Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Social Engineerin​g, the Bully and the Science Whore

Tara Parker-Pope at NYT writes an article outlining the latest scientific findings about bullying.  Looking at the social structures of high-school students, the study found that the kids at the top of the social hierarchy and the ones at the very bottom seem to show the least aggression towards others, while the ones in the middle and near the top tend to show the most. You can read the entire article for the full explanation.  Basically, the authors subcribe to the theory that the top echelon kids have do not have to exercise aggression to keep their positions while the middle and near-top kids are fighting eachother for rank.  That is plausible, however, they dismiss the notion that the top-rung kids are just nicer and therefore popular.  I'm sure that in many cases, the upper echelon kids are the top percentile in social skills, so, they just make friends much more easily.  Others will recognize the power of their charisma and fight for opportunities to win their favour.
 I'm sure that both dynamics occur to some extent but scientists seem to have trouble with duel theories; they prefer simple explanations that can be tested so they tend to favor all or nothing theories
So far, these findings seem to be a fairly interesting study in social standing which is fine.  What I have a problem with, is the tone of the rest of the article and findings.  It turns from factual to practical.  Sociologists need to justify their existence and funding, so they try to drive policy with their scientific knowledge.
The research offers a road map for educators struggling to curb bullying and aggression both inside and outside of school. One option may be to enlist the support of students who aren’t engaged in bullying — those at the very top of the social ladder, and the two-thirds who don’t bully.
A road map?  So why is it the job of educators to stifle students' natural inclinations to fight for status? What business, are the personal affairs of students, of the educators? To think that somehow school officials can control the social lives of all students is the epitome of hubris.  Defining all acts of aggression as "bullying" is misguided.  Using this way of thinking to convince teachers to try and remove aggression is highly disturbing.  Why?  Adolescents are learning to use this behaviour.  They are learning the consequences and rules for aggression.

Pretend that sociologists, like Dr. Gallagher, achieve their goal of removing or suppressing aggression among the student populace.  Everyone in school gets along.  No one is intimidated, put down, jostled, ignored, shamed, hit, laughed at or teased.  One big happy student body ready to take on the world with their peaceful outlook on life hand-in-hand.  I see two obvious problems with this.  One, the next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers will be unprepared to handle the real world and be overwhelmed by the hyper-competitive cultures from elsewhere.  Two, their ability to question and challenge authority, essential for a good democracy will be seriously compromise - basically they would be sheep.

Of course, it is a rediculous concept from the start.  Trying to curtail outward aggression will simply make it more subversive and dangerous.
“It does highlight that it’s a typical behavior that’s used in establishing social networks and status,” said Dr. Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry. “Schools and parents need to be tuned into this as a behavior that occurs all the time. It means that school districts need to have policies that deal with this, and I think it means also that we need to turn to the adolescents for some of the solutions."
Well, at least we're turning to adolescents for the solutions; that puts a nice friendly face on all of this doesn't it? Why must sociologist attempt to recommend policy about the personal lives of students? What type of policy could be effective in curbing social ambition or even preventing aggression amongst the social status climbers and who thinks that this is desirable?

In the name of stamping out bullying?  Bullying is the act of picking on a weaker person repetetively.  Adults with the best of intentions are trying to protect their kids.  Nobody wants to think about the consequences that such proposed social engineering would have in the long term.

This is not a conspiracy.  It is simply a misguided notion used by sociologists to gain funding for the great social engineering experiment and a reaction to overblown, media-driven fear of a simple aspect of human nature.  It fits in nicely with the war on the male.  Aggression and bullying are seen as male-type behaviours and viewed negatively.  Unfortunately, many babies are still in this bathwater and we will need them as western civilization faces its challenges in the future.

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