Education, Features

The Academic Mob and Its Fatal Toll

“I get the queasiness of no due process. But . . . losing your job isn’t death or prison.”
Dayna Tortorici (Twitter) 

“If you compare dissent via social media to lynch mobs,
then you don’t understand dissent, social media, or lynch mobs.”
Jen Sookfong Lee (Twitter)


In 1992, the ethics committee of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University accused neurology and neurosurgery professor Justine Sergent of failing to properly obtain their approval for her work using radioactive isotopes to study the brain function of pianists. Sergent claimed no wrongdoing other than, at most, a technical mistake of not re-requesting specific approval to study pianists reading sheet music when she had already received approval to use the same technology to study brain function in people reacting to images of human faces. The following year she was officially reprimanded for the alleged breach but filed an appeal in arbitration.

Justine Sergent

Over the next two years, Sergent’s dispute with the ethics committee grew bitter and she claimed it was based on personal grievances and not on the validity of her work. Sergent fought to defend herself and the integrity of her work but the stream of pettiness aimed at her increased. In an attempt to further tarnish her, an anonymous source (presumably from within McGill), mailed a letter to the Montreal Gazette accusing her of fraud in her scientific practice.

The Gazette then published an article entitled “Researcher Disciplined by McGill for Breaking Rules.” Shortly after the Gazette published this article, Sergent wrote a letter in which she stated that her love of research was too great to ever consider tampering with data. She defended the quality of her work and stated:

I was a young, successful, woman scientist, and these may not be welcome attributes in the scientific world or at least in the mind of some people. I had a rich and intense life, but there comes a point when one can no longer fight and one needs a rest. It is this rest that my husband, who has supported me in all aspects of my activities and my life, and myself have decide to take.

On April 11 1994, with the assistance of her husband Yves Sergent, Justine Sergent committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from a motor vehicle that was parked in her garage with a hose running from the tailpipe and into the window of the car. Yves Sergent then composed his last letter:

It is 3:30 a.m. on April 11, Justine is dead, and it will soon be my turn…I’ve just spent the most horrible hours of my life, seeing to the fulfillment of Justine’s last wish. My hour has come, I will join Justine forever and I hope this attempt does not fail.

Yves Sergent returned to the car and sat in the drivers seat. He attempted to slit his own throat but failed to hit an artery. He later died, like Justine Sergent, from carbon monoxide poisoning.

On April 12 1994, Justine and Yves Sergent were found dead in their garage sitting beside each other in the drivers and passenger seats of their car. This is the devastating power that an academic mobbing can have on its targets.

In a 2016 article for University Affairs entitled “Academic Mobbing, Or How To Become Campus Tormentors,” Eve Seguin wrote, “Mobbing is social murder and, by definition, people cannot survive their own murder.”

We would be hard-pressed to find people in society deserving of punishment so severe that those who receive it take their own lives. This in itself makes academic mobbing an inhumane act. The deaths of Justine and Yves Sergent were not isolated extremes; punishment imposed on an individual by a group is almost always unethical because the group as a whole will never fully understand the punishment they have collectively administered.

Kenneth Westhues professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Waterloo has become an internationally recognized authority on academic mobbing and defines it as:

[A]n impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.

To be cast out and shunned as an academic is not only to lose your identity but also to lose your entire way of life, from your social circles, your sense of intellectual accomplishment, and even your ability to provide for yourself and your family. Once you are shunned from an academic institution there is little chance you will ever make it back in. The University system is too competitive for second chances.

In 2004, Dr Janice Harper was halfway to tenure in the University of Houston’s Department of Anthropology when she was lured away by an offer from the University of Tennessee Knoxville to go there and build up their cultural anthropology program. At UTK Dr Harper would begin research on two ambitious projects that would require an unflinching look at the damage done to powerless people by powerful entities. The first was a study of the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which played a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project, and the second was a study on the use of depleted uranium in munitions which she planned to publish as a book with Left Coast Books, Weapons of Dust: The Cultural and Scientific Battlefields of Depleted Uranium.

The gender divides in the department were palpable and Dr Harper found herself subjected to a common problem women face in the workplace: men could speak openly at faculty meetings but when she presented a contradictory opinion to her male colleagues she was accused of complaining.

“I was on the forefront of change and trying to get women hired,” Dr Harper said. “I was an outspoken woman in a department that did not have a history of outspoken women, or pretty much any woman at all. Since its founding in the midcentury, the department had only tenured two women, one of whom left and the other retired.”

In 2007, after Dr Harper filed an allegation of sexual harassment against a colleague at UTK, she became socially isolated in her department. Her classrooms were moved from week to week; she was removed from all committee assignments and not notified of faculty meetings. Just a few weeks earlier her Department Chair had written that she was “indispensable to the department,” but after she reported her concerns to him about the employee, he told her that because she had made her report, he could no longer support her for tenure.

Dr Harper confided in a colleague that the social isolation and uncertainty were making her feel suicidal and, although she assured her colleague she would not take her life, the colleague reported to the university that Dr Harper was “making death threats.” She was then interrogated by campus police as a possible threat to the safety of students, which resulted in her file being forwarded to the FBI Department of Homeland security along with accusations that she was possibly a nuclear terrorist.

Shortly thereafter, Dr Harper was interrogated by the FBI as a possible threat to the safety of faculty. “At one point, they were interrogating me about my ‘obsession’ with bombs, asking questions like, ‘Do you always make a habit of talking about bombs in your classes?’ to which I replied, ‘Would that be in my class on warfare or my class on the atomic bomb?’”

The allegations against Harper were largely based on testimony that her department head solicited from two students; one claimed that Dr Harper might have been planning to build a hydrogen bomb to blow up the campus stadium. The student cited a lecture Dr Harper had given in which she explained the difference between acts of violence that destroy infrastructure opposed to ones that destroy an important symbol within a culture. She said that if someone bombed the Stadium on the UT campus, it would be an act of symbolic destruction because it would not affect the infrastructure of the campus.

The other student alleged that Dr Harper’s then ten-year-old daughter had threatened the life of her Department Head (who happened to be a diabetic) by joking that she intended to bake him a batch of chocolate cookies.

In what appears to read like a Hollywood comedy, the UT Police Report reads as follows:

Dr Harper did ask her daughter to tell their guests what the daughter was going to do for Dr Kramer. The daughter replied she was going to make him some chocolate cookies. [REDACTED-NAME] said that Dr Kramer is diabetic and “you don’t give a chocolate cookie to a diabetic and think something good gonna happen to them.”

I informed [REDACTED-NAME] that I would be contacting the Joint Terrorism Task Force and DOE Security about this possibly violation.

Harper fought UTK and despite the absurd nature of the allegations levelled against her, her department successfully cast her out by denying her tenure. Harper followed with a lawsuit but couldn’t hold out financially and was forced to settle out of court.

Those thrown out of the academy must transition from living within the security of their dream job to suddenly trying to find their place in society with no income, no health care, and serious health issues such as PTSD, depression anxiety, and often more serious health complications that stem from trauma. The damage runs deep and the health implications are severe.

“First there’s the shock,” Harper later wrote in her book Mobbed!

[Y]ou can’t believe what’s happening. Then there’s denial. It’s not really going to go that far, someone’s going to see what’s going on and intervene and make them knock it off. You’re going to get through it and get on with your job. Then there’s the anger and rage – you’re outraged at how you’re being treated. Then as the treatment turns Kafka-esque and the shunning and betrayals set in, you turn to bargaining. You try to make a deal to get them to let up, to just let you keep your job – and then when that’s clearly not going to happen, to just let you keep your career.

In a recent interview Dr Harper said:

I received an email from a friend saying she knew I had been telling the truth and had heard me over the years telling her about what was going on there, but given what I’d been accused of, she wondered how well she really knew me. That was the day I put my degree in the paper shredder (I now keep it shredded in an antique beaker on my desk). I knew then that if that was how she felt, someone I considered a good friend, it would be how everyone would eventually feel and I wouldn’t ever teach again.

As traumatic and damaging as the experience was, Dr Harper applied her anthropological expertise to understanding the social processes that led so many people to rapidly turn against her once the decision was made to cast her out. As the mobbing intensified, she continued teaching courses on warfare and genocide, and began to note parallels between how people are persuaded to turn against their neighbors and fellow citizens in genocidal contexts, and how people in any group setting can be persuaded to join in dehumanizing and abusing someone marked by leadership for exclusion and destruction.

The result of her work was a series of articles in The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a book, Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, in which she challenged the anti-bullying movement’s focus on “the difficult employee” or “evil bully,” and called instead for a focus on the group psychology that leads otherwise good people to inhumanely attack another person without terms or limits.

By examining primate and other animal behavior, along with witchcraft accusations, the McCarthy era, and the mid-eighties hysteria that led daycare workers to be accused and convicted of impossible feats of child sexual abuse, Harper suggested that mobbing is a primal behavior that humans engage in whenever they have been encouraged by someone in a position of influence or power to view another member of a community as a threat to that community. Once that happens, patterned and predictable stages of abuse will follow, and these will not let up until the target has been eliminated from the group or so disempowered that their continued presence in the group has no significance.

“Ultimately, mobbing didn’t break me. It made me,” Harper said. “It taught me a great deal about myself and others and made me a far more patient and compassionate person. But it’s a cruelty and violence that is both unnecessary and far more damaging than I think even the attackers can imagine.”

In her essay “The Anatomy of an Academic Mobbing,” Joan Friedenberg states that “most mobbers see their actions as perfectly justified by the perceived depravity of their target, at least until they are asked to account for it with some degree of thoughtfulness, such as in a court deposition, by a journalist or in a judicial hearing.”

The flip side to the depravity of the target is the righteousness of the mob. What makes members of the mob so passionately inhumane is that their position as righteous becomes instantly wrapped up in the successful destruction of the target. As Friedenberg writes “An unsuccessful account leaves the mobber entirely morally culpable.”

Moral culpability creates fear and stokes irrational behavior, not within the target but within the mob itself. If a mob fails to cast out the target then eventually the mob will have to come to terms with the rights of the person they tried to destroy and the fact that all people, regardless of manufactured depravity, are deserving of humanity and basic fair treatment.

Every effort will be made to increase the allegation count, magnify the severity of each accusation, reinterpret any past actions of the target as malicious, and wipe away any sign that the target ever had a single redeemable quality that could point to the fact that they are undeserving of total destruction and shunning. For this reason “bullying” is a common accusation levelled against mobbing targets. As Dr Harper warns targets in Mobbed!

The reason you will likely be accused of bullying is because it is a category that is currently widely condemned. The no tolerance for bullies mindset that has permeated the workplace, however well intended it may be, has created a universally abhorred category to place unwanted workers. Once placed in that category of “bully,” no one will care what happens to you.

No matter how educated or enlightened a person may think they are, when faced with the primal nature of a mobbing most people will betray their own principles and move to the safety of power. The people most closely associated with the target may then become the target’s fiercest attackers since there is no better way to create distance from the primal danger of a mob than to attack with vigor. Once they begin attacking their own identity as righteous then becomes intertwined with the depravity of the target.

“Through the psychological process of cognitive dissonance,” Dr Harper wrote in Mobbed! “it will be essential that they convince not just others, but themselves, that what they did was two things—one, necessary, and two, the only thing they could have done…I am going to tell you that the closer people are to you—as a friend—the more likely they will turn against you. They will prove to be extremely aggressive.”

Of course, mobbings also have devastating effects on the families of those who are mobbed. If members of a mob believe that they are righteously punishing a single person then they have no understanding of the collective force with which they are attacking not just an individual but also those closest to that individual, such as spouses like Yves Sargent or children like Dr Harper’s daughter.

“My daughter went through major trauma at the fear of not knowing where we were moving,” Dr Harper said, “Trauma at having seen people she considered her godparents, not to mention her babysitter (one of the students to make the allegation that Dr Harper was building an H-Bomb), turn me over to the police and FBI, watch me interrogated by the FBI. And now she has virtually no memory of me as a professor.”

“Things have worked out well for her,” Dr Harper said, “but she still bears the scars. So many people end up divorced, or their spouses endure the depression and anger they can no longer understand. So when you write about what happens to us, remember what happens to our families.”


