Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Are Mass Shootings a New form of Bullying?

It seems there is a mass shooting in America at least once a week now.

I really don't know of any other form of societal psychosis with such ill side effects that is as frequent except for, perhaps, bullying.

Now I'm not talking about mental illness here per se, although this does seem to be a factor we always need to keep in mind. But as I was thinking about some of the reasons for why mass shootings are on the uptick, aside from the number of guns anybody can get their hands on, it dawned on me... what if mass shootings were an expression of one form of serial bullying.

Now what do I mean by serial bullying?

Well, Tim Field, founder of The Field Foundation and Bully OnLine, coined the term to describe the character of a certain type of individual with very specific behavior traits that he cataloged while documenting over 10,000 cases of workplace bullying when he was manager of the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line.

Serial Bully Traits

Perhaps the most easily recognizable Serial Bully traits are:
  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.

After gathering their data and crunching the numbers, Bully Online and The Field Foundation found that serial bullying covers a wide range of people with an even wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

They discovered that:

Approx 20% (of bullies) are teachers, lecturers and school administrative staff
Approx 12% are health care professionals, including nurses, paramedics, GPs etc
Approx 10% are from social services and caring occupations including care of the elderly and people with special needs
Approx 6-8% are from the voluntary and non-profit sector, with small charities (social housing, disadvantaged children, special needs, etc) featuring prominently (these usually involve a female serial bully); this sector has show the highest rate of increase in calls since 1998
Approx 5% are civil servants not included in the above groups

See, traditional bullying involves an insecure person who puts others down, picks on the weak, and makes fun of others, sometimes hurts others, in order to boost their own self-esteem by getting laughs or simply to look strong.

Bullies are typically cowardly and weak, but because they tend to be popular, either through their uncouth antics or else because of intimidation and fear mongering, they usually gain a following.

It is this following that makes the bully dangerous, because they will feed into the bully's need to continually prove themselves in others eyes, and many times the bullies followers will assist the bully in inflicting harm or slinging insults because the bully has created an environment for themselves where this form of behavior is acceptable, even though every mature and rational thinking person knows that it is never acceptable to bully someone.

Bullies want to see people suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

So what if mass shootings reflect this same type of persona? 

We could very well say that mass shooters are often people who suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

Bullies have harmed and killed numerous people through the simple act of bullying. So have mass shooters.

The one thing that may separate traditional bullies from mass shooters is that bullies tend to be genuinely scared, and so continually try to mask that fear. Mass shooters, on the other hand, seem to have come to the point where they no longer care about what happens to them, and have given up -- and so the only way to inflict the sort of pain that a bully traditionally would is to lash out at as many people as possible.

Simple bullying isn't enough. A mass shooter needs to go the extra mile to make themselves feel powerful. So they resort to extreme violence.

We might wonder then, why do so many mass shooters kill themselves after a bloody rampage? My theory is that they simply don't want to face the consequences of their actions. Somewhere in their mind they still realize that justice is more powerful than they are or ever will be, and so the only way to overcome having to face the consequences of their actions, they kill themselves and escape any and all responsibility, opting instead to go down in infamy as a mass shooter. 

Let's recall the list of traits a serial bully has one more time.

  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
    --Most mass shooters tend to hide their "evil" side until they go on the rampage.
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
    --Most mass shooters often find ways to obtain weapons and lie about it. This is especially true with underage mass shooters. They are also good at convincing others that they wouldn't harm a fly, but secretly harbor a desire to harm as many people as possible.
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
    --This one is hard to pin down, because most mass shooters do not like to operate in a social environment. They are usually the disenfranchised. They themselves might be the victims of other serial bullies, and the stress, frustration, and fear they have experienced they want to pay back ten fold.
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
    --Mass shooters often cite a "cause" or "reason" why they shot up a church, or blew up a school. Usually it is because they are attacking some feature of an organisation, individual, or even entire culture, that they do not like and want to see it destroyed. It would also help explain why many recent mass shootings seem to be racially motivated.
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
    --Do you remember the Columbine shooting? Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their fellow students and teachers, injuring over 21 others, before committing suicide. A year after the attack, an analysis of mass shootings in America by officials at the US Secret Service found that bullying played a major role in who the shooters selected as targets. This suggests that mass shootings may incorporate a form of retaliation by the attackers on the victims by blaming the victims for their own slate of problems. It was later found that, in the case of Harris and Klebold, they were the perpetrators of as many incidents of bullying as they were the victims.
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action;
    --This explains why many mass shooters are also suicide shooters. They want to escape any form of disciplinary action for their crimes.
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.
    --Many mass shooters seems to roam about aimlessly after taking out their intended targets when they go on a shooting rampage , racking up a large body count before ending their own lives or being taken down by the authorities.


Now, I'm no psychologist. But it seems that mass shooting interpreted as a form of serial bulling, seems to make a certain amount of sense. At least, it does to me. 

But mass shootings, if they are indeed a form of bullying, seem to me to stem from the disenfranchisement of an individual from society more than it seems to fit with a certain socioeconomic norm wherein bullying typically thrives. In fact, a 2010 study found that rejection of a peer group (a type of disenfranchisement) was the leading motivating factor behind most school shootings.

Either way, we are talking about an unacceptable practice regardless of where it rears its ugly head.


Viewing mass shootings as a form of bullying would also explain why it seems to be getting worse. 

Bullying is a behavior that is extremely hard to squash, especially when there is an environment that is ripe for it. 

America just so happens to be perfectly suited for the rise of mass shootings. And this plays out on a weekly, monthly, and annually basis in what has become all too common place, senseless mayhem and violence inflicted on countless innocent people by mass shooters, a new lot of bullies for the 21st century.


For more on mass shootings and school rampage shootings, please see:

http://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Rocque_2012_SSJ.pdf

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist