August 25, 2013

PIERCE: The Trouble With the Greeks

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a member of our University’s greek system.  I’m simply not cut out for it.  Instead of mixers and formals, I prefer to spend my time brooding in the dark with a bottle of something as strong as my feelings of self-loathing.  In other words, I’m an outsider, or perhaps an asocial alcoholic, maybe even an eccentric schizoid.  But I digress.  I did not choose the Greek life, and the Greek life certainly did not choose me.  To borrow a Woody-ism, I wouldn’t join any frat that would have me as a member.

There are a number of rather superficial reasons to scorn Greek life: The compulsory debauchery so necessary to its identity that the idea of a dry frat becomes a howling absurdity; the traditional sex roles that it reinforces (and the crowd hisses viciously at the “OPPRESSION!”); the fact that you don’t have to join, but can’t quite forget that it exists; and perhaps most stinging to the psyche of the GDI critic is the fact that, by nearly every measure, the members of the most prominent of these organizations are undeniably better than you.  They’re prettier, richer, more muscular and more socially competent; they have more (and probably better) sex than you do, and are likely to be more successful in life than you will.  But it would be too easy to write off condemnation of these Olympians by chalking it up to jealousy.  No, the fundamental antagonism goes much deeper.

Before we get into that, I must again digress.  Cornell University is an inherently progressive liberal institution in spite of its elite status.  Hilarious paradoxes abound when one considers an institution that’s mission is the instruction of any individual in any field but that rejects more than four out of five applicants.  Nevertheless, the University is founded upon liberal principles of reason and tolerance.  One could even say that these principles form its “gospel.”  Now there’s an interesting choice of word.

As a number of thinkers (including British philosopher John Gray) have demonstrated, one can draw a straight line in terms of intellectual lineage from the Protestant Reformation, through the Enlightenment to modern-day Liberal Progressivism.  Bright-eyed utopianism descends from the Millenarian early Christians, who awaited the arrival of the City of God on Earth.  Augustine attempted to reframe this quest as an inner, spiritual struggle the believers must overcome.  However, the Protestant Reformation rediscovered this apocalyptic yearning for an end of time (my god, sounds like Fukuyama already), and insisted that man could help bring it about.  It was this inspiration that led cults of crazies like the Puritans to set off to found New Jerusalem.  With the secular humanist coup that thrust God out of the picture entirely, modern Progressives were born.

In marked contrast, fraternal organizations at American universities owe their origins to Masonic societies.  Despite the Christian decals that have been grafted to its surface, Freemasonry harks back to the Greco-Roman mystery cults of Antiquity.  In other words, the core of the Hellenic tradition, with its symbols, its rites, its secrets, are irrefutably pagan.

Framed in these terms, Christo-liberal persecution of quasi-pagans is hardly a new phenomenon.  Liberalism is a totalizing force that seeks to expunge any and all vestiges of intolerance via conversion to the one true faith.  The Greeks found their societies upon the premise of exclusion, and thus will always find themselves in the crosshairs of liberal critique.  Equality cannot be achieved so long as these illiberal enclaves of individuals, reveling in their demonstrable superiority, exist.  Similarly, the City of God cannot be brought about so long as the suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah orbit it.  The heathens must be converted, banished or cleansed in holy fire.

In practical terms, the heart of the matter is this: In our microcosmic world, is there such a thing as a right to be left alone?  Could President Skorton wash his hands of the whole ordeal, provided he scrubbed hard enough?  I’m sure that some sort of legal witchcraft could be cooked up to institute a separation between Church — I mean — School and Frat, but could the institution’s conscience permit such a thing?  A look at the history of liberalism provides a clear answer: No.  Totalizing worldviews are antithetical to basic negative liberties.  The meek have indeed inherited the Earth, and none shall oppose them.  Progress marches on.

Zach Pierce is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at zpierce@cornellsun.com. Fear and Loathing appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Zach Pierce