There has been a good deal of talk in recent years about the evils of bullying and what to do about it. Almost all of what is discussed seems to be bullying of low status people by low status people, largely schoolchildren bullying schoolchildren. There is another sort of bullying that is unfortunately common in our society, arguably a more serious problem, and the subject of less, or at least less uniform, condemnation. Some examples are illustrated by two of my recent posts and one older one.
The first is anti-smoking rules carried beyond the point at which they can plausibly be defended as protecting non-smokers. My example is a proposed rule to ban all smoking from my campus. Smoking is already forbidden in buildings and, I'm pretty sure, near the entrance to buildings, so the proposal would have only a tiny effect on exposure to second hand smoke. I am a non-smoker, find cigarette smoke mildly unpleasant, and cannot remember having ever been significantly bothered by it on campus. The document circulated on the ban asserted a number for total excess mortality due to second hand smoke that I argued in my post
on the subject was doubly bogus—it misrepresented the claim it was based on, and that claim was almost certainly based on cherry picked data. And, even if the number were correct, it would say little about the effect of the small additional reduction due to the proposed rule.
One motive for such a rule—whether it has passed or will pass I do not know—is probably paternalism, the theory that if you make smoking sufficiently inconvenient smokers may give it up. But I suspect that another motive is bullying. People, unfortunately, enjoy pushing other people around. Such a rule lets people who disapprove of smoking make life more unpleasant for those who smoke, demonstrating the power of the former over the latter.
My second example is the behavior of police officers. There are obvious reasons why police officers would wish other people to be deferential towards them, since the more extreme forms of non-deference can, in that context, be lethal. If the only people who talk back to them are criminals, mostly criminals about to attack them, that provides a useful signal of when to be on their guard. Making things unpleasant for people who demand a badge number (I once got arrested for assisting someone else to do so), point a cell phone camera at them, or in other ways fail to acknowledge their status and authority, is one way of getting that deference.
There are also obvious reasons why people in general want other people to be deferential towards them, making a profession which legitimizes the demand for deference and makes it possible to enforce it with the threat of death, injury, or prison, attractive to those with that taste. Which I think helps to explain the increasingly common pattern of unnecessary SWAT style raids
, kicking in doors, pointing guns at innocent people and ordering them to lie on the floor, shooting dogs.
I do not think it would be hard to come up with other examples in both categories. People like pushing other people around. Doing so is generally safer and more effective when you have the power of the law on your side. One way to do so is to make rules or pass laws that make life harder for people you disapprove of, whether smokers, gays, or college students who get drunk and have sex. Another is to get a position one of whose perks is the right to order other people around—and, in some contexts, threaten, assault, beat, even kill anyone who objects, with minimal risk of suffering any criminal penalties for doing so. That includes TSA agents whose opportunities are limited to vandalizing
checked luggage and ordering people to stand still while being patted down, and police officers with a wider range.