U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has been forced out in a weird scandal involving “bullying” [Dominic Raab, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister, Resigns Amid Bullying Scandal, by Mark Landler and Stephen Castle, NYT, April 21, 2023]. I just gave a bravura performance imitating his alleged behavior on my Jolly Heretic podcast to make a broader point: “bullying” is evolutionarily adaptive.
And it is found at least as often among a group that the conventional wisdom doesn’t admit exists: the Authoritarian Left.
Thus in the U.S., Donald Trump notoriously called his 2016 GOP primary opponent Marco Rubio “Little Marco,” a crude jab at the senator from Florida. He called Jeb Bush “low-energy Jeb” and Sen. Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.” But Orange Man Bad had nothing on the radical leftists. Black Lives Matter mobs have repeatedly bullied al fresco diners into raising their fists in “solidarity” during the Floyd Hoax spasm of street violence. BLM activists bully whites into kneeling. Leftists on college campuses routinely intimidate, threaten, and suppress conservative speakers. All these bullies have something in common. Their behavior is part of human nature. It’s in our genes.
In 2012, the journal Aggressive Behavior published a fascinating study on the evolutionary dynamics of bullying by Brock University’s Professor Tony Volk and colleagues: Is Adolescent Bullying an Evolutionary Adaptation? [Volume 00, pages 1–17 (2012)].
It made for sobering reading. The study explained why bullying is so pervasive and why it cannot be stamped out, no matter how hard good-hearted people try. Last year, Volk and his colleagues reviewed their work and that of others during the subsequent ten years. Their findings were confirmed: Bullying is adaptive and explained by evolution [Is Adolescent Bullying An Evolutionary Adaptation? A 10-Year Review, Educational Psychology Review, 2022].
Our review of the evidence published since our 2012 paper provides very consistent and strong support for the hypothesis that adolescent bullying is, at least in part, an evolutionary adaptation that is currently adaptive regarding at least ﬁve evolutionarily relevant functions (the Five “Rs”): Reputation, Resources, deteRrence, Recreation, and Reproduction.
The authors originally showed that bullying can be found among non-human animals, in all human societies and that it appears impossible to stamp out. Accordingly, the propensity to bully is an evolutionary adaptation, which means it is at least partly heritable—i.e., partly genetic—and must enhance wealth, social success, and reproduction.
2022’s review confirmed that finding:
[P]erhaps the strongest form of genetic evidence for bullying is behavioral genetic studies. These consistently report that genetic factors account for 60–70% of the variance associated with being a bully or a bully victim within Western samples…
Also last year, Volk and his colleagues cited a study that showed that bullying enhances the bully’s status and reputation:
[The study] found that high-status bullies maintained their status when continually bullying the same victims, but lost peer status when the bullying stopped. Further, there were clear status gains for a bully when targeting a new victim. … These results demonstrate a clear link between bullying and reputational status: sustained bullying conferred status; when the bullying stopped, status decreased; and when bullying was initiated, status increased.
And, importantly, the authors argued that “bullying is associated with multiple proxies for reproductive success,” that “research [links] bullying to motives related to reproductive goals” and is “a tactic to impress potential mates and/or denigrate potential competitors.”
The authors write:
Using data from three distinct British and Dutch cohorts, [researchers] found that people who bullied in their youth had more children in adulthood than their non-bully counterparts. This directly supports the hypothesis that bullying is currently an adaptive behavior.
Apparently, men who bully showcase qualities that are innately attractive to girls and women, including the following:
Male bullying, of course, is more physical than female bullying. American psychologist Joyce Benenson has shown that women evolved to seek out a small group of potential alloparents—women who help them look after their children within a broader harem—and to strongly one-on-one bond with these helpmates in a relationship of supposed equality. A prehistoric woman who “stood out” and tried to get more attention from a dominant man was a threat [Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes, by Joyce Benenson, February 2014].
A personal story about women who bully: When I was in line to register as a doctoral student at Scotland’s Aberdeen University, I met a friendly and pretty Greek postgraduate. Quite a few Greeks seemed to be there, but anyway, a while later, I mentioned her to another Greek woman postgraduate who lived in the flat below mine. She was 28, somewhat older than the other Greek, and had a very big nose. She informed me that the woman whom I’d met in the queue was “easy.” On another occasion she referred to another student with whom I was also friendly and was pretty, but overweight, as “the big girl.” That’s how women bully.
Psychologist Jordan Peterson explained it in an interview with an incredulous feminist:
People look at aggressive and antisocial behavior in women and in men. And in women it tends to take the expression of innuendo, gossip, and reputation destruction, and in men it tends to take the form of outright physical aggression. There’s a whole literature on that. It’s not a surprise to anyone. This has been known for 30 years. …
Women have to express aggression somehow. … They tend not to do it physically—not to the degree men do—so they use other channels.
Men or boys who bully each other attack the target’s “masculine” qualities that both sexes find attractive. Example: Donald Trump vs. his 2016 opponents. He strongly implied that his opponents weren’t masculine. Rubio, again, was “Little Marco” because he’s 5-feet-9.
Rubio retaliated. “You know what they say about men with small hands,” Rubio told a crowd of supporters. After a pause for the audience to draw its own conclusion, Rubio delivered this innocuous line: “You can’t trust ’em.”
Obvious implication: Trump has a small appendage. It was an obvious attack on Trump’s masculinity.
As for “low-energy Jeb,” Matthew Yglesias explained that “low-energy” didn’t mean Bush needed a double espresso to get through a debate:
But most men I've spoken to interpret Trump as alluding to Jeb's virility, or lack thereof. Trump is suggesting that Jeb has "low T" or erectile dysfunction, or at a minimum lacks the outward projections of masculine vigor that society expects from a president.
[“Low-energy”: Donald Trump's favorite diss on Jeb Bush, explained, Vox, September 4, 2015]
Journalists who argue that Trump’s father or negative experiences at his military school turned him into a bully, by the way, should keep Volk’s work in mind [Trump the ‘Bully’: How Childhood & Military School Shaped the Future President, by Patrice Taddonio, Frontline, September 22, 2020].
But let’s move to leftist bullying:
Bullying today goes beyond what some experience in high school from handsome jocks or fetching cheerleaders. Now it’s become political, and particularly vicious.
If times worsen economically, and as the 2024 presidential election approaches, expect the left to intensify its bullying to marginalize Trump supporters and anyone else it considers an enemy.
But just remember, no matter who the bully is, it’s probably in his genes.
We just have to deal with it.
Edward Dutton (email him | Tweet him) is Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Asbiro University, Łódź, Poland. You can see him on his Jolly Heretic video channels on YouTube and Bitchute. His books are available on his home page here.