Bullies, Bystanders, Barbara Coloroso… and blind spots

I’ve been reading a fair bit that isn’t directly relevant to current events or the kind of politics that I am usually involved in – namely, psychology and alternative education stuff. One important author I want to talk about a bit here is Alice Miller. Another is Alfie Kohn. I’ve done a few waves of this sort of reading. I find it really depends on the timing, how insightful or useful I find the stuff. Anyway I think Miller and Kohn both deserve more in-depth reviews. Today though I want to say a few quick words about Barbara Coloroso, who is an author on bullying. I was given her book, “Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide”. She discusses mostly the Nazi holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, some of the Armenian genocide, and analyzes it in terms of bully, bullied, and bystander. These categories have some explanatory power – bullying is based on contempt and lack of empathy, she says, and taken to its extreme, it is genocide. It’s a reasonable set of categories she applies, but I think Miller’s work on the psychology of genocidal leaders and societies goes much deeper and is much more insightful (again, more later).

What upset me about Coloroso’s book, though, is what you might guess from an American author writing about genocide. She talks about bullying, contempt, racism, bystanders, apathy, sexual violence, and how all these lead to genocide. She presents a list of genocides in the first few pages of her book. To her credit, the number one and two genocides are those of the Americas – North and South America. But not to her credit, America’s Vietnam and Iraq massacres of millions of people do not appear. No Congo. No East Timor. No Guatemala. And, even though the body counts are large enough to meet her criteria (she has genocides of 10,000 and 30,000 – by Australia and South Africa, both of which are responsible for much larger numbers of deaths than this), no Palestine. The problem with this is, of course, that in Coloroso’s own scheme, it makes her a bystander to the kind of genocidal bullying she critiques, and a bystander in the very conflicts where her voice, her profile, and her analysis could make such a very huge difference. What if someone did weave a story about genocides like Barbara does, and seamlessly include those that the US and its allies (Israel, for example, or even Canada with its only-recently-closed residential schools and ongoing dispossession) are responsible for? Would it not help people see these things more clearly? Or would Barbara simply be shut out, like everyone who tries to actually be consistent about matters of bullying or genocide? And yet, Barbara herself would teach us that not wanting to be shut out is not enough to excuse a bystander. Stephen Lewis, who I also respect a lot, but who also chooses his battles carefully, says about Coloroso that “Nothing escapes the unsparing force of her intellect, the gentle generosity of her soul, and her passion to shape a better world.”

Nothing, that is, except the US or Israel’s bullying and genocidal programs. Still, it is worthwhile material for those who can take it to its logical conclusions and apply it more consistently than Barbara does.

Remind me also to discuss James Ron’s “Frontiers and Ghettos”, recommended to me by Rahul.