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Highest rates of teen bullying are between friends and friends-of-friends: study (ucdavis.edu)
208 points by thereare5lights 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 304 comments



I'm baffled that people are (or pretend to be) surprised by this. This should be completely obvious to anyone who's ever seen the inside of a high school.

What's actually going on is that rather than taking the uncomfortable step and questioning our current day school system where we send our kids to prisons (in anything but name), give them BS tasks for years and call it "education", the people in charge prefer to make the bullying problem one of the "socially disadvantaged" fringe groups, which allows them to throw public money at "anti bullying programs" and other pedagogical bullshit that target said fringe groups, so they can say "look, we're doing something!". Utterly disgusting.


I've seen just as much bullying at elective academic summer camps (e.g. Space Camp, JHU CTY), as at public schools. Both as a student and as a teacher. I don't agree that it's necessarily a product of the American public school system.

Particularly, in my experience, bullying tends to be exacerbated during periods of social uncertainty, such as a change in the class cohort. The bullies feel vulnerable and are looking to prove themselves, and the bullied are vulnerable, having not yet had any chance to form social support groups.


Totally agree, which is why I think junior high is often the worst when it comes to bullying. In my school district elementary schools (up to 6th grade) had about 100 kids per class, and they all fed into one massive junior high that had about 1500 kids total in 7th and 8th grades. Plus, that is the time when kids are going through puberty (often at vastly different rates and times), trying to figure out their own bodies and hormones.

Your description of "The bullies feel vulnerable and are looking to prove themselves, and the bullied are vulnerable, having not yet had any chance to form social support groups." was spot on in my experience.

Frankly, I don't understand the purpose of junior high at all, seems like it would make much more sense to just have elementary schools go up to, say, 8th grade, then go to a high school (lots of private schools already do this).


> junior high is often the worst

I worked at a summer camp for a few years. It's split into "sessions" for different age groups by grade level: 4/5, 6/7, 8/9, 10/11/12. It was staggering how bad the bullying was in the 8/9th grade session compared to all other grade levels. The rest of the groups barely ever had any issues at all other than isolated, subjective cases, while the 8th/9th grade sessions would almost all have HUGE drama with kids (boys and girls both) changing friend groups, kicking kids out of their group, and joining new groups, all within the span of one week at camp. More drama than a reality TV show, it was nuts.

I agree about eliminating middle school / junior high. It's too narrow a band of ages, they aren't exposed to enough more mature kids to learn how to act, or much less mature kids to show them a reflection of what they used to be like.


I had the impression that the goal was to narrow the bullying to each other, so they don't pick on the younger ones and get picked on by the older ones. If they happen to learn anything in the meantime, great, but it really felt more like I was being warehoused through puberty than anything else.


That is how it is done in many European countries - elementary school has eight grades (used to be nine a few decades ago in some places), then it's 4-6 years of high school, and then optionally a college.


Worth noting is that some countries such as Poland switched away from this system 2 decades ago and experienced exactly all the issues attributed here to 6 grade elementary schools. They have since switched back to 8 grade elementary school.


Those kinds of summer camps usually mimic the structure of school systems, so I don't see how you're disproving anything with that example.


Yes, the analogy between school and prison is spot on.

In everyday life, if an environment/person bothers you, you can simply CHOOSE to deal with it if it's worth it or avoid it if it's not. Schools and prisons are closed systems where the social hierarchy inevitably gets established and constantly contested.

As someone who has been on both sides of the game telling kids not to fight back is counterproductive. If the situation is handled correctly it can become an incredible opportunity for growth.


> Yes, the analogy between school and prison is spot on.

In general, I don't agree with this. However, after reading a couple of prison experts argue that prison gangs, and most prison violence could be eliminated simply by reducing the size of the prisons. They argue that prison gangs are a rational response to the inability to make prisons safe for prisoners, and that inability is simply a question of prison size.

I wonder if a similar effect isn't present in modern public schools. That above a certain size it. becomes impossible to maintain an environment which is physically and psychologically safe for the students.


[deleted]


Packs behave as packs.


Bullying happens everywhere regardless of group size. All it takes is the wrong mix of personality types and lack of impartial, interventionist supervision


Er, right, the question is about how size affects the ability to have effective supervision. You also need to at least try to have supervision, but I think that's taken for granted by the proposal to make things smaller (I guess assuming that lack of interventionist supervision now is due to it failing in the large group, and will come back at smaller scale).


I dunno about that. I went to a smaller private school (~60 kids per grade in middle school, ~100 per grade in high school), and we certainly had bullying. maybe this is already too large? I didn't simultaneously attend a large public school, so I can't say whether there was a difference in degree.

we probably had more teachers per student, so more supervision, but I can't say that really helped. kids wouldn't physically attack each other in front of a teacher, but a lot of the verbal bullying was coded in a way (nicknames, in-group slang) that it wasn't obvious to an adult that it wasn't playful. the kids all knew exactly what was going on though.


Maybe the problem is not related to size of the school but only related to the fact that kids have no choice in going there?

In the adult world, in most cases you aren't forced to go anywhere and only do so because you have a good reason, whether it's the workplace (earning money), universities (learning things because you need that knowledge), etc. Most people go into an establishment with a goal in mind, work towards that goal and have little time nor motivation for things like bullying.

School is different because kids have no say in the matter, so even if they aren't interested in learning (because the coursework is boring, irrelevant, etc) have to go there and waste ~8 hours a day and need to occupy themselves. Typical sources of entertainment (television, video games, etc) are forbidden so bullying, or similar anti-social activities happens to fill the gap. This results in a lose-lose situation; kids that aren't interested in the coursework are having a miserable time and entertain themselves by making the environment miserable for everyone else (both other pupils as well as the school staff).


For a year of middle school and a couple years in high school, I went to a "distinguished" secular private prep school in Oklahoma City. I think there were 60 to 80 students per grade, with small class sizes, much smaller than public schools. And let me tell you, there was plenty of bullying there. It was endemic.

One of my regrets is that I didn't just drop out of high school at 15 and get my GED. I took the ACT test twice, once at 15 and once at 18, and there wasn't really a difference in my score. I suppose the one real difference is that the second time, I had fewer fucks to give, and a buddy smoked a joint with me before I took the test.

The only institutions in life that I know of where you are forced to attend and prohibited from leaving on your own recognizance are school, prison, and a mental health facility to which one is involuntarily committed. Perhaps nursing homes are another.

That said, I have a lot of respect for the teaching profession. I had some truly incredible teachers.


I doubt that a larger school has more bullying per student. In large schools the students tend to subdivide into non-intersecting groups (e.g. nerds, jocks, rednecks, punks, etc). I went to a medium/largish high school and there were kids in my graduating class that I had never met, did not know their name, etc. Kids in these differnt groups largely left each other alone, because they did not compete for the any of the same things. Fights were usually between members of the same group.


I suspect you may be right that even ~400 or ~500 students is too many.

This is just an anecdote. I went from an enriched program with a high school of about 500 students, which was quite wonderful, but still had the usual high school social issues, to another enrichment school of about 60 students. It was socially different. Everyone knew everyone well. You had to get along.


I remember being relentlessly bullied during a specific period as a kid. Only when I decided to decisively fight back did it end and it ended immediately. It’s a lesson I won’t be forgetting.


Same experience. And I lost the fight badly.

Just showing that you have the ability to strike back is often enough.

Oddly, became friends with my tormenter and had a lot in common.


I've seen the same thing happen with one of my kids, including the development of a friendship.

Grandfather was right -- if you get hit, hit back, twice as hard.


Does this advice work for any difference in sizes between the people? I suspect if one is so small as to not pose any threat at all and/or take on extra damage, it would end badly for them more often than not.


For me... yes. I was significantly smaller and was only able to weakly punch his chest. I got punched in the face and got a black eye and a sore skull.

As an adult the concept works. Bees can’t hurt me significantly, and even when they land an attack they die - but I go out of my way to leave them alone.


> I suspect if one is so small as to not pose any threat at all and/or take on extra damage

The trick is to turn off the switch in your head that tells you to stop if you're in too much pain or something is very wrong. Only real lunatics will keep going at someone that fights like that, and those are pretty rare.


The bullying that I experienced was verbal. Hitting the bullies for saying mean things probably would have been overreacting (and lead to me getting in trouble), but it was happening in class so I couldn't "walk away" either.


I experienced a lot of bullying in middle school (junior high I guess in the US), almost everyone in the school called me the fag (le pédé in French). This was in the 90s so at that time homosexuality was much less accepted than it is today. It was verbal, I didn't fight back and had a hell of a year.

When I went to highschool, someone in the class came up with a new nickname for me, despite much smaller than that person I fought back, I punched him as hard as I could, got badly punched back too. But after that, no one ever called me by that nickname.

When my son goes to school, I will tell him to fight back in case of bullying. It's the way the world works and if I had known that in middle school, I would have had a much better time and wouldn't have had thoughts of suicide.


>Yes, the analogy between school and prison is spot on.

Well, only in the sense that the analogy between prison and society is "spot on".

>In everyday life, if an environment/person bothers you, you can simply CHOOSE to deal with it if it's worth it or avoid it if it's not

There are myriads of ways you can't just "chose" (from not wanting to make a fuss, from them being powerful and that would turn against you, from you needing a job, and tons of other things besides).


It also supports another common sense observation, which is that mixed-age schooling results in much better behavioral outcomes. Kids don’t obsess over their place in the artificial Lord of the Flies hierarchy when there are younger and older kids around to provide frequent role reversals.


One primary thing that stands out as actual humanity are behaviors which are almost never dominant in any other beings, and which further the progress of true civilization.

Which is of course supposed to be civil if nothing else.

Anything less is realistically a lack of human nature, often still remaining along a not-completely-civilized continuum.

So _human nature_ should never be used as an excuse for uncivil behavior, and further progress can best be made by recognizing _lack of human nature_ as the problem instead.

This should be obvious to behaviorists but once you go there you've got to figure lots of them would need more _common sense_, except there still remains some prevalence to _common lack of sense_ . . .


Has that been studied?


Anecdota:

Mixed-age groups of home-schooled kids (e.g., at co-op events) tend to just play, with the older ones typically watching out for the younger kids, whether they are siblings or not.

Mixed-age groups of formally-schooled kids begin by setting up a hierarchy that usually depends on grade in school* and then is continually refined.

* H-S kids in a mixed group are immediately marked as outsiders by this question. They either don't know or operate at different levels in different subjects.


Home schooled kids are typically in groups of far, far smaller sizes. The social dynamics of a high school with 2000 students is naturally going to be different than the dynamics of a home school of a dozen or so.


I think the point is that the ingrained dynamics continue even when the context / group size evens out later.


>Has that been studied?

Depends on how studious you are.


Every public school will be analogous to a prison no matter how good, because children have no choice on the matter. If you want to change the dynamic there the only solution is school choice because children simply must go to school, letting them (and their parents) choose which school is the right one is the way to improve the child's well being and make them feel like they have control over how they spend 200 days of their year.


I grew up in a school system where families had the ability to switch schools.

It did not solve any of the problems you mention. In fact, it introduced a new set of problems where some number of students (and parents) at every school would conclude that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence no matter what. Most of the students who switched schools struggled to make friends or were frustrated that the switch didn’t automatically solve their social problems.

In retrospect, I realize I learned a lot about social maturity by staying one place with a semi-random group of people that I had to learn how to work with.


> Most of the students who switched schools struggled to make friends or were frustrated that the switch didn’t automatically solve their social problems.

What do you think the reason was?


