Dispatches from the Creation Wars

John Scalzi has a really good post on the “frat meme” that is going around, comparing the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison to fraternity hazing. Rush Limbaugh has been pushing this meme, as has Tom DeLay. Scalzi rightly blasts this ridiculous idea, but what fascinates me are some of the comments that have been made. Scalzi had mentioned in his post that he tends not to care much for fraternities, and I have to agree with him. A couple of frat members came along to say that their frats didn’t haze and only the bad ones did. But then along comes this guy, Jeff Porten, and he says:

As a guy who carries a Zippo lighter with my fraternity emblem on it, I try to be informed about the sociology of fraternities. And the research I did back in grad school showed that the best military corollary to an initiation isn’t prison sadism. It’s basic training — the breakdown of the self-image of an individual, followed by the rebuilding of that image as a member of the group.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Why on earth would anyone volunteer to have their self image broken down so they could be rebuilt as a member of the group? Is their self-image that piss poor that they can only define themselves as a member of a group? For crying out loud, this is supposed to be the land of rugged individualism, yet we have hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest youth volunteering to subordinate themselves and have themselves rebuilt, so rather than being Mike or Joe, they’re now “Lambda Chi Member”. I find the whole thing creepy, just as I did when I was in college.

On a side note, if we call fraternities “frats”, why don’t we call sororities “sores”? Then you could subdivide it. The bitchy ones would be cold sores, the slutty ones would be open sores and the fat ones would be dinosaurs. I did that joke at a comedy club with two sororities there for a special show once; they were not amused. I’m guessing I was the wrong guy to be performing for a bunch of sores in the first place.

Comments

  1. #1 flatlander100
    May 14, 2004

    Well, as with most things, frats vary. Yes, there are many, especially I think at major football schools, the purpose of which seems to be facilitating tri-weekly binge drinking, and which require self-abasement of pledges beyond what I think any sane adult [and that's the key term here, adult] would voluntaryily submit to.

    But not all frats operate that way, and not all engage in hazing. Some flat ban it and enforce the ban. The range, as with most broad organizations with many units nationwide, is substantial.

    Just for the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been a frat member. [In undergrad school, I figured out quickly that on my small campus, the way to have a wide range of social events open to you was to have friends in several frats without joining any. Once you did join, where I was, retaining friends outside the group was very difficult.] So I was a fimly committed GDI.

    But I’ve also worked on university campuses for better than three decades now, and I’ve seen the full range of frats in all their glory and/or infamy. And there have been some I would not object to my children joining, and that seem to me to serve their members, and the campus community, well. They are plus factors overall, rather than minus. Some, I said.

    My only qualm about your post then is that it paints with a brush too broad.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    May 14, 2004

    Of course it’s true that not every fraternity is this way, particularly academic or business fraternities. The point wasn’t so much to bash frats in general, but to express my astonishment that someone who thinks he’s defending them would so casually say that the whole point of it was to lose your own self-image and be rebuilt as a member of a group – and to say so as though this was just obviously not a bad thing.

  3. #3 Grotesqueticle
    May 14, 2004

    This comment:

    Why on earth would anyone volunteer to have their self image broken down so they could be rebuilt as a member of the group? Is their self-image that piss poor that they can only define themselves as a member of a group?

    A very telling point on why YOU wouldn’t join a Frat. Not everyone has beliefs that would cause them to think the way you do. The military uses this method as a vital tool in basic training. And it is an effective method to ensure that orders are followed in chaotic situations. There are -in actual numbers – millions of living Americans who have made the military a career. A not insignificant amount of society craves this sort of rite of passage, yet, like most of us, don’t join the military, wouldn’t you say?

    I agree with you that “los(ing)ng your own self-image and be(ing) rebuilt as a member of a group – and to say so as though this was just obviously not a bad thing.” is correct. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of those nominally in charge of this country were of this sort.

    An intended byproduct of this type of conditioning is over-riding loyalty to the group. Just like the present administration.

  4. #4 Jeff Porten
    July 12, 2004

    As Scalzi says elsewhere, don’t quote someone by name if you don’t want him to find you.

    Ed, you’re clearly missing the point of my post. “Breakdown of self-image” is a sociological usage; you’re conflating that with self-esteem, which is a whole ‘nother matter entirely. You can find examples of this in everything from sports events to Mary Kay conventions to Catholic mass. Read Cialdini’s book Influence, then come back and tell me if you understand the concept.

    Meanwhile, what blows my mind is that you’ve got issues with my defending my fraternity experience, and then in your next breath you divide groups of women into bitches and sluts. That’s not something you’d ever catch me saying, nor is it a tolerated mode of discourse within my fraternity.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    July 12, 2004

    As Scalzi says elsewhere, don’t quote someone by name if you don’t want him to find you.

    That would seem to assume that I am somehow bothered that you “found me”. That would be a false assumption.

    Ed, you’re clearly missing the point of my post. “Breakdown of self-image” is a sociological usage; you’re conflating that with self-esteem, which is a whole ‘nother matter entirely. You can find examples of this in everything from sports events to Mary Kay conventions to Catholic mass. Read Cialdini’s book Influence, then come back and tell me if you understand the concept.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it. The phrase “breakdown of self-image” is a psychological concept, not a sociological one. The term “self-image” can only mean how one views oneself. You yourself used the analogy of basic training, where the goal IS to break down how recruits view themselves so that they no longer see themselves as an individual but only as a soldier, with the will of his commanders replacing his own will. Now you’ve used other analogies, but the only thing those things may have in common is that they all involve groups. But all activities involving groups do not entail a “breakdown of self-image”. So it seems to me that you’re shifting ground because your original argument was so bad.

    Meanwhile, what blows my mind is that you’ve got issues with my defending my fraternity experience, and then in your next breath you divide groups of women into bitches and sluts. That’s not something you’d ever catch me saying, nor is it a tolerated mode of discourse within my fraternity.

    If your mind is blown in this regard, it can only be because you are incapable of recognizing an incredibly obvious joke. And if you really want anyone to believe that ribald jokes are not a “tolerated mode of discourse” (could that phrase be any more obviously contrived?) in your fraternity, I’m guessing you’re going to be waiting a very long time for that to happen. Most of us have been to college and we’ve been around fraternities. It’s a bit like trying to claim that no one ever curses at a truck stop. Good luck with that one, pal.