I have to say, I saw this coming.
In an era which has been so full of all manner of public nastiness and viciousness (much but by no means all of it emanating from the right), one of our society’s more heartening trends has been a growing public concern about bullying, and a heightened sensitivity to the severe trauma bullies can inflict on their vulnerable young victims. Dan Savage’s brilliant “It Gets Better” campaign, targeted at bullied LGBTQ youth; Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying organization, documentaries liked the acclaimed new film Bully — all of this has been wonderful. To the extent that we as a society make clear that bullying is completely unacceptable, and that it becomes the norm for adults to take action to stop bullies instead of looking the other way — this is a significant step forward in human progress, and a victory for humanity. Who, I ask, could possibly be opposed to such a glorious thing?
The Wall Street Journal — that’s who!
Nick Gillespie, noted libertarian wanker, has written an opinion piece for the WSJ in which he takes us liberal pansy-asses to task for our coddling of bullied kids and our namby-pamby concern with stuff like kids’ physical and psychological well-being — you know, their “feelings.” Oh, to be sure, he makes the right noises about not really being pro-bully. “I have no interest in defending the bullies who dominate sandboxes, extort lunch money and use Twitter to taunt their classmates,” he writes — good to know!
But basically, the dude is concern trolling. He manages to fill out every square on the Libertarian Bingo — Child-Rearing Edition score card. The horror of peanut-free, soda-free schools? Check. The terrifying possibility that victims’ bullies might resort to the courts to force bullies, and the schools that enable them, to take responsibility for their actions? Check. “Helicopter parents”? Check, again. Ranting about “paternalism run amok”? Yup, check. A few cherry-picked examples of panicky, overprotective school administrators doing silly things like canceling an Easter egg hunt? Check, and double check.
Gillespie makes the argument that kids today are safer than ever, and that may be true, in some respects. For instance, he points out that rates of childhood mortality and accidents are declining, and I’m sure that’s true. But what, praytell, does that have to do with the subject at hand, which is bullying? He presents no real evidence that childhood bullying — either its frequency or intensity — is on the decline.
But I think the most awesome moment in the entire piece is when he actually comes out in favor of child labor. As In These Times has noted, “Advocates have for months been pressing the Labor Department to finalize a rule change that would help shield child farm workers from some of the most severe occupational hazards, such as handling pesticides and dangerous farm equipment, and would beef up protections for workers under age 16.” But Gillespie seems to believe that protecting kids from dangerous working conditions is for pussies: “What was once taken for granted—working the family farm, October tests with jack-o-lantern-themed questions, hunting your own Easter eggs—is being threatened by paternalism run amok.” Hey, if it was good enough for those Joad kids, it should be good enough for today’s spoiled brats! And while you’re at it, get offa my lawn!
Though I have to ask: what exactly is Gillespie complaining about, anyway? A few films, television shows, websites, and educational programs aimed at raising awareness about bullying, teaching kids how to react to bullies, and educating adults about how to effectively intervene when there’s a bullying problem? These campaigns give frightened, traumatized kids the tools to fight back. They even have the potential to create a radically more humane, less cruel society. What kind of warped psyche gets all bent out of shape about anti-bullying campaigns, yet is completely OK with labor practices that lead to hundreds of preventable child deaths every year?
I know that some people think libertarianism is a defensible and benign — even a noble — political philosophy. But you really have to start wondering why libertarians so often end up defending the privileges of some of the worst creeps, bullies, and a-holes on the face of the planet.