I found myself at a party once, hanging out with a friend-of-a-friend type who has an impressive creative pedigree; if I explained to you who he was, you'd realize that he's probably the very last person you'd try to take on in a battle of wits, because the resumé alone will tell you that it's just...really, really not a good idea. As it happens, as we were chatting, we were cornered by Captain Annoying, a self-important blowhard with almost no social skills who learned of Friend Of Friend's impressive credentials and manhandled the small talk in the direction of picking a fight with both of us about a pretentious, annoying movie he loved that we both thought was crap. (The analogy would be, "Oh, you're the restaurant critic at the New York Times? I want to ask you something. I just love the Crepe House. Don't you? Oh, you don't? You don't? YOU'RE CRAZY! HOW CAN YOU NOT APPRECIATE THE CREPE HOUSE? I bet you've never even BEEN to the Crepe House, have you, High And Mighty Restaurant Guy! Hey, we're bantering now, aren't we?" At which point, in the Captain's fantasy, the restaurant critic would immediately burst into tears and give the Captain his job.) So FoF and I sat there, and the Captain dug himself a bigger and bigger hole, making a bigger and bigger jerk out of himself, and FoF and I sort of listened and responded and, it must be said, occasionally egged on the Captain for each other's benefit, because the show of assholery that he was putting on had now become pretty funny. Later, after the party, FoF and I were talking with a couple of other folks, with the Captain long gone, and FoF explained that in retrospect, he felt bad. He talked about the phenomenon of feeling yourself turn on someone in a situation like that -- how at some point, he and I had started having fun with each other at this guy's expense. And he felt weird about it, and kind of guilty, in spite of the fact that the Captain completely brought it on himself in every way, and was being enough of a jerk that he deserved it.
What FoF had identified, I later realized, was his fundamental discomfort with the bullying instinct. He knew that he was huh-huh-huh-ing with me, socially, at the expense of this guy, partly bonding with me over making a fool out of him without his noticing. The Captain didn't really realize he was being laughed at, which makes it a lot less malicious than shoving people into lockers, but he was right -- it's still a bullying instinct. It's still separating someone from the herd and making them a target so that you can have a good time.