September 19, 2017

KANKANHALLI | Brotherhood Inverted

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It is sometimes tempting and often convenient to claim that all fraternities recruit and produce insincere, pompous, self-serving men — but this is as accurate as claiming that all foreigners are terrorists. So, there must be an alternate explanation – why is brotherhood, so harmless and so inviting, so often laced with destruction and loss?

In employing humiliation, degradation and pain as the gatekeepers of their brotherhoods, fraternities stray from the very essence of family that they strive to mimic. Times were much simpler when laughable bouts of sibling rivalry did not result in emotional scarring, physical abuse or death. Admittedly, families fortify their bonds by sharing heartache, troubles and worries, but these adversities are natural. Rarely does the archetype of a healthy family include intentionally-inflicted hardship, and rarer still do misfortune (in the form of hazing)  and fortune (in the form of unity) follow a rigid succession.

A fraternity’s pledging process, in contrast, is designed manually; it is deliberately perverse and grueling so as to forge a group bound together by liability. It is a valiant effort, certainly, at creating camaraderie, but the breed of camaraderie that fraternities manufacture is dangerously fierce, dulling the individual’s moral compass to accommodate the incessant loyalty that is so central to the contract, augmenting the chances of mishaps, egotism and cruelty. I am not privy to the affairs of the fraternity kitchen, but if it is a tough-love recipe that fraternities intend to serve to their eager pledges, I fear the ratio of toughness to love is botched. The pinch of affection is obliterated by the heaping spoonful of brutality.

Yet a variety of men, with distinct temperaments and distinct volitions, submit themselves readily to the thralls of fraternity life. It is wrong, then, to reprimand many for the misconduct of few, and it is folly to allow one to corrupt or be corrupted by many. No fraternity purports to make murderers or corpses out of men — at least, not openly. In theory, it is inspiring that men with brilliant minds, ambition and endless potential congregate to enhance each other’s strengths and diminish each other’s weaknesses, and maybe even contribute to society. It is less inspiring when these congregations serve as platforms for internal and external abuse, racism, misogyny or any of several sentiments facilitated by like-mindedness.

Even passive affiliations have a price. In many arenas — religion and ethnicity among them — affiliation costs dearly: faithful Muslims are persecuted for the evils of radical political agendas; African Americans are regularly stereotyped and racially profiled. The victims and the crooks are frequently interchanged; the privileged are rescued and the rest are discarded. Muslims and African Americans do not simply opt in or out of their affiliations, quite unlike the fraternity system, in which members consciously decide to participate. Brothers consciously decide to associate themselves with hatred and elitism. This element of choice alone justifies the skepticism and scrutiny surrounding fraternities and sororities.

The institutions themselves are not wicked. It is the brazen discrepancy between the culture an individual craves and the culture with which he is instead inseminated, likely without his own awareness, that raises the copious charges against fraternities and encourages overindulgence and insolence. On occasion, college is lonely enough for the snapping jaws of fraternities to appear in the guise of a pup’s soft muzzle. It is never plainly publicized that the pup is rigorously trained to chew any non-conforming or opposing force to a pulp.

Considering the swelling list of crimes and injustices committed by fraternity members, we are obligated to educate the organizations that inadvertently sponsor such calamities. The lifestyle of habitual excess seldom proves fatal, but to any of those exploited, there is no consolation in the infrequency of similar suffering. There is no happiness left in the pride or purpose that fraternities claim to provide. For the victims, there is only grief, and for us, there is only discipline and prevention. An appeal to the spirit of accidents is futile — offenders are thoroughly culpable, bystanders are more desensitized than ever and affiliates are guilty of fueling the indifference.

Remarkably, fraternities defy the perishable nature of most relationships. For many members, affiliations live on past college, into adulthood and beyond. This is the charm, but this is also the challenge. Fraternities tend to be docile enterprises upon vacating the undergraduate premises; they are not so thirsty for scandal as they were in their adolescence. Life evolves to include a greater set of concerns, and recklessness makes way for responsibility. With conditioning, opposition makes way for acceptance. Brothers apply themselves and pursue new goals. We grow up. So, time will hurt and time will heal, but only if we are alive to let it.
Priya Kankanhalli is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com. Matters of Fact appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.