Denver Public Schools has a forced school choice program. In that each parent/guardian must register what school they want their student to go to; there is no default. All schools in DPS are charter schools, with many different focuses and education tactics. It may sound a bit odd, but it's been working for the ~90k students for a few years now.

That said, bullying doesn't seem to be any less or more at DPS. Some quick googling seems to show a few cases of 'extreme' bullying in the local news, but nothing I can really point at to say the bullying is less or more. In the absence of really any stats or evidence, I'd assume bullying is probably the same as in other large metro districts.


My cousin had a getting bullied problem in elementary school. His mom switched his school 6 times to no avail.

My other cousin had a similar problem, his mom switched his school 3 times and in the end he wanted to go back to the first school. In the meantime, he fell way behind in his learning.


Mental health is waaay more important than anything you could ever possibly learn in school.


Why do you think his problem did not get solved?


Students wouldn't get to choose their school under your so called "choice" suggestion, their parents would, or it would be assigned based on how wealthy the parents are or their location or where their parents could afford transportation or which school is willing to take them or lottery results or whatever.

As long as kids get arrested if they don't attend the prison analogy applies.


In my area, diocesan Catholic schools are very popular, but they don't really seem to solve the bullying issue.


One of the side-effects of the current pandemic, at least in the US, is that dysfunctional educational institutions have been revealed for what they are. There's a lot of talk about a realignment of priorities at the university level where students' money is directly at stake, but hopefully this will spur some positive changes for younger students also.


What are you talking about? The overwhelming message I hear is that people cant wait till schools open. And that includes also kids themselves.


Everyone wants them open, but mostly to eliminate the nuisances associated with child-care while working. I think a lot of parents hadn't realized just how messed-up their kids' schools actually were until now. (Edit: So, there are two separate problems: "Get my kids out of here so I can work and keep the lights on" and "Really?? That's all they've been getting all this time?")


My 4th grade son can crush his entire day of actual work in 30-45 minutes. I very much value the additional hours of socialization and fun that come from traditional schools, but it’s not a very efficient mechanism of scholastic/academic achievement.


> My 4th grade son can crush his entire day of actual work in 30-45 minutes.

Sounds like he's ready for an office job /s


I want my kids in school, because they actually learn more in school then in home school. And they enjoy that learning more. Homeschool did not made me realize how messed up school is. It made me realize teachers do more then I assumed.

And the stuff that is missing at home, even with video calls, is the more intersting stuff around communication. At home learning is slower and more composed of those less fun activities. That is also what my kids were telling me about what they miss from school.

This whole "now people see how horrible schools are" is not sentiment I an getting from people I know. They worry about kids learning less and are trying to figure out how to offset it, they worry about kids not socializing and so on. Maybe your school was horrible place, but the covid situation does not seem to prove that. Instead, it seem to make everyone including kids idealize the school.

I have two kids so they played together and they could play a lot more on tablets, so they were onle little bit more distractive then in person office gets.


>What are you talking about?

Is this just me or does this phrase come across as needlessly hostile?


I'm hugely critical of our industrial-age schooling system. But I think it's a mistake to suggest that bullying is only a factor in those schools. Bullying happens in families, in churches, in neighborhoods, in workplaces, in any environment where you have groups of people. Primates are big on dominance hierarchies, often violently enforced, and humans are definitely primates.

Everybody needs to learn how to deal with bullying. How to recognize it, how to combat it, how to build relationships and cultures that are proof against it. And if there are things we want everybody to learn, school doesn't seem like a bad place to start.


If you define bullying as preying on psychological and/or physical vulnerabilities, even parents, mothers included, do this. Its the quickest shortcut to addressing an anxiety or uncertainty on your part by displacing it onto the victim. Without external address, victims begin to identify with their suffering as a metaphysical certainty, something that must happen in order for the universe to keep on ticking correctly. Freud called this kind of adaptation a "secondary fixation" and can take years to peel back in order to address the core anxieties and uncertainty that's been deeply implanted.

It doesn't help that American culture has a particular distaste for empathizing with "weak people". Everybody is suppose to present some narrative of being a winner however narrowly scoped. It's no wonder "Chad or Virgin" memes are ubiquitous, people will never avow publicly to it but I suspect enough teeter on perceiving reality as if that kind of toxic binary was metaphysical in nature and therefore beyond empirical reproach.


Very insightful thank you


To have some significance, you'd need to link to a statement you wrote on this topic prior to the research being published. Otherwise this looks like you're just standing on the shoulders of giants to sing about how tall you are.

To be clear-- even if you had published your 2nd paragraph prior to this research being published, that wouldn't qualify as something that is "completely obvious." At the very least you would have needed to give a hypothesis as to why it is you think the current anti-bullying programs cannot work. That hypothesis would have needed to at least include something like, "in my experience people end up bullying their friends most of the time."

Otherwise, you can't convincingly claim the truth was obvious and people who didn't get it were likely pretending. Without the research, everyone just shrinks back to become little mice noisily speculating about the state of the world.

Edit: clarification


> To have some significance, you'd need to link to a statement you wrote on this topic prior to the research being published. Otherwise this looks like you're just standing on the shoulders of giants to sing about how tall you are.

Not GP, but I've been advocating that children learn to defend themselves, both physically and verbally for many years. Here's a gem from a little over five years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11111126

Confrontation is a part of life and it's important to understand response in kind. If someone in school makes fun of your shoes you don't run away or punch them in the face, you make fun of their shirt.

Anti-bullying can't work because the real world does not have referees jumping in to break up non-violent situations. Children need to learn to address their own situations and that the words of their peers are totally meaningless.


> ...you make fun of their shirt.

I agree that is an essential life skill, and I'd add that you have to judge the situation to know if that's appropriate.

Sometimes your verbal assailant is not playful, but emotionally unbalanced, and responding in-kind will only put them farther over the edge, maybe dangerously so. I've had good results by yelling back with equal volume, but neutral tone, saying things like "Good morning. How you doing today?" and received a befuddled, and much quieter "Oh, good morning."


Actually it’s possible for people to have opinions on matters where they are not a published author or academic.

Also “little mice noisily speculating about the state of the world” is a pretty good summary of a lot of academia.


Yeah we should burn the universities down


No but they could certainly use a little bit less "theory" and a little bit more "real world".


Tell that to the people who invented laser or who developed the theory of evolution or who refined economics with behavior or who put experimental evidence in front of theory in psychology or who insist on using data to uphold sociological theories.

I have no idea what you could possibly mean by this.

Do you want trade schools? Those exist.


"Too much theory" was the exact reason we studied RNA vaccines and have a fast, working covid vaccine.

I suppose math departments, being 100% theory, ought to go too


If some scientist comes to you and state "we proved that people can get hurt ridding bikes", it's fair to point out that there is little surprise about the formal proof of something so many people empirically experiment in their daily life.


You’re assuming the parent is arguing in bad faith which seems kinda pointless on the internet because only they know what’s in their head.

I had the same reaction as the parent but I was also mercilessly bullied in middle and high school. It’s no different than any other form of abuse in that you have no choice but to understand the social dynamic so that you can protect yourself.

I didn’t get bullied solely because I was nerdy, I got bullied because I was a nerdy kid who was trying to make friends.

I didn’t get bullied solely because I was queer, I got bullied because I was queer and tried to not be ashamed of it.

As soon as I accepted that my only permissible friends were the other misfits and queers then the bullying (mostly) stopped. It only started up again if as a group we started having too much fun in public because that started to threaten the popular kids’ position in school. If people saw us enjoying ourselves they might want to join us or shudder be like us. And that would make us… popular. Can’t have that.


pretty spot on from my experience. there were always a couple truly cruel kids who would pick on anyone they perceived as weak. but most bullying seemed to be for the purpose of defending group boundaries. people would mostly leave you alone if they didn't think you were trying to join a group that wasn't "for you".


I got lightly bullied in high school and the first part matches my experience: deciding that I didn’t care [very much] made it [mostly] stop, but if I let it get to me, it spiraled upward.


It’s unreasonable to assume that people who are part of a bureaucracy will publish serious, critical research about it.

It’s more convenient to find another problem to solve. For this issue today, we look at bettering the plight of gay eskimo pre-teens and declare victory over bullying.

I can tell you from personal experience as a member of a non-marginalized demographic who was relentlessly bullied in elementary school that bullying is not limited to any one type of target. In my case, a feckless bureaucracy and adult laziness were key enablers of bullying and bullying behavior. Personally, a amazing and brave teacher “saved” me and did so at his personal initiative and at his peril from a career perspective.


You are giving a lot of weight to the originality of academic institutions and their platforms as authorizers of knowledge.

There are plenty of examples of people knowing things, or seeing things as obvious, which are only much later acknowledged by academic research.

You are welcome to base your reality on what academia publishes, and accept that authority, but let’s be clear that this is what you are choosing to do.

Also, it’s worth looking at the majority of comments on this post. Most of them also appear to assume that the research’s result was obvious.


I'm baffled that people are (or pretend to be) surprised by this. This should be completely obvious to anyone who's ever seen the inside of a high school.

Obvious how? Not everybody is socially astute. Granted, I had never been bullied in high school but I wasn't much of a social operator.


That school is basically daycare (or a prison to some) is something I read often and there is maybe a tiny bit of truth in it.

But a school is also where you learn to read, write, speak, maths, some physics, some chemistry, etc.

In doubt I put my kid, from a very early age, in a top-notch private school in english (she's not a native english speaker).

My thinking being that, even if it's daycare/prison where nothing is taught (which I don't think is the case but I'm at least entertaining the idea), she's at least learning to speak english fluently : )


Bit if a side note: One thing about the “daycare myth” that bothers me, usually when it’s used to diminish the status of teachers, is how hard daycare workers work and how important that job is.


Don’t you see that you’re doing what the article describes, right now? Your shallow analysis and careless invective, somehow pointing the finger at school systems for something that is largely a result of human nature, is bullying. You’re throwing school systems under the bus for internet points.

Could schools handle bullying better? Probably. But your call for “questioning” is not at all constructive or actionable. To me you demonstrate only that what the article describes works just as well on hn as it does in schools. Dunking on easy targets for social standing.


> Don’t you see that you’re doing what the article describes, right now?

Clearly they are not doing what the article describes. No individuals were hurt by the writing of that comment.

> Your shallow analysis and careless invective,

Seems like you are trying to hurt the poster with this insulting dismissal. The poster is an individual who can be hurt.

> somehow pointing the finger at school systems for something that is largely a result of human nature, is bullying.

This is a false dichotomy. Bullying is clearly a result of human nature.

However an individual’s exposure to bullying is clearly a result of the social systems they are exposed to. If there are differences in incidence of bullying in different social systems, we can certainly say that systems are also a cause.

> You’re throwing school systems under the bus for internet points.

You are throwing an individual peer on HN under the bus for internet points. This is against HN guidelines, unlike critiquing a system.

> Could schools handle bullying better? Probably.

Seems like you think the current level of bullying may be the best we can do?.

> But your call for “questioning” is not at all constructive or actionable.

This is obviously totally false.

1. There are many alternative schooling systems, and many alternatives to schooling.

2. Many comments on this post are doing the exact questioning the commenter is calling for.

It’s certainly constructive to question the school system which results from government policy, and certainly actionable.

> To me you demonstrate only that what the article describes works just as well on hn as it does in schools. Dunking on easy targets for social standing.

The OP is critiquing an abstract system. You are attacking an individual. Which behavior fit the description in the above paragraph better?


Admittedly I came at the GP harder than I could have, but it's so easy to write off large diverse institutions as "fucking bullshit" and poison a discussion before it even starts that I think it was warranted (that was the top comment at the time). One of the things about bullying is it's so easy to walk around tossing bombs (metaphorically) that sometimes people don't realize what they're doing until one of those bombs explodes a little closer than usual.

