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How bullying may shape adolescent brains (qz.com)
192 points by verizonuser 59 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

Here's my take:

For most people, success in life, is tied up with your self-confidence.

If you think you're gonna fail, you probably are - unless you happen to be wildly talented at something, and can stumble your way to success. In fact, many people will not even try, because they lacked the confidence.

It could be academia, work, relationships, hobbies,

If you've been conditioned to believe that you: suck, have no talent, are ugly, and a loser, then that's something which probably follow you into adulthood. I know I've seen it many times, with kids from my jr. HS - many still struggle today, as adults in their 30s.

Low confidence and poor self-esteem / self-worth is a vicious cycle, and will/can affect all parts of your life down the road.

For me it started with bullying from my mom and continued with bullying in school. The only thing that pulled me out of it was time and MDMA. I don’t think I got my shit together until my mid 30s. Now I’ve got a family and a successful career. But I could have very easily have ended up drunk in a gutter somewhere.

This always tends to surprise people, which is encouraging - most mom's probably do not bully their children - but it might also be an unrecognized issue.

I would describe it differently, so I don't think I had it as bad as you, but I would say that my parents did not adequately prepare me for responding to bullying, and I likely did the exact wrong things as a response. I cried. I showed weakness. And the bullying continued for a long time - most of my elementary and secondary schooling.

I would say that I eventually formed a self image that went outside how my peers treated me, but then again, decades later, peer interactions can trigger strong emotional reactions.

If most people experience it, it wouldn't tend to surprise most people. But it probably does happen more often than most would believe.

Your Mom?! Holy crap, that's a source that hadn't occurred to me.

Good job getting it together - that must have been a tough row to hoe.

Parents are the absolute worst bullies. I'm not saying every parent bullies their children, I'm saying the ones who do the bullying is much worse than anything peers can dish out. And it's more persistent and impossible to escape. Then they turn around and act normal in front of other people so the fucked up kid looks like the bad guy to outsiders.

From as far back as I can remember until I left for college my mom berated me day in and day out about how my of a piece of garbage I am, how I ruined her life, how literally everything I did was wrong, and how I'm the reason my dad is an alcoholic. Despite me being a good kid who never got into any trouble.

I was bullied in elementary school, middle school, and summer camp for being a runt (literally off the growth charts) but it didn't actually bother me, I already learned that I was garbage from my mom.

Been through years of therapy... I don't think I'll ever be able to really recover, the best I can do is move forward.

I'm very sorry this happened to you.

So sorry you didn’t have it better. Parents should be the absolute opposite of a bully.

I'm not sharing my experience for sympathy, I'm sharing it to challenge the "parents are basically Jesus" narrative of society. If an adult child doesn't provide care for their parents (or even limits contact with them) then society thinks the child is the asshole. Yet it's been my observation that 9 times out of 10 the asshole is the parents, not the broken and innocent child. We have to navigate both the severe emotional turmoil the parents caused and the (sometimes severe) societal disapproval of distancing ourselves from the toxic relationship.

There are loads of us. And I wonder if our parents even know.

My family recipe, taught to me decades ago? Take normal discipline, punctuate it with crying and guilt of being a single parent, then sparingly frost with golden phrases like "you look just like your fucking old man," and "don't think with your dick like him", and "women who like him are whores...", and "look at how he sits" or "[laughing] look at his writing"...

Stir in some bad grades. Maybe a latent learning disability.

Let simmer alone.

Viola! You get a 12 year old pushed so low that they've spent their free time figuring out how animals are euthanized, how much to use on themselves, plotting ways to get their hands on it...

Try being the anxious daughter to a perfectionistic but insecure mother. You're one of the lucky ones if it has never occurred to you that mothers can be terrible bullies.

My mom was one of four sisters... whose mom was one of three sisters... That's a lot of unbalanced dysfunction to grow up into. I grew up with a dad who tried to get me to well adjusted and a mom who treated me like a broken girl, as opposed to a boy. They both wound up working against each other (not intentionally), and I was close to 40 before I would consider myself at a relatively well adjusted point in my life.

Can confirm, and I'm a lot older than 30. It's done huge, irrecoverable damage, caused me a lot of serious mental problems (recovering now from a year of serious crap that made me unable to work for a year). I'm actually pretty mentally robust at core, but that got beaten out of me (or, I should say, out of us). Memory and personality problems etc. Drug problems. Few life/sex partners because you're so wound up you can't deal with people normally and can react abnormally.

Not all bullying happens at school, and it's so much worse because you can't escape from it in the place you're supposed to be safe. You don't even realise it's abnormal because it is your normal. I'm not going to spell it out, you can read between the lines.

Has anything helped? 26, similar situation, have slowly lost my identity / personal narrative after years of school and work thousands of miles from my family.

For me two things have helped a lot with self esteem/coming out of this kind of situation.

Firstly it is focusing on self improvement in a healthier way. I don't think about what I would like to improve or could do better so much as I focus on what I have been doing better. It is sort of not letting perfect be the enemy of good. Having an ideal version of yourself you aspire to is fine, so long as you recognize you won't ever be perfect, and the more you improve the more the mental ideal is likely to move. So instead of paying attention to how far away I am from my ideal self I instead focus on how I am (hopefully) a little bit closer than I used to be at regular intervals.

For me personally participating in activities where I can objectively measure improvement has been a big help in regard to the above. For example weight lifting is a form of exercise I find I enjoy a lot because I can measure it (more weight this week, more reps, etc).

The second was to focus on not feeling personally responsible for everything in life. I used to apologise to people if the weather was bad and they complained about it. Putting effort into not acting as if I should be responsible for everyone and everything helped.

The last thing is probably just a product of time, distance, and stability. I used to have a hard time trusting in good things when they happened because feeling good just meant I'd feel worse later. Having a stable life with good things in it for long enough means I'm not constantly on guard for the inevitable sucker punch from life... I still do occasionally just feel anxiety that something non-specific yet terrible is about to occur, but nowhere near as often as I used to. Directing some effort into taking pleasure in your life may help with that.

WRT "...and work thousands of miles from my family" I don't think you understand. Read my last para carefully.

In answer, and this is risky as talking about drugs can be very misleading; give you too much hope they'll work for you, or perhaps just add to your woes.

* prozac removed the hideous clinical depression that was caused by what I went through. It was not a quick or easy process, and the removal still left a terrible after-effect that lasted many years. Something like that doesn't just disappear politely.

* Mushrooms helped resolve some issues, but not as much as MDMA

* MDMA. The first time I took it it showed my brain was another way to be. Something called 'happy' and 'relaxed'. I guess that's when I could start to become human. See another guy's comment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21213649 but my experience was much later in life than his.

* The above, along with plenty of time. But life is very finite and I'm running out of road.


* No form of talking therapy was of use. It is good for some people it just wasn't for me.

* Alcohol is a liability in these situations for me.

Using drugs worked somewhat for me but I don't know if they are appropriate for you. They certainly can add brand new dangers. In fact I feel maybe lack of human contact is the problem in your life? Some kind of talking therapy may be more helpful. Good luck.

Edit: One more thing that helped. It's too easy to focus on one's own situation but however bad things get, someone has it worse. The guys sleeping on the street in midwinter, those with agonising arthritis, there are many more and you will have met some... When it gets bad, remember what you don't have to deal with. It helped me, a little.

I am happy, successful, married, no complaints, super fortunate.

And there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think of the teasing and physical injuries I suffered in middle school. I have no doubt it affects things like career decisions and my reactions to violent scenes in entertainment media. I am literally afraid of having children because I don't want to witness a loved one go through anything similar (or worse, have them experience cyber-bullying, which I think would be way worse).

Me too, re:having children. my childhood abuse is the main reason I'm resistant to marrying and having kids.

