The deaths are not accidents
It is a human condition -- the need to belong to a family, group, tribe, club, organization, or community. Some seek the allure and exclusivity of some brotherhoods or sisterhoods -- fraternities and sororities, street gangs, military units, secret societies -- for that special sense of belonging, kinship, and bonding, and for the promise that membership in a special community of men or women will provide a lifelong cachet, to reap imagined privileges, reassurances, and advantages later on in life. In return, one accepts the ethos of a brotherhood, subservience to a set of ideals, and commitment to a code of silence.
For that fraternity, men and women are willing to suffer through the hazing rituals of physical and psychological abuse, sometimes a combination of extreme and heavy doses of both -- being smeared with feces or urinated on, drinking concoctions of bodily discharges, suffering torrents of degrading insults, demeaning sexual acts and nudity, or various acts and varying degrees of physical violence. They are meant to humble the pledges, and from that humbling, they imagine, springs bonding, love, and trust.
The consequences of psychological abuse are often hidden. But sometimes, after the hazing, beneath the seeming normalcy, there is a lifetime of psychological scars or wounds that never heal.
For physical abuse, the marks are often visible, usually inflicted by the most common form of abuse in the tradition of hazing -- paddling. it's much worse than it sounds, and it's much more than a paddle. It has become the generic word for any instrument that inflicts corporeal punishment: paddle boards, canes, baseball bats. The damage is often inflicted with brutality, almost always, causing the body to "ube" -- the vernacular for the early violet of bloody ecchymotic bruising. Often, the extent of subcutaneous bleeding, the hematomas and ecchymoses -- the ube -- is the arithmetic equivalence of the degree of brutality. The ability to endure the brutality is considered a measure of mettle, resolve, and worthiness.
Often, the violence is meted out with measures of restraint. But one too many times, it is dispensed with savage and unrestrained brutality, with pledges beaten to a pulp. And sometimes, in the name of fraternity, death occurs.
The deaths are not accidents
The deaths are no accidents. They are just deaths waiting to happen. What is surprising is that there aren't more of these tragic events. The human body's fragile armor is a mere composite of delicate tissues of skin, subcutaneous fat, muscle and nerves, prone to tears and bleeding, surviving through innate reflexes -- withdrawal, shielding, parrying, cringing, flinching, flight and avoidance. This fragility, long ago recognized by science and medicine, spawned an industry that fashioned protective gear for contact sports and various professions, to protect every part of the human body with helmets, pads, goggles, guards, vests, and shields, with medical personnel ready to sideline anyone with a bleed, cut, sprain or concussion. Also, there may be unrecognized contributing conditions that critically increases this fragility: aspirin intake, bleeding and clotting disorders. And in the bloodsport of hazing, the human body becomes a stationary mass of unprotected tissues, absorbing the infliction of repeated blunt trauma, each strike contributing to the cumulative physical damage -- the subcutaneous bleeding, the widening ube, sometimes, hemorrhagic shock, coma, and the occasional death. And sadly, too often, the body succumbs before the resolve yields. And often, when death occurs, it is not sudden. The dying is slow. Life already seeping away as the strikes continue. There is not one fatal blow. The fatal blow is cumulative . . . and communal.
Whence, the brutality?
Of course, not all involved in hazing are violently inclined. Perhaps, many are nonviolent in their day-to-day lives. Yet many, not disposed to violence, in the company and peer pressure of brothers become hesitant participants, contributing small doses of violence; or sometimes even with the seemingly gentle, with the outflowing and surging of adrenaline and testosterone, a line is crossed, the ritual goes haywire, the hazing becomes an occasion of wilding.
Some are wont to believe that the violence is simply a get-back from brothers still feeling the pains of last year's initiation rites, the ube long gone but the memory of it still stinging, and now keyed up to be on the giving end.
Alas, most likely, it is much more than that. Among the initiating brothers, there might be one, two, or a few possessed of violent nature, who take great delight in inflicting pain. Perhaps there's even a sociopath or two hiding behind the mask of academe. Perhaps, these brothers were themselves bullied upon or were victims of childhood physical abuse, now finding a subconscious mode of release and transference. In my medical practice, patients, both victims and perpetrators, have confessed to me of domestic abuse, how difficult it is, once it starts, to stop the horrible escalation of violence. Why would it be different In the rituals of initiation, in the setting of helpless pledges, with brothers, some stewed with alcohol, armed with clenched fists, paddles, sticks, pipes and canes? Who is swinging their bats in the name of brotherhood? Who is swinging from the scars of childhood abuse? Who is striking in anger, revenge, jealousy, retribution, redemption, or simply, for that feeling of machoness as he inflicts punishment? Dahil sa ingit, galit, bawi, o tupak? Hazing is a match that provides spark to a cauldron of human dysfunctions.