Brad Cran served as the Poet Laureate for The City of Vancouver from 2009-2011. You can read selections of his writing at Follow him on Twitter @bradcran


  1. stephen buhner says

    Very good article. Having read the links provided, esp The Anatomy of an Academic Mobbing, it seems to me that the same dynamics are in play among the extreme left at places such as Evergreen College. It is also apparent that the same dynamics were in play in Germany during the rise of the Hitler regime and explains how apparently normal, well-meaning people inexplicably supported the destruction of people and groups deemed morally suspect. Given that the focus in this article is on academic mobbing, that the behavior is so common among people who are thought to be intellectually rigorous, shows just how little impact advanced schooling has the behavior. It brings to mind the succinct insight of Raul Hilberg, the holocaust historian, that the dynamics of mobbing, when they become culturally normalized, always begin with intellectuals who have created a theoretical foundation for mobbing directed toward specific categories of people. This is then codified into law by politicians, the police begin to enforce it, and finally the people take it up as a cultural norm. It is chilling to see the same process so much at play in American culture.

    • cacambo says

      Stephen, perhaps I missed it, but I don’t see where the author demonstrated that academic mobbing is “common.” In one of the articles he links to, it is described as “endemic,” but no statistics are offered to back up that claim. It may well be common, but evidence would have to be provided to that effect.

      • josco scott says

        I’d love to know, having been the victim of mobbing myself.

        I’d never heard the term, but I can attest to the process being exceedingly destructive to health.

      • jay says

        I don’t think it’s the number of cases that is significant. Mobbing has been around human culture (and probably primate societies as well) forever. What is disturbing is seeing this among what are presumed to be the most intellectual and educated people, people we might have expected to be beyond that.

        Ultimately, we are more tribal primates than we realize.

  2. ga gamba says

    And these incidents occurred before social media took off.

    Firstly, thanks for including the link to Joan Friedenberg’s paper. It’s an interesting read that’s also evenhanded – more so than this piece. … the book characterizes “interrupting” others verbally as degrading and aggressive behavior. “If people interrupt and are quick to jump into a discussion with their own ideas,” this is seen by Sutton as “breeding fear and frustration.” (p. 113). But interrupting is considered normal in enthusiastic conversations and arguments by, for example, Jewish and Italian-Americans from the US Northeast. It occurs when people are passionate about a topic and each raises his or her voice and interrupts to add to the argument. And, I will add, it is a lot of fun to interact this way!

    I suspect the article will elicit comments of personal accounts of being mobbed or witnessing it. Thinking about my comment, I could offer my own anecdote, or I could denounce mobbing, or I could wish Dr Harper the best. Yet, the more I thought about it, I realised I’m mixed on Mr Cran’s article.

    Generally, I’m not a fan of one-sided accounts, though in some cases the other side may be unwilling to talk – always a good idea to mention whether or not the others were asked for comment. The majority of the piece is about Dr Harper, and we only have her assertions, her claims, her allegations. I think this piece would have been better to include accounts of how members of the mob experienced the events.

    I’m also not a fan of the manipulative opening, one where the most extreme example is offered to set the stage. I see many writers use such a gambit as a way to get the readers’ empathy, and though I have no objection to empathy, I tend not to hand it out willy nilly, especially to those I don’t know and when I’m only provided one side of the story. It’s an activist’s tactic, and by definition an activist is calling us to action. I’m not an advocate of psychopathy, in case you’re wondering; I align with Professor Paul Bloom’s views on the subject; he’s the author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassionhere is a talk he gave. I understand to be “against” empathy is thought of as like being against puppies and kittens. Oh well.

    Is Dr Harper a reliable narrator? Most people aren’t. Heck, many are unreliable eyewitnesses and they don’t even have skin in the game. Some may state it’s “her truth”. No, it’s how she experienced the events, but it’s unlikely to be the truth in its entirety. Harper’s comments indicate to me she over eggs things. For example: “But it’s a cruelty and violence that is both unnecessary and far more damaging than I think even the attackers can imagine.” Certainly Harper found them cruel, and, if this is entirely accurate, I’d agree, but I found no evidence or even a claim of “violence”. Nowadays too many non-violent actions are described as violence. It really ought to cease. Further Harper says: “My daughter went through major trauma at the fear of not knowing where we were moving…” Trauma is the other over played word nowadays. If you’re fleeing Aleppo’s bombs that’s a traumatic move. Majorly so. The fear of simply not knowing where one is moving I don’t think is a “major trauma”. Yes, a move may cause anxiety, yet Harper doesn’t mention any trauma caused to her daughter by moving to Knoxville from Houston. Because I am biased against the misuse of claims of violence and trauma, when I read them they reduce claimant’s reliability, in my opinion.

    (BTW, if we’re concerned about “trauma”, was Harper’s move from Houston “traumatic” to the grad students she worked with? It usually is very disruptive to both students and peers who collaborate on research, which is a reason why mid-tenure track moves aren’t too common.

    And to further digress. When a person files an accusation with police, and the investigation proves it false and also maliciously motivated, it behooves the authorities to file charges and also demand restitution for wasting the investigators’ time and resources. There’s real crime they need to investigate and not get caught up in a co-worker’s vendetta.)

    “I was on the forefront of change and trying to get women hired…” How one views such desire for change will determine their sympathy to the argument. “We need more women here because we need more women here,” is one of several ways it may be understood. This is thin broth. I need substance. How many people were on faculty in the Anthropology Department? Was it many dozen or a handful? Harper could have better supported her point by stating how many women applied for faculty positions but were turned down. How many offers were extended but declined? Presumably she researched the department. Why did she choose to go there? Usually it’s a mix of many reasons including highly regarded peers, research opportunities, pay, lifestyle, “two-body” issues, etc. If the department was filled with male chauvinists why did it extend her the offer? Was she merely a token? Perhaps her peers were all incompetent who don’t publish anything of note and they felt threatened by her. Assuming she was a high flier, why would they hire her if that were the case?

    I suppose many people simply accept the accusations of prejudice because they’ve been acculturated to listen and believe and buy into the dichotomy of powerful and powerless. I’m happy to listen, but I’m asking questions. Many. Blind acceptance isn’t wise, though it does demonstrate “good allyship”, if that’s important to you.

    The point of my comment? It’s to illustrate how the narrative is fabricated. Firstly, use an extreme example to frame the subject and manipulate the readers’ feeling of empathy. This feeling extends to the real subject, one who has a less horrifying story. Secondly, don’t offer a counterpoint. This dilutes the message. You need to steamroller the reader. Thirdly, use emotive words like violence, betrayal, trauma that play up the theme of safety. When people feel unsafe they’re more easily manipulated. Lastly, add an innocent child, if possible. That always tugs one’s heart.

