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The Official Promotion of Fear

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by Izzy Kalman (May 2008)I recently read The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by sociologist Barry Glassner (Basic Books, 1999). Glassner shows how the media, politicians, and various advocacy groups use fear to promote their interests. Quite simply, fear brings them power and money. This book was written before the anti-bully movement became powerful in this country, but just about everything Glassner says in the book about other exaggerated sources of fear is especially true for bullying.

The media love presenting the horror of bullies. People love reading about evil, and bullies fit the bill wonderfully. Not sure about the media’s love for bulling? Sign up for Google Alerts for the words “bullies” and “bullying” and you will receive an email notice every time an article appears on bullying. You will receive dozens of links every day, and every one of these articles will present bullying in a negative, scary light. You will get articles about: how terrible bullying is in the workplace and in school; the escalation of bullying in all areas of life; bullying being more destructive than sexual harassment; cases of “extreme bullying” (in other words, actions that used to be called “crime” are now being called “bullying”); kids killing themselves or others because they were bullied; state legislatures debating and/or passing anti-bullying laws; individual schools proudly announcing their adoption of anti-bullying programs; sports teams and politicians accused of being bullies; speakers giving lectures against bullying; and the incredible prevalence and destructiveness of cyberbullying. You will receive so many anti-bully articles that if you were to read them all, you would be busy 24/7. And one thing you will never find is anyone suggesting that there is anything wrong with anti-bully programs and policies. Though articles may report that bullying is escalating even when schools and companies have anti-bully policies or programs, they will never suggest that the escalation may be a result of these anti-bully programs and policies. Such a possibility is beyond anyone’s imagination.

But the fear of bullies is good business not only for the media. It brings money to everyone involved. Politicians get the votes of their constituents by fighting for anti-bullying laws. With bullying becoming a crime, police forces have more work to do, which means they get more funding from us, the taxpayers. Lawyers on both sides of anti-bully lawsuits make money. And the mental health professions get financial support, too. With the government often looking to cut expenditures by doing away with non-essential services, school mental health professionals are constantly at risk of having their positions eliminated. The public fear of bullies give school mental health professionals a new lease on life, since they are usually the ones given the responsibility for implementing anti-bullying programs.

What about the findings that these anti-bullying programs usually don’t help or lead to an intensification of bullying in the schools? No one cares. The same researchers who find the programs don’t work recommend the programs anyway. You can’t blame them for wanting to preserve their source of income, can you?

How many years will it take society realizes that hunting bullies only makes the bullying problems worse?

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