I don't feel like "confidence" has much to do with it. In order to be successful, one must be willing to fail. As the saying goes, "The master has failed more times than the student has even tried". But if your every minor failure is met with overwhelming negative reinforcement then you learn that failure is bad and avoid it as much as possible.

I also kinda disagree with the "self-esteem" as a metric, but only because it seems to me that people try to solve that problem by telling people they're great and did good work even when they aren't and didn't. I think it is much more important for the message to be that failure isn't really a reflection of your worth as a person.

I believe confidence has everything to do with your willingness to try things that you might fail. You have to be confident that failure will not ruin you, and confident that you'll learn from your failures, and confident that the learning will lead to eventual success.

Self-esteem means believing (and having confidence) in your own abilities. That doesn't mean you people should say "you are great" for trying, but people can say "trying is useful" on the path to accomplishing what you set out to do.

Likewise if people with unchallenged confidence get to run things, bad things tend to happen and there is a difference in being confident and projecting it to others.

Understanding is often followed by humility.

> Likewise if people with unchallenged confidence get to run things, bad things tend to happen

They usually grow in the process and get ahead of the too careful and doubtful ones.

Throughout growing up I regularly thought other guys knew so much more things than me on various topics and often didn't dare to pitch in and felt like I couldn't contribute. Then most of the times, just a little later I realized how much they were just clumsily piecing together phrases they heard here and there but didn't really know what they were really talking about.

This includes topics like WWII history, computers, political ideology (communism, nazism), sex, sports, and all sorts of stuff they probably heard from their parents or older siblings.

An enthusiastic, confident kid (let's say 10-14 years) can just talk so much nonsense on and on without being disturbed in the slightest (adults tend to be more mindful of their own gaps of knowledge and are more afraid of embarrassment). But their peers won't know better and will be impressed.

Step by step it even continued to university. People would confidently talk about things I didn't know much about (AI stuff, Linux, various flamewars) and only later did I realize that they were mainly putting together pieces of arguments they heard here and there without any deep understanding.

I was too careful not to make mistakes and didn't hone my arguing and convincing skills nearly as much as these types of guys did.

What I want to say is that it's okay to be wrong sometimes. This is a message to specific types of people. Some people need to be more careful and introspective, but others are already too introspective and second guess themselves too much. For the latter, you need to relax and be okay with making rookie mistakes, getting called out etc. It's okay to discuss and give your opinion on things you're not fully knowledgeable about. Perhaps people will sometimes think you're stupid, but it's in active discussion how your opinions will get refined. Maybe you'll "cringe" about your early opinions after a few years, but it's still the quicker way.

I totally agree with this. I fall into the latter camp and generally stay quiet in order to avoid saying something wrong or foolish. But throughout life I’ve seen people surpass me who are initially less knowledgeable but who aren’t afraid to make mistakes or look foolish.

One most obvious case was when I studied in France for a semester. Even though my base knowledge upon arrival was higher than some of my peers, I was generally shy and embarrassed around native French speakers, while others who weren’t ended up getting a lot more experience and making a lot faster progress.

> They usually grow in the process and get ahead of the too careful and doubtful ones.

I don't know whether they "grow", as in "actually understand things", "acquire skills" etc if they're basically just using Markov chains to communicate (but maybe they are, maybe it's "fail forward", iterate over your mvp and turn it into a success product, but for communication). They often do get ahead with regard to social points, but at least in my experience, only very few of them are so good at bullshitting their way through life that they don't hit a wall. At some level, just having heard a word isn't enough to look competent, you also need to know what it means.

Middle management in most corporations proves you wrong. Knowing what you say is for lower levels, the ones that they rule over by whim. Leadership in those projects rarely knows things.

Sounds right. I was always talented and successful until 2014 when I started getting bullied, when I moved to SF. It’s been downhill since then. I’m now homeless with faded skills and vocabulary and no confidence. Feels like I’ll never get back to a normal life, and indeed at each job the bullying has become more intense and flagrant.

You need to work for normal company (not brogrammers startups). At most places, there is simply no bullying, so your problem will solve itself.

This is one reason I think big dreams and ambitions are a liability. Being a competent worker with a reasonable work ethic, putting money in your 401k, and making sure you’ve got other options if something goes wrong doesn’t leave a lot of openings for bullying. Nobody is going to bully Stanley from the Office and you’d look like a moron for trying.

> Nobody is going to bully Stanley from the Office

You can say that again!


Try something a bit further from the big city coasts... There's a lot of stability in Phoenix, Austin and Atlanta and not nearly as polarizing. Yeah some of the politics are a bit different if you're part of SF culture, but generally you can avoid it out here (I'm in Phoenix).

Phoenix in particular, regarding software jobs is mostly backend business work, with a surprising amount of line of business and banking work. Austin, from what I understand is heading more progressive, and Atlanta is some where in between. Definitely going to see less brogramming or "only progressive views allowed" cultures.

Psychologists have a term "self efficacy" -- as far as I remember from my graduate educational psychology courses, the best predictor of whether someone will succeed in learning something challenging is whether they believe they can do it.

Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-efficacy

While I agree... I do think there's something to be said for experiencing at least some negative interactions growing up. In the end, life isn't meant to be fair, but having the skills to work through, interact and negotiate in less than advantageous or fair scenarios is an important life skill.

I've interacted with enough millennial that are excessively entitled with a lot of ignorance to how free markets or capitalism works in practice.

edit: I'm not supporting persistent bullying, I experienced a lot of it through Jr HS and into HS.

50-something here. I was bullied a lot in elementary, jr. high and high school probably because I was the nerdy kid who was into science. We also moved a lot so I was always the outsider. While my home life was fine (my parents were great) I do suffer from anxiety and difficulty staying in a job for more than a year or two. I've only recently started to make the connection with the bullying I received. Back in the 70s & 80s when I was in school the attitude was that bullying made the bullied stronger so adults rarely intervened (as they thought that conversely, doing so would make the bullied kid "weaker"). Even the response of my parents was to put me into Karate classes - I think that did help some as I did gain more confidence, but I think the policy now to stop bullying in the schools is much better.

> the nerdy kid who was into science

Paul Graham, creator of Hacker News and a founder of Y Combinator, wrote a classic essay on the topic of why nerds are unpopular. So much of his writing rings true, especially the part: I've read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact [of teenage misery] before the twentieth century. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance seem to have been cheerful and eager. He has a very plausible explanation of how we created this misery, including a culture of school bullying.


Your words exactly describe my struggles in childhood and career. The only difference is I did Tae Kwon Do and my schools cracked down on bullying after Columbine because they were scared one of us nerds might snap.

I'm sorry you went through that. Yes, bullying needs to stop, but if we back up and ask the question, why do kids do this? We used to hear 'kids can be cruel'. I think it has something to do with with alpha/beta dynamics. Kids always want to fit in but they also want to be popular. To be popular means some have to be unpopular. Maybe a quick way to do that is by putting someone down and in effect making them lower than you on the social status ladder.

I think the kindest of us probably suffered through bullying or forever being the outsider, and maybe these people experience more empathy for others as they know first hand how awful it feels to be on the receiving end.

But the majority don't go through this. Because of this, I don't believe we will ever get rid of this behaviour. We may minimise it a bit, but really we are trying to change embedded behaviour.

Anxiety as an emotion is very similar to excitement. Sam Harris discusses this a lot. I never got from him what exactly the difference is, but the other day in the car, I felt excited and started really analyzing why.

What I believe now is that the difference between anxiety and excitement is: perception of outcome.

If you have a positive expected outcome, you are excited. If you have a negative expected outcome you are anxious.

The next step, is to convert anxiety into excitement. I'm still working on this part. I think this is where "little victories" come into play. If you have a series of successes that can change your perception of outcome from negative to positive it might work over the long term.