The OP didn't critique anything. Simply decrying an entire institution isn't a critique, it's a denouncement. A critique involves analysis.

Also, if I violated HN guidelines, so have you, by calling me out in turn.


> if I violated HN guidelines, so have you, by calling me out in turn.

In a mild way, yes. The guidelines actually say to flag and not comment.

However, I didn’t try to insult you, and there is a difference.

This comment of yours result seems to be just doubling down.

> it's so easy to write off large diverse institutions as "fucking bullshit" and poison a discussion before it even starts

The commenter didn’t actually say this. You are misrepresenting them.

Also, they didn’t poison the discussion. It seems to have proceeded just fine, both in the replies to them, and elsewhere.


Can an individual bully a nationwide organization?


TBH, almost all internet discourse is: Post strategies: '<statement to grab internet points from like minded folk>'

Reply Strategies: '<Agree collaborate to get basked glory points>'

or

'<take down, by proving status difference between op and self - either by lowering op(insult /humiliate/mock/intimidate) / raising own status (showoff based on anything)>'


First, "human nature" is a logical fallacy straight away: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy

Second, in many existing societies outside of the US school bullying is extremely uncommon.


The Naturalistic fallacy is

  if something is 'natural' it must be good/desirable
I don't see that op said or implied that this was the case; They said something was 'human nature' (i.e. natural) ass opposed to the result of the school system. This doesn't imply that it is therefore desirable, but rather, that it is undesirable but not the result of the school system.


How exactly would you prove that school bullying is uncommon in schools? I highly doubt your second point is true. If you have some research it would be much appreciated.


> What's actually going on is that rather than taking the uncomfortable step and questioning our current day school system where we send our kids to prisons (in anything but name)

I'm surprised more people haven't read Michel Foucault's "Discipline and Punish", it sheds light on the way the prison became a blueprint for organizing labor, education, our very social fabric


> What's actually going on is that rather than taking the uncomfortable step and questioning our current day school system where we send our kids to prisons

The reasons for this are deliberate.

1. Parents are assholes. In poor areas many patents couldn’t give two shits about spending extra time to contribute to their child’s education. In rich areas the parents are at war with the teachers either because their little angel can do no wrong or because there is serious money on the table for scholarships.

2. Child performance is measured in numbers devised by standardized tests. The average of that performance is a primary determinate factor in state funding.

3. It would be nice if we taught children to think and to form original output. The sad reality is that most people, including adults, are utterly incapable of originality. Attempts to force that square peg into a round hole leaves many children behind while simultaneously confusing and infuriating parents.


1. Parents are assholes. In rich areas many parents doesn't give two shits about spending time with their kids as they are only interested in their job and friends.


It's baffling and yet it's not. Most people don't remember their childhoods very vividly, and high school is still in the cusp of childhood, especially these days. Combine that with our predilection to look back on the past with rose-colored glasses, and it's no wonder the education system is so bad.


This study isn’t even about school systems. It simply says that bullying is more common among friends than previously thought.

Previous anti-bullying efforts focused on non-friend bullies, leaving a blind spot to this bullying between friends.


Oh yeah, personally this insight was much closer to my time in a local music scene after high school compared to my classroom years.


>I'm baffled that people are (or pretend to be) surprised by this. This should be completely obvious to anyone who's ever seen the inside of a high school.

I think it should be a known idea to anyone who has ever seen a movie where a previously uncool kid gets accepted in to the cool kids group.


Sometimes the point of behavioral psych and sociology research is to take “what’s obvious” and collect the data to put a hard number on it. That way policy makers can justify putting money behind different approaches to address the problem...


Yepp, most western schools are more a social ladder creation apparatus than educational institutions. The scandinavian school system takes a very different approach. It's worth to have a look.


Could you maybe give a short explanation to how Scandinavian schools answer the bullying problem? I can't find anything that directly answers that question.


This movie captures it very well: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3215346/

Trailer [en]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_-KrJseVUo

It's very hard to describe shortly... maybe: They start with you as human being first. Abilities and talents to be discovered and developing a humane human who can face the world. They don't treat you like an animal in industrial livestock farming. It has many layers to it, e.g., regular teachers and kindergarden personnel have the social standing of a Professor in your country (assuming 1st world not scand). Teaching the young is understood (like REALLY understood) as one of the most important things a country can do for its future.


I'm still not seeing how this addresses school bullying in particular. I only watched the trailer though.

I've heard all these things about the scandinavian school system before. Bullying never came up as a topic.


What follows from the movie is that there are multi-professional teams at work.

That is, they don't have one teacher who decides about things and especially the fate of the individual pupil but teams containing, e.g., psychologists who decide about things in the regular day to day business.

Of course bullying is an issue there, too. It is pronounced wherever you have esp. social inequality, and minimizing only works approximately. However, they are thinking about this in a progressive and especially compile-ahead-of-time way. The first research on bullying emerged in the 1970ies from these countries actually. See: https://go.gale.com/ps/anonymous?id=GALE|A75022135


Okay I quite like this approach (assuming I understood it correctly).

Instead of a teacher whose job is primarily to educate, having to juggle the job of the emotional development of students that they will always see as a secondary task, there's a professional who is trained for that role who works directly for the school.


"Current day school system". Well, OK. But try reading about English public schools of the 19th or 20th Century. I gather that things were not much better in continental Europe.


It’d be a surprise to me. I was ethnically and culturally an outsider, and was bullied for that. It was rarely because of people I’d consider friends. When you’re different and othered, you’re targeted by the toxic masculinity crowd. It’s how the nerds ended up halfway together. High school was tame in the bullying regard. It was a magnet school full of dorks who were escaping the rest of society.


> When you’re different and othered, you’re targeted by the toxic masculinity crowd

Funny. The worst bullies in my schools growing up were the girls.


My memory is that girls bullied by emotional tactics: mocking, scorn, ostracizing, back-stabbing. Boys were more likely physical, though name-calling was also pretty common.


Girls can and are part of the toxic masculinity problem.


> which allows them to throw public money at "anti bullying programs"

And more employment for more teachers/guidance-counselors, etc.


I'm increasingly of the opinion that grouping school children with others kids their age is hugely damaging.

The major figures in most kid's lives are parents and teachers, who are in an authority position; siblings, who have a complex relationship that often turns competitive; and their school friends.

Kids are missing a chance to socialise with children who are older than them, learn from adults who are not in an authority role, and to care for and mentor younger children.

Instead they spend all their time with other kids who are have they exact same emotionally immaturity as they do. You get feedback loops of bad behaviour, and put them in bubbles where their peers and their psychopathic games (like bullying) make up 100% of their reality.

The only consistent counterpoint I can think of are cousins, who are typically slightly older or younger, and are outside of kids' normal peer groups. As a result these are often very positive relationships.


I've often thought this -- age stratification to our current degree is a relatively new (20th century?) phenomenon, and seems under-studied. I think the awareness came to my mind when I went to a number of mixed polka/swing dances back in like 1999 put on by the local Czech center. It was a rare mix of seniors doing traditional polka side by side with college students (who were brought in by the swing dancing) along with other adults, their kids, 5 year olds running around, etc... And then we'd do goofy dances like the Hokey Pokey or the Chicken Dance. (This was via the eclectic and fun band, "Brave Combo.") The entire mix felt weirdly... healthy.

One reason we chose a private girl's school for our daughter is that, along with traditional (horizontal) grades, it has "sister groups," which are vertical slices of girls from varying grade levels. These meet and socialize throughout the year.


You know I really think you're on to something there. I distinctly remember being in middle school and not wanting to associate with anyone my age. Few years older, great, few years younger, great. But it just wasn't pleasant to try to maintain friendships with my peers. The constant social competitiveness just really irked me. I always preferred one-on-one socializing rather than groups. If I didn't like how one of my older friends was treating me, well, I didn't have to knock on his door for awhile.

And when I started bullying the younger kids I would hang out with, I was able to reflect on it later and stop being such an ass. Course, it would come out anyway, but not being trapped in one single group of friends and having to derive my social identity from that made it much easier to self-adjust. Looking back on those years, it's pretty obvious now just how much of what I experienced back then was that pecking order mindset.


I don't know if I've thought about this before or what, but now that you've said it, it seems obviously true. Not that mixing older and younger little monsters is necessarily a panacea (I bet it would be rocky if you started tomorrow). But strict stratification can't be optimal.

Other point about cousin relationships: interaction typically happens in a context that includes other adults, another moderating influence. I think that also runs in favor of your point.


Insightful point. This kinda reminds me of stereotypical SV startups with only young employees. Without peers who are more experienced and often psychologically more well-equipped to handle adversity, you see a lot of situations that could otherwise be learning moments instead become blow ups.

I suppose that's not the only parallel. Absentee authority figures is another one.


I would say positive things about martial arts dojos, where the experienced students often practice with the less so students to pass down skills. At least my Judo one was like that.


Jiu Jitsu is the same way. I learn as much from “mentoring” lower belts as I do from training with upper belts. I also learn how much I don’t know from both.


> Instead they spend all their time with other kids who are have they exact same emotionally immaturity as they do.

I don't think that's true but I agree with your other points if we agree that emotional maturity isn't a true false stage and that there are domains for which one isn't as mature as in another domain.

For instance, I learned at a very young age (3 or 4) that hurting others was actually painful for the other part. Not from receiving it myself but from giving it. From then I could never engage in confrontation/retaliation dynamics which put me at odds with others.


One of the benefits of Montessori is you have kids with two years age difference in the same classroom. If you’re in the 8th grade then you’re in a class with 9th and 7th graders.


I don't think this is true across the board. In my experience, the broader culture can make a huge difference.

For instance, like many others, I was bullied every single day in middle and high school in the US. When I moved to NZ and went to high school(called "college" there), I was dumbstruck at how accepting people were of me, as someone who has been constantly bullied back in the US, that I had a hard time accepting it at first. I was so used to being an outcast that I didn't know how to handle it at first when normal kids would actually approach me in a non-confrontational way. By the end of the year, the most popular guy in the school was voluntarily helping me study for chemistry.

Now some of that experience may have been influenced by me being a foreigner, but my bullying was due to a combination of being nerdy and fat, so it would have made sense if at least some people bullied me in NZ. There was pretty much only one kid who didn't like me and had to make a show of it, but he was easily handled.

Put simply, I think that culture in the US and probably other western countries that are heavily US-influenced is woefully broken, but it isn't as apparent to the conscious mind because we've become very good at polishing turds. We love to paint over rot and create rules for ourselves that just sweep problems under the rug so that they only manifest in places out of our control, such as with the interactions between children.

To your point, though...

> Instead they spend all their time with other kids who are have they exact same emotionally immaturity as they do. You get feedback loops of bad behaviour, and put them in bubbles where their peers and their psychopathic games (like bullying) make up 100% of their reality.

This is true in more ways that you might have originally imagined. Young people, and really people of all ages IMO, should be learning from their elders. Instead, we put way too much emphasis on mere socialization and compatibility. In adulthood we're even worse in these categories in that we either socialize too much or too little, and fewer of us will tolerate anyone who doesn't tick off all our arbitrary boxes.

> The only consistent counterpoint I can think of are cousins, who are typically slightly older or younger, and are outside of kids' normal peer groups. As a result these are often very positive relationships.

Cousins, unlike siblings, aren't competing with their fellow cousins over the love of their own parents, so it makes sense that these relationships tend to be positive.