To boot, we have become a more violent society. There has been a resetting of our thresholds for evil and violence, a shift in the Jekyl and Hyde of our personalities. There is always blame to cast on movies and television satiating our swollen appetites with excessive doses of graphic violence. The past decades have brought us wilding, road rage, Columbine, gone-postal incidents, waterboarding, new ways of tortures, and massacres in far-flung corners of the world -- daily doses and daily fares in the immediacy of television that inundate the visuals of our daily lives. The images no longer shock. We have become desensitized, hopelessly inured to violence. Ho-hum. I have looked with horror at hazing pictures and videos, the perpetrators' amused and smiling faces, their sounds of laughter.
We live in a chilling new paradigm of violence. This new culture of violence is upon us, and continues to evolve. In some form or degree, it will find its way into the hazing ritual of initiation, if it hasn't yet. In hazing's venue of violence, the occasional death is not accidental . . . it is inevitable.
And every time a death occurs, part of the hue-and-cry is to ban, dissolve, or prohibit fraternities, and the question inevitably raised: Do fraternities have a place in society?
Outlawing fraternities will do nothing but drive them underground. Besides, fraternities provide for various human needs -- a surrogate family, a place for young men and women to forge friendships, bonding, and trust, a milieu of kindred spirits, a place to experience community. It is the hazing that is the unnecessary ritual, and the deaths from it so senseless.
Hazing wasn't part of the Greek and medieval origins of fraternities. Hazing took roots in that period of change when the ancient rituals and classic traditions of intellectual explorations and expressions were disappearing. Now, what remains in some (most?) fraternities are the Greek letters, symbols and crests, hedonistic extracurricular pursuits, and its annual ritual of hazing.
Hazing is the fraternity's murderous thorn on its side. Many organizations, schools and universities have banned it, but to no avail. The deaths continue. In 1995, Republic Act No. 8049, the anti-hazing law, was approved by President F. Ramos. The law is impressively replete with definitions, liabilities and penalties -- reclusion perpetua, reclusion temporal, prison mayor, prison correcional. Yet, it has woefully failed to stop the beatings and deaths. And in the theater of the courts, the guilty have always managed to skillfully mitigate culpability through avenues of twisted legalese, loopholes, and appeals.
It's a law that lacks teeth, rife with flaws. It allows hazing or initiation rites with ridiculous conditions that seem to not recognize the potential for violence -- that prior notice is given seven (7) days before, that it must not exceed three (3) days, that no physical violence be employed, that two school or fraternity representatives be present.
Hazing is a blood sport, a ritual of power and control predicated on violence. The street gangs, cults and the underworld may never be rid of it, but schools and universities should be saved from it. The youth should be protected from the psychological and physical violence. It is inane and insane to expect that promulgation by law can regulate, supervise, and temper the violence. Hazing in all its forms should be punished with expulsion. Deaths should be dealt with for the heinous crime that it is, by a law with teeth, unencumbered by legal loopholes and politics.
Since the law was passed more than a decade ago, deaths by hazing continue to occur. Still, despite the failure of law and the inability of the justice system, it is to them that the deaths clamor to -- for a law armed with teeth and justice with political will.
Hazing can be replaced by non-violent alternatives that measure the mettle, worth, and resolve of the pledges. For the able-bodied pledges, have them walk to Baguio, planting trees along the way. Spend their weekends and a whole stretch of summer in volunteer work. Take to the boondocks, like the teachers who walk their arduous miles and wade through rivers daily to reach small communities of children hungry to learn how to read and write. Provide community service to the countless riles communities. Clean the garbage and refuse that clog up the tributaries of the Pasig river. There are limitless opportunities waiting to be invented for a fraternal Peace Corps of pledges. And instead of the twisted glamor of initiation violence, let the pledges prove their worth and mettle with a new kind of machoness, through deeds that boast of sacrifice, social relevance, and a dose of nobility.
by Godofredo U. Stuart Jr. September 2012
| Suggested Readings
Fraternity and Sorority Life / History of Greek Life / Appalachain State University
Anatomy of a Wilding Gag / Scott Cummings / Google Books
Anti-Hazing Law--Republic Act No8049 / Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
Lawmaker seeks review of Anti-hazing law / Karen Boncocan / INQUIRER.net
Hazing Myths and Facts / Babson
Alcohol & Hazing / Cornell University
(1) Ohio Law Protects Hazed Students (2) Youth tied to a post (3) Man tied to a chair (4) Youth tied and doused with water (5) Hazing (6) Hospital scene