In the short term, "happy thoughts" might work. "You can do it!!" Encouragement. Confidence.

Of course all of this is very new to me, so these are mostly just my hypotheses, but I plan to examine the ideas in more detail and see what I can do with it...

I’m not buying that anxiety is similar to excitement. Maybe in that both can make people act brashly and make shortsighted judgements. But the effect on a person at even a hormonal level is different. I doubt excitement releases the same inflammatory response that anxiety does. Anxiety also reinforces itself while excitement progressively requires newer stimuli to produce further excitement with a decreasing effect.

I started doing push-ups every morning as part of a plan to do some form of exercise with my upper body. Noticed at some point it has been a long time I felt anxiety. Not sure if there is a link, but starting to think so.

Anxiety, at least medically speaking, seems to be a loaded word. I've been told I had "anxiety" for some health related symptoms I had experienced, though I feel nothing like excitement nor dread. It's a very strange thought...almost what I might call 'subconscious anxiety'. As in, I don't mind people and am not anti social. But sometimes, in large noisy crowds, would feel lightheaded as if were going to pass out. Never really figured that one out - just wanted to point out that anxiety isn't always just a person thinking negatively.

Anxiety can definitely be triggered at a subconscious level. I get the dizzy, lightheaded thing as well and and I usually am not initially aware of why. But often, if I can take a step back and mentally assess the situation I can become aware of what the trigger was.

I've never understood why schools seem so reticent to enforce zero-tolerance policies against bullying. In my experience at least, every time bullying seems to be a problem at a school, it's because the environment allows it to occur.

Schools will eagerly put in place various other zero-tolerance policies, like no fighting. So if you dare defend yourself against such a social predator, you are taught a lesson by such a policy that you've done a bad thing.

I was fortunate never to be a victim of bullying, but many of my friends were (we were a bunch of nerds after all). The difference was I had support at home for fighting back because my parents knew the administration wasn't watching out for students well being. The lesson I learned is that fighting back is the single most effective strategy for stopping bullies, and that parents have to ensure that their child is shielded from ineffective school behavioral policies.

My friends didn't have such support and suffered from it, and couldn't ever learn that lesson. Some of them couldn't have fought back even if it was okay for them to do so for various reasons. The ones I still have contact with today have lingering social problems from the childhood bullying and this has fully reinforced on me that bullying is a social plague that needs to be aggressively stamped out.

There is the other side that bullies themselves are suffering in turn. Many come from shattered home lives or abusive parentage. Those children should be identified and put into some kind of counseling program as early and as intensively as possible. They will also grow up to be damaged in some way because of it and in their lives, perhaps only the school has an opportunity to tamper down their violent instincts.

However, the physical and emotional violence that bullies subject others to is absolutely not to be tolerated in any way. And it seems the best way for other children to handle it is to simply do their best to fight back.

I was at a high school that laid down a zero-tolerance policy against bullying.

In practice, zero-tolerance turned into a blanket "we don't want to put up with any disruptions" policy.

Provoking an outburst out of a target meant consequences for the victim that could be as bad or worse than the aggressor's.

It's hard when adults do the same thing. I mean not just to the kids at school, but in all of life. How different in essence is using your power to artificially increase the price of healthcare, such as with insulin or in a hundred other examples, for your profit different than stealing someone's lunch money, or making jokes at their expense?

> I've never understood why schools seem so reticent to enforce zero-tolerance policies against bullying.

It's pretty simple, this has a political answer: people believe that life is hard and that "it's tough out there", hence it's important for school to "toughen up" kids. It's as simple as that. Social darwinism is a creeping ideology that nobody really questions or talk about, but it's there, despite the presence of social programs.

If you ask people "should we protect the weak?", at the end of the day, people will answer "no, it's too difficult to protect the weak, if they can't survive or toughen up, they deserve to die or suffer, they cannot pull other people down".

Everybody knows that sending their kids to school generates a lot of anxiety for parents, because parents cannot protect their kids anymore, since bullying and "justice in the classroom" are difficult to do, but also hard for kids to talk about.

School is an excellent description of its society. Kids never lie, and their behavior naively precedes and envision the real spine of society. It's also where values and beliefs are taught.

Bullying exists because society not only tolerates it, but doesn't want to fight it. The "school of hard knocks" meme proves this perfectly.

> It's pretty simple, this has a political answer: people believe that life is hard and that "it's tough out there", hence it's important for school to "toughen up" kids.

I wouldn't necessarily put it that way; but there is 1) a sense from adults that kids should learn to "sort out their own problems", 2) a sense from kids that you shouldn't "tell" ("snitches get stitches").

But the question is, how would you "sort out" a similar situation as an adult? Well if you were regularly physically threatened by someone as an adult you would call the police, and or you would stop going there. And if someone was an emotional bully at your workplace, they would be fired or you would find another job.

But most of these options aren't really there for kids. Nobody is kicked out of school or demoted for being jerks, and often they're not kicked out of school even for regular physical intimidation. Kids have very little opportunity to change their environment. And often the authorities who are supposed to be protecting them look the other way.

I don't have kids yet, but if my kid experienced physical intimidation, and the principal / teachers in the school had the "kids need to sort it out" attitude, I would be severely tempted to say in response: "From now on, everything that is done by bullies to my child, I will do to you. If my child finds bullies waiting for him as he leaves the school, you will find me waiting by your car. If my child has their head put in a toilet, I will put your head in the toilet. We'll see how you manage to 'sort it out for yourself'." (Obviously that may not actually turn out to be practical -- the point is to highlight what we expect kids to put up with vs what we expect adults to put up with.)

> Nobody is kicked out of school or demoted for being jerks, and often they're not kicked out of school even for regular physical intimidation.

Ding. You're often forced to sit there with your aggressor to "sort it out" - or at least that was how it worked in my situation. This just made things so much worse to the point that I almost immediately stopped trying to get adults involved (parents, teachers, staff).

> "From now on, everything that is done by bullies to my child, I will do to you. If my child finds bullies waiting for him as he leaves the school, you will find me waiting by your car [...]"

This really spoke to me. As someone who's been through both of those situations as a child, I never thought how much more recourse an adult would have in the same scenario... you'd end up with a restraining order, you'd get arrested - that's just a fact.

These bullies would work in the system and often play the victim themselves when they were ran up the chain of authority to the point that the schools just enabled them. I believe that if any teacher actually _did_ something about it they'd put their career at risk, ergo: the victim gets the short end of the stick because that's how the system is designed.

Due to this I feel like we just condition them to be better jerks because they get to learn how to manipulate a system to lessen their consequences + get away with things... this tends to be a "school" all it's own for these bullies.

We should treat assault and abuse with the same weight for children as we do adults, especially in an educational setting. But we don't... we just coddle them because that's the easier thing to do, which just puts the onus on the victim to solve (typically by violence).

>I would be severely tempted to say in response: "From now on, everything that is done by bullies to my child, I will do to you.

>Obviously that may not actually turn out to be practical

I like this idea. For it to work, you probably need an accomplice, and to make sure there's no witnesses. Have an accomplice provide an alibi ("no, he was at home with me at that time"), and make sure there's no witnesses when you beat the crap out of the principal late at night.

Honestly, since schools are simply not willing to do anything about the problem, I don't see how this is a bad solution at all.

It wouldn't work - you would just get arrested. I think that's part of the point - there are consequences for adults exhibiting this sort of behavior where there are arguably very few/none for children.

As much as I love watching the "Ray Velcoro Beats Up Bully's Dad" bit, it's just Hollywood. If someone pulled a stunt like beating up a principal, or an abuser's father, you would immediately be a criminal and you'd be legally destroyed to the full extent of the law. You'd likely lose your job, etc etc. These same legal consequences just don't exist bullies - and I think they should (with obvious due process and clear evidence).

