that) and not be accused of a hate crime, only because the victims were not members of the special class. That is bizarre, and inexplicable how the very notion does not violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Its very premise is un-American: every person is the same before the law. In this, hate crimes legislation follows neatly the thesis of the affirmative action laws.
The second liberal obsession is also on display here – the recourse to law to effect social change. Laws in many states now criminalize bullying and cyber-bullying, especially in school. Bullies can be subject to suspension (which is fine with me) but also prosecution, which is strange. The problem in the public schools is not an absence of laws but an absence of values, and public schools for the last half-century have been constrained in their ability to impart values by the rigid removal of “G-d” from public education. Without G-d, the notion of objective morality is lost, and “laws” become a poor and ineffective replacement. There was something to be said for posting the “Ten Commandments” in the classrooms of America – it was a constant reminder that we were a “nation under G-d” and had subtle influence on classroom discussion and behavior.
Consider: to label something “illegal” raises several questions in the mind of the potential miscreant – is it illegal ? If it is illegal, will I get caught ? If I get caught, will I be prosecuted ? If I am prosecuted, will I be convicted ? If I am convicted, will I go to prison ? At any point along the line, the miscreant can conclude that the satisfaction of performance of the illicit act exceeds the potentially adverse consequences of apprehension.
By contrast, to characterize something as “immoral” raises only one question for that same miscreant: is the prospective deed right or wrong ? If it is “wrong,” or “immoral,” no other questions need be asked. To the extent that schools – society – educates its citizens on what is legal or illegal and not what is moral or immoral, it will always be fighting an uphill and likely unwinnable battle against all sorts of social ills, including bullying.
A society that trains its young to perceive all others as “creatures of G-d” finds it easier to exercise control over the rambunctious excesses of youth, and, more importantly, when they invariably stumble –as all children do – has a handy reference point with which to delineate acceptable and unacceptable modes of behavior: “The Torah says….” or “Hashem says…” Bullying was as common in yeshiva schoolyards in my days as it is today, but no one thought of bringing in the secular authorities. There really is a Higher Authority whose reach is more pervasive, and Torah education focuses on making G-d’s will and morality a vibrant part of the life of the student. I have often witnessed young children crying in a supermarket (understatement, that) for a particular candy that the beleaguered mother refuses to buy, with the children howling until the (Jewish) mother says, ‘But it is not kosher.’ With that, he howling immediately stops, as the finality of G-d’s moral system impresses even the young. But the parent who is forced to rely on considerations of dinner or appetite, or even health (“the government is cracking down on obesity”, is on shakier ground, ground made even shakier by the persistent shrieks of their tots.
We should treat all men and women with decency and sensitivity, and inculcate that value in our young – and for the best, and ultimately the only meaningful, reason: that all humans were created in the image of G-d. When that simple notion takes root in society, we will be much closer to the day of mutual respect and brotherhood than we are today, with all our sophisticated laws and regulations.