In modern society, the school (or neighborhood) bully is despised.  His actions are always deemed bad. One might wonder why such behavior even exists. This brief article is not designed to justify his actions but to ignite a discussion of why in the history of humanity, such deplorable behavior has survived in our species.

Since the publication of The Origin of the Species in 1859, it has been believed by the scientific community that populations of life forms (species) will naturally select certain traits to pass onto their progenitors that are selected for survival over other traits. It is believed that these traits happen over many generations.

The summation of Darwin’s Origin of the Species can be this quote from that work: “As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it varies however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.”

My theory is that it isn’t “survival of the fittest” but “death of the unfit” that causes this natural selection. While the two theories may seem to be calling for the same thing, it is only in the harshest of conditions that any individual species will survive at the parent species’ expense.

In breeding techniques used for artificial selection, Darwin states (Chapter 1, page 32) that “. . . the seed-raisers do not pick out the best plants, but merely go over their seed-beds, and pull up the “rogues,” as they call the plants that deviate from the proper standard.”  This culling is similar to humans “bullying” those that don’t meet whatever supposed standard exists.  The ostracization equates to culling in plants. “. . . for hardly any one is so careless as to allow his worst animals to breed” (Chapter 1, page 33).

Variation Under Domestication

From Origin of the Species, Chapter III and IV:

  • “. . . it is not the obtaining food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average numbers of a species” (Page 68, Chapter III).
  • “. . . each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food” (page 69, Chapter III).
  • “But the struggle almost invariably will be most severe between individuals of the same species, for they frequent the same districts, require the same food, and are exposed to the same dangers” (page 75, chapter III).
  • “ . . that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction” (page 79, Chapter III).
  • “This preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection” (Page 81, Chapter IV).
  • “. . . if any one species does not become modified and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitors, it will soon be exterminated” (page 102, Chapter IV).
  • “. . . rare species will be less quickly modified or improved within any given period, and they will consequently be beaten in the race for life by the modified descendants of the commoner species.”
  • “. . . as new species . . . are formed . . . others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct.”

Of course, as a parent, as a teacher in the public schools, and as a grandparent, I agree that bullies are deplorable.  However, they may have served a useful function in the development of man—and our DNA may contain a continuing drive for some within our society to exclude others because of perceived weakness.  It isn’t good for a single individual—but for the species, culling the weak may be useful. 

Again, please do not interpret this as a justification for bullying. It is painful, horrible, and deplorable on the weak individual.  But, there may be a historical justification for it built into our very DNA.  A survival technique.  A way of helping humanity become strong. It is no longer a necessary trait—but let’s understand that it isn’t peculiar—nor unique to our species. What this characteristic calls for is merely a better understanding of the underlying cause.

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