I’m fairly certain that one of the Confucian philosophers advised his pupils to learn something from everyone and everything from no one. And if Donald Trump has taught me anything, it’s that successful people always double down. My last column, “Greek Life Should Not Exist” elicited some negative feedback two Fridays ago. I’ve read these opposing viewpoints, I’ve considered them, and I remain convinced that I am right.
A 50-year old conservative alumnus sees the world in a profoundly different way than I do. I can see why he would disagree with me on this issue, but I was profoundly disappointed by the pushback I got from my fellow liberals. People that are socially conscious enough to decry the phrase “not all white people” turn around and say “not all fraternities.” People that see the problem with calling protests divisive claim that the debate over Greek life shouldn’t be “us vs. them.” They post paragraphs on Facebook saying that we should “facilitate dialogues and confabulations to foster heterogeneity and beget Pan-Hellenic emendation.” Some of the words in these manifestos might be good to know for scrabble, but otherwise I see no point to them.
I’d like to bring your attention to something I call Rule #47 of The Whiny Liberal’s Ad Hoc Rules of Progressivism: when the group with all the power starts complaining about being stereotyped, it’s probably a sign that there’s a turd in the proverbial punch bowl. Whatever people like me might say about you, the title of your guest column should never be “The Attacks on Greek Life Have Gone Too Far.” The toxic culture within your institution is literally killing people. The fact that you rush to defend your image while these issues persist tells me everything I need to know about where your collective head is at. Such a thing almost brings to mind… oh, I don’t know… the president tweeting in defense of himself and his administration during the crisis in Puerto Rico. It’s a bad, bad look.
Give me one more chance to try and sway you to my side. I state my argument as eloquently as I possibly can in the next four paragraphs; if you read them and remain unconvinced, we shall have to agree to disagree.
I’m told that some of the pros of Greek life are friendship, fraternal brotherhood, and a sense of community. The list of cons includes sexual assault, substance abuse, hazing, and discrimination propagated by systemic exclusion and hyper-masculine posturing. If you take what I just said to be true, then I’m sure you agree that the cons far outweigh the pros.
A commenter on The Sun’s Facebook page said that if I was going to make claims about the negative effects of aspects of Greek Life, I should at least have numbers to back them up. In a brilliant and time-saving rhetorical swish-of-the-cape on my part, I say to you that I don’t need statistical evidence. Instead, I concede for the sake of the argument that the popular conception of fraternities is indeed nothing more than a stereotype. And I assume for the sake of the argument that the number of bias incidents, overdoses and sex crimes attributable to all fraternities everywhere is a grand total of one. You pick which; it could be the hazing death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza, the recent assault in Collegetown, or any other despicable under-punished incident that tickles your fancy. Now I ask you, o reader, to revisit the evaluation of pros and cons, weighing that one incident against all the brotherhood and male bonding in every fraternity in America. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the cons still outweigh the pros. And it’s not even close.
In her letter to the editor entitled “This is not ‘us versus them’,” Sarah Karkoura writes that “trying to squash the Greek system will only produce alternative social hierarchies with less regulation and more toxicity than their predecessor.” The logic of this statement seems a little suspect, but against my better judgment I will again concede for the sake of the argument that it is valid. And I ask you yet again, o esteemed Cornell Daily Sun patron, to bring your mind back to that metaphorical set of old-fashioned brass scales you’ve been picturing. And I want you to weigh two options. On one side there is the option of letting all fraternities everywhere continue to exist and keeping all that down-home melt-in-your-mouth fraternal brotherhood. On the other side, the option of having an outside chance of possibly preventing the next Timothy Piazza. It’s not a sure thing (thank you, Sarah), but it’s an outside chance all the same. I pick the second option every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And just like before, it’s not even close.
I admit that the above logic doesn’t apply in all cases. Some institutions do bad things in order to prevent worse ones. There are a great many difficult decisions that have to be made in this world. But the decision on fraternities is not one of them. They’re social clubs. They don’t have to exist. What do you think would happen if someone drank themselves to death at a meeting of the Society for Debate in Sciences and Health? They’d be disbanded faster than you can say “cisgenic GMO.”
I do not believe that every member of the Greek system is a terrible person. But a truly good person is willing to give up certain things in their life to benefit others whom they will never meet. I come from a family of very experienced drivers. My stepdad is a car savant that races trucks in his spare time, and I spent a great deal of my formative years on the farm driving tractors. When I turned 16, I probably could have gotten a few quick lessons from my family and started driving on the road without posing any more of a threat than the average motorist. Yet I still sat through those god-forsaken rules-of-the-road classes and those guided driving lessons and whatever else. I gave up something I valued, in this case my free time, even though I had done nothing wrong. I did so because graduated licensing (as my driving instructor called it) reduces accident rates and saves lives. The metaphor isn’t perfect, but the point remains. Society is built on a people’s willingness to give up small freedoms for the good of their fellow man.
Ara Hagopian is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Whiny Liberal appears alternate Fridays this semester.