Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bully Buttons - Big Brother's Latest Gadget

I would like to bring your attention to the new popular buzzword that is being promulgated as the panacea for all of society's ills: Accountability. In his classic work, 1984, George Orwell paints a futuristic society, Oceania, in which the government-"Big Brother"-watches over all. In other words, everyone is accountable to the government for all of their actions. While the populace is brainwashed into believing the government is their salvation, the government is really their enslaver and the cause of their misery. Its Department of Truth manipulates the language, Newspeak, to promote the government's agenda of total control.
We are increasingly headed in the direction of 1984, with the blessing of our own population, which loves to relinquish personal responsibility for our lives and hand it over to the government, in the naive belief that our government knows best and can take care of us better than we can take care of ourselves. Our latest Big Brother word is Accountability. What a great idea! Just make people accountable for their actions, and then they will do all the right things. All the ills of society will disappear when people are held accountable.
But people can't be held accountable for things that are not in their control. "No Child Left Behind" holds schools accountable for lack of students' academic success. But how can they be held accountable for this? Education experts have been endlessly trying to find ways to improve student achievement and the controversies over how to accomplish this never end. Is a law going to force learning to increase? What the law will do is encourage schools to figure out how to avoid getting in trouble with the law. So they creatively manipulate test scores to show educational improvement that isn't really happening.
Anti-bullying laws are holding schools accountable for the bullying that goes on between students. But how can schools be held responsible for making kids stop bullying each other when adults, even mental health professionals, don't know how to be free of bullying in their own lives, don't know how to get their own couple of kids at home to stop bullying each other? "Accountability" is not going to bring our society closer to Utopia. It will bring only bring it closer to Oceania.
Signs suggest, unfortunately, that Australia is nearly there: A company there is now marketing a video recording system called Bully Buttons. When kids feel they are being bullied, they press the nearest Bully Button and cameras start filming. (Australia is taking bullying increasingly seriously, which is not surprising in light of a recent lawsuit in which a school was ordered to pay over a million dollars for failing to stop a child from being bullied.)
Of course everyone thinks this is a wonderful idea. That is the beautiful thing about Big Brother. It sounds so good that no one can see any reason to object to it. How nice to have a Big Brother always available to watch over us and protect us from each other. The company, of course, doesn't want to be seen as Big Brother, but the fact that the company feels the need to defend itself in advance from such accusations speaks for itself: "We don't want it to be too pervasive or Big Brotherish," the company manager is quoted as saying. I guess they only want it to be adequately "pervasive and Big Brotherish."
But what does it do to our our moral development... to our social relationships? You are no longer free to learn from experience in treating people different ways. Even if you can't stand someone, you had better make believe you like the person because if you show any hostility, it's on tape and you get punished. Mainstream society upholds honesty as a major value, but its Big Brother anti-bullying policies are promoting forced phoniness. Anti-bullying policies are meant to get kids to treat each other morally. But is where is the morality when the purpose of your behavior is avoidance of punishment?
As an adult, would you like to have all of your interpersonal interactions under the scrutiny and control of government officials? Why start kids on a course in childhood that we detest as adults? What kind of a world are we preparing them for with these Bully Buttons?

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