Well keep in mind that Ray got a way with it because he was a detective. It isn't like he was just some guy.

Yup. The two real things adults would do is a retraining order and weapons. Kids get neither. (And, yes, sometimes it rises to that level. There was one incident in grade school where firearms would have been an appropriate response.)

I don't think most of the adults knowingly look the other way. They try some little measure, the problem appears to go away (the victim got a beating and is afraid to talk) so they think it worked.

> If you ask people "should we protect the weak?", at the end of the day, people will answer "no, it's too difficult to protect the weak"

Isn't "protecting the weak" the whole point of civilized society over barbarism? Life is hard enough already, why make it even harder by tolerating aggressive and violent behavior from others?

It's not "toughening up" anyone, it's creating an environment where the worst offenders are precisely those who perceive themselves as "winners" and as "stronger" than others. Surely that has to be totally misguided - the only people who would support this are those who are themselves inclined towards bullying, and towards developing contempt and hate for their perceived outgroups.

Not until individualism and anti-government sentiments kick in

I'm not saying that those things I described are good, I'm just saying they make sense in our current time.

> why make it even harder by tolerating aggressive and violent behavior from others?

> Isn't "protecting the weak" the whole point of civilized society over barbarism?

You're right, civilization matters more, but it doesn't change the fact that human nature will always easily re-surface. Free markets, competition, individualism, money, those values sound very dangerous because to me, because they contradicts and almost negate the entire concept of civilized society.

The fall of the soviet union and acute capitalistic dogmas have exacerbated the sentiment that it's "everyone for himself".

har har Godwins law and all that, but this comparison is pertinent

The Nazi's didn't seek to destroy Civilization (at least not in the sense that a Primitivist would), but they absolutely affirmed the ideology of "we should not protect the weak" [1] while attempting to preserve some form of "Civilized Society".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aktion_T4

The problem is inconsistency, geographically and also over time. Up until perhaps 10-20 years ago, it was a beat down in the school parking lot. That was the only way to deal with bullies. Make them bleed. Today in large part to "no tolerance" policies, the victim gets equally punished for defending themselves. A beat down in a parking lot gets the police involved. And the school can expel both bully and victim if there was a fight.

I never had the imagination for shooting up a school when I was a kid. But now that I'm an adult, I totally get it. When trust and civility break down, there are no more rules. Child victims have already been betrayed, and have had normal coping mechanisms inhibited. Sorta like punishing a dog for growling, all you do is teach them to be silent until they bite without warning.

Why shoot your classmates? To make the parents suffer. All of them. Why? For raising bad children who are bullies. For having created such a perverted system of adults with no meaningful arbitration or advocacy or fairness. Make them suffer forever. It's a permanent, enduring, ultimate vindictiveness. It is intentionally disproportionate. From the child's point of view: I don't trust this system and neither should you, let me demonstrate betrayal to you. The idea that school shooters don't know what they're doing, or is temporary insanity, I think is absurd. For sure they lack mental discipline and coping mechanisms. But then, I'm not an expert in the psychology of it all, but I was a victim. Parking lot beat down pretty much solved it for me. But who advocates for those who can't or won't?

>But who advocates for those who can't or won't?

The answer is literal leftist "SJWs" which is a slur to all but those who agree with the policies. Radical liberation, equality, and compassion for the weak.

Negative Utilitarian ethics about reducing suffering above all else is frequently the implicit ethical decision calculus used by: Communists, Socialists, Liberals, Harm-reduction activists, Intactivists, Feminists, Disability Rights Activists, Humanists, among others.

If you are in the role of a bullied individual, your best friend is the one advocating for a more systemically equal and just system.

I think the problem is difficulty defining bullying. Fighting is easy, if you hit someone then you broke the rules, but bullying has a much more blurry line. At my school there was some attempt to crack down on bullying, but instances of bullying were regularly dismissed or reframed as "just banter".

Punishing kids is not answer on itself either. For one, it does not deal with victim at all.

In one school I have seen, they had problem with bullying in a class. What they did were regular meet ups of whole class with psychologist and year long programs about communication.

Kids were taught how to express what they feel (what and who makes them angry), were taught to listen to other kids, were taught to care about each others feelings, were taught what is big deal and what is not big deal.

Slowly over time, situation got better. The point is, solution was not punishment nor seeking who is guilty. It was working with all the kids, bullies, victims, bystanders and teaching them new behavioral patterns. Repeatedly saying the same things, reinforcing same values, playing similar games etc.

That sort of thing will help with the minor stuff, it won't deal with the serious stuff.

It was serious. If it would be minor, no one would call specialists. They cost money and time. The bullying went down and there are no permanent victims now.

It is not rosy, but much better then in classes where teachers opted for punishment only or ignore it methods. There issues only grew. Yes in one case the problem kid had to leave school. Guess what - he is in another school and I don't think he magically stopped.

If someone's banter is making someone else's life worse, it's not just banter.

How is that different than just saying anything you don't like is bullying?

>> My friends didn't have such support and suffered from it

Could the real difference maybe be the homelife? The act of supporting you in spite of bullying and school administrators in some sense communicates to you that you are worthwhile and ought to be confident. Maybe the bullying in your friends lives compounded a lack of confidence unintentionally fostered in their homelives?

Zero tolerance ends up punishing the victims, often instead of the bullies. Furthermore, it doesn't even work. If the bully gets punished then the victim will likely suffer worse. The victims very quickly learn that there is no help, the victimhood must be hidden even from well-meaning parents and authority figures. Their blundering efforts to help only make the problem worse. They think they solved the problem when they really just drove it underground. It "works", they keep using that strategy rather than doing something effective which would be very difficult. Parents, understand that you probably have only one chance to address it, if you fail to solve it you won't know unless your child suffers injuries they can't hide.

Teachers are often the ringleaders of the bullying in my experience.

Can you impart some of the lessons your parents gave to you as a child?

I was bullied badly as a child and am permanently suicidal, with no trusting relationships and failed life: homeless, mentally ruined, no career, assets, accomplishment, etc. It’s to the point where, decades after having said to self “people are shit and I don’t want to be alive anymore” as a child, I turned down a million dollar inheritance to keep close to a permanently suicidal self-imposed destiny. It’s difficult to say how much was due to the bullying, but I do think of these horrible memories daily and have done so for a long time.

Perhaps my life would have turned out similarly even without such traumatic childhood events. Then again, I’m a pretty cynical person who simply doesn’t give a shit about being alive, due to believing people are consistently low quality in seemingly all walks of life. The bullies from my childhood, on the other hand, have successful, normal lives. As I recall, the bullying occurred at school as a child, at university, at work, and in public by strangers has occurred consistently in any walk of life

Bullying seems to be a valid filtering process, as I was the weaker genetic offspring who correspondingly didn’t procreate. Meanwhile, I’ve spent decades immersed in disdain for my own species and self.

> The bullies from my childhood, on the other hand, have successful, normal lives.

There's a book called Ginger Kid which does a good job at highlighting this phenomena. The author discusses at length how the kids who made his life hell as a child went on to be respected professionals. For example, a guy who pulled a razor on him in school is now a famous rapper.

I'm sure it had some lasting effects on him, as now he's a comedian who's notable for his humiliation of audience members who heckle or distract him.

I think it's incredibly mature of you to realize this and accept it without the anger towards women that is so common among young men these days.

It's not mature of him. Bullying is not a valid filtering process; it's childish violence. He's clearly still dealing with the lies he was told by the people around him. If you have this sort of self-hating perspective, you should seek therapy, because you don't have to live that way.

I'm sorry about these experiences.

I also experienced a mix of bullying that became worse as I became an adult.

I would caution you about your conclusion that it is the weak who get bullied. While this may be true many times, it is certainly not universal. Korolev is perhaps the greatest engineer of the 20th century and he was bullied nearly to death... As an adult.

