Progress

This story about hazing at US fraternities is pretty shocking:

“I was a member of a fraternity that asked pledges, in order to become a brother, to: swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; drink beer poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks… among other abuses,”

I went to a school that outlawed its fraternities almost a hundred years ago and had a common orientation week that sought (with some success) to accomplish some of the same things that more dramatic hazing does:

Hazing supposedly serves a deliberate purpose, of building solidarity. Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses the framework of consistency and commitment to explain the phenomenon of hazing, and the vigor and zeal to which practitioners of hazing persist in and defend these activities even when they are made illegal.[20] Cialdini cites a 1959 study in which the researchers observed that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”

There is a trend in our society of becoming less tolerant towards deliberate infliction of pain. I’d argue that building solidarity is a good thing to a point, but that benefit is almost comically overshadowed by the costs of this kind of hazing.

In case your immediate reaction is to scoff at this liberal claptrap, think of this trend in the context of Gladiatorial games and crucifixion. Blunting our impulse for violence has made the world a better place.

“Yeah, but only up to a point!”  you might respond. Sure, but that point is decided by generations to come. Who can predict how our grandchildren will react to stories of hazing?

At my alma mater, they tried to get by this by promoting some interfaculty rivalry. It’s silly to think back on this but defining my identity as a Commerce student necessarily put me in opposition to the Engineers. And for a time a part of me really bought into it. Not because it made sense but because I wanted to buy into it.

The search for solidarity as an unpleasant impulse in a pluralistic society, even when it isn’t pursued with violence. Think of this quote from Tyler Cowen:

Brink Lindsey said… that [voters] choose on the basis of the people they sympathize with. To which Tyler Cowen replied, “People vote on the basis of who they sympathize against.”

In the politics of affiliation, you can vehemently denounce 49% of the population if it stirs a feeling of solidarity among the other 51%.

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