It's also highly variable within the US. Bullying just about nonexistent at my highschool. At around 2k students, there were just too many kids for the bullies to get away with anything, so they tended to self-segregate and not really do much (at least, that's my theory - almost everyone I knew in college who heard of the size of my school was shocked at how large it was, and in my much-smaller elementary and middle schools there was a good amount of bullying).


Every time I hear about USA I can only think about how they everything do there is "wrong". It's probably selection bias but I can't help but think that I am correctly recognizing a broken system 50% of the time.


it's unfortunate most kids dont get a skilled mentor by middle school. I had friends that were older than me, and my uncle, both got me interested in tech/"hacking". eventually the school let some of us help do some tech support. its such a waste of time to stuff kids into a room with no direction, just to fulfill gen ed requirements so the school boards ranks better. I had a friend get hired into tech straight out of highschool without a degree while everyone else wasted time in undergrad


Imagine if we lived in a society healthy enough that kids could have more of a proto-adult status.

Kids are told they have to wait for certain times or ages to do things. That is a HS level shop thing. Oh you need calculus for that and that isn't till college.

We should find a way to empower any kid with ambition to take that as far as they want as early as they want.


I wanted to run the huge 24” table saw in shop when I was 12. I’m glad no one let me.


That isn't what I said, this is a comic book guy response. Am I supposed to argue with you and support and argument I wasn't trying to make?

No one unskilled should do dangerous things, rather than throw up comment like this, why not make a constructive one along the lines of, "when I was 12 I wanted to build X and it required using the large table saw. I had to wait until I was 17 to do that because using the table saw blocked me. How can we unblock kids from completing their projects?"


I must have misunderstood your concept of proto-adult, apologies.


You might not have, but jumping directly to using the most dangerous tool in the shop is not what one would expect for the most inexperienced person in the room.

The idea is that we ramp the responsibilities and the agency as the person is ready, not by some date.

I have known 10 year olds that could schedule a 100 person party and 40 year olds that are incapable of paying a parking ticket on time.

The thing I take point with is bringing up the most extreme counterpoint to the concept I put forth has the affect of either derailing the conversation or shutting it down. Don't vanquish imaginary dragons, give cover to a spring flower in a hailstorm under blue skies.


I'm an adult and I don't want to use table saws because I consider them too dangerous. Nobody has to tell me when I am old enough for them because I know the danger doesn't go away with age. I also don't want to weld or use an angle grinder for the same reasons. Dangerous tools will never be safe.

If I could avoid driving I would probably stop that too.


What about you being twelve made you less safe than someone of sixteen? "Don't put fingers on the metal bit" isn't a terribly complex lesson, about on par with "don't touch the stove when it's hot" or "curl your fingers when cutting downwards".


Less strength, focus, reach, coordination, awareness, probably less responsible... anyway, a large table saw is one of the most dangerous power tools in a wood shop. There’s just no reason a 12 year old needs to assume that risk. We had unfettered use of band saws, drills, jig saws, sanders, and all kinds of equipment. You don’t need to run the table saw to learn woodworking.

I think about this as a parent. Letting your kid take risks is good. A jig saw can hurt! But that doesn’t mean a child should be taking mortal risk. A table saw can absolutely kill you.


>Don't put fingers on the metal bit" isn't a terribly complex lesson

No, that's not the problem. The problem is kickback.


The paper cites the real-life case of Megan Meier, who hanged herself in 2007 after being bullied by people she thought were her friends — with the added twist of a mother orchestrating the social media bullying scheme.

Yeah. Parents and teachers are probably the people we should be training to behave better, not teenagers caught in a system they didn't design and often desperately wish they could escape.

Edit: I will add that a lot of my social problems in high school were rooted in or exacerbated by teachers holding me up as the example to hate on. They would brag about my high scores as if that somehow reflected positively on their teaching ability (it didn't) and then simultaneously act like if other people weren't doing as well as I was, it was because they weren't trying hard enough or something (disavowing their own responsibility for poor outcomes in the classroom).

That seems to be a norm in schools and is directly related to the described teen behavior in the article.


What is even more true is that the children often pick up behaviour from adults, especially at home and in abuse relationships. So it doesn't matter how much propaganda about bullying is spewed forth in school, when the real raising of children happen in other places.

For adults, bullying, injustice, unfairness and exclusion is just standard, normal behaviour, especially at top leadership.


For adults, bullying, injustice, unfairness and exclusion is just standard, normal behaviour, especially at top leadership.

Somewhat. However, in contrast to kids, adults have rights and access to the judicial system, which makes bullying etc. harder.


What do you think it is when some superior at work tries to mock in jest or get disproportionate agressive at mistakes? Its an undertone to reinforce social heirarchies. If you call bullshit on it, it may stop or worsen. Its all power play. Bullying is just part of a spectrum. When someone gives a dirty look to a rude waiter it is not much different than being abusive to someone cause you see a decent route where you get away with the bad behavior.

This is why you have anonymous trolls but polite and civil strangers.


>adults have rights and access to the judicial system, which makes bullying etc. harder.

Except in the equally common cases where the judicial system makes bullying etc. easier.


There's definitely bullying within families and between spouses unfortunately. Kids may internalize that and act it out with their peers.


If it was easy to judge, within any institutions, bullying would've been solved long ago.


Teachers and administrators bullied me indirectly through the most popular kids in school. Several schools. I made a few of them pay and pay when I figured out their abuse patterns depended on me staying quiet. I never went to any formal authorities because I didn't think I would be believed.

This social issue of adults using children like this is extremely rampant. It's a phenomenon you can't unsee.

[edit: the one ray of hope? the teacher who ever took my side? arrested for sexual assault on a minor while I was still in attendance.]


Did you mean "never"?


I don’t think that ray of hope came through


A false hope, indeed. It may be worth mentioning that this was not only the local affluent district, but among the top 5 in the state, ranked by wealth or academic performance. All that cash in the district, and they still couldn't vet teachers well.


Regarding your edit: I learned in school to hide my ability in order to avoid the problems you faced. I think a lot of kids did (most?). It’s what leads to that stereotype of a teacher asking an obvious question but nobody raises their hand. What a messed up situation for an education system to punish performance and teach people to not engage and hide ability.

Then there’s the nasty ego side effect of us all thinking we’re smarter than everyone else because we assume we’re the only ones hiding our abilities.


It reminds me of this meme:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iMV9XA6t_8


Your point eludes the fact we're all caught in this system, not just teenagers. Parents have few choices, they have certain budget for a house and that dictates which district they're in. Meanwhile, they're struggling and working hard and education is a pivotal means of upward mobility, so they feel it's extremely important to their child's future.

US Teachers are grossly underpaid and have to deal with tremendous amounts of training already...and stress. Consider in many of our schools, you have one teacher to 20 or 25 students, many of whom have undiagnosed learning disabilities, developmental problems, social issues, familial problems, hunger, mental health issues...teachers are already working insanely hard for low pay. I worked exclusively in struggling schools and I had kids with cousins shot dead, kids who literally jumped onto the table and screamed how myself and other teachers were racists, it's insane what teachers have to handle.

So no, We can't lay everything at the feet of current parents and teachers, there's a lot of policy, politics, and history in the educational field that no current teacher or parent had anything to do with. They're struggling and vying for success just as they see the children suffering.


So no, We can't lay everything at the feet of current parents and teachers

I'm a parent. I'm a parent who was sexually abused as a child and succeeded in not passing on my awful baggage about sex to my children.

I took the position "The buck stops here" and was unwilling to accept excuses.

I was fortunate to be a military wife and it allowed me to be a homemaker. I ultimately homeschooled my sons for a lot of years.

My first blog was a parenting and homeschooling blog. I've had a few of them and none have really gelled.

I would love to be part of the solution here for the wider world, not just for my kids. I don't know how to make that happen while getting no real engagement.

Adults are absolutely the people who must be held responsible. Making excuses for why current adults can't do better by the children in their charge is part of the problem.

I'm fine with saying "The US has amazingly shitty policies generally and needs to be more family friendly." I get that.

But someone, somewhere has to take responsibility. And that someone needs to be a current adult, not a legal minor.

From what I gather, anti-bullying programs tend to try to intercede with the kids in a way that fundamentally doesn't work. They don't have the legal rights or agency to stand up for themselves.

Adults are the ones who have that. Adults are our only hope here.


Oh that's awful. Agreed, terrible behaviour from teachers there.


What definition of bullying are they using? The article doesn't say. The actual paper [1] sidesteps the issue: "Accordingly, we sidestep the conceptual morass of bullying and focus instead on the broader term of aggression, which refers to behavior with the intent to harm, injure, or cause pain. We focus on several forms of peer aggression, including physical (e.g., hitting, kicking), verbal (e.g., name-calling, threats), and indirect aggression (e.g., spreading rumors, ostracism)."

Bullying used to just mean beating up people physically. That's changed. The US Government site on this says "Social bullying includes: Leaving someone out on purpose."[2] That's overreach. The US has freedom of association as a First Amendment right, and that right is not limited to adults.

The article conflates socially competitive behavior with bullying. So of course they find it as associated with friends or near-friends.

What are the rules of social competition? This is a classic subject. See any of Jane Austen's works.[3] Few people are taught this explicitly. Women used to be taught it in "finishing schools". It was part of the task of Oxford tutors to teach it. "My job is to make you a better bastard".

Right now, there's an anime running which teaches this: Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun.[4] It's also a regular theme in country and western music.

[1] https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/712972

[2] https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying

[3] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/105/105-h/105-h.htm

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottom-tier_Character_Tomozaki


I say this as someone who was a nerd in the '70s, before it was cool, but the problem is, we have a bunch of children that needs to be taught many subjects to be productive citizens, at a level of expertise not seen in history. Their parents go to jobs during the day. What is a better solution than what we do right now? It's certainly not perfect but what can we do better? In the past we had apprentice programs but youth learned one trade, little history, math, "social studies", other things we expect people to know. We are trying an experiment right now due to the pandemic - remote learning. It exposes a digital divide for sure, but we can all see where that would be less of an issue in the future. It's being called a failure by parents, kids are falling behind, mental health issues are climbing. Kids, people in general, need some kind of social interaction for their health. So, back to school? Back to my original question? What can be better than what we do now?


Better training for teachers, higher barriers to entry, and much stronger incentives to be a teacher. Namely, a higher salary. With degree inflation, the status of teachers has decreased sharply when they are in fact one of the most important professions at an aggregate level. There are tons of social and economic problems that are directly the result of piss-poor education systems.


> Better training for teachers, higher barriers to entry, and much stronger incentives to be a teacher.

How do you achieve that? By privatizing schools?


Reforming the degrees and schools that train teachers. Increasing teacher salaries in the public sector. Essentially making it more selective but giving a higher reward goes hand in hand. Making it a funnel where a portion of unmotivated and planless people go helps neither the profession nor the students IMO. The private sector usually does fine on its own since they cater to the wealthy and have the necessary resources. Some countries take teachers very seriously, such as Finland, so it's definitely something that is possible to implement if still much harder in a very large country.


If you really want to privatize schools they absolutely most be non profit with salary caps. (not 2x more than the median salary). In practice privatization doesn't work because rich parents can afford expensive schools and their children perform better simply because they aren't poor. Additionally, private schools don't take on disabled or delayed students because that would ruin profits.


Yeah, there are a limited set of options.

   * school
   * apprenticeship 
   * one parent (with near certainty the mother) must stay home
   * large extended families i.e. grandma raises the kids
All but school are incomplete. A five year old can’t apprentice. Many people aren’t blessed with grandparents close by who can raise kids. Stay at home parenting works for some, but not single parents- and many women want to work. I get the feeling many “school is just daycare!” critics quietly prefer women pick between kids & career- though I could be wrong.