    • Phillip says

      ga gamba

      Daphne Patai in Heterophobia, showed how the use of emotive analogies are used to engage the emotive side of the brain overriding the more critical thinking processes.

    • BrianB says

      If you had ever been the object of one of these campaigns you would understand that they are inherently extreme and inherently irrational and that usually there is no “other side” to present regarding the victims of a mob. It only requires one motivated and clever person to form a mob.

      In my particular case it was within my family and from a brother who I had stupidly gone into business with and who subsequently proved himself to be a bit of a psychopath. I had done all the work and made him all the money he has and was tired of splitting the profits [and his ranting] and so simply sought to divide the business amicably. The result was over fifteen years of malicious lawsuits, character assassination and ostracization through th enlistment of my own sisters and mother against me and most of this taking place while my saint of a wife was dying of breast cancer. I was finally forced to declare bankruptcy last year and ironically enough will dismiss my remaining lawsuits trying to get back what they stole today because I can’t afford a lawyer to continue the fight. And since my livelihood was dependent on credit it too is destroyed.

      The intentional destruction of someone’s life by a mob may not be physical violence but it is exceedingly violent in its effects and the bean counting and tut tutting of what happens and the supposedly reasonable assertion there are always two sides to every story, which disregards the often irrational brutality of humans, is just another kick in the head to someone who has been through it and what the mob relies on to appear rational to anyone observing what’s going on from outside the theater.
      People are scum. Lots of them. Doesn’t mean it happens to a large number of people but it happens. Probably more than you think.

    • Debbie says

      @ga gamba — I’m trying to help my children become intelligent consumers of information. Part of that is that marketing runs the world, and someone is always trying to convince you to support his or her interests — whether it’s a product a reaction to a perceived injustice. I will have them read both the article and your comment, which highlights many of the techniques I’ve been trying to blend into the way they process information. Thanks for posting.

      • You are wise to teach your children to be critical media consumers; more parents should do so. But I hope you will also teach them that character assassination based on mere speculation is never a good idea. Raising questions is not the same as knowing the answers to them.

        • josco scott says

          I agree with teaching children (and students) both sides of contentious issues.

          However, there is no other side to this one. It’s a practice that is subtle and quiet except to the victim and our families and friends.

          I hate to overstate my case, so have been reluctant to call the result of “mobbing” PTSD, but that’s absolutely what’s happened to me.

          Thank you for addressing this issue. I’m interested in knowing how common it is.

    • Rick Mac says

      “Is Dr Harper a reliable narrator? Most people aren’t.”

      Your rant is made up of such tripe presented as argument.

      Dr Harper is an individual…not a generality, but you purposely chose to generalize her because it made it easy to avoid the actual points made.

      Your rant was propaganda, not insight.

    • Alban Goulden says

      ga gamba
      You misuse the tools of “rational” discourse to achieve your goal. We start out with the apparent open-minded beneficence with which you will treat your discussion (“Firstly, thanks for including the link to Joan Friedenberg’s paper. It’s an interesting read that’s also evenhanded–“) to reach where you always want to go (“The point of my comment? It’s to illustrate how the narrative is fabricated”). In other words, made up. A short reach to “lie.” And in the process you’ve managed a sophisticated attempt to discredit the concept, the writer, and his example cases. No more so egregiously as when you take us down the trail of academic word debate (“violence” can somehow not be experienced on an emotional level!). Well–obviously not in your experience.Yet the writer’s examples are no less accurate. The people are still dead. The careers are still ruined.

    • josco scott says

      The rhetoric is much less florid and extreme than that used when describing “microaggressions” and “triggering”–ironically I was “mobbed” for presumably triggering a number of students, according to my department chair.

      In context of the current academic climate, then, this is fairly dry.

  3. Catherine says

    I’m not sure what I found more interesting … the article or ga gamba’s searing takedown of it.

    • Bill says

      Ga Gamba mentions that when a false report is filed that the reporter should be charged, and I agree. Unfortunately, when the accusation follows the mob-theme that isn’t the case. Take, for example, the countless, false claims made to law enforcement immediately following the election of Trump. The days after the election it was chicken-little. The news was filled with “kkk attacks muslim, kkk attacks black student” and followups in the weeks/months found the claims to be complete fabrication. While a few of the fabricators were charged the majority were not prosecuted (police filed the charge but the sympathetic prosecutors used discretion to drop the charges). That is part of the core hypothesis in the piece with the allegation of bullying. The feeling of justification for the action…”mental trauma because HRC lost” excused the action just like attacks on a “bully” are excused under the same rationale.

    • Cassidy says

      What do you mean by “interesting?” Do you find it entertaining? Amusing? Persuasive?

  4. Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, described what happened to his father:

    The elder Haffner, long-since retired, had considerable accomplishments to his credit: “There had been great pieces of legislation in his administrative area, on which he had worked closely. They were important, daring, thoughtful, intellectual achievements, the fruits of decades of experience and years of intense, meticulous analysis and dedicated refinement”–and it was extremely painful to him to see this work ruthlessly trashed by the new government. But worse was to come.

    One day Mr Haffner received an official letter. It required him to list all of the political parties, organizations, and associations to which he had ever belonged in his life and to sign a declaration that he ‘stood behind the government of national uprising without reservations.’ Failure to sign would mean the loss of his pension, which he had earned through 45 years of devoted service.

    After agonizing about it for several days, he finally filled out the form, signed the declaration, and took it to the mailbox before he could change his mind.

    “He had hardly sat down at his desk again when he jumped up and began to vomit convulsively. For two or three days he was unable to eat or keep down any food. It was the beginning of a hunger strike by his body, which killed him cruelly and painfully two years later.”

