Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Not necessarily proud to be a Fraternity man

A few thoughts about the SAE incident at OU.

I was in a fraternity as a student at Miami University. I am grateful for the experience because I met some of my best friends there, many of whom remain good friends. Also I learned huge lessons about politics and human relations. I joined because the guys in the house during rush seemed to be decent people, and a boost to my social life seemed like a good idea at the time. But if you keep up with the news there is obviously something sinister about the fraternity life in some places.

We must be cautious about condemning one particular fraternity because each chapter house everywhere is different and has a different individual culture.

Having said that, I will now make a general statement about males aged 18-24: They're ass-holes. The male brain of that age is still adolescent and full of hormones. The part of the cortex that gives us empathy is not yet fully grown. This shows itself as a preoccupation with: (1) How do I get myself laid ?, and (2) How am I supposed to express my masculinity?

Since there are usually no immediate answers to these questions, negative behaviors often arise, like: (1) Getting smashed. (2) Intimidating freshmen, pledges, and/or outside groups. (3) Shit worse than mere intimidation. Part of the mystique of being in a secret society is the rituals and the sense of being "special". This mystique can lead different groups into different directions, depending on the maturity of the membership and the leadership of a chapter. Leaders who are more mature can lead a group to use the mystique to support one another in positive ways; leaders who are not can lead a group to do unspeakably ugly things. And our fraternity system is filled with leaders who are not mature.

I was lucky that my fraternity chapter did not have dangerous hazing rituals when I joined, and I don't remember any ugly racial remarks coming from anybody (except for the nickname of an especially unattractive car a brother had). Of course we did some stupid stuff, which I won't mention, but nobody ever got hurt, except once I stepped on a soda can pop-top. We had ritual activities but they were kind of like religious ceremonies, intended to make the members feel like they were part of a rite-of passage. 

Unfortunately, there is plenty of hazing going on out there, in different degrees of severity. Google 'hazing' or 'hate speech' along with any fraternity name you want. I would bet that every fraternity has done something obnoxious and/or dangerous in the past few years (but not every chapter). My particular chapter went through culture changes as they grew and in fact got in trouble a couple of times, mainly for underage drinking.

Most fraternities nowadays do public service projects that serve their communities, and have alumni who contribute to the well being and scholarships for the present members. This is good of course, but it's also public relations and is secondary to the main purpose of a fraternity: to have drinking buddies, to party with sororities and to have a good-old-boy network after graduation. The glossy alumni magazines emphasize the P.R. aspects and always lionize any celebrity or politician who happens to be a member. (I told my alumni magazine to stop sending me their BS a few years ago when their "Man of the Year" was the governor of Georgia, a guy who was using public funds to fill his pocket, and who let the educational system drop to last place in the country.) And I'm sorry, but I do not contribute to my alumni chapter because the house there has no real relationship to the house I joined, except for the wooden letters out front. I have no idea whether these guys will destroy their new furniture within a year, but knowing what I know about 18-24-year-olds, I'm betting they will. 

Yes, a fraternity is the reason for friendships I cherish, but not because we belonged to a particular set of Greek letters. They can facilitate fraternity in the best sense of the word, but they can also be a means to make people think they are exceptional just because of who they are or whatever mythology they have invented. That, plus a dose of adolescent hormones and some beer can hurt people.

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