It’s also important to consider that, for most of human history, a child who is with their parents 24/7/365 is an anomaly. Kids need socializing with other people, and parents need a break. The same way spouses in a healthy relationship need time apart.


> for most of human history, a child who is with their parents 24/7/365 is an anomaly

Where do you get this idea? It's actually the opposite. Modern universal schooling is an aberration that only took hold in the 1800s, with some schooling for the upper classes before that.

For most of recorded history, children helped their parents around the house and field, with some going off to an apprenticeship around 12-14.


This depends on the meaning of "24" in "24/7/365"

Kids spent a lot of time outside with their peers, and with extended families, neighbors, and even alone. Maybe not 9 hours per day (time kids spend in school (and "afternoon care" in my country) with both parents working 8 hours/day), but still a considerable amount of time, when they didnt help with the chores.

It might be anecdotal, but only recently I have seen the trend of parents filling up every minute of their kids schedules with after school activities, burning out their children at a very young age.


Modern schooling is obviously new, but in tribal communities the world over, children are watched over by many adults over the course of the day. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_takes_a_village

As for recorded history, kids had a lot more unstructured time to themselves even fifty years ago to play in the mud or run about the neighborhood.


From what I can tell, the change comes with motor vehicles, when people have to start monitoring the kids' every moment. Before motor vehicles arrive, you just set them out to play and other adults/older children take care of them.

After motor vehicles, there's a lot more risk to just letting them roam, and now you have to arrange an area where they can play and since there isn't a lot of people milling about outside that can watch them, the parents and other immediate family members shoulder more of the load.


Pay teachers much more money. Make it easier to fire them for underperformance.

Provide better support systems for poorer families - childcare, healthcare, food security, physical safety, and so on. Children from poorer, stressed-out families tend do worse in school.


> as someone who was a nerd in the '70s, before it was cool

> What can be better than what we do now?

HN threads on any education topic are always littered with oversimplified causes and "silver bullet" solutions. My guess is that it's mostly from the "nerds are cool" generation. Being on the cusp of the two generations, I'm not so willing to throw out the 100+ years of evolution in institutionalized education.

One thing we can do better now? Bring back and/or increase focus on civics, history, and social studies. This for obvious reasons, like the right-wing/populist political debacle, but also as a way to develop an inherent ambition as a result of a better understanding of our society and how it can be changed.


Civics I get, but how the hell will history help?


Demonstrate importance of the former.


But you can still teach historical examples in the context of civics without a full-blown history class, which arguably has a much wider scope (and commitment to providing fuller context), and therefore is a greater undertaking.


>One thing we can do better now? Bring back and/or increase focus on civics, history, and social studies. This for obvious reasons, like the right-wing/populist political debacle, but also as a way to develop an inherent ambition as a result of a better understanding of our society and how it can be changed.

Extremism and populism aren't caused by children. In fact it's the opposite. It's the children that are fighting for rational causes. Why do we have "a" Greta Thunberg? Because adults failed.


> Why do we have "a" Greta Thunberg?

because certain politicians and activists are willing to exploit children to promote their cause?


Why did the adults fail? Arguably because they weren't taught any better when they were children themselves.


It's a tricky one... On the one hand I think teenagers (and some adults) don't always know they are being jerks / making others uncomfortable. And for them it might be fun to pick on others. It can be a thrill and give them an ego boost. They might not get how damaging /horrible they are being or might not care.

On the other hand, some people may have no experience of defending themselves particularly against non-verbal attacks.

I remember my response to a guy picking on me in highschool was to wait until class finished and then I started a fight with. I won. And he never bothered me again. But honestly I had no clue how to defend myself verbally. And it's taken years to learn how to be better at that.

I think teenagers would gain from learning how to negotiate better with their peers/handle people better. It's the verbal abuse that's a particular issue.

Encouraging people to be decent along with civic classes may help too.


I had some trouble with bullying in school being malnourished, poor, a social outcast, and relatively smart. Your verbal defense note struck a memory.

Sometime mid high school, my two friends and I went to pick up a friend from a raging house party. While waiting outside for them, a drunken footballer came over to us nerds and started to point at us, calling us losers. I, uncharacteristically, retorted back with false confidence, “yeah? I get laid more than you.” He was stunned and left me alone while he picked on the other two a bit more.

I had forgotten about that one. I don’t think verbal defense would always work, however. I don’t think it would have prevented the one asshole-psychopath who, years earlier, was a few grades older than me and locked me in an older refrigerator and when I finally got out, chased me and threw a hatchet at me.


I had similar experiences in high school where I was bullied constantly but the only way I knew to deal with it was by fighting back aggressively (verbally and physically). It sometimes stopped them from bullying me more directly but usually ended with me getting in trouble and being labeled crazy.

This led to counselors and people telling me I had anger/emotional issues and I should just ignore the bullies. There's wisdom in ignoring haters and self-coping mechanisms but as a teenager in a forced social system it's not a great answer. This was the 90's.

I hope society/adults have better responses now but I doubt it.


Yeah I think you're quite right that it's important to be able to defend yourself verbally, either using your wits, humour or by defusing a situation without losing face


It speaks of failed group dynamics, which you get when you let kids loose on eachother. This is the responsibility of adults.


"particularly against verbal attacks" that should be.


I can not state that the article is wrong, but I will provide one anecdote against the article. Virtually all of the bullying I have experienced and witnessed has occurred between bullies on a high social ladder and bullied on a low social ladder. I feel like there is a wide misconception that "most bullying occurs among peers", as the headline of this article claims. It's a very convenient idea, because it frees adults from a lot of responsibility. "Boys will be boys" and "they are just bullying each other", like it's no big deal, so adults, conveniently, don't have to do much about it. This kind of messaging is very harmful, because it enables the bullying to continue, often for years, and in many cases ending in death. Furthermore, it's not only harmful, it's (based on my experiences) false.


How did you get that from the article at all? The point of the article is to say that the current anti-bullying measures are inadequate because of a common structure of bullying which is not currently being addressed.

Your anecdote is what popular attempts at curbing bullying have been trying to address.

Nobody is saying to excuse it or free adults from responsibility.


> Your anecdote is what popular attempts at curbing bullying have been trying to address.

Popular where? At least the popular anti-bullying attempts in Finland assume that there's "2 sides to the story" and seek to find fault in the bullied party. Maybe you live in a country with different anti-bullying programs?

> Nobody is saying to excuse it or free adults from responsibility.

Let's just say we strongly disagree on that point.


So did you go further than the title of the article because you made it seem like you actually read it?

It is entertaining to give people a venue to explain themselves and they reveal the weakness of their own arguments.


> So did you go further than the title of the article because you made it seem like you actually read it? It is entertaining to give people a venue to explain themselves and they reveal the weakness of their own arguments.

Oh yeah? Why don't you care to explain the "weakness of my own arguments"? You made the claim that popular anti-bullying programs specifically address high-to-low bullying. I disputed this claim, asked which region you are referring to, and explained that in Finland the popular anti-bullying programs don't work like this - instead they assume bullying mostly occurs "among peers" like this article suggests. Instead of answering which region / anti-bullying programs you are referring to, or perhaps disputing my description of Finnish anti-bullying programs, you simply imply I didn't read the article [which is false & against HN rules & not relevant to this question since the article does not address it] and just laugh at me. Sure.


I wasn't laughing before but I'm laughing now, because you skipped the part where you pull something from the article and dispute the claim, instead giving supreme weight to the title of the article. Where have you been for the last two decades to think that the title of the article is relevant, even in Finland people know the titles of the article have little to do with the content, which can have more depth or none at all. And then, not even noticing that, you then think I'm supposed to give the counterarguments.

hard pass.

let me know when you disagree with a part of the actual article, or actual study, that has nothing to do with how the title doesn't fit with your life experience. then I, or maybe someone else, will be willing to entertain the discussion about your valid experience with bullying.

man, that was harsh, I don't even know if I'm invested enough in this conversation to deal with this.


> I wasn't laughing before but I'm laughing now, because you skipped the part where you pull something from the article and dispute the claim ... let me know when you disagree with a part of the actual article

The claim that most bullying occurs "among peers" is the central claim in the article. That's the claim I'm disputing. I'm not sure why you somehow think this claim isn't made in the article.

For example, the second paragraph in the article states: "“To the extent that this is true, we should expect them to target not vulnerable wallflowers, but their own friends, and friends-of-friends, who are more likely to be their rivals for higher rungs on the social ladder,” said Robert Faris, a UC Davis researcher on bullying and author of the paper “With Friends Like These: Aggression From Amity and Equivalence.”"

The claim is reinforced in the third paragraph of the article: "Faris, a professor of sociology, said friends and associates with close ties to one another likely compete for positions within the same clubs, classrooms, sports and dating subgroups, which heightens the risk of conflict and aggression. This paper is the first known to show that those rivals are often their own friends."

Then the fourth paragraph of the article continues explaining the claim: "This differs from some common theories and definitions of bullying, in which the behavior stems from an imbalance of power and is mainly directed at youths in the lower social strata in school or community environments who possibly have physical, social or psychological vulnerabilities."

...you want me to continue? You want me to literally copypaste the entire article in the comment field and say "this part right here is the where the claim is repeated for the 11th time, and I disagree with this"?


so they're saying the form of bullying in this article needs to be addressed with prevention measures. they aren't saying your form of bullying doesn't exist.

whether one happens more or less isn't really the point. Its about identifying an underserved need and addressing it.


> so they're saying the form of bullying in this article needs to be addressed with prevention measures. they aren't saying your form of bullying doesn't exist.

Well, now you're just strawmanning. This article is claiming that "most" (not all) bullying is among peers. You're taking down a hypothetical strawman argument where "most" has been replaced by "all". Why did you feel the need to invent this strawman? Literally no-one in this thread has misinterpreted the article to mean that "all" (not "most") bullying is among peers.

> whether one happens more or less isn't really the point.

Yes it is, it's literally the whole point of this article. This article would never have been written if its point was "some undetermined amount of bullying occurs among peers". This article was written specifically to claim that most bullying is of this kind.

> Its about identifying an underserved need and addressing it.

Sure, I agree this is also in the article. And I'm arguing they're wrong. They're saying that most bullying is of kind A, whereas existing programs are largely treating bullying of kind B. I'm saying that the opposite is true: that most bullying is of kind B, whereas existing programs are largely treating bullying of kind A.


> They're saying that most bullying is of kind A, whereas existing programs are largely treating bullying of kind B. I'm saying that the opposite is true: that most bullying is of kind B, whereas existing programs are largely treating bullying of kind A.

Thanks for clearing that up


Yeah. Tossing more subjective examples into the anecdote bucket: I certainly don't remember being bullied by people I thought of as peers in terms of the social ladder - but the people "higher up" on the social ladder sure loved to shit downhill on us.


Opposite of my high school experience. People in different social strata mostly ignored each other.


I wonder if it's a size thing - my high school had fewer than 500 people, and was semi-rural.


The article isn’t suggesting that peer-bullying is the only source, just that it’s more prevalent. So your experience is not invalidated by this study.

It is also not saying that adults are free from responsibility for addressing this. It is simply saying that existing anti-bullying programs are bound to be ineffective until they broaden their scope to include this category.


> The article isn’t suggesting that peer-bullying is the only source, just that it’s more prevalent.

Right. And I'm saying that - based on my experiences - peer-bullying is not prevalent at all. I understand that "my experiences" do not constitute a peer-reviewed study, so take it with however many grains of salt you feel is appropriate. But don't pretend like I can't disagree with the article based on my experience.