There's every reason to be negative and cynical when you've had experiences like yours which also shape the lens of your current interactions.

In saying that, I don't believe it's popular in HN but you might find some usefulness in lectures by Dr. Jordan Peterson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSZQjMesALM - why everything you do matters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c9Uu5eILZ8 - advice for people with depression


I picked out three of these that I think give a decent overflow on some of his central ideas.

Some people view his videos for different reasons, like commentary on cultural war issues in the west, or his studies into the societal causes of authoritarianism.

However, many are mainly interested in his lectures on how you can start to claw back some meaning in your life by focusing on adding a little order to small things, and then increasing that little by little over time.

There's no suggestions to abandon medicine if it can help you, or to avoid professionals who can assist you in this.

Rather than taking the usual self-help route of trying to lead with saying how awesome life is, his writings often explore the reasons people can rationally come to the conclusion that life is meaningless suffering and that we should instead pursue pleasure at all costs because of it. Despite appearing rational on the surface, he then goes on to explore how that can actually lead to an empty vessel of a human experience.

By focusing on restoring order a little a time, it's thought that you can reduce suffering just a little, and that despite the nihilistic thoughts, reducing suffering can only be a good thing for both you and anyone you connect with.

There's a big focus on mythology and literature (pinocchio, peter pan etc), but it's usually a mechanism to convey the wisdom they try to distill.

I wish you well in finding some meaning, it can be a long journey without help and hopefully the videos provide a starting point.

I wonder if the people with these brain differences were more susceptible to bullying because of the social cues they express. So it's not bullying shaping brains, it's different types of brains get bullied more.

Perhaps they should look at the brains of bullies, too.

Naah, I was bullied heavily in school and have keenly observed those who get bullied. It is the one form the 'out group'.

I was bullied because I was the only kid in the group from a 'rival colony' and had 'helicopter-ish' parents. Every bullied kid since was either: fat, ugly, new kid in town, disabled or something like that.

Can confirm about it being the odd one out. As one of maybe 5 white kids in my very poor school, I was bullied relentlessly from 6 to 12 years old. I was quite an effeminate kid too with long blonde hair. Soft, quiet and not nearly as athletic as the other kids. They were ruthless both verbally and physically. I'm now 29 years old, 6'4", 90kg and I lift 4x a week and _still_ have gddmn self confidence issues.

I am considering taking up martial arts in an attempt to break this subconscious mindset which I am almost positive was caused by years of bullying as a child.

I own a gym, and it's always interesting listening to what the trainers, all nice looking fit guys, worry about, and their own self-confidence issues.

No. Just no.

It's the outcast like other folks are saying. It's just "different" - could be anything: small stature, sensitivity, socioeconomic status, race, religion, expressing that you enjoy learning, your mom sewing your clothes, whatever... If you're the minority of a population you're a target and putting it on "brain differences" makes me scoff.

You're just a rung on a social ladder that other people are willing to step on time and time again to make sure that they're not at the bottom.

Just because your brain is different doesn't mean it's not working -- Alan Turing

One of the mindsets of the bully is assuming that the victim has something that the bully doesn't. This leads to envy, feeling of self-doubt .... which leads the bully to find the weakness of the victim and punish them for it. After punishing the bully feels "good". The goal behind their bullying behaviour is to eliminate the competition.

Apart from this imitation of other bullies and impressing their peers are major factors.

Ex) A jock might envy the smartness of a nerd. A conservative might envy the freedom of a liberal.

Yup, that's exactly what narcissism is. "I can't possibly deal with being made to feel like a loser, so I will hurt those who might otherwise threaten my exaggerated ego". It's not a healthy mindset at all, it's a sign of serious pathology.

Aren't most people like this, though?

Nobody likes being made to feel like a loser, but not everybody feels some sort of entitlement to hurt others as a way of coping.

Are you sure? Have you read human history? Or read about corruption in finance, healthcare, education, etc?

Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths make up 10-15% of the population. It's normal for them.

I literally just told a security guard at the PyCon in Berlin to go f* themselves as a direct result of bullying I experienced at boarding school in the '70s.

It took 2 years of therapy to make that connection, though.

I was bullied in school, and jiu jitsu feels like it's re-wiring my brain and erasing much of the damage (fear of conflict, especially with males).

Can confirm. I was bullied by my verbally abusive brother for almost 35 years. I have diagnosed PTSD now.

Seems to me a large part of growing up is keeping up with the herd. Like a pack of zebras in the savannah. If you stray too far behind or show weakness, you get picked off by the roving lions.

Now I can see utility in behavior divergent from the norm being encouraged. But at the same time, peer pressure to keep moving and keeping pace is a great motivator for growth.

So, I would say the issue needs to be studied with greater depth than it sucks for the guy being bullied. What is the greater effect on the entire population? If you ensure no one gets bullied there is a non zero possibility that it results in a negative effect for the entire population in the long run.

>Seems to me a large part of growing up is keeping up with the herd. Like a pack of zebras in the savannah. If you stray too far behind or show weakness, you get picked off by the roving lions.

Yeah, but you don't see the zebras beating the crap out of each other for being too slow. They just let the lions do it.

With us humans, we don't just leave others to their own devices; instead, we take on the role of the predator for no good reason. Basically, humans (some of them) are evil, and get enjoyment from doing evil things to others. Animals just don't have this problem for the most part.

Are most people are evil in this way? Most laugh and exhibit schadenfreude. Most of my friends who I played Simcity or GTA with were maniacal murderers in these games.

Most? I don't think so. But some small but significant fraction, perhaps 5% really are, and then they're able to get a good chunk of the rest of the herd to follow along with them.

Chickens, on the other hand, are absolute bastards to one another.

We're not much like chickens, thankfully. But we're not much like zebras either.

They are? They seem to live together in coops ok. Sorry, I don't know much about chickens except they live in coops (the hens do, not the roosters), and they'll eat just about anything.

They are.

This is where English gets the term "pecking order".

> So, I would say the issue needs to be studied with greater depth than it sucks for the guy being bullied. What is the greater effect on the entire population?

"We should not discount something that harms 100% of people who experience it, and helps no one, because that behavior could be beneficial to our society" is an argument for eugenics as well.

The only way to overcome your bully is to face him, leave him or cope (learned the hard way)

I was bullied back in middle school, by a bunch of different kids. It was mostly two different groups.

It was due to my funny accent, as we had moved abroad during my formative years, and I was speaking another language when we moved back a couple of years later.

It all ended when I beat the living crap out of one bully. He was a small guy, and I was already a head taller than most in my class. I just blacked out, and used him as a punching bag after one of his regular snide remarks.

He ended up in the hospital with both eyes glued shut, broken nose, and concussion. Teachers and parents were shocked.

But I was never bullied after that.

I don't advocate violence, but for me, that's unfortunately what worked.

(In a interesting twist of faith, years later I actually ended up becoming good friends with some of the bullies, because of shared hobbies, and them maturing)

It's hit and miss for the most part really.

I remember confronting my bully in primary school - he stopped after that.

But my friend from secondary school who one day finally snapped gained nothing from his confrontation.

And if the bully is your parents, which of these do you recommend?

Edit: sorry, that was an unnecessary response by me. Clearly you weren't thinking in those terms. Apologies.

Until you can separate yourself, learn to cope. Start with "Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents".

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Adult-Children-Emotionally-Immature-P...

That can work when it's a lone bully. It's a horrible idea if you're dealing with a pack. They have to retaliate to maintain their position.

Bullies themselves need counselling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment. We focus so much on the victims, we also need to focus on the perpetrators and see them as victims as well if not of anything else than their own psychology.

