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The Columbine Legacy: A Growing Police State/ Big Sister is Watching You

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by Izzy Kalman (April 2006)April is also special because the 20th will mark the seventh anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the event that spawned my activism for victims of teasing and bullying. Unfortunately, I am not a match for the huge anti-bully machine that has taken root in the country as a result of Columbine and the hundreds of millions of grant dollars allocated by the government to combat bullies. The sad legacy of Columbine is that instead of teaching our children how not to be victims, it has led to the most massive witch hunt in world history: we are going to target and eradicate bullies, with the expectation that this will get rid of all meanness, and make students happy and free to concentrate on their studies. Individual freedoms are being eroded as our country is becoming a growing police state, as will be explained in the following section. It is not my intention to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, because there is no conspiracy. But there is a process going on that, without anyone’s awareness, is increasing the government’s control of our behavior, and it is happening most intensively in our schools. The seeds for a society in which citizens are trained to police each other and report each other’s actions to the authorities is being planted in the most fertile ground – our children – with everyone’s blessings, courtesy of the hysteria caused by the Columbine shooting.

Big Sister is Watching You

Thanks to the seminar business, I am fortunate to have contact with mental health professionals throughout the United States. Many who work in schools are feeling burnt out like never before. Why? Because their jobs are requiring them to perform less and less as mental health professionals and more and more as policemen, whose job it is to make schools “safe from bullies”. Why is this happening? Because of our own good intentions. We want the government to foster mental health. So our professional organizations lobby for laws protecting people from abuse that can cause mental distress. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The more our government gets involved in protecting us from each other, the more we become a police state. This process is inevitable. In his modern classic Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell depicts a bleak futuristic world in which personal freedom is obliterated by a government using technology to watch over our every move. This “Big Brother” has become the detested symbol for our legitimate fears of an overly intrusive government. Currently, many Americans see President Bush’s anti-terrorism policies, particularly electronic eavesdropping without a warrant, as signs that the feared Orwellian future is already here. The sad fact is that Big Brother is steadily taking power, but not in the way we imagine. At least the wiretapping issue is something in the public debate. But Big Brother can be incredibly sly, with tactics not nearly as obvious as those of George W. Bush. As sociologist Charles Murray said, “A free society is most threatened not by uses of government that are obviously bad, but by uses of government that seem obviously good”. Big Brother is much more effective when he gets us to eagerly adopt the police-state procedures. Yes, we, ourselves are eagerly promoting a totalitarian police state, and we don’t even realize it. The former Soviet Union was an excellent example of a Big Brother State. The main tool used to control citizens was not technology. The USSR lagged way behind the US in electronic sophistication. The tool was the citizens themselves! It was forbidden for any citizen to say anything against the Party, and it indoctrinated its citizens, from the earliest of ages, to turn in to the authorities anyone who criticized the government. If you didn’t inform, you were deemed an enemy of the party and could spend the rest of your life in a gulag. Thus, the citizens themselves became spies against each other. It was impossible to trust anyone, because you never knew who would be willing to turn you in. Tragically, it was not uncommon for children to send their own parents to jail! And unbeknownst to us in the enlightened democratic world, we are creating a similar situation. About Politics and Science Before I continue, I want to make a point about politics. Some of my readers and seminar participants criticize me as pushing my political views instead of talking pure science. It is the reverse. I am trying to take the politics out of the science. It is the mental health professions that for years have been playing politics and disguising it as science. When our professional organizations lobby for laws – against bullying, harassment, abuse – what they are doing is practicing politics. The healing professions have become less and less scientific as they have increasingly fought for “rights” of individuals not to be bothered by other citizens. “Rights” is not a scientific concept. Rights do not exist in nature. A right is strictly a political concept. Once there is a government, it decides what rights it will grant its people. When our professions assert that we have a right not to be abused, harassed, and bullied, they are making a strictly political statement. Unfortunately, because we learn essentially nothing about politics in our training to become mental health professionals and educators, when our scientific organizations fight for rights, we take it for granted that they are practicing science. Sometimes I ask at my bullying seminars, “Who believes children have a right to go to school without being bullied by other kids?” With few exceptions, everyone raises a hand. They treat this statement as though it represents a scientific fact. Then I ask, “Who can guarantee that their own child will never be mean to other