> It is also not saying that adults are free from responsibility for addressing this.

Right, it's not explicitly saying that adults are free from responsibility, it's just implying that most instances of bullying fall into the "boys will be boys" category rather than a more serious category. And if you observe how adults are mostly reacting to instances of bullying in practice, they certainly don't feel like they have much responsibility to stop bullying. So we can observe a message being sent, received, and acted upon.


> The study focuses, instead, on a broader definition of peer aggression — theorizing that aggression can actually improve the social status of the aggressor.

It looks like a breakthrough!

/s


Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of research assignments...


in my schooling (eastern Germany 90s/00s) I haven't witnessed any bullying. I only. know it from EVERY high school movie/ TV show I have seen. how much is the media portraying U.S. reality and how much is media influencing lived culture?


Spanish guy here. Raised 80/90s. Middle/High income background of a middle size city. Witnessed plenty of bullying back then. Didn't have that name at the time. Many cases could have ended very badly with a bit of bad luck... but didn't.


We had an intern from Ohio (in Israel, I went to school in Soviet Union and Ukraine, so have no experience of US school system) who explained to me a concept of "zero-tolerance policy to bullying" as it was applied in his school: while only one person harasses/beats another it's OK; the moment the second one starts to fight back, the policy kicks in and in worst case the second will get suspended, in best case both get suspended.

I guess reasonable amount of mutual violence between peers will raise the price of bullying others for fun and profit.


On the surface "zero-tolerance" sounds like well, "zero-tolerance".

In reality, it's just shirking of responsibility. Schools neither care about creating an environment where bullying will be reduced nor about actually resolving cases fairly. Their attitude to bullying is to just close their eyes, plug their fingers into their ears and go laah-laah-laah


Strictly speaking, "zero-tolerance" just means they have to deal with it. They can't just break up a fight and have that be the end of it. It doesn't mean that the individuals involved are immediately expelled or suspended or whatever, though in practice that's often how it's implemented, because it's easier.


A bully has control over when they'll bully, a bullied does not. Someone with something to hide has reason to watch the authorities.

As such a bully can time their actions; hitting a student just before the teacher walks in. This is exactly how bullies can turn authority against their victims.


In Soviet Union it was the first stage: the teacher was choosing the ones, who are predisposed to this kind of behavior.

Than at later stages (starting from year five, I think) teachers were using bullies to exert control on smarter kids, not unlike prison/camp (the actual source of the theoretical basis for Soviet education system) administrations were using organized crime to control inmates.


Mmmmm, I don't know.

Most of the bullying I remember from childhood was mostly of a boy already high in the social status, against one low in the ranks.

The receiving guy was not a threat to the giving one.


The threat is against the others in the group, if they don't participate or try to intervene.

The stressors however, are often coming from relationships with adults.


Did you use 4 to represent for? I was so confused


What is bullying in this article?

As @animats points out, the research is not using accepted Olweus’s definition of bullying.

Instead they use aggression and bind it to bullying.

This very much scares me, specially how Kinney's aggression includes verbal and indirect aggression.

There are clear cases where most can agree something is verbal aggression. My fear is in defining the edges of these verbal exchanges.

Who decides the words said were aggressive?

In essence, the research reads like a further lowering tolerance bar for others' verbal expression.

In a dystopian world, the solution would be where all communications is passed through a system, and pre-approved prior to transmitting it to the other party.

Sort of like some system, say a social (media) service where we only display pleasing and pleasant images and text with appropriate tiny pictures representing positive feelings, while the service provider shelters us from aggressive thoughts.

personal anecdote: I was in the grocery store waiting for sliced cheese. The customer that was at the counter, asked for something and got into a conversation with the clerk while he was slicing, but I could not make out most of it. I heard "blah blah, and you can make blah blah great again!" The man behind me start yelling, how the customer at the counter was a (insert curse words, lots of WWII references), and cheese customer should die right there, we should all lynch cheese customer, and on and on...

The cheese customer's words were verbal aggression to the yelling man. Turns out cheese customer was talking about some engine oil for the clerk's high mileage car.

Was the cheese customer a bully? Was the yelling man behind me a victim of aggression? Was the yelling man bullied by the cheese customer? What if the discussion was between the cheese customer and yelling victim?

I am not trying to be flippant as these incidents no longer are theoretical, "oh this will never happen" scenario. I have seen other similar violent reactions from people just when the "wrong words" or words deemed by the hearer aggressive were uttered.


Consider a herd of grazing mammals. All young, are by the very nature of the stage of life, easy prey. Now imagine social capabilities - the ability to communicate distress and cooperation to others.

Anyone not capable of these abilities, with any weakness at all, could be singled out - to be fed to the wolves. Social abilities become a weapon, to vandalize an outlier of the group.

This theory should be easily testable. If another member of society - which signals frailty (old, handicapped, etc.) is present to this group, the bullying should significantly reduced or even cease.


This explains some aspects of bullying, but not all. Specifically, quoting the article, why "those who are not necessarily friends, but who share many friends in common — are also more likely to bully or otherwise victimize each other"?

Maybe people you don't have enough friends in common with feel like a different herd, and people have instict to bully the weakest member of their own herd, but don't care about other herds as much. Maybe it's because bullying a member of your herd allows you to rise to the top of your herd (which is the assumption of the article), while bullying a member of a different herd does not. Or maybe because when you start bullying a member of a different herd, the whole victim's herd may collectively turn against you ("yeah, he may be a loser, but he is our loser, so back off"), while bullying a member of your own herd is safe in this aspect. (Unless your herd has a strong leader who opposes internal fighting -- rarely happens with kids.)

So the testable prediction would be like: If you have a classroom with e.g. 29 white students and 1 black student, the white students will bully the black one. (Unless there is someone more visibly different, e.g. handicapped or speaking a foreign language.) But if you have 15 white students and 15 black students, more likely the white students will pick a white victim to bully, and the black students will pick a black victim to bully. (Unless the class is more split along some other trait than race. In which case e.g. the English-speaking students would pick an English-speaking victim, and the French-speaking students would pick a French-speaking victim.)


Except that humans didn't evolve as herd grazers avoiding predators. In this case, it's asserting social dominance in order to get first access to resources.


What resources does the top bully at the school get?


Invitations to parties/social gatherings, access to to toys or sporting equipment, and once they're in high school, women.


Admiration from the lesser bullies.


I'm wondering about whether this translates into work. In a sense, corporate ladders are social ladders.

Someone might be difficult to work with through insecurity. If they assume that showing weakness hinders their ability to climb the corporate ladder, but are not confident in their abilities, then this insecurity may translate into bullying tendencies. They may seek validation through leadership, but find this only heightens their feeling of inadequacy, and resort to managerial force over discussion.


We treat those we're closest to the worst on a day to day basis. I'm constantly amazed at the casual politeness and optimistic interpretation my wife lends to complete strangers, but looks at me sideways every time I suggest anything.


PG touches on this in Hackers and Painters. The social hierarchy in high school is a zero sum game that encourages people to down others to get higher on the ladder. And if you’re not the one bullying... you’re the one being bullied.


Of course!

And a similar strategy plays out with harassment and even to an extent racism in high school. Oftentimes it's a strategic play by someone with high aggression and low empathy. That was my experience.

However, we're being told by the dominant Zeitgeist at the moment that it's language we should adjust and control and police, anti bias training and such. It'll take a few years for the blank slatism to be pushed aside and let science back in: hierarchies and competition are partially biological and begin in childhood, independent of what anyone teaches anyone.


The blurb seems to indicate a gender-neutral view of bullying. Females and males employ fundamentally different techniques, aggression, threats, and the like to socially jockey for position.

I'd argue in high school female social status is arranged into stratified blobs but the dominance within those blobs is fluid.

Male social status is a dominance hierarchy of blobs, and males within the resulting strata will self organize into sub-hierarchies to protect against inter-strata conflict.

The other main difference is that females employ social status threats.

Males use outright physical threats.


If you define bullying as any act that would upset a Karen on twitter, then the highest rate of 'bullying' will trivially occur between people who interact with each other most often.


There's an interesting parallel here:

> “To the extent that this is true, we should expect them to target not vulnerable wallflowers, but their own friends, and friends-of-friends, who are more likely to be their rivals for higher rungs on the social ladder,”

I spent 10 years working for a "Fortune 50" company. A huge media conglomorate.

This was exactly the behavior of low- and mid- level executives to each other as they tried to climb the corporate ladder.


It’s not clear to me what the paper thinks bullying is. Clearly the bullying depicted in the simpsons is not what’s considered here. Among friends or a friend network, I n the spectrum where does bullying begin and social manipulation end? It would have been nice to have some examples.


>“To the extent that this is true, we should expect them to target not vulnerable wallflowers, but their own friends, and friends-of-friends, who are more likely to be their rivals for higher rungs on the social ladder,”

I was bullied and then bullied myself - not proud of that, but it felt natural as it made me cool. Then, a handicapped guy was bullied by my friends and I was defending him and kept the friendship with the handicapped guy. My status fell dramatically.

Thinking back, I understand now the dynamics but I would have no advice to my child (if I had one) how to avoid being bullied or stop participating in bullying. My ex gf was a natural born leader, she was beautiful, tall, intelligent, but also a lone wolf. She was showing civil courage in school and was defending the weak ones without losing her status. But being pretty and a natural leader is nothing you can teach someone.

Probably you just have to accept that bullying is part of our social dynamic.


It is part of the human dynamic, but only when you are forced into contact with the same small group day after day. Lots of people bullied in high school thrive in the real world because there, if someone is disrespectful to you, then you have more options to walk away. Ever notice where bullying outside school occurs? Prisons and crappy jobs that people can’t afford to leave.


It's tough. It is super important to provide structure to kids.

But as you say, it's also disturbingly like prison.

I think some of the problem is that you get your entire schedule dictated to you. It might be better if kids had a choice of homerooms, a choice of class schedules, a choice in "study hall".

I also remember in education that the teachers bemoan stratified academic classes, because the "smart kids are important for teaching the dumber kids" in peer manner.

Well, that always raised my warning bell, because those intermingled classes meant the "dumb kids" would bully the "smart kids" out of anger and frustration.

The smarter a group of people, the less violent they generally are. Sure the bullying may reduce to intellectual and social bullying.

But at least you aren't getting physically assaulted or threatened constantly with physical assault, which is much much worse, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Gym class was also one of the worst classes for providing bullying opportunity, and I was forced to go to it, despite the fact I did very physically intense sports each season, definitely closer to the "prison" than the "structure" side of things.


> The smarter a group of people, the less violent they generally are.

I also believe this, but I don't know why I do. Is there any data to support this?


Just anecdotal on my part.

I always thought the brain looked like it evolved by basically adding a new layer atop the other. The primitive ones are highly refined by evolution and do their jobs well (breathing, etc), but the higher level ones do more complex tasks, but need "interrupt" mechanisms on the lower ones.

The youngest layer that gives us consciousness has to contend with emotions, the subconscious, instincts, hormonal regulation, reflexes, and heartbeat/breathing rhythyms that all exist for very very very good reasons evolutionarily.

So our brain is basically being run, motivated, and directed by animal-level evolutionary structures a huge amount of the time, and the ability of the "human" part depends on it's horsepower in the various talents like EQ, IQ, "wisdom", and self-restraint.

I believe self-restraint has been correlated with intelligence.

I guess other evidence would be various studies that the human brain is still maturing into your 20s.


Any place where you don’t have choice. Doctors, lawyers, even car mechanics if they think you’re desperate enough.


Yep. Bullying is a natural human reaction to certain environments (where "natural" is a description, not an endorsement), but that doesn' mean we have to organize our environments that way.