Western bullying literature suggests that bullying is more like a position that people step in and out of, whereas victimhood is sticky to the individual. It’s easier to predict victims than bullies, and it’s difficult to predict how long someone will remain in the bully position.

Bullying predicts general protective effects on the individual and social well-being. It also predicts that peers will rate the bully well, even when the victim rates the bully. This is to say that bullying has a big bystander component (the public reviews the act), and that bullies may do better than the normal population.

People who are both bullies and victims experience characteristics from both populations.

Yeah in any school the anti-bullying campaigns are pathetic charades 9 out of 10 times as the amazing selective perception of teachers and faculty strikes again and again to "whatever is an annoyance to them".

That is the true reason for lasting trauma and damage to victims - why they cheer at the deaths and destitution of their tormentors decades later. Because finally the assholes get what they deserve. Those who express horror get flipped the bird because they were the same sort of complicit assholes.

Frankly I think the answer is to just put children who bully in special education programs where they’re taught basic social skills. If they lack the interpersonal skills to not bully, they need remedial instruction in them.

Your comment has obviously split opinion here, but I think it mirrors the way that society is split in the justice debate.

Approach 1: "People who hurt other people should be hurt back"

Approach 2: "We should try to understand why people hurt other people"

I used to think these were correlated with political spectrum (approach 1 on the right, appraoch 2 on the left). But these patterns happen across the spectrum.

These two aren't easily reconcilable. Approach-2-type-people, such as myself, think that this is the only real way to reduce harm and that approach 1 only makes everything worse, and continues the cycle of abuse.

I think it's emcumbent on approach 2 to try and understand why people act like approach 1.

> Approach 1: "People who hurt other people should be hurt back"

This seems to be the approach used by many (most?) people in online forums when discussing controversial topics. "Your opinion hurts me, so I'm going to be as offensive as possible in return". It doesn't seem to work very well. HN is maybe a bit more approach #2.

I certainly find the centre of gravity on HN interesting. As a European I wonder how much is US centric, tech or silicon valley.

Everyone has unknown biases though. I'm sure that most people are a mix, with the result of cognitive dissonance.

Basic game theory element - reciprocity. If there are no consequences there is nothing to lose from being an asshole. Hence the behaviors seen when people they have or believe they have impunity.

> I think it's emcumbent on approach 2 to try and understand why people act like approach 1.


As members of the public, it's highly likely that we've both seen others be burned by trying to take approach 2. And have ourselves been burned by trying to take approach 2. After all, many crimes have very high rates of recidivism.

These experiences tend to model how we approach other people in the future.

And to be honest, it's not really a 'wrong" approach that "only makes everything worse". At some point, the question of approach 3 "removing a person from society" is a valid question when it comes to reducing harm.

I never quite understood the pragmatic purpose of Approach 1.

If punishment has no measurable, positive effect - why do it?

Combine with Hanlon’s razor and indeed - victims become bullies when they default to Approach 1 when harm (rather than misunderstanding) is perceived.

> If punishment has no measurable, positive effect - why do it?

Maybe you never understood it because you implicitly assume that punishment can't have measurable, positive effect. What's the basis of that assumption?

Punishment is a deterrent though, at least for somewhat rational and premeditated acts, so it has an effect (though it's hard to quantify exactly). It's not a linear effect (as in threat of twice punishment = twice as effective as a deterrent), but it's certainly not zero.

Additionally, punishment often goes hand in hand with making it harder/impossible to re-offend. If you're in prison, you're not breaking into anybody's house.

I've posted this before but I think it bears repeating: Study after study[1] has shown that an individual's perception of the likely punishment (e.g., prison time) doesn't deter crime. Rather, an individual's perception of the likelihood they'll get caught seems to be the main deterrent.

This is a really interesting & related read.[2]



That was my point regarding it not being a linear relationship and only working on somewhat rational actors (not on somebody that is on drugs and completely out of their mind for example). Getting caught is irrelevant if it has no consequence at all. If there is zero punishment (meaning no negative consequences and you get to keep the loot), but you are 100% sure to get caught, you have incentive to commit e.g. robbery, but zero incentive not to. If the punishment isn't negative (i.e. "you get $1000 for getting caught"), getting caught is also irrelevant. Getting caught only becomes relevant when it has consequences you'd prefer to avoid: punishment.

The point isn't that punishment isn't a deterrent, it's the only external deterrent (and you could argue that a bad conscience is self-punishment). It's that the likelihood of getting caught is a very important factor, not so much the severity of the punishment.

In RTS games, there's the idea of overkill: a unit (or set of units) does so much damage that it would kill the attacked unit multiple times. That's a problem, because you waste a lot of the damage, it's generally more efficient to do less damage more often for the same DPS (damage per second). I believe that you can think about punishment in a similar way. With the likelihood of punishment staying the same (for example: 10%), a hike of "somebody stares angrily at you" to "you spend 10 years in prison" very much acts as a deterrent. You get barely any more value out of that being 20 years though, because of "over-deterrence". Here as well, the same punishment with more frequency (=likelihood of punishment) would be more efficient.

The likelyhood is being caught may be the metric that determines the effectiveness of a deterrent over the severity of the punishment, but being caught implies that there is at least some negative consequence.

So in order to be a deterrent there must be punishment. Increasing the severity will do little to increase the effectiveness, but increasing the likelyhood of getting caught will.

> If punishment has no measurable, positive effect - why do it?

But it does, the positive effect is in the mind state of the punisher, or the Type-1 people being discussed here.

Now you're right of course, the punishment does not improve the situation, but it sure gives these folks that little squirt of feel-good chemicals and that's what really matters to them.

If the original problem was a lifetime of low self-esteem of the victim after being bullied, then it seems they have improved their outlook over the long term - rather than the ephemeral boost you imply.

Because the wronged demand justice, and to see your bully now cut down to size, is to be given back a sense that there is justice.

That's what I mean about it being incumbent to try to understand. It may not be "logical" but it still happens, so we should try to work out why.

Perhaps there is some evolutionary reason. Perhaps it is, itself, part of the cycle of abuse. Perhaps it's just easier to be nasty than nice.

I'm not sure those are actually opposing positions. I believe that a stronger split is how important it is to stop the behavior. Imprisoning somebody will immediately stop their behavior and will provide safety for their victims, but we don't want to use an extreme tool like prison to solve a minor infraction (like, say, shoplifting). It seems to me that the debate is often about what is appropriate, where what you describe as "Approach 1" people prefer to err in too strong a measure that makes sure the behavior is stopped, while others prefer to err on the other side, i.e. is it more important to allow a bully to go to school (or live in freedom within society for larger issues), or is it more important to protect other students from them, and how much bad behavior do we accept, how many chances do they get to alter their behavior etc?

Approach 1 seems quite natural. If I do something—in general—and find that it results in my suffering, I will normally take that into account when I consider doing the same thing again, and possibly avoid it because of it. In this sense I don't think that getting slapped or putting your hand on the stove for the first time are significantly different. You learn the consequences and adapt.

In the case of a bully, though, there may be so much at stake for the bully that it outweighs the suffering associated with getting beaten up or otherwise punished for it. Wishing to e.g. maintain his social status, he may double down instead of reacting in a way that seems appropriate given the obvious consequences. This is where I think approach 2 becomes useful. What is it that the bully thinks is at stake? etc.

Before that, who cares? Kids will be kids and will fight and bicker. That's how they learn what their boundaries and what the consequences of their actions are so that they can grow up to be healthy adults. I think that inflicting pain and suffering as a direct response to injustice may be an excellent way to keep misbehaving adults in check as well, but it seems more likely in adult age that there is an underlying psychological problem that needs to be addressed, perhaps one that could have been addressed during adolescence.

> I think it's emcumbent on approach 2 to try and understand why people act like approach 1.

For many (most?) people, it's just a matter of values. Punishment of evildoers, justice, revenge, enforcement of the law, are not judged on the merits of preventing future offences, they're desirable in their own right.

These values are widespread and are part of the 'natural' or 'default' repertoire of human social behavior. Different cultures encourage them to different extents, and channel them differently, and of course differ a lot on what is offensive and deserving of punishment and how much. But I don't think it's difficult to understand why people desire these things.

Even if everyone agrees that rehabilitative justice is better for reducing crime, it's a separate moral decision to value reducing crime over other things like justice (fairness) or punishment (negative consequences for infringing on rights).

> Bullies themselves need counselling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment

I'd replace "rather than" with "in addition to".

You really want to make a must to punish children? If you get in there early there shouldn't be an in addition to.

Prison is a final measure when all other measures have failed. Even with prison, first time offenders of non-serious crimes usually do not do time or are diverted to other programs to help them avoid this fate. I just love how all the nerds here are going crazy over letting bullies off the hook initially to try to reform them -- it's as if they all want to bully the bullies.

What are you teaching a victim when both he and his bully receive only the same general kind of feel-good therapy?

Yeah. The downvotes are unwarranted. Both the bullies and victims of bullying are suffering. It’s just that generally the bully is unaware he’s suffering. And yeah to be clear punitive revenge is ugly in all cases and leaves no one better off.

Let's focus on the actual victims first though, and stop the bullies. There is a meta-argument with regards to free will and whether and how much choice we have in the things we do, but that's a very different discussion (albeit an interesting one) and shouldn't be confused with the one about the bully's acts and immediate (and long term) results.

Taking care of the victims today does not exclude taking care of the bullies as well.

Stopping them does not mean only punishment, but counselling (and sometimes, because they were themselves victims of abuses).

Given that resources are limited, choices have to be made regarding priority.

From that perspective, stopping a bully is more effective than helping a victim, because bullies often have more than one target.

That would be the purely financial angle (provided that it's accurate), it doesn't take into account who deserves the help more (which is a moral judgement and is hard to agree on) and how much more. If somebody attacks somebody else and hurts themselves in the process and they both end up needing a new kidney and only one transplant is available, who gets it?

Instead of punishing robbers, why don't we just give them enough money to live luxurious lives so they aren't tempted to rob any more people?

> If somebody attacks somebody else and hurts themselves in the process and they both end up needing a new kidney and only one transplant is available, who gets it?

bad analogy, because in this case it's more like one person's kidney got destroyed and the other lost a lung.

You want different types of specialists to deal with victims vs bullies. Assigning the wrong type will probably just make things worse.

> Instead of punishing robbers, why don't we just give them enough money to live luxurious lives so they aren't tempted to rob any more people?

One could argue that's part of the idea behind Universal Basic Income. That if your needs are being met by UBI, you really "shouldn't" have a reason to need to rob, so at that point they don't have any excuses. (I have skepticism about that in practice, but I get the concept at least.)

> You want different types of specialists to deal with victims vs bullies.

Both cost money (=resources). Money is limited. Who do we focus on?

As for that theory on "no excuses": UBI is more or less reality in large parts of Europe, yet crime still exists.

UBI isn't a reality in large parts of Europe. There might be a handful of local experiments here and there but nothing on the scale that "large parts of Europe" suggests.

That's why I added "more or less". Housing, health insurance and essentials being taken care of by the state + cash money is UBI for these intents and purposes. It's only given to the poor, and society would prefer if you didn't require assistance, but the argument was that it would decrease crime because people needn't worry about finances as much, for which it serves as functionally equivalent. Whether you call it UBI, Hartz 4, Kontanthjælp or something else is mostly semantics with regards to "if people get money, they won't commit crimes".

UBI has other parts which aren't covered in that regard, but those aren't relevant to the question of crime motivated by poverty.

> Bullies themselves need counselling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment

So, criminals also, by that logic, themselves need counseling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment ?

Yes, exactly that, everything I read says rehabilitating prisoners greatly reduces re-offending.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t go to prison for a crime. While in prison it shouldn’t be just a punishment, the isolation is the punishment, the idea should be providing the help needed inside so when they come out they do not re-offend.

I hate these types of questions. It's never clear what position the person who asks the question is taking.

In favor of punishment: Victims and relatives want compensation and since it is impossible to restore every situation, especially if the perpetrator has no money, destroyed something irreplaceable or killed someone, we want them to pay with their time instead. The primary goal is making the victims happy and preventing crime can take a back seat to that.

In favor of counseling: Law enforcement lags behind the actual rule violation. Someone is a criminal only after they have committed a crime. Therefore if your policy only targets criminals then it is already too late. It can't undo any damage and it cannot prevent any future damage after the criminal has been released. When they are released the reason they committed a crime didn't disappear. The perpetrator himself obviously didn't benefit from the punishment (in other words: he doesn't need punishment). Therefore the deterrence effect completely disappears and increasingly tough punishments do not influence the recidivism rate. Now imagine instead of targeting criminals after they have committed a crime we instead try the opposite. Suddenly we gain the ability to prevent a crime which is something the punishment only route doesn't allow us to do. So yes people definitively need help so they don't have to resort to committing crimes.

>So, criminals also, by that logic, themselves need counseling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment?

Are we reading the same Hacker News? I see that statement expressed in like every fifth thread.

Actually, yes, they do.

You want this, especially when you know they will one day get out of jail.

Not only that, they will have wives, girlfriends, and children; they may eventually have employees. You can not stop them period. They are a part of the human population. They can not be weeded out.

Bullies bully when they know they can get away with it (so does criminals). I just fail to follow your narrative.

I would alternatively suggest to make the punishment severe and make sure bullies can't get away with it.

> Bullies bully when they know they can get away with it (so does criminals).

If they are facing reparations like rehabilitation they got caught.

> I would alternatively suggest to make the punishment severe and make sure bullies can't get away with it.

Harsher punishments do not deter people from committing crimes [0]

I get the sentiment but if you want results you got to face the reality.

[0] https://www.amnestyusa.org/a-clear-scientific-consensus-that...

The question you're not asking is "why are people engaging in these behaviours?"

You don't have to deter people from engaging in bad behaviour if those people don't feel motivated to engage in those behaviours in the first place.

They get motivated when their peers condone it. You and I are the bully. We just need the “right” environment.

Peers who condone bullying are probably being manipulated into doing so, by someone with narcissistic traits who is skilled at whipping up hate towards the intended victims. It's not a normal attitude at all, it's very much a red flag that something quite nasty is going on.

It’s very common and very natural. We all try to find our in- and by extension, out-group.

Narcissists just make the problem much, much worse.

Yes, they do.

What would you like the point of your country's justice system to be? To be a venue for state controlled vengeance, where the victims (or the friends and family of a victim if somebody died) get to enjoy the fact that at least the criminal got their life ruined as well?

Or would you like it to be to attempt to deal with criminals in a fashion that reduced recidivism as much as is possible, allowing for compensation of victims where reasonable and possible, but providing explicitly no vengeance-based 'compensation'?

Because a justice system is going to look radically different depending on which option you want (especially if you're trying to optimize it so it does what you want it to do well, fairly, and cheaper than alternatives) – and the anti-recidivism style leads to vastly lower levels of crime. It's also vastly cheaper for society.

When you feel outrage at a child molester getting 5 years in a comfy jail cell, getting a state-paid education to boot – that's your sense of vengeance being offended. Be aware that satisfying it is incredibly expensive.

When you feel outrage at a child molester that gets out after 15 years and strikes again soon after – that's presumably you being upset that the justice system is, based on a rather lacking 'anecdotal evidence of 1', not doing its proper job.

Even if punishment isnt the point at all, incarceration and other restrictions of personal freedoms are likely required. How do you prevent recurrence of the crime?

