29 November 2007

Putting it plainly

Thinking Through My Fingers is one of several blogs pointing to the NYT story about a teenage girl who killed herself after a cruel hoax. TTMF references another pointer, from Asymmetric Information. I have to comment that Jim Putnam's TTMF post is lucid, while I had to read AI several times before understanding exactly what Megan McArdle's take was. Having gotten there, though, I find myself in broad agreement with her response, if not with every detail of her assessment.

For the purposes of this post, it matters not to me whether any of the components of the story are real or whether the whole thing is an invention. I understand, and do not criticise, McArdle's refusal to believe it genuine, but there are enough instances of young people topping themselves after bullying for this one to be perfectly feasible. Either way, the general human nastiness which runs through the whole thing is real enough, whether it emanates from real events or somebody's invention. And the particular nastiness running through the "Megan had it coming" blog (I refuse, for once, to give a link) is, in many ways, even more sickening than the initial hoax.

Unlike Jim, by the way, this doesn't tempt me to towards acceptance of the abstract evil in which neither of us believe. It simply reminds me that there is an awful lot of unpleasantness around, distributed throughout most of us, against which we should be always on guard.

Bullying, at any age, is a part of our human societies which is not taken nearly seriously enough, though I don't claim to have any easy answers to how it might be better dealt with. This particular case (whether it be real or hypothetical) involves an act of bullying of a particular type, in which adult power and knowledge of medical vulnerability are turned against a victim at a particularly vulnerable. Megan Meier seems, as in many cases, to have been both victim and perpetrator at different times, and I don't kid myself that I know how to disentangle such cases let alone solve or prevent them. The adult involved, however, is a different matter. In my book, in natural justice if not in law, she committed an offence which unintentionally caused death - and that, in plain words, is manslaughter.

Law, however, is the last resort when dealing with social ills. In this, if nothing else, I am probably in agreement with Megan McArdle. Laws may or may not be ancillary instruments in dealing with bullying, but bullying itself will only reduce when it is not tolerated by those amongst whom it is perpetrated - and that, again in plain words, is you and me.

What you do about it is up to you. What I should do about it is probably far, far more that I actually do in reality. But a bare minimum, if I am to look myself in the face, is to leave no doubt where I stand on the issue. So, to all those commenting in their nasty, slimy, cowardly little blog, that "Megan had it coming", let me say clearly: they disgust me and I feel nothing but contemptuous revulsion for their shallow flocklike unpleasantness.

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