    Sell Your Soul or Lose Your Livelihood:

  5. This is a first rate article; it captures many of the nuances of workplace mobbing. I turned to Janice Harper and Ken Westhues following my own mobbing experience in a children’s mental health organization. So, I am hardly unbiased. That said, I have since written extensively on the topic and provided therapy to hundreds of targets, including many in the academy. So, a few comments:
    1. Janice steered me in the right direction and I still turn to her for guidance from time to time. I tell my clients that “Just us Justice” is the best article written on mobbing.
    2. When you meet with people who are targeted you begin to realize how predictable mobbing is as a phenomenon. My clients often think I am psychic: “How did you know this was going to happen next?”
    3. People who study mobbing learn quickly that it is a human phenomenon. I have treated people from the left and right; people who have been targeted by men and women; and in everything from a psychology department to the cosmetics counter in a pharmacy. In the end; it is a reflection of Woody Allen’s old joke about going to interfaith camp and “being savagely beaten by children of all races, creeds and colors.”
    4. The targeting of “the nice, the vulnerable, the best and the brightest” doesn’t entirely hold up but as generalizations go, it’s one of the best. The targeting of Janice Harper falls squarely into the “best and the brightest.”
    5. The literature on workplace bullying is mostly sincere, sometimes cynical and self serving, but fails to capture the reality of what takes place in organizations. Almost anyone you treat has been failed by groups (at best) and usually the groups have taken up the torch of mob abuse.
    6. Finally, it is difficult to capture the impact of a mob attack if you haven’t seen or experienced it first hand. I spent many years working with soldiers, police, corrections officers, rape victims, residential school survivors and others who had great claim to trauma. But i continue to be astonished by the depravity of mob activities and and sheer impact (sickness, trauma, suicide) of the wounds inflicted.

  6. I liked ga gamba’s reply, and had some of the same thoughts while reading. Was the department sexist, or is she attributing dislike of herself to sexism? It could be either. :”Bully” is indeed a word of incantation that can cause others to persecute without reason. So is “racist” these days. Yet those claims are sometimes true. How to know? The questioning by the FBI seems over-the-top, but if they are called in to smoke out a dangerous person, they are unlikely to stop just because the person says “I’m not dangerous, this is ridiculous.” So also with the accusation of sexual harassment. Was it actually so? A colleague saying “I can no longer support you for tenure” would be reasonable if the harassment accusation was a put-up job.

    I do note that this mobbing is something we do with public figures, particularly political ones. Those people usually have allies to take them in however, even when they are guilty.

  7. ccscientist says

    I have seen a mobbing incident where the accusations were nonsensical and even defied causality, but because the queen-bee of the group said them, the followers repeated them.

  8. Boris says

    This article appears to be missing some key facts in the case of Dr. Sergent.

    For example :
    “In an attempt to further tarnish her, an anonymous source (presumably from within McGill), mailed a letter to the Montreal Gazette accusing her of fraud in her scientific practice.”

    There’s no evidence that McGill was the source of the letter that falsely alleged fraud. And according to The Gazette, the letter did not mention her reprimand.

    Moreover, the dean of the medical school was quoted in the Gazette article saying that Sergent was not suspected of fraud and that the anonymous claims were unfounded.

    Clearly Sergent was targeted by an anonymous malevolent person, but casting her interactions with the ethics committee as some sort of “mobbing” is not borne out by the facts.

  9. Mobbing is mobbing. Logical, illogical; deserved, undeserved – doesn’t matter.
    You are a bully, or maybe it’s me.
    Janice Harper would say mobs are about power and emotion, not issues. This is where people trip up; they are trying to sort out the words, rather than examining the actions, meanwhile mobs are coalescing and an individual is being excoriated.
    Look at any mob; online or off; due process, reasoned judgement and sober second thought go out the window.
    Take a deep breath.

    • Boris says

      If this is a response to my post, then you should acquaint yourself with the facts. Here is a cache of newspaper articles on the Sergent case. It includes her suicide note.

      Her suicide note is instructive. It clearly contradicts this piece. For one, she admits to altering phone numbers of her subjects, which was one of the two things for which she received a reprimand. She thinks he had good reason to alter the numbers, but the university disagrees. Not exactly a “mobbing.”

      But her suicide note also reveals that her grievance against the ethics committee amounted to the fact that no one from her field was on the committee. That’s hardly a “mobbing.”

      Clearly Sergent and her husband were troubled, but there is little evidence that they were mistreated in even a minor way by McGill University. And there is no evidence at all that they were “mobbed.”

  10. Alex says

    The archetype of Christianity isn’t Jesus Christ sent as *The Saviour*, it is the mob knowingly turning against its own saviour. The history of Christianity is entirely defined by efforts made to undo this original sin. It’s a religion founded on a human sacrifice, begging for forgiveness of its own sins.

    That’s why it literally started with cultural cleansing, then witch hunts, flagellants, inquisitors, reform, Enlightenment, finally creating the conditions of its own decay.

    Doing away with this cult of mad men and women can not come a moment too soon.

    Good riddance.

    • BrianB says

      You posit a peculiar and not particularly rational interpretation of the history of Christianity, demonize any adherents of the group and then advocate the elimination of anyone in this group.
      Two points;
      1. The article was not intended as a how-to project.
      2. Irony is apparently a completely foreign concept to you.

      On the slight chance you were being purposely ironic; well done.

      • Alex says

        I agree. I just lost it for some reason.

        I live nearby a group of South Korean Baptists, the other guy down the road is a Swiss missionary who’s remodeling his 4 acres yard to a Christian parkour (?), while 3 weeks ago a 20ish American teenager started a Bible reading at my usual bar (holding hands, “there is no truth but Jesus”), while yesterday a coworker of mine confessed a friend of his converted to Christianity 6 month ago – so he could date an aid worker (World Vision!!!), who left anyway – and now he’s gone full Bible mode, dropping Buddhism in the cold.

        I know, it sounds far fetched, and obviously it’s not your problem, but when I saw the stakes & fire, and even after reading the article, I just couldn’t get my mind out off the global Christian plot.

        Hence the comment, which is historically and theologically accurate, but unrelated to the article. Except for the mob thing.

        • Oh lordy. Please accept my deepest sympathies. Thankfully I live in a part of the world that has developed some immunity to religion. My my toes curl, my teeth grind, and my pecker shrinks to where it is safe when I hear of infected lands such as you’ve described.

          • Alex says

            Thanks. I felt quite embarrassed for the rant, I must admit.

            Immunity from Religion isn’t possible IMO. It’s a mental disorder that can affect us all, the only thing is that we ought to remain wary of the number of practitioners, and the severity of their conditions. Pretty much like any other disorder. So long as they stay in their respective mental hospitals, we’ll be fine.

            We can even pay them a visit and commiserate.

