The Monday 12/29/08 Detroit News carried a commentary by Pete Maurer, a local school teacher, titled “Bullies don’t have self-esteem issues”. The article starts:
“For years, the conventional wisdom was that bullies picked on others because they had low self-esteem and often turned to hurting others so they could feel better about themselves.
I’m not sure about you, but the bullies I went to school with seemed to have no problems with self-esteem issues; they actually appeared to enjoy pushing people around.
Now comes research that suggests bullies do get a kick out of kicking others around. If anything, bullies enjoy extremely high self-esteem.”
He doesn’t define what he means by self-esteem but evidently he means feeling happy with oneself. But is momentarily feeling good about one’s self a sign of self-esteem? Not necessarily. A man of low self-esteem can feel good about himself for getting away with something he shouldn’t have.
He then cites this research:
“Researchers at the University of Chicago recently conducted brain scans of teen-agers who had a history of aggressive bullying, showing them video clips of people inflicting pain on others.
To the researchers’ surprise, the portions of the brain most associated with reward, areas called the amygdala and ventral striatum, lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. In other words, the bullies enjoyed watching someone starting a fight or using a weapon to intimidate someone.
Lending support to this discovery, the self-regulatory areas of the brain showed little or no activity. The control group of teenage boys, by the way, had the opposite results; their brains showed increased activity in self-regulation, along with decreased activity in the reward centers.
What isn’t clear to researchers is whether this type of brain activity is learned or is hard-wired since birth, a genetic mistake that sends the bully on a lifelong pursuit of hurting others to earn his or her reward.”
But is getting a reward the essence of self-esteem? What about the issue of earning one’s esteem?
I fired off this LTE which the News has not yet printed.
The commentary of 12/29/08 “School bullies don’t have self-esteem issues” is way off base. Genuine self-esteem comes from confidence in one’s efficacy at living a productive life proper to a rational being. Such a person knows that reason is the only tool that can provide a genuine happiness and that such a value must be earned.
A bully has subordinated his reason to justifying his feelings whose satisfaction can only come from forcing others to provide him with an unearned or commanded esteem. The man of self-esteem reshapes reality to serve his survival according to his best judgment. The bully tries to reshape men and reality to conform to his feelings and whims.
To suggest as Mr. Maurer, and the studies he cites, that self-esteem can be achieved by starting the use of force against others, is to obliterate the difference between the earned and the unearned and to teach students a wrong notion of self-esteem.
Speaking of self esteem Ayn rand writes:
“Self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think. It cannot be replaced by one’s power to deceive. The self-confidence of a scientist and the self-confidence of a con man are not interchangeable states, and do not come from the same psychological universe. The success of a man who deals with reality augments his self-confidence. The success of a con man augments his panic.” (from her essay ‘The Age of Envy’ in the book Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution)
And so the self confidence of a productive person and that of a bully are two different things. One is earned the other is forced. It is a dangerous practice to even suggest that self-esteem can be had by bullying others. That a reputable university is claiming to support this notion is scary.