As Madonna would say: there's no greater power than the power of goodbye.


If this happens more the closer people get in social status (friends) then it suggests that bullying (as defined here) is a tool of social competition.


"Social Ladder"

What is this exactly? Why does it exist? Which societies have such a property?



Social darwinism is a culture, not a fact of nature.


Kids roll their eyes at the utopian idealism that is anti-bullying programs. They're going to do whatever they want anyhow. And, in order to ensure they get the best lot in life, they're going to claw, scratch, bite, and step-on each other to be sure they end up at the top of the mud hill. That's human nature. You can't put human nature in a box and wish it away. They'll always find an outlet to establish rank.


I call bullshit. Teenagers aren't complete in their development yet. That's why you can, and should, train and teach them.

Teaching empathy is of course difficult and don't forget that the bullied peers are also teenagers that might behave "weirdly" (no victim blaming intended). But the whole thing still needs to be taught as it is a horrible thing that exists in reality.

Compare this to drugs, STD, or plain old reckless behavior. You tell your teenagers not to take pills, use condoms, and not dive headfirst into unknown waters, right? Not everyone does this successfully, but there is no reason not to talk about it, just because your teenager will Roll their eyes. If that's any criterion, most parents would probably not talk to their kids at all between 12 and 20...


He didn't say not to do anything. He said the (current) programs were pretending realities didn't exist, or that they could be scolded away. This is basically why the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign failed.


Nancy, the 40th and first woman POTUS. ;) By being celebrities in their own bubbles, archaically-simplistic, and close-minded, the Reagans couldn't grasp reality or have empathy for anyone else. HIV/AIDS, final destruction of mental healthcare systems, War on Drugs, CIA crack epidemic-Iran Contra, and many more.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reagan_administration_scandals


I think the real disagreement here is about how to effectively socialize children, not about whether they can be socialized at all. Hyperbolic arguments aside, we can agree that humans can be socialized to behave as good members of a community, but humans who are not socialized will frequently behave like animals.


Yes. Effectively socialize. The other issue is that humans are always going to be human, and seek will-to-power to advance their status to promote their genes and improve their lot in life. There's no undoing or wishing away human nature, only mild adjustments with nurture that we must keep trying to do with pragmatism.


> I call bullshit. Teenagers aren't complete in their development yet. That's why you can, and should, train and teach them.

You are absolutely right.

- If you were an anti-bullying organization, what methodologies exactly would you device for parents and educators to intervene so as to train and teach teenagers to the point that bullying is minimized?

- What made the past and current anti-bullying organizations fail in their efforts?

- Do we adults understand what works and what doesn't in preventing bullying? What about bullying among adults?


my first highschool was a private single sex catholic school: the bullying problem there was intense. there was a lot of emphasis on rugby and football and other team sports, we were all made to wear uniforms and ties, go to chapel, make the school look good. There was a consistent problem with interpersonal violence, big trouble makers were often the football players though we also had clearly troubled individuals.

For the last two years of my schooling I swapped to a coed public (yet highest scoring) special college literally just down the road. suddenly there was no bullying problem. I mean, compared to the other school it was practically zero. there was no uniform, kids could smoke outside if they wanted, you could not turn up to class, you were free to leave the grounds when you wanted. you could eat and drink when and where you wanted, and teachers were called by their first names. I couldn't even tell you if we had sports teams because no one cared, I literally don't remember.

whatever the difference, it's either not human nature, or it can be overcome. I've lived it, so I know it's true.


My high school experience sounds somewhat similar to your second school. It was a large public high school in Southern California in the 1970s with about equal numbers of black, Anglo white, Hispanic, and East Asian students from lower-class and middle-class backgrounds. The school was unexceptional academically, and it did have problems, including gang activity (Crips and Bloods), racial tension, and drug and alcohol abuse among the students. But I don’t remember any of the emotional, social-hierarchy-based bullying that I have since read about at other high schools. I wonder if that might have been due to the size and diversity of the student population.


Probably if attendance was not a requirement, the most disagreeable persons left the compound. This is a solution of course (which sounds less harsh than expulsion)


could have had a part in it, I'll fully admit. I know it lessened the tension in many of us, not just the trouble makers. I wasn't a bully, but also to advantage of not turning up to assume classes. honestly though, I can't speak highly enough of it, it was just what I needed after the first school.

i hope that was that a deliberately joking use of the word 'compound' to refer to a school? (though probably how I felt about my first school emotionally).

we had very few expulsions at the first school during my time there. but I can remember several instances of kids bullied until they had to leave. honestly it all seems so unjust and barbaric looking back.


English is not my first language. I meant 'compound' in the sense 'a cluster of buildings having a shared purpose, usually inside a fence'. Where I am every school has a fence (also as insurance line). But maybe this usage of this expression is uncommon.


Compound has no negative connotations, but is not really used in this context either.

Typically one would just say - the school, or perhaps the grounds. Campus is also common; but generally in the context where the school has multiple campuses.


Authoritarian institutions do consistently end up with a lot of bullying. Catholic church had massive bullying problems in its institutions multiple times when they run them. Something about that obeyssance based value system makes it so.


Is it human nature to kill, steal or rape? Yet we don’t allow that in the society.


Yes, that is human nature if we look at anthropological studies.

We punish it which creates a disincentive. There isn't any explicit anti-murder training we need to go through that's premised on a flawed understanding of human nature.

We've also made it so murder doesn't confer status in our society, which is the opposite case to bullying as per the findings. And that's rather unique to modern society, murder didn't always confer lower status.


> Yes, that is human nature if we look at anthropological studies.

That feels like "[citation needed]". What do you mean by "is human nature"? Very small minority would participate in murder, stealing, or rape, even if we created no disincentive for them.


It's not accurate that only a very small minority would participate, the murder rate can go as high as 40-60 percent (e.g Waorani, among others). This is what can happen when there's no Leviathan that disincentives murder and when murder is status conferring instead of status reducing.

It's also part of the nature of our close relatives, the chimpanzee. See "lethal raiding".


> (e.g Waorani, among others) ... when murder is status conferring instead of status reducing.

This describes a given culture, including upbringing. It does not describe human nature. (or specifically doesn't prove they are aligned)

We've got examples from other extremes too, like pacifism in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moriori


Rape is shockingly common and cultures are human made things, so they express human nature or some variation of it.

Picking which cultures you like as examples of "human nature" and excluding others isn't really a sound tactic of argumentation.


It's not picking cultures I like. It's a counterexample - describing specific culture doing/avoiding X to an extreme level does not prove or disprove X being or not "in human nature".


This is from your previous comment: Very small minority would participate in murder, stealing, or rape, even if we created no disincentive for them.

I have seen articles that say that if you ask a room full of women if they have been raped, you may get as much as half the hands go up. If you ask them if they ever said "no" to sex and ended up having sex anyway, up to 90 percent of the hands go up.

In most countries, the definition of rape hinges on the detail of consent and is presumed to be only something a man can do to a woman (though some laws are being updated). If you accept that forcible sodomy by a man against another man is also rape, prison rapes are quite common.

Human trafficking exists and every single instance of sexual intercourse with someone being trafficked against their will is typically referred to in articles on the topic as rape.

Then there is statutory rape, where someone is deemed to be too young to reasonably give their consent, so it doesn't count if she said "yes" to it.

Then there is date rape, which typically involves alcohol, a culture clash between people with different expectations for what would happen and tragic misunderstanding. Sometimes the guys will tell you that they didn't think they forced her. It's news to them that she felt forced into sex when someone shows up to accuse them of rape and drag them in front of a college review board or charge them with a crime.

A lot of people think rape is about physical violence. It's not. Most rapes don't involve beating the hell out of the victim.

It's a complicated topic, but rape is far from uncommon.

I don't know where you get your ideas about human nature from but they don't seem to fit with anything I know about human nature and I'm some idiot with pie-in-the-sky ideals prone to assuming people are just going to be nice because that's just the right thing to do and that, sadly, is often not the case. At all.


Do you have citations for these incredibly high numbers? There has been some justified criticism about the way rape stats have been re-designed to elicit higher numbers. https://time.com/3393442/cdc-rape-numbers/


Afaik, highers numbers about rape are somewhat less then 20%. So the 50% or 90% is bonkers and does not represent general population.

However, rape (no matter what definition) is not evenly spread, some groups of women are more likely to become victims then others. Perpetrators pick their victims in a sort of rational way - some are more vulnerable.

So if you bias the group the right way, you can get large numbers.


So the 50% or 90% is bonkers and does not represent general population.

No, it's actually commentary on the fact that women themselves often cannot clearly state "I was raped." The article in question was trying to show that lots more women have been raped than will admit to it or claim it. But you can also read it the other way: It casts light on how difficult it is to define rape.

Rape hinges on the detail of consent. Even women who have been fed alcohol until they were incapacitated and then taken to someone's room will go online and say things like "I had sex with a friend last night. I'm in a relationship. I know I need to drink less..." and get a chorus of people saying "Honey, that was rape."

People imagine rape to be some clear cut crime. In reality women are often very unclear in their own minds whether or not they were raped.

If the crime hinges on the detail of consent and the woman in question can't state clearly whether or not she wanted it, much less whether or not she consented, then you have bigger problems in determining data than in how surveyors ask their questions.


I would rather go with research then with imagining clueless women saying things online.


I'm not imagining anything. I've seen such things happen online.


Do you have citations for these incredibly high numbers?

Sorry, no. It was an article I read a long time ago.

Rape stats are an inherently difficult thing to measure well. I could, in all earnestness, argue for either much higher or much lower figures than the reported figures.

That's a discussion I don't care to try to have on HN at all, much less on two hours sleep.


That room full of women is in our society though. The previous commenter was pointing out that there are other societies that contain a lot less violence, therefore it doesn't have to be considered a given that rape and murder will always be present in society.

It's easy to believe that it's "in our nature" because of the dynamics which you describe being so common in the most dominant society, which is the only society most people have experience of. But, as another idiot with ideals, I believe we should not view this trend as a fatalistic inevitability, that it will always exist no matter how hard we work to change things.

Most people are in a state of near constant existential threat, due to their impoverishment in artificial scarcity (so much wealth in the world but must of us have access to nearly none of it). So most people don't have the luxury of being nice, even if it's the right thing to do. That and the fact that most of us are victims of many-generation-long cycles of inherited abuse that can be so hard to get out of. We have in many ways only ever been taught to be cruel to each other.

If we all play along with the idea of this inevitability, as in the top level commenter's claims of human nature, we only make it more true and harder to escape.


There are cultures where if a woman is raped, the solution is to marry her off to her rapist because she doesn't really have rights of her own. He has violated the property rights of some other man and damaged his goods and taking responsibility for said damaged goods is the remedy -- not for the victim of the rape but for the man who owns her.

There are cultures where a woman cannot accuse her husband of rape. If she is married, he has unilateral right to have sex with her as he sees fit, no permission required.

Rape is a really complicated topic and the detail of consent has only grown thornier in my mind over time.

While I was homeless, men were happy to offer me money for sex because it was obvious to them that I was very poor. Meanwhile, I was routinely told on HN "Get a real job" and basically quit my bitching that I can't manage to make adequate income from my writing.

I have six years of college and cannot manage to come up with an adequate income from "honest labor" but men are happy to offer me money for sex under circumstances that can be interpreted as taking advantage of my vulnerability.

There are women who argue that all heterosexual acts of intercourse are essentially rape because of the generally poor status of women's rights. If putting up with intercourse with some man is the only means a woman has of establishing an adequate income and the world will literally let you starve and say "Not my problem" if you aren't married well, dating him in specific, etc, is it really genuinely consenting to agree to sex to stave off starvation?