    • That is an interesting point you make in the first paragraph. Is this your original idea or does it come from another source? I am not too familiar with theology.

  11. James says

    I don’t dispute for a minute that academic mobbing happens. But the story of Dr. Harper just seems too ridiculous to believe. She gives a lecture on terrorism and someone uses that to file a report that she wants to blow up a stadium? She says she has had suicidal thoughts and someone reports that as a death threat? Why would the police take any of this seriously? Why would the student take a risk of getting in trouble for filing a frivolous report? And why would the student even be a part of the mobbing, since it was supposed to relate to retaliation for a prior sexual harassment complaint, which the student wouldn’t even know about? And how could Harper be punished or reported for something that her 10-year old daughter said? And why would the police take a report on a 10-year old girl seriously. Were the police in on the mobbing?

    I am not saying that her account is false. I wasn’t there so I don’t know. But certain aspects of it seem so out-there that I feel like like there must be more to this saga.

    • “Why would the police take any of this seriously?”

      Why do the cops shoot people to death to prevent them from committing suicide?

    • Joe Halstead says

      The student didn’t necessarily file the report as retaliation for the harassment claim- the retaliation was how the school treated the student’s claim and other complaints, and how the response by her superiors kept elevating. Additionally, her boss flat-out said he won’t consider her for tenure because she’d made the complaint.

      But, word gets out. It’s not at all hard to imagine that her superiors would want the community to hear skewed, incomplete versions of her sexual harassment complaint, and that that would get around to students, eventually.

      • James says

        So the student knew about the harassment complaint and became part of the mobbing, but took the course with Harper anyway and then made a ridiculous complaint that Harper’s giving a lecture on terrorism is a sign that the she wants to commit terrorism? Where is the evidence for any of this? It’s completely out there. If it’s true, then we need some back up, because on its own, it’s not credible.

    • “She gives a lecture on terrorism and someone uses that to file a report that she wants to blow up a stadium?”. Specifically she says she gave the example, in class, of blowing up the campus stadium. There are many unknown details around this that might lead a young, naive student to become agitatedly concerned, and to perhaps conclude something like “I know I’m being silly, but isn’t it better to say something.”

      “She says she has had suicidal thoughts and someone reports that as a death threat?”. A report of considering killing herself (which is a kind of “death threat”) is perhaps something that would cause police to be concerned with the welfare of the students.

      “Why would the student take a risk of getting in trouble for filing a frivolous report?”. It’s not at all a frivolous report, and who knows what state of mind the student is in? An alternative take would be that the student believed he or she was acting responsibly.

      “And why would the student even be a part of the mobbing, since it was supposed to relate to retaliation for a prior sexual harassment complaint, which the student wouldn’t even know about?” The student is not, necessarily, being implicated in the mobbing (though may really have been part of it – perhaps if the student had some sense of the winds blowing against the professor), but such an action adds to the general, cumulative atmosphere.

      “And how could Harper be punished or reported for something that her 10-year old daughter said?”. This could actually be part of a not-unbelievable book story. A character, under suspicion of, let’s say, somewhat unhinged behaviour, unwittingly has her daughter say she’s going to cook cookies for the department head – normal behaviour. But in the atmosphere of suspicion around the professor, and the perceived, cumulatively accrued misperception of unhingedness, this is paranoically, but believably, interpreted as more madcappery by the professor.

      “And why would the police take a report on a 10-year-old girl seriously.” It’s not a report on a 10-year-old, it’s report of suspicion of the parent’s involvement of the 10-year-old in her supposed madcappery.

      Further, what is being missed in your dismissal of this story is the problem of perception of probability. Yes, you could live a thousand lifetimes and never directly come across this kind of unfortunate conflux. But you’re reading a report of something that is the result of pretty much the statistical certainty of a large enough lives being lived to result in this kind of horror show for the person living it (whether or not they themselves are unfortunate enough to be someone who might invite perceptions of madcappery). Thank your lucky stars it’s not you.

      • James says

        Your overly long reply only proved my point. In order to make sense of Harper’s account, you either have to pretend that words don’t mean what they mean (e.g., that someone admitting to having suicidal thoughts is actually perpetrating death threats on others), or you invent facts that aren’t in the original article (e.g., that the complaint based on the 10-year old’s comment was really a complaint about the mother).

        • My reply was as long as needed to point out the problem with each of your observations. Your reply is overly short, given the fact that you only replied to two of my criticisms.

          Here’s my reply to those two replies.

          1) If you read the piece again, you will see that “death threats” was used in a report by a colleague (“the colleague reported to the university that Dr Harper was “making death threats.””). This is part of the story. It is part of the conflux of unfortunate events that makes this the horror it is. Your point might be that folk *in the story* are misconstruing the meaning of words, and that makes the story less believable. True. But its this beyond belief? No (see my final point, about stats). *I* am not misconstruing words to make a point. I am allowing that not everyone in real life is Rain Man precise or As Good as it Gets clinical.

          2) From the police report of the cookie incident investigation. “I informed [REDACTED-NAME] that I would be contacting the Joint Terrorism Task Force and DOE Security about this possibly violation”. If you think that the UT police would instigate and report the ten-year-old and not include the parent in the investigation and report then, well … the rhetorical question implies the answer.

          • I should also add, as well as not everyone in real life being Rain Man precise, there is potentially a large narrative distance between the suicide threat and the words “death threat” getting on the police report. Feel free to go and read the book for more detail.

    • Cassidy says

      One of the biggest obstacles to bystander intervention if getting them to understand how outrageous and real these situations and accusations are. Yes, it sounds incredible — but that is exactly why being the target of this kind of thing is crazy-making.

    • If you think that is ” so out there ” have a good look at the raging,foaming at the mouth lunatics attacking Jordan Peterson, Camille Paglia, Brett Weinstein, and many others with whom they disagree. They are all deranged uncontrolled mobs and the University administrators are such sniveling cowards.

  12. Joe Halstead says

    Very powerful article, insofar as it doesn’t focus on SJWs doing the mobbing, but others, as well. The unfortunately universal applicability to the phenomenon of mobbing must be stated, lest it not be taken less seriously or treated along tribal lines.

    The labeling of someone as a bully, however, is analogous to labeling him or her as racist, sexist, etc. People even suffer the label of Nazi, even when its application is absurd, and the label is very damaging.

