...free to think freely


13th February 2022

Standing up to bullies

When I was afraid of some of the other boys at school my father told me to stand my ground. He said bullies are really cowards and they only get away with their behaviour while people fear them. Refuse to be afraid and their power is gone. He was utterly convinced that standing up to bullies would result in them being the ones to run away.

Maybe so, but in order to test the theory, the bullied must take a risk, a risk that the bully might also stand and fight, afraid of losing the respect of peers or fear from other victims. An assessment of the bully’s power to back up threats is needed to understand that risk, along with what they might gain or lose. There is a difference between bullies who have much to lose and power to enforce their way, and those whose power consists only of fear and have no real way to force their position.

Bullying is rife in our world. It happens between nations when one government tries to intimidate others into giving in to its demands. It happens in the workplace. It can happen in the home and it is mostly associated in people’s mind with the school playground. Wherever it is found it is an ugly abuse of power, real or imagined.

At the time of writing many countries in the West believe Russia is bullying Ukraine. The huge movements of Russian army units close to Ukraine’s borders and into its occupied South certainly looks like a preparation for war. We cannot know whether war is intended or not, but the world worries about the prospect and feels intimidated by this behaviour. With tensions so high there is always the possibility of misunderstanding or someone losing their nerve and firing a first shot. That could be all it takes to bring disaster.

Closer to home, bullying has become an almost standard tool in politics. Political bullying and abuse is not new, of course. It has arisen many times in the past and must be expected to return from time to time in the future. Terrorism is one form, and arises periodically from various otherwise powerless groups determined to achieve through force what they could not achieve through other means. They use that as a justification for turning to violent tactics. Sometimes their grievances are just ones; they might well be an oppressed minority trying to fight some tyranny, but the tactic to which they have turned is rarely likely to bring success as they lack the power to drive real change, and the resort to violence is usually a reflection of that.

Totalitarian systems often bully opponents, whether in or out of power. In power they will write bullying laws which deny free speech, criminalise holding or promoting a critical position, and persecute those they consider enemies, even if these enemies have never actively resisted them. Out of power they will try to destabilise society, threaten or intimidate under the guise of campaigning and spread falsehoods to persuade people over to their cause in the hope of winning power. In extreme cases they will seize power through revolution or a coup. They will frequently use terrorist methods to cow opponents if they can.

Political systems turn to bullying when they cannot justify their position by sound logical argument and force becomes the only way to prevent defeat by exposure. Sadly, with the demise of well-resourced political journalism, many now hold views they cannot justify and repeating their beliefs while denigrating all opposition has become the currency in which they operate. Bullying has replaced the debate which used to be the means by which ideas stand or fall. Wokeism, as the latest totalitarian system, uses bullying to enforce an assumption by public speakers that their beliefs are unquestionable alongside repetition of those beliefs or ideas based on those beliefs and severe persecution of any who dare challenge them. To disagree with a Wokeist idea is to be deemed a “hate criminal”, a term reminiscent of George Orwell’s thought criminals (from his novel, 1984) and risk punishment as such.

And here Wokeism has achieved something no previous version of totalitarianism has: influencing mainstream political parties into legislating according to its beliefs rather than forming a party of its own to gain power. This is truly a novel tactic. Mainstream politicians are so afraid to disagree with Wokeists and be bullied out of their positions that they have allowed themselves to accept Wokeist definitions and legislate to enforce them. The Equality Act 2010 is a prime example of such a law, by accepting and protecting categories which have never been scrutinised by any sound logical process. Now, people need protection against unfair treatment, but the Equality Act protects people on the basis of alleged membership of categories which are not proven to exist. This must surely be a great Wokeist achievement; to make it difficult to challenge their ideas in a Western democracy without risking breaking the law! We are not talking about harming people, which must always be wrong, but simply questioning whether a particular way of defining people stands up to scrutiny. The definitions have become a legal fact without any discussion in wider society about their legitimacy or scientific basis. Accepting them has become a de facto legal requirement making further examination perilous.

Yet the bullying continues on a regular basis. Academics are driven out of their institutions. Students are silenced. People are misdescribed or labelled unfairly by the media because they dare not to go along with Wokeism or they refer to science instead of wishful thinking. People dare not admit to their private opinions and pretend to agree with Wokeists for fear of losing their jobs or their friends. No one dare say what ought to be obvious; these ideas need to be based on logical argument and sound principles. Show that they are real and not just wishful thinking and people might be able to believe them with a clear conscience. Yet anyone who calls for such data will instead either be given subjective impressions of an individual who believes these things, as if that is evidence of anything other than an opinion, or will be subjected to a campaign of vilification with a demand they are unfit to take part in Public Life.

While Vladimir Putin has a huge army at his disposal and the Ukraine crisis needs expert diplomatic handling if the world is to stand up to him, Wokeists have no real power beyond their demands. Once people realise their ideas are not real and insist on a proper balanced debate to uncover what is and isn’t fair, and professionals become free to distinguish different causes underlying the phenomena they seek to exploit, so people can receive the respect, tolerance and, where necessary, treatment they deserve, Wokeists will be seen for the extremist totalitarians they really are, and moderate freedom will return. Their power will be gone, for they are my father’s kind of bully.

In order for that to happen, people just need to be prepared to think for themselves and think logically on the basis of sound argument. Will that happen? Who can say?