The following is a direct quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel,
Stranger in a Strange Land, Putnam, 1961, page 294 of the hardback edition, admittedly reproduced here without permission … and I think it speaks volumes to the phenomenon of bullying.
To set the stage, Valentine Michael Smith, a man raised on Mars by Martians and with no complete understanding of human society, and Gillian Boardman have left Jubal Harshaw’s enclave and struck out on their own, learning about the world and how it works, and more importantly, how people work. On this particular day, their travels have taken them to a zoo, where Jill is feeding peanuts to capuchins in the monkey house:
She tossed one to a monk; before he could eat it a larger male not only stole his peanut but gave him a beating. The little fellow made no attempt to pursue his tormentor; he pounded his knuckles against the floor and chattered helpless rage. Mike watched solemnly.
Suddenly the mistreated monkey rushed across the cage, picked a monkey still smaller, bowled it over and gave it a drubbing worse than the one he had suffered. The third monk crawled away, whimpering. The other monkeys paid no attention.
For those who know the story, you also know Mike Smith’s reaction to this tableau: he laughs, nearly uncontrollably, then later explains to Jill later that the laughter came out of him because it hurt, and laughing was the only way to make the hurt stop.
I disagree with Heinlein’s assertion that the hardest laughter is the result of a “wrongness,” of an injury or harm done to another, but not in the scene which gave rise to Mike’s reaction. I’d place a hefty wager that Heinlein himself saw such an event at one time or another, and it further informed his understanding of social interaction in man or monkey.
It’s a fact: people dump on each other. There is a pecking order to how the dumping is done. The more powerful or privileged take their frustrations or anger or whatever out on those less empowered, and the process can propagate down that order until the least of that order has taken the cumulative punishment of the sequence before it. Worst of all, like the capuchins of the above vignette, it happens mostly to the screaming indifference of those around the incident. The perpetrators do it because they CAN do it, and because they know what the response will be, or more appropriately, what it WON’T be. After all, this is SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, and to interfere with it is to interfere with the putative “natural order.”
I suppose you can accuse of me generalizing here, and maybe I am … but that scene from Heinlein’s Stranger has stuck with me for a long time, especially since I was once on the business end of that pecking order, frequently at or near the bottom of it, with no recourse for my own anger and frustration … and I thought this story needed telling.
So here it is.
Loren, your telling of this tale evokes incredible sadness and rage as I read it. You wrote, " since I was once on the business end of that pecking order, frequently at or near the bottom of it, with no recourse for my own anger and frustration … and I thought this story needed telling."
A profound YES! Silence has no redeeming qualities. Speaking out against such experiences, standing with others who feel too weak or helpless, and taking charge of our own lives as best we can are the only things I can think to do. There may be other things that would help, but I don't know what they would be.
Feeling scapegoated, helpless, unsupported, and without recourse surely cannot lead to a healthy, happy, productive life. Your words make this powerfully clear. Thanks Loren.
This pecking order is Dominator Culture, courtesy of our reptile brain. Much of society runs like this, but not all. Riane Eisler also describes Partnership Culture, where equals cooperate, in The Chalice and The Blade. Dominator Culture is destroying the planet, as far as I'm concerned. Not only do the 1% take from the 99%, they take from the Earth without thought of consequence. I think our only future as a species, in a sustainable world, will be to embrace Partnership and reject Dominator culture.
Thanks Loren. I finally got around to reading this. I've heard of SiaSL over the years, but I've never read it.