    Having said all of that, social mobbing is not “violence.” Adjectives like disagreeable, unfair, unjust, wrong, offensive, etc, DO NOT equate to violence.

    Only violence is violence.

  13. I enjoyed the comments even more than the article. In particular, I enjoyed ga gamba’s comment. While reading the article, the area focusing on Dr. Harper, I noticed a few areas where I wanted more information. I feel that a bit more information in the original article would be helpful.

    Why did Dr. Harper leave her original position? Surely she researched the new position before leaving The University of Houston. I do not live in an academic world. I have no idea how often people leave tenured positions or how much research someone does before leaving an established position. I am retired military. It’s simple. You get orders to move and you move; however, even having no choice in the matter, you still do research. You need to know about the local area and it’s best, especially if you are taking any leadership position, to know a bit about what you are getting in to. This leads me to the second area where I needed additional information.

    I want more information on the trauma her daughter endured. The article stated that Dr. Harper was interrogated in the presence of her daughter. I have no first hand experience with the FBI; however, I bet it isn’t common to interrogate someone in the presence of their adolescent child. I can tell you this from first hand experience. The anxiety most children experience about moving is created by mom and dad. There are literally thousands of military children moving around the nation and overseas each and every year. While most experience some anxiety; it’s exceedingly rare to non-existent to suffer trauma from moving.

    Lastly, what became of her claim of sexual harassment? Did I over look this information?

  14. Gilles Turcotte says

    I suggest Ga Gamba’s intervention is a so pathetic example of a bully’s perverse manipulation, it should become a subject in itself, just in studying everyone falling in his toxic trap.

    • Gilles Turcotte says

      «… the story of Dr. Harper just seems too ridiculous to believe. She gives a lecture on terrorism and someone uses that to file a report that she wants to blow up a stadium ? » – James

      Anyone who has lived knows reality always exceeds the most ridiculous imaginary.

      … it happened to me … this ridicuous kind of “argumentations” happened to me … anything you can say that can be turned against you, as ridiculous as it can be, will be … why not ? there is no judge, the mob is the judge, they can be as ridiculous as they want, they judge themselves as being statutorily right, all the time.
      The more you argue in defense, the more they can and will accuse you … perverts like Ga Gamba.

  15. I don’t see it as mob action but more as an administration actions and people following orders in fear.
    I have seen with my own eyes how science had been cooked in Moscow and at Harvard. Science community is organized as a medieval empire. Professor is like a baron, full professor is like a count, Department Chair is like a duke who has an absolute power over his duchy, I mean department. Graduate students and others who spent years of hard work to build their careers are horrified to get out of favor with this structure. They will do anything to please the chief.
    Decent people will not join the mob but they will never show their disagreements.

  16. Caligula says

    This essay raises more questions than it answers.

    Yes, mobs (academic or otherwise) are ugly things in which individuals surrender much of their agency to the unreasoned, often violent emotions of the mob.

    BUT a job, even an academic job that one considers more a “career” than a “job,” is still a job. Most of us have lost jobs at one time or another, or left one employer for another if/when a promotion was denied (etc.) or just because there was a better opportunity elsewhere. A job (even an academic job) is still just a job, and no job is worth dying over.

    And so, to say the academic mob “caused” these suicides is to deny agency to those who committed suicide. If there ia anything one finds in common in most schools of philosophy it is that one almost always has choices. However bad these choices may be, they are still choices.

    And suicide can be a very, very bad choice. Not only because it ends your life but because it is almost sure to negatively affect many others.

    Which, perhaps, brings up the obvious (?) question: why did Justine Sergent choose to involve her husband in her suicide? Couldn’t she have just written a “it’s not you, it’s me” suicide note and have checked out without his assistance, thus freeing him from involvement in her choice?

  17. Peter Ray says

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The research of Solomon Asch and Stanley Milgram, among others, has shown that the conformist mob mentality can be shaken by even a few people who support the victim. For the relevance of that comment to the current topic, take a look at the response and eventual outcome of the so-called McEwen affair at the University of British Columbia.

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  20. First and foremost the intention of this article is to start a dialogue by opening people’s eyes to a real and growing problem: the tendency of groups to deprive individuals of their basic rights as part of a collective aggression. So thank you to those who have made some great points and raised important questions that further the conversation. I would have loved to explore more of these issues in greater detail but they are out of the scope of what I chose to discuss within the constraints of an online essay.

    Probably the issue raised here that is of most interest is the tendency of academics and administrators to weaponize students in mobbing efforts. Any professor/teacher who is in constant contact with numerous students every year should be aware of how easy it is to round up a handful of complainants to take down a mobbing target. Accumulating “Multiple Allegations” is one of the most effective ways to prove depravity and it doesn’t matter if thousands of students sing your praises, in a mobbing scenario an administration (or department head, or colleague etc) that wants someone removed would only need to find 2+ disgruntled students to do serious harm to ANY prof’s reputation.

    The validity of the allegations will be superseded by the fact there are simply “multiple allegations” and if the specifics are absurd they will just pass through the whisper networks under ambiguous monikers. In one instance the Canadian writer Steven Galloway was accused of “bullying” a student at the University of British Columbia and after the media reported on this “bullying” the substance of the allegation later turned out to be that the student complained that Galloway would not allow him to submit poetry to a fiction writing workshop. He also described an argument he had with Galloway on social media about a Grumpy Cat Meme. These are garden-variety gripes similar to what you might find on but UBC wrapped them up and adjudicated them with an allegation of sexual assault. The goal was simply to increase the allegation count.

    We must remember that a clear sign of false or trumped up charges is the inability of the mob to specifically define them. This is largely because 1) the mob simply will not care about specifics and will in fact avoid them for reasons of cognitive dissonance, 2) officially speaking the specifics will most likely be buried under claims of privacy to protect “vulnerable” students, and 3) the allegations often do more damage when left undefined so that they can take on a life of their own through salacious gossip.

    The emphasis will be put on the class of allegation and the number of allegations and not on anyone’s ability to substantiate or make sense of any of it. This is why we can easily veer into ridiculous territory where, as in Dr. Harper’s case, we see a leader attempting to fuse the threat of suicidal nuclear terrorism with the act of offering someone a chocolate chip cookie.

    The allegations themselves are not the point; the push to banish, shun and destroy a member of a community is the point, and that process will so effortlessly trigger primal fear that most people involved will not care about specifics, logic or justice.

