January 11th, 2011

About Being Targeted, Before and After Tuscon

It’s incredibly important for everyone to watch their chosen words in light of the tragic shooting of a U.S. Congresswoman. I will try to do so. The myopic mass media begrudgingly acknowledge that words do have consequences. However, they accept no responsibility for demanding that the only information worthy of precious TV air time is to focus on a fight between adversaries.

Without “provocative” guests, willing to go “over the top,” there would be no TV guest appearances. None. I’ve made lots of TV appearances. What makes me provocative is stating bluntly that employers are responsible for bullying and they don’t much care to stop it. To those familiar with the bullying movement, this is not news! To pro-corporate media, this is unsettling talk.

Long ago, producers and the harried folks who book guests on cable and network shows abandoned “talking heads.” They decided that viewers would not sit for prolonged discussions and static camera shots (ever watch Charlie Rose or Bill Moyers on PBS or documentaries). “News” shows want to reproduce the flavor (and assumed popularity) of reality shows characterized by cutthroat competition and humiliation with short camera shots that stimulate while the abusive words trigger/provoke emotional reactions in the the viewer. Media say they are giving the public what they want. But I counter that the public is fed a steady diet of fighting and small-mindedness, which in turn, shapes public behavior.

Why wouldn’t bosses behave like contestants on Survivor, or worse yet, Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of … ?

I wonder how many political pundits will decry violence, specifically gun violence — crosshairs on maps, lock-and-load, bullseye victory, 2nd amendment solution, the campaign invitation to “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly” — in the wake of the Tuscon massacre. Gun availability makes it too easy for the “unbalanced” among us to kill spontaneously. Reuters news service reports that the U.S. has the most armed citizenry in the world, 90 guns per 100 people. So, contrary to Africa or Latin America stereotypes as gun-wielding types, it is we who are flooded with weapons of death.

If the shooter Loughner had used a smaller gun magazine that held fewer bullets than before changes in the law allowed his larger capacity magazine (made possible by the lapsing of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004), he would have inflicted less pain by having to reload sooner. Moreover, if he had used a knife, he could not have killed six individuals in such close quarters. He would have been stopped much earlier and certainly would have been less lethal.

Guns and the American way mix in a way that makes violence predictable. In the aftermath of every event like the Tuscon massacre, observers say they never could have imagined it. Why not? It is so common that we have a name for it in our country — Going Postal!

This then is the American context for our attempts to civilize the American workplace with anti-bullying legislation, the Healthy Workplace Bill. Watch the future discourse in the coming weeks. Note how frequently the apologists for hate speech rely on  the psychological crazy-man explanation. They will dismiss all societal influences as irrelevant. That is, if only bad seeds are responsible, nothing in our society needs to ever change.

Quite frankly, given the frequency of public massacres in America, nothing does ever change. The NRA’s power over politicians of all parties is so strong that resistance to gun control has achieved a state of nearly perfect “post-partisanship.” For a sane approach to the national embarrassment that is our handgun addiction, see the views of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Watch and listen to tea party funder Dick Armey (former TX Congressman, PhD in economics, co-chairman of FreedomWorks) state at the 44:00 minute time mark of the 49 min. Jan. 9, 2011 broadcast of ABC This Week. He stated that the unequivocal explanation to the tragedy will come from the discipline of psychology (he means clinical psychology and psychiatry) and not from “pop sociology.” There you have it. Dick Armey, leading conservative activist and tea party defender, telling the world that no explanations beyond the instability of the shooter have any merit.

At WBI, we are committed to eradicating all forms of workplace violence. We always make the point that bullying is sub-lethal and non-physical. It’s not about homicide or battery.

However, site visitors and friends know a great deal about being targeted. Bullied targets face a form of assassination — of their self-identity and personal character — rather than a loss of life. In extreme cases, the targeting compels its victims to take their own lives. Bullies are indirectly responsible, but not in the same way that a gun-toting assassin is completely responsible.  Bullies have been called organizational terrorists for the fear they instill in everyone they encounter. But they are not typically murderers anymore than are frustrated targets who might bring a weapon to work for vengeance for wrongs suffered over a long period of time.

Targets turned to shooters is a very nuanced phenomenon. Does it happen? Yes. I served as commentator along with a criminologist and psychiatrist in the documentary Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal.  For our new book, we discovered the background to the Virginia Tech massacre. Yes, colleague Ken Westhues provides quite an in-depth story behind the headlines for patient people who seek a deeper understanding than TV delivers about that particular tragedy.

Even Jon Stewart on the Daily Show addressed the complexity and multiplicity of potential explanations for the events on Jan. 8 in Tuscon in a way Armey and hate speech apologists never will. A sociologist couldn’t have said it any better. Stewart gets the last word here.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 at 4:50 pm and is filed under Fairness & Social Justice Denied. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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