There are some drastic options available. You could, purely out of economic expediency, just execute all criminals. But even if you're morally okay with that drastic measure, in practice that has a lot of externalities. so, _IF_ you free criminals at some point, it makes very little sense NOT to focus on reducing recidivism rates.

One could consider the punishment itself as an anti-crime measure: Use the fact that if you are convicted of a crime, you will be punished, as a deterrence. For some types of crime it works well, but for many, it has barely any effect. Crimes of passion and sexual deviancy just aren't reduced by measurable rates by increasing the punishment if caught and convicted, for example.

Add it all up? Yes, please. Provide counsel to criminals before you consider the punishment (but, as they ARE criminals, if the most effective counsel the state can provide requires significant reductions in personal freedoms, by all means).

> So, criminals also, by that logic, themselves need counseling on managing their own needs and emotions rather than punishment ?

The point of prison to rehabilitate so yes. If we are just putting people in prison to get rid of them then why not actually get rid of them? If you don't believe in rehabilitation then life in prison is an expensive and cruel torture in comparison to just ending them.

Maybe if you counselled them and taught them how to manage their own needs and emotions many of them would not become criminals saving society many ills.

You can not eliminate the personality that needs bullying to validate themselves from the population. You can however hep them channel those needs into other things like entrepreneurship and leadership. To productively shape their needs for power over people rather than harassing and harming them.

This suggests that the bully/criminal didn't already knew that. Most bullies i have seen didn't become bully because of some trauma.... its just fun to dominate (not even validation IMO).

Anegdotically, I know one bully from high school, who was trying to bully even me in college first year, but he changed, was a good friend and managed to get award for best results from education minister. So not all bullies are bulies for fun. All it took was a change of surroundings (he and two his friends were from "bad" primary school, all of them changed).

Most of the destructive/negative emotions and behaviours someone exhibits, comes from a lack of self-awareness.

No, they deserve to be punished. Is there counselling for rapists?

Oh yes. Those clever psychologists even invented a counselling system that increased the rate of reoffending from 8% to 10%:


Edit: Obviously I would be in favour of counselling that decreased the rate of reoffending.

There should be. Society would be the better for it.

Bullies often reflect the environment they're grown into: bad, absent, abusive or too demanding parents etc. They should be helped before resorting to punishment, but any attempt is deemed to fail if their family refuses to cooperate, which is the most likely case since it implies admitting they suck at parenting.

Every bully I knew anything about their home situation the fundamental problem was parents that supported the bullying. They would punish their children for wrongdoing they observed but they categorically would not believe any wrongdoing reported by others.

A prime example, the kids next door when I was growing up. They were younger than I was and never would try anything alone but two-on-one they would sometimes. (Usually when a third troublemaker was on the scene.) One time I was defending myself against an attack with a belt, I disarmed him and threw the belt into the vines growing on our house--high enough up that it would require a ladder to reach. When the belt was recovered the buckle was missing--they called the cops saying I must have stolen it. Just from talking to them the cop figured out I was acting in self defense, I had no possible way of having stolen the buckle (the instant I had control of the belt I threw it), the buckle must have come off when I threw it, bad luck for them. If the cop could figure that out so could their parents--yet they still felt I had stolen it since it couldn't be found. (Turns out there must have been a crack-the-whip effect, the buckle came off and flew completely over our house. We found it in a flower pot on the other side of the house two years later.)

I agree with you. If you are a child then you are almost entirely dependent on your home and school environment for cues on social development. If a child is bullying another kid then you can almost guarantee it is a problem with their home or with the school.

Well, guess what's the biggest "problem with (the) school" - the inability to get away from a bad environment. And you can't fix that with counseling alone - you actually have to figure out who the worst offenders are, and punish them consistently. The more you can deprive those folks of the social influence among their peers that's what they crave most, the better for everyone else.

"The more you can punish people who are broken socially the more they learn"

Punishing a kid is not going to help them get over the fact that their mom abuses them or they don't have a dad or that they are not safe in their neighborhood, etc.

Punishment is good, but it can further traumatize or ingrain a kid into their bad behavior. Speaking from personal experience, I remember in elementary school I got very harshly punished and shamed for bullying a kid in my class. After that year I lost almost all my friends, and I was honestly traumatized. I still don't have many or any friends if I am being honest, and I think the situation would have been a lot different if they sat me down and talked to me instead of making me feel like a criminal.

Punishment does not really work to curb bullying, and often does more harm than good. Like your not going to have violent bullying for the most part, but you can't stop other types of bullying with punishment.

It doesn't have to be "very harsh" punishment. What's more important is that it be consistent.

In my experience as the target of bullying, talking to the bully doesn't really work, either.

As a target of bullying and a bully myself, teacher intervention or punishment rarely worked either. I was talking more therapy or something like that, or investigation into school environment/ classroom.

The bigger problem is what it does to the victims.

If you have no possible escape from the situation, you end up falling into learned helplessness -- nothing I do can affect it, so why fight it. Maybe if I pretend to be dead, the predator will get bored with me and find some other prey...

Most of the worst/most visible bullies probably have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies. Counseling is totally useless on those folks because they don't really have normal emotions in the first place. "Their own psychology" is all about thinking of the world in zero-sum terms, where they win if others lose.

The only approach that can partially make up for such an attitude is cognitive-behavioral training, and then only for those who are smart enough that the lessons can sink in, overcoming their distrust of others, authority figures etc.

> Counseling is totally useless on those folks because they don't really have normal emotions in the first place.

I think most bullies are not psychopaths, considering that many don’t stay bullies their entire life.

But the worst bullies probably are. Thwart the psychopaths first, and you'll probably find that others will lack any reason to bully in the first place - they will no longer be thinking of it as "normal".

Not all psychopaths are bullies. They can learn to behave even if they lack the emotions to care about others.

that's a huge assumption you're making.

Narcissists and Sociopaths make up 1% of the population each. To characterise most young bullies as narcissists/sociopaths when A - Their brains are still developing, and B - They're at an impressionable age where their sociability is highly moulded by their environment (e.g. parents) is disingenuous.

I suspect we have even worse matters than the 1% - they are often contagious as you see their actions and rationalizations adopted by not technically sociopaths and narcissists because they are rewarded for it. And just like other conditioned for behavior done independently of when it would actually help them.

Everyone has sociopaths and narcissistic tendencies to varying degrees. But to say that "most" bullies are sociopaths or narcissists that can't be helped like OP said (before editing their comment) misunderstands people period.

Adolescents don't have the developed perception of consequence as adults, and yet OP is already pinning them with mental disorders that can't be resolved. Pure speculation that is outright wrong.

In the case that you mention with learned anti-social behaviours, counselling can most definitely help with unmapping/correcting those behaviours.

> "most" bullies are sociopaths or narcissists

Um, I never said that. I talked about tendencies, just like you did. It's not very meaningful to say what bullies "are", but bullying does generally involve at least some degree of instrumental aggression and callous/unempathetic attitudes. Such attitudes might arise out of simple imitation like you said, but only if someone else is actively demonstrating them - and this will generally be someone in the peer group who holds significant social influence on others.

> you see their actions and rationalizations adopted by not technically sociopaths and narcissists

Yup, that's the real issue. The sociopaths and narcissists may only be 2% to 4% of the population but those are the actual bullies, so to speak - those who are most clever at manipulating others into adopting similar behaviors and attitudes. Thus some youths who seem to be bullies may actually be victims of manipulation by somebody they look up to, but they will stop their behavior once the attitude around them changes for the better.

We don't have meaningful treatment.

I used to worry about this kind of thing, but after a while obverving the primate social behaviours on display on journalist/pundit/etc. Twitter I'm starting to be more worried about the damaging psychological effects of not being bullied enough at school. (Just half-joking.)

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