    In regard to further exploration into the many many aspects of workplace mobbing I highly recommend Janice Harper’s book Mobbed!, which you can get by going here:

    I’m a sucker for a captivating story and I’m honoured to have been able to tell a slice of Dr. Harper’s, but the tenacity, courage and expansive insight into this huge topic is all hers and I hope you will do yourself a favour and get her book.

    Lastly, one issue needs to be addressed here and that is the suggestion that the story is one-sided and told simply from Dr. Harper’s perspective. This is not true. My source documents in constructing this essay include police reports, FBI reports, and internal university documents including interviews with Dr. Harper’s students and the results of the UTK Faculty Senate investigation, which among other important findings determined the following:

    “The Committee would like to observe that this case creates the unmistakable impression that the outcome was decided by all parties in the University hierarchy long before the tenure application was ever filed, and the various entities along the way simply tried to find grounds to justify the desired conclusion. Many of the grounds cited seem little more than pretexts that do not withstand close scrutiny.”

    It’s also important to consider that mobbing targets are usually eager to engage in respectful dialogue that helps bring truth and understanding to their experience and trauma. The opposite however is true for those that engage in mobbings and it is rare to find mobbers with the courage and strength of character to openly discuss the cognitive dissonance and primal fears that fuelled them during a time when they helped to collectively harm another member of their community.

    So with that I will leave you with gratitude for extending the conversation and encouragement that those wanting to learn more get Dr. Harper’s book! You won’t be sorry. She is brilliant and many of the answers you are looking for are in her book.

    For those, like myself, who often think “less is more” and would like a further condensed version of this article let me put it to you this way: be kind out there people!

    • Group think and mod mentality are nothing new. Frontier justice and witch hunts are prime examples that almost everyone can identify. I have no idea how the academic world operates; however, accusations have always been more powerful than facts. Print the accusation on page one and bury the retraction.

  21. Bob Pilpel says

    “Of what good are mere laws, the Roman poet Horace asked, “if we lack principle?” In any given country the prevalence of moral and intellectual courage — to the limited extent it’s measurable — will cover a huge range of behaviors, so generalizations about whole nations are specious at best. But within nations there are clusters of herd animals here and there, many of them breeding in the workplace. And though one workplace can, and does, differ from another, and from the differences between them we can make inferences about the implicit prevalence, or shortage, of moral fiber in one cluster vis-a-vis another.

    During the Vietnam era many middle-class men fled to academe to avoid the Draft — with student deferments to begin with and faculty appointments further on. To justify their avoidance of military service the refugees formulated a liturgy based on the premise that people who argued for or participated in the “immoral” war were morally compromised at best and downright evil if they didn’t mend their ways. Because the Humanities are academically less demanding than the STEM disciplines most of the refugees gravitated toward them, and one after another Social Science, Law and Psychology faculties tilted increasingly leftwards in sufficient numbers to influence hiring and tenure determinations. Several decades after Vietnam the refugees were becoming department chairs and forces to be reckoned with in their institutions, and predictably enough this led to the de facto exclusion of centrist and right-of-center candidates for employment and job security.

    Buttressed by the “immoral war” liturgy the newly empowered refugees seek to justify their assaults on dissent and academic freedom by imputing defects of character — moral defects — to the dwindling number of non-believers still employed. They’ve imposed a semi-Stalinist regime on their departments and disciplines that doesn’t merely disapprove of divergent views but targets them for institutional condemnation. Small wonder the Humanities departments in academe have become arbiters of “legitimate” as opposed to “evil” opinions. Re-read ANIMAL FARM and 1984 to trace the path from academic freedom to institutional tyranny, especially because tyranny is fertile soil for academic mobsters.

    Thus hard-core opposition to our actions in Southeast Asia has become hard-core opposition to anyone who fails to vociferously condemn them. The moral rot is now so deeply embedded in the Law and Humanities faculties that opportunities for redemption have evaporated, and the disciplines involved are seeking to infiltrate even STEM subjects so that we may soon witness the creation of politically correct physics, mathematics, engineering and so on — in other words a wholesale corruption of scientific method.

    Do I exaggerate? I hope so. But the proliferation of petty satrapies within the Humanities establishment suggests that the satraps’ power intoxication knows few bounds if any. And now that more and more families are opting out of 4-year institutions and the associated indebtedness we can expect a proliferation of witch hunts intended to fix the blame for the loss of status on whoever and whatever each satrap decrees — an end-game reminiscent of the near-genocidal purges Stalin instigated to offset blame for the abject failure of his five-year economic plans.

    One can only hope that the solons of higher education eliminate Humanities subjects from their curriculums before they and their institutions succumb to total irrelevance. But given the lack of moral courage and the prevalence of mob rule on display on campuses nationwide I see little reason for optimism.

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  24. I bailed from a graduate degree in physical anthropology way back in the 1970s because I experienced the very shallow end of this pool of group think and mob action. I defended IQ studies in a graduate seminar, only to have my fellow students turn on me with statements about how such topics should never be studied and such work suppressed because it was racist. The professor backed me up (that sure wouldn’t happen today!), I got a good grade in the course, and I immediately applied to MBA schools and left the field.

    There are two aspects of this that haven’t been discussed in the comments.

    One is that academic tenure creates a caste system: tenured faculty have enormous, almost undislodegable power, and nontenured faculty have almost none. The growth of administrative positions has exacerbated this–they side with the tenured profs and use the students as Red Guards.

    Two is that ironically, anthropology, of all disciplines, seems to be particularly blind to bad primate behavior (like mobbing) that the profs teach about during the day and, as I observed back then, act out after class, abusing their graduate students and back-stabbing each other in faculty meetings, all the while insisting there’s no politics in the department. Some of this is a result of political philosophy (e.g., humans are naturally good, nurture over nature, radical egalitarianism), the rest our inherent primate capacity for deception and self-deception.

  25. Brilliant article and I have seen this happen in other contexts. However the suicide may not solely be due to mobbing, there could have been existing mental illness or other problems. It is rare for suicide to have a single cause. Often it is a build up of adverse life experiences. And ptsd depression etc can result from other types of bullying too such as mass slut shaming/ revenge porn/ a community turning against a rape victim ( the last of which bears parralels to the second example of a sexual harassment report triggering mobbing).

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