kids in school?” Only three seminar participants have ever raised a hand. I had a chance to question one of them, and it turned out her child has complained to the school principal about his “bullies” – surely a “nice” thing to do. The only way a child can have a right to go to school without being bullied by other kids is if you have a separate school for each child. And then you can be sure you will get a tremendous increase in complaints that they are being bullied by their teachers! Ask a political scientist – someone who understands the meaning of “rights” – if there is such a right not to be bullied, and they will tell you there can’t be. Human beings aren’t saints, and no government can guarantee anyone a life without being bullied by other citizens. The government can, at best, punish people for being mean to each other. And that’s where our current Big Sister comes into the picture! Big Sister Why am I talking about “Big Sister”? Governments are run mostly by men, and men can legitimately be “blamed” for Big Brother societies. The current emerging oppressive situation in the democratic world is spearheaded by mental health professionals and educators, the overwhelming majority of whom are women (about 87% of my seminar participants are female). And women, in general, are more into dealing with feelings than are men. Therefore, to be fair to women, we should be talking about Big Sister rather than Big Brother. (I am sure some women will attack me as being sexist. After all, Prof. Dan Olweus, the guru of Anti-Bully Psychology, is a man. Please – don’t accuse me of being sexist. I have tremendous respect for women. I am just trying to be accurate. Science has been showing that there are, indeed, biological differences between the personalities of men and women.) Our nation’s major school-anti-bully lobbying organization calls itself, so appropriately, Bully Police. It is comprised largely of mothers of children who are victims of bullying. These women are certainly wonderful, well-intentioned people who want to protect children from bullies. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Their goal is not to police bullies on their own, but to force the rest of us to become bully police. They multiply their power a million-fold by lobbying for laws that make the government (meaning all of us) responsible for policing bullies. The website rates the fifty States of the Union on how “good” each particular State’s school anti-bully law is, meaning how much of human behavior the law criminalizes. The more intensively the law restricts our behavior, the higher the grade the State earns from Bully Police. Opening Pandora’s Box Anti-bully laws have opened a Pandora’s box and dealt Freedom of Speech a crippling blow. Crimes, traditionally, have been objective attacks against people’s bodies or property. In the past, I could not sue you in court simply for hurting my feelings. I had to prove that what you did to me objectively damaged my life or property. But the boundary between objective and subjective has been breached. “Hostile workplace” and “school anti-bullying” laws now give people the legal right to attend these establishmenst without being upset by their peers. We eagerly adopt these laws in the naive belief that they will magically make mean behavior disappear. Unfortunately, there is no limit to what can hurt another person’s feelings, so all behavior can become a crime prosecuted by the authorities. Fear of punishment will, of course, keep many people from doing anything that might be construed as upsetting to others. And you might be very happy with the knowledge that you or your child will have government protection from bullies and abusers. Because you, of course, are not likely to think of yourself and your children as the bad guys! But these laws accomplish two other things as well. One, they make it possible for others to get you in trouble whenever they don’t like what you did. One reader sent me a letter of distress about how he got in trouble and is under probation because he brought his pet tarantula to work. “Don’t you realize someone might have arachnophobia!?” the boss scolded him. In other words, instead of people being responsible for their own emotional disorders, the rest of us have to limit our behavior to accommodate them. In schools, it has become so easy for kids to torture each other by complaining to the staff that they were bullied. Why torment another student directly if you can get the school authorities to do it for you?! (See story, A New Kind of Bullying: Bearing False Witness.) The second thing it does is put watchdogs over our behavior. Schools and workplaces don’t want to be sued for failing to protect people from being upset by their peers, so they have to make sure we don’t say anything that can upset each other. Our institutions can’t do this by hiring guards to stand over us. This would be prohibitively expensive, and we would never tolerate such overt assault on our privacy. But since everyone likes the idea of making the government responsible for protecting us from abuse, it is not necessary to spend money to hire anyone. We willingly become watchdogs over each other. Many of us are too scared to directly confront abusers. How much nicer to be able to complain to our bosses when we feel abused, or when someone we like was abused by someone we don’t. Then the boss gets rolling, doing investigations and punishing wrongdoers. Yippee!!! There are schools that will punish students who witnessed “bullying” and didn’t report it. In other words, the children are being forced to be spies. More and more schools are adopting anonymous “Bully Boxes” by which students can report incidents of bullying with no repercussions to themselves. If you are a student, you can get other kids investigated and punished by the school, and no one even knows you were the one who made it happen to them. Surely the days of the Messiah are upon us!

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