If there was any doubt that the Age of the Bully was truly upon us, the news of this past week should dispel it. The psychotic dictatorship of North Korea—a militarized basket-case pariah nation that looks like an inky pool of primitive darkness in nighttime satellite photos—was able to censor an American film that insulted its Dear Leader, Kim Jong Un. An elite squad of North Korean hackers tore into Sony Pictures, making embarrassing emails and financial statements public. When Sony insisted upon its right of free expression, the Norks escalated to threats of 9/11-style violence against theaters that dared to screen “The Interview.” Theater chains submitted to the dictator’s will first, followed swiftly by Sony’s formal decision to cancel the release indefinitely, perhaps permanently.
Absent in all of this drama was the $3.5 trillion U.S. government under the administration of Barack Obama, which did absolutely nothing to protect an American company from terrorist attacks by a foreign power. Oh, there was a mild squeak of protest or two from the sdministration. Someone toddled out to declare the White House “takes very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists’ freedom of speech.” Attempt? They made this statement after Sony killed the film. It wasn’t an attempt at oppression, it was a success.
At the same time, President Obama was giving away the store to the dictatorship of Cuba, declaring his intention to normalize relations in exchange for absolutely nothing. Just to drive the point home, Cuba’s emergency backup dictator, Raul Castro, declared total victory for the “revolution,” emphasized that his regime would not change its behavior in any way, and even called on Obama to exert dictatorial powers to lift the Cuban embargo over the objections of Congress (where not all of the criticism for the Cuba giveaway is coming from Republicans.)
We’ll now be treated to the spectacle of Democrats—who just spent a week pushing a sloppy, one-sided report from their Senate caucus excoriating the Central Intelligence Agency for getting rough with captured terrorists—falling all over themselves to praise a Cuban regime that tortures its own citizens as punishment for political dissent. Sometimes Cuban dissenters find themselves in the same cell with the odd American who commits such unspeakable crimes as bringing unauthorized communications equipment to the Worker’s Paradise. The Cuban government straight-up murdered American citizens when it shot down unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996. But that’s all very cool with the Democrat Party, which was happy to send the terrorist operatives who helped arrange that cold-blooded killing back home, in exchange for one of Castro’s American hostages.
The Thuggery Didn’t End There
Legitimacy is what every thug regime craves, because it vindicates their decision to discard the limitations and responsibilities of civilization. They still get to collect the benefits, sitting on U.N. councils, collecting lucrative payouts from American taxpayers, and securing media approval for their demands and causes.
At the same time Pyongyang and Havana were celebrating big triumphs, the European Union decided to lift its “terrorist” classification for the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which is known for spending the Palestinians’ heavily-subsidized treasury on illegal weapons and terror tunnels, launching rockets at civilian targets from behind human shields, and applauding the vehicular homicide of three-month-old Jewish tourists who happen to be carrying American citizenship papers. From this latest of many concessions to Palestinian terrorism by Western liberals, the bullies of the world learn that the resistance of civilized people to barbaric aggression can be worn down. Keep pushing, demanding, and threatening, and eventually they’ll decide resistance is too much trouble, especially if they’re not overly fond of the people you’re bullying.
That’s the core principle of this new Age of the Bully: resistance is transactional. The rich, weak, cowardly, and lazy targets of bullying will hold out until standing up to the bully costs too much, at which point they’ll not only give in today, but cede all of tomorrow’s battles in advance. You don’t have to bully them very hard any more after they break. They’ll whip themselves into line. Even as Sony Pictures bowed to North Korea and axed “The Interview,” insiders at other Hollywood studios began speaking of projects that might annoy Pyongyang being quietly strangled in their development cribs, including a planned espionage film starring A-lister Steve Carell.
Carell responded by tweeting a photo of Charlie Chaplin satirizing Adolf Hitler in the classic “The Great Dictator.” Let’s just say the spirit of Chaplin is in short supply nowadays. Chaplin’s studio execs didn’t have to worry about espionage agents making massive troves of embarrassing private mail public. They also enjoyed the protection of a government that took espionage against American citizens very seriously.
What a Bully Wants to Hear: Resistance Is Transactional
We shouldn’t get too worked up about a bunch of super-rich Hollywood executives and stars losing money on “The Interview,” right? It looked like a dopey film anyway. Maybe the studio never should have green-lit something that tried to milk stoner humor out of a political assassination. (Although the perpetually-astonished Obama State Department gave the project a green light long ago—another triumph for our super-competent internationalist president and his brain trust!) It’s not as if we’d go to war over a silly movie. Maybe those Sony executives had it coming, to judge from the high jackass quotient of their exposed private correspondence. The movie probably would have bombed anyway…
That’s all music to a bully’s ears. Resistance is transactional. That means they can win by raising the cost of resistance above what their victims are willing to pay. The same principle is at work when college administrators decide to disinvite “controversial” speakers because a noisy band of malcontents stamps its jackboots and rules speech they disagree with intolerable. It was illustrated in cases from earlier this year, where a high school banned American flag T-shirts because the risk of violence from gangs on Cinco de Mayo was too high, and a band of pushy anti-Muslim activists was summarily stripped of their First Amendment rights and ordered out of a public park during a Muslim festival. In the latter case, the activists were being total jerks, and the Muslims were just trying to have a nice day in the park… but it was a public space, and no one involved made any pretense of cleaving to a principle higher than “protecting the free speech of these jerks is more trouble than it’s worth.”
Principles of Islamic law have already been penciled into the margins of the First Amendment under the same theory, including the prohibition against insulting or depicting Mohammed. Even Supreme Court justices have entertained the notion that offending Muslims prone to the violent expression of their displeasure is equivalent to “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
While You’re At It, Watch What You Say
But let’s not focus exclusively on Islam, because plenty of secular bullies are getting in on the act, too. An Internet flash mob of feminists recently drove a brilliant scientist to tears and extracted an apology for the “crime” of wearing a shirt covered with cartoon depictions of attractive women. Bullying is everywhere, riddled through Western culture like a cancer upon the healthy ideal of free speech. Vigilante mobs routinely seek to punish speech they don’t like, or in the case of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, private political donations from years ago someone decide were unacceptable.
The campus “trigger warning” culture of aggressive hyper-sensitivity—don’t you DARE say anything that might challenge my beliefs!—is migrating steadily into the adult world. The whole notion of censorship to avoid subjective “offense” is a demonstration of applied bullying through cultural power. You’d better suppress your thoughts and curb your speech, lest you slip up and say something that annoys those with enough cultural influence to make you pay for your transgression…. just like Hollywood studios are now going to think long and hard about making any film that might offend the North Korean regime, or anyone else likely to make the cost of free expression unbearable.
Oddly enough, an anti-bullying crusade was one of the Left’s big causes not long ago. Their definition of “bullying” was far too limited, their vision of the villains too narrow. The Age of the Bully has well and truly dawned, and it has little to do with schoolyard taunts or shakedowns for lunch money. It is difficult to find a single example of bullying tactics failing to deliver rewards, or yielding unpleasant consequences, in the world right now. It works, so we’re going to see more of it.