Saturday, July 11, 2015

Should university fraternities be banned?

Many people speak against the whole concept of university fraternities (which exist mainly in American universities, and to a lesser extent in some other countries). Even in the best cases they see fraternities as relics of the distant past, societies that do not fit in the modern cultural zeitgeist, societies that are elitist, secretive and exclusive, and in many cases chauvinistic and even sexist. Many of these fraternities engage (according to these critics) in many detrimental practices such as over-the-top drinking parties, detrimental pranks and other activities, hazing and humiliation of member candidates, and so on and so forth. (Feminists, of course, also accuse fraternities as being nothing more than rape clubs, but taking into account the credibility of the average university feminist, we can safely ignore that part. I'm not saying it has never, ever, ever happened in the history of humanity; I'm just highly dubious of it being even a microscopic fraction of what these feminists claim.)

Many of these critics advocate for the abolition of all these fraternities altogether. They have no place in our modern society, they engage in all kinds of insensitive and politically incorrect activities, they are elitist and exclusionary, and they regularly engage in objectionable practices like candidate hazing and humiliation. They are also often accused of sexist attitudes and behavior.

I don't agree with that (ie. the sentiment that fraternities should be banned.)

Firstly, and foremost, we live and should live in a free society. If some people want to create a private club, it should be their prerogative. No, scratch that. It must be their prerogative. As long as they aren't doing anything outright illegal, they should have the fundamental basic right to do so. If that offends your sensibilities, then too bad for you. You have, of course, the right to criticism and to speak your mind, but you don't have the right to stop people from exercising their basic freedoms. You can disagree with them all you like, but that's it. You don't get to censor people. You don't get to force people to live the way you want. You are not the arbiter of how other people have to behave. (And again, we are talking here about activities that are not illegal.)

That reason alone should be sufficient, and I could just end this post here, because no other reasons are needed, really. However, here are a couple more:

Secondly, nobody forces anybody to try to join those fraternities. It's a personal choice. Those people who want to join the fraternity are fully aware of what it entails. They are fully free to not go through that, if they don't want to. While humiliation and hazing involved in the admission rituals can be morally and ethically questionable, the candidates have made their own conscious choice to go through them. Nobody forced them into it, and they can stop at any moment they want. You don't have the right to go to these candidates and tell them to stop, because they are doing it voluntarily and with full consent, and they can stop it whenever they want. They are adults and responsible for their own actions. They do not need a nanny state dictating them what they should or shouldn't do. If you don't like it, then too bad for you.

Can belonging to a prestigious fraternity give its members a sense of elitistic superiority, of belonging to an elite group that only very few other people can join? Sure. But so what? Let them. Why does that bother you? I will never get tired of repeating this: If you don't like it, then too bad for you. Mind your own business. You are not the arbiter of how other people should feel.

Thirdly, many fraternities have a very long history and culture behind them. You might not like that particular culture, but it is valuable on its own right. Destroying that culture is a loss. Much of that culture is actually interesting and historically and culturally valuable. (No, fraternities are not only about drinking parties and candidate hazing. There's a lot more going on.) Destruction of culture you don't like is abhorrent; it's no different from eg. Muslims destroying historically valuable Buddhist art just because they assign some meaning to it that they don't like. By destroying fraternities, you are destroying a lot of valuable culture alongside the parts that you don't like.

(And no, I'm not a member of any fraternity. However, I'm a human being who values our western ideals of freedom.)

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