Bullying is topical right now, and Chris Trotter has entered the debate with this rather strange opinion piece. In it, he responds to a comment by Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro, who has been outspoken against bullying. Trotter laughs at Kiro's statement that school should prepare children for the world beyond - pointing out, quite rightly, that bullying is commonplace in adult life.
He's right. But what's strange about Trotter's piece is that he argues at length that bullying is a natural, genetically influenced behaviour. Trotter's not trying to condone bullying - but he's putting up a seriously odd argument for someone of the left. Does he believe that colonisers oppress indigenous people because of their genes? That bosses mistreat workers for some biological reason? That nature leads men to inflict domestic or sexual violence on women?
Of course not, Trotter would say - but this is an argument you can't have both ways. If you believe that nature inclines the 'strong' to dominate the 'weak', you're offering a mitigating factor for those who oppress or abuse. This isn't an abstract point. It's commonplace to hear excuses made for violence. Tony Veitch 'lashed out' because he was tired and his ex-partner was irritating him. An 18 year old woman was raped by a group of English rugby players - but she was drinking with them in a hotel room, so what could she expect them to do?
People can and do stand up against bullying. They reject pseudo-scientific excuses for bad behaviour and they show moral courage. If Trotter wants to do the left a favour, he'll add his voice to those denouncing bullying rather than finding justifications for it.