This is not a theoretical question for me. This is lived experience as an educated American woman still reeling with shock at how amazingly hard it is to get taken seriously as a person in need of an earned income and willing to work for pay while no one wants to pay me. They will take freebies from me, so they think what I do has merit, but when push comes to shove it doesn't lead to an adequate income for me.

It's not a thing I expect anyone here to understand or care about. I've been here long enough to know that commenting on it doesn't get me sympathy. It just pisses people off who would like to think of themselves as nicer than that, so pointing this out isn't going to be met with people going "Oh. I didn't realize that. Let's fix that. That's wrong."

It will be met with a chorus of "You are just doing it wrong." and no rebuttal on my part will ever be sufficient to have the issue taken seriously. I know because I've tried for years to put this issue into words and that's how it goes every time, without fail.

So if I were to cave and finally sleep with a man for his money after a decade or more of dire financial problems and failing to find any other remedy, is that really, truly consenting sex?

I don't think it is. It's not the kind of sex I'm interested in ever having.

I've had better. I know what better looks and feels like.

But my words fall on deaf ears and make no difference. So I have grown more sympathetic to strident feminist views, though I don't fundamentally agree with them and don't even self-identify as a feminist.


The clear trend from hunter gatherer to modern society is a dramatically declining murder rate.

The murder rate has declined by about 50x thanks to modern society.

This is what I mean when I say that these actions are human nature. Only because of the state Leviathan and modern cultural zeitgeist have we been able to change this behavior from very common (in some cases more likely than not) to rare.

What's the murder rate of the Moriori? Is it less than 5 per 100k per year?

If modern society were to disintegrate, the murder rate should increase by 50x roughly as we trend back to our raw nature without these artificial attenuating forces.


> The murder rate has declined by about 50x thanks to modern society.

> This is what I mean when I say that these actions are human nature.

That carries an assumption that modern society restricted that side of human nature. An alternative: modern society enables us to act according to human nature and not resort to actions necessary for survival in previous societies.

If modern society disintegrated, there wouldn't be a lack of society influence. It would be a different society. That's why we have the whole nature-vs-nurture debate which is not trivial. That's why I objected to the original claim. (Although as Doreen mentions, some behaviours are much more common than others)


I get where you're coming from, but modern society is clearly pushing us away from our own nature in this instance, not towards it.

To establish this, we just need to ask the question of what would happen if the explicit state punishments for murder, rape, etc were removed. The rates would increase significantly, implying that the existence of these measures is attenuating behaviour that's otherwise rather natural.

If chimps received an electric shock each time they tried to murder another chimp, would they murder less often? Yes, because that shock is attenuating their true nature.

Admittedly, "human nature" is a rather fuzzy concept and isn't a scientifically precise term.


Historians and scientists have studied this and basically the rise of government has reduced the murder rate. There's a great PBS episode on it.


Again, why are you basing your understanding of the world on the ideas of enlightenment hacks like Pinker, who can't get past 18th century understanding? It must be truly sad to only be able to see the world in such a grim and pessimistic way.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-stev...


Whenever I read Pinker critiques (and I've read a few) they're always dripping with dishonest reasoning that leaves me even more confident in his position.

Take Jason Hickel's critique, where he lies about the poverty rate increasing (when in fact it's decreasing according to his own data) and then hand waves away all the other metrics that Pinker discusses in a single paragraph.

Take Nassim Taleb's (who I usually respect) critique, where he comes off as a raving lunatic, accusing Pinker of inadequately addressing tail risks when the objective of his work is mostly descriptive and not pertaining to possible existential risks. I recommend you read Pinker's hilarious dismantling of that rambling nonsense.

Or the debate between Pinker and Gladwell where Gladwell totally ignores all the actual metrics that Pinker discusses and instead waxes poetic in narrative form, discussing single anecdotes.

Now I'm half way through this Guardian piece and I already had to stop. Just because some Enlightenment thinkers had truly backwards ideas - and I'm sure that Pinker would agree that they're extremely backwards - says zero about Pinker's thesis. It's a borderline straw man to think that that's relevant to his thesis. If the latter part of the article has a better argument, let me know.


However, it's very much not a part of the nature of our other close relatives, the bonobos, whose conflict resolution mechanisms can be literally described as "make love, not war". The difference seems to be more about their respective environments' relative abundance/scarcity than any innate "nature".


The difference is definitely not known to be due to current environments' relative abundance.

Maybe you got that from the Wiki article on bonobos which includes a deceptive quote of a 2014 Nature article. What the article actually says is that bonobos have a genetic adaptation due to historic evolution in environments with abundance which either allows for phenotypic variation in response to current environment, or which has resulted in biological evolution to less violence as a general policy (which would indeed be "nature"). Personally I'm strongly inclined towards the latter hypothesis because it's the most parsimonious and fits observation better, ie the number of observed bonobo murders is near zero despite varying environments. If we find modern bonobos living in some scarcity who take up murder as a result, then I'll change my mind.

Chimps on the other hand are believed to be violent because it confers genetic fitness (as per that same Nature article), and things such as the age and sex of their victims is predictive suggesting they murder in order to eliminate competition. This is their nature in the sense that this behavior is significantly impacted by their genes.


I mean, I'm not arguing that it's all cultural, or even epigenetic. But claiming that humans have nature X because chimps have nature X is definitely cherry-picking data points given that bonobos are just as closely related to us and behave very differently.


Indeed, humans clearly have both tendencies in our evolutionary lineage. But I think the point is that humans build societies which enforce behavioral norms independently of what would emerge based on the “natural” environment. Both bonobos and chimpanzees are locked in their strategies for conflict resolution, which may not always be appropriate for the prevailing environmental conditions.


Your understanding of society is behind by about two or three centuries at least... It's supremely unscientific to use chimpanzee social dynamics to understand human ones. And the standard view among anthropologists about prevalence of violence in a given community, is that it arises out of certain conditions (e.g. famine or other loss of resources, usually man-made by outsiders or despotic rulers), not because we are innately prone to just killing each other if there is no "leviathan" to stop us.

Past research suggesting this kind of thing -- like the single study of a single tribe that you are giving us with your argument -- has been debunked by more nuanced, modern (and less colonial/racist) research. There are far more peaceful societies known to us than violent ones, though unfortunately we are mostly forced to participate in one of the latter.


It has zero to do with racist research (the same findings apply to historical Europe) and your assertions here are just factually wrong.

Here's a study on middle ages Croatia where 20 percent of skeletons showed cranial fractures (which doesn't even include murder by flesh wounds):

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ajpa.22083

Here's a study on London cemetaries which found a 7 percent rate (again this excludes murder by other methods):

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ajpa.23288

"e.g. famine or other loss of resources, usually man-made by outsiders or despotic rulers"

Demonstrably wrong in the case of the Waorani. It was a blood feud going back generations, long before any contact with other societies. So yes, a Leviathan would've stopped it.

https://www.nature.com/news/2009/090511/full/news.2009.463.h...


>It was a blood feud going back generations, long before any contact with other societies.

So culturally preserved hatred (which became an outlier over a period of time where other cultures preserved less hatred), not much different than the Hatfields & McCoys.


This is a little like saying that starvation is human nature. Our entire society is organized around minimizing various aspects of human nature, starting with starvation and moving on up to murder, and at some point in the list of things we try to avoid, perhaps because they are part of our nature, is bullying.


One culture with unusually high murder rate does not prove murder is "in human nature". You are literally picking outlier to make general claim.


No, I didn't bring up that one example to support the general claim that murder is part of human nature. I brought it up to debunk the notion that only a very small proportion would necessarily engage in these activities in the absence of a state. For that purpose, all I needed was a single counter-example.

If instead you want evidence for the more general claim, you can look at some of the studies I've referred to in this thread (e.g. the one about London or Croatia), or just look up anthropological surveys of hunter gatherer societies that show murder rates 50x higher on average.


> I brought it up to debunk the notion that only a very small proportion would necessarily engage in these activities in the absence of a state.

But, what you brought up is a very small part of world. And that small part of world has own governance structure too. They dont have social "state", but they do have some kind of social structures, culture, hierarchy, traditions and unwritten laws.

Also, how do you know those are murders and not wars or executions? Murder is specific thing, killing members of other tribe over resource is not going to be considered murder. Raising child to adult is expensive on food among other things, you do that to other people and you do that less to own.


Murder is generally unacceptable, unless you're high status like Snoop or OJ. However theft and rape are still allowed if one is of high-enough status and doesn't get caught: Wall St., billionaires, Jimmy Saville, or Trump.


> Murder is generally unacceptable, ...

Yet, we give Nobel prizes to murderers.


Definitely. The myth of the noble savage. Modern cities are much safer than ancient communities, tribal or agrarian.

An interesting book: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker


> Yes, that is human nature if we look at anthropological studies. We punish it which creates a disincentive.

Only in some case, in other case, we justify it by naming it something else, like taxes, prison/capital punishment, national interest.


Here Is Something You Can't Understand


It's not for most people. Some cultures heavily encourage being a dick but we have builtin inhibitions.


Yet it happens daily


With that logic, grown ups should be chewing each other's faces off in the street all the time. They don't.

So clearly there is something (morale, social pressure, threat of punishment) that prevents them from doing it.


With that logic, grown ups should be chewing each other's faces off in the street all the time.

Adults can be plenty cruel. It's just typically done with more subtlety, sophistication and plausible deniability than is employed by teens.


Yes, it can be done at various levels of subtlety as well as at group levels. Why else would we have such words describing adult behavior as "workplace bullying", "online harassment", "domestic violence", "culture wars", "race hustling", etc.?


Have you ever seen how people treat customer service?

Too bad we can't punish them for such uncivil performance. Maybe we should go back to putting them on stocks and streaming it to world. Even with some sort of nice remote online interaction...


Have you ever seen how people get people in customer service departments to treat other people?

I'm absolutely not saying the abuse given to customer service people get is justified, but it's not unprovoked either.

Turns out when you codify bad behaviour, you get bad responses to that behaviour. What's the justification for codifying that bad behaviour in the first place?


Actually, adults are much worse than the children. They just hide it in plain sight and through various psychopathic systems.


I'm not sure if they consider it at that level. At primary/secondary school it's pretty clear - you may get told off for bullying if anyone learns about it, may have some uncomfortable conversations. But you'll still be in the same class with the same people the next day. Unless you do something so drastic you get expelled.

I've not heard of many teens (I'm sure there's a few) actively thinking of / planning bullying. Most of it is on a "why not, that's what I want to do now" level. The ones I've seen were actually kids on the very bottom of any hierarchy just acting out, not trying to achieve anything.



Yes, we can find specific cases for a lot of things. The question what's the usual behaviour/motivation still stands.


First, "human nature" is a logical fallacy straight away: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy

Second, in many existing societies outside of the US school bullying is extremely uncommon.


There are rules of human behavior just as there are rules of dog behavior. To state otherwise is ridiculous.


I never stated otherwise. The (well known) logical fallacy is in arbitrarily picking one behavior instead of another and labeling it "human nature" and claiming it's inevitable.


This is a good discussion. I hope we can dive into the nuances of what ways work to raise cooler kids, esp. becoming more messianic / moral courage: making peace, defending the weak, calling-out infliction of suffering, and setting better examples for their peers.


that's human nature for psychopaths, the rest of us don't have to put up with them if we don't want to...


Luckily School isn't Life. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html


We should just retire sociology. It’s all just human nature, and what that means is just obvious to everybody.


Presumably people agree that we should “retire sociology” considering that I was being sarcastic.


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