Beware Bullying

Our social and media treatment of bullying needs an urgent examination. Nothing says that more than the fact that I feel I need to tread carefully and express myself with caveats and qualifications.  And that’s not because of current celebrity travails and defamation laws.

The bullying bandwagon is definitely short of space; from MP speeches on the floor of the house, to TV and magazine features, to “citizen education’ programs, to, ahem, union campaigns, there is hardly room for another fellow traveller.

That sets my antennae twitching.

Regardless of the issue, experience since the 1980s suggests in circumstances like this three things are certain: screeching ideologues are going to extend the concept beyond its usefulness; chancers are going to use it to develop power and privilege; and anyone who disagrees will be shamed with tribal ferocity.

In a world where bullying no longer requires an implicit threat of violence, where words alone and causing offence constitute a crime, where even if the communication is avoidable it still constitutes bullying, where a reasonable person test is likely to be reflective of community fads, well, I guarantee those three features will emerge very quickly.

Indeed, they already have in the workplace. We have cases of employees claiming to be bullied for being told their work quality isn’t good enough, or for being asked to deliver daily reports. Unless an employer takes such vexatious claims seriously, they run union, legal and reputation risks.

Compare that with real issues like regular physical abuse of apprentices and you can clearly see the ‘extrapolation problem’.

Knee-jerk responses to high profile events like Charlotte Dawson’s meltdown are absolutely certain to have negative consequences for free speech, individual responsibility and our cultural expectations of grown adults.

Mr Gallacher said that “even a cursory examination of the comments made to Ms Dawson overnight reveals they are clearly offensive to a reasonable person, which is the test for any prosecution under Section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act”.

That section refers to use of a “carriage service” to menace, harass or offend, with a maximum three-year jail term.

Menace and harass no-one would argue with, and it appears that the Dawson case falls under those heads. Though if each of 100 people sent one tweet it’s hard to see how that would that constitute harassment by any individual.

But even Minister Gallacher uses the broader concept.  It’s that word offend again. That’s where the trouble lies. That’s where the screechers can do all the damage.

There is much, much more to write on this, and in far more detail. I will post links to any articles I publish.

Update

I have been told that I may have missed one of Falk’s Iron Laws.

The Iron Law of Fashionable Concern:  all new compassionate concepts will be extended beyond their useful zone of application.

Corollary 1: All compassionate concepts are eventually misused to develop power and privilege.

Corollary 2: Anyone who points out the Iron Law and Corollary 1 will be shamed with tribal ferocity.

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