Friday, November 30, 2012

The Purpose of Violent Fraternity Wars and Initiations

Lifted word for word from Social Psychology by David G. Myers, 2010, which is the required textbook in U.P. Diliman.

The near consensus among social psychologists is that – contrary to what Freud, Lorenz, and their followers supposed – viewing or participating in violence fails to produce catharsis (Geen & Quanty, 1977). Actually, notes researcher Brad Bushman (2002), “Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire.” For example, Robert Arms and his associates report that Canadian and American spectators of football, wrestling, and hockey games exhibit more hostility after viewing the event than before (Arms & others, 1979; Goldman & Arms, 1971; Russell, 1983). Not even war seems to purge aggressive feelings. After a war, a nation’s murder rate has tended to jump (Archer & Gartner, 1976).

In laboratory tests of catharsis, Brad Bushman (2002) invited angered participants to hit a punching bag while either rumination about the person who angered them or thinking about becoming physically fit. A third group did not hit the punching bag. When given the a chance to administer loud blasts of noise to a person who angered them, people in the punching bag plus rumination condition felt angrier and were more aggressive. Moreover, doing nothing at all more effectively reduced aggression than did “blowing off steam” by hitting the bag.

In some real-life experiments, too, aggressing has led to heightened aggression. Ebbe Ebbessen and his co-researchers (1975) interviewed 100 engineers and technicians shortly after they were angered by layoff notices. Some were asked the questions that gave them an opportunity to express hostility against their employer or supervisors – for example, “What instances can you think of where the company has not been fair with you?” Afterward they answered a questionnaire assessing attitudes toward the company and the supervisors. Did the previous opportunity to “vent” and “drain off” their hostility reduce it? To the contrary, their hostility increased. Expressing hostility bred more hostility.

Retaliation may, in the short run, reduce tension and even provide pleasure (Ramirez & others, 2005). But in the long run it fuels more negative feelings. When people who have been provoked hit a punching bag, even when they believe it will be cathartic, the effect is the opposite – leading them to exhibit more cruelty, report Bushman and his colleagues (1999, 2000, 2001). It’s like the old joke,” reflected Bushman (1999). “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you become a very angry person? The answer is the same. Practice, practice, practice.”

For the last few days I have been turning this problem over and over again in my head. I’ve also spoken to frat men friends and my personal council of elders, or the people around me who I look up to as mentors, tossing ideas related to this around.

The question in my mind is, “What can one do to attempt to take down this violent beast?” This process led me to the thought of perhaps taking the fight off the streets into an organized venue, where combatants can engage using the rules of some sport with clear boundaries. The thought was that by elevating the fight to the ring you are guaranteeing that while fights will still occur, deaths will not. Here, pugilists can fight against each other with a referee in charge - weaponless and bound by internationally accepted rules. From there though I started to do research to see if this idea was backed up by science, and in the process I found the textbook I used in the Social Psychology class which was required reading for me last semester.

A few sentences into my reading these lines jumped out at me, giving me the answer to the complex questions which have left me sleepless for the last two days:

Expressing hostility breeds more hostility. Retaliation may, in the short run,  reduce tension and even provide pleasure. But in the long run it fuels more negative feelings. Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire.

As I read these I knew in my inner cathedral that the divine was telling me that no amount of organized and supposedly “fair” competition between two groups that hate each other, will make that hate dissipate. In fact, that would only make things worse. I think that thought in itself was a trick, a deception, telling me to encourage the “lesser evil” when in fact there is no such thing, as evil is evil, no matter what docile costume it has on. Martial artists in the UFC and boxers in matches worldwide normally smile, hug and sometimes even kiss their opponents right after the final bell has been sounded. I do not see this love for the sport, and the honing of one’s fighting prowess in a disciplined manner in the frat wars of today. Thus, in my opinion, sanctioned fighting between frats will still not result in any kind of peace.

As the textbook clearly points out, the frat war and arguably even the initiation, seems to fulfill a need though - a need that most human beings would like to believe doesn’t even exist in us. This is the sick pleasure that comes from hurting another human being. This is also what the Marquis de Sade has become an expert in, finding the pain inflicted on another pleasurable.

Now can we - civilized, educated, elite and powerful men accept that the true reason we paddle and punch and hit our neighbors (regardless of whether they are brods or rivals) is not for tradition or honor but actually for blood. I would imagine that this thought would be repulsing to a frat man or a military guy who would swear on a stack of bibles and say, “No, that certainly is not me. I am an Atenista or an Isko ng Bayan or a Lasalista, or a PMAer. Mayaman ako, hindi ako taga-Bilibid gang lang. Ako ay may pinag-aralan. I would never hurt another human, especially a future brod, unless I am absolutely certain there is some much higher purpose being served, like honor and tradition and developing a common bond. And I am positive beyond a shadow of a doubt this blood brotherhood can only be developed in this specific way. There is no other way to get people to connect with each other as brods except through repeating the process that has been passed down to us through many generations.” And in response I would say, “You know what bro, think about it really, really, really hard. And don’t ask your brods because they will surely be able to give you some logical rationalization to justify your collective actions. Think about it when you are alone at home before you sleep. And before you think about it pray earnestly for guidance, asking the good spirit to allow you to hear the slightest whisper of your soul. Now ask yourselves quietly, “When I paddled that guy, or spat insults in his face, or pounced on that rival frat man, or kicked that neophyte or plebe, masarap ba ang pakiramdam ko? When I hurt another human being did I feel that evil demon inside me growing and snickering, or is this really all about justice, honor and tradition? Did I derive some secret, primal pleasure from this experience? Kaya ko ba hinanahap-hanap ang ganito, kaya ko ba siya binabalik-balikan?”

The more you hurt another, you will get to the point that you will eventually hate them, and then maybe transfer that hate to either that person or some other target. If you hit and hit and hit someone you get more and more enraged till the beast inside all of us is released. Logically, you also get the same effect with any positive emotion such as empathy, forgiveness, kindness and love. The more you love people around you, the more this emotion grows and grows, till cheesy as it sounds, all you see is love. That is why couples who adopt can shower their kids with a lifetime of unconditional love even if they aren't the biological parents.

Hazing, violence, frat wars and the like are obviously complex problems which need deep thought and answers that go beyond the simplistic. These issues are as complicated as overpopulation, corruption, the wide gap between the rich and the poor, and other similar social ills. Some people see these huge problems of the world and think that since they are as big as Everest, we should just leave them be. I totally disagree. If they are in your sight everyday, looming over you like a giant mountain, attempting to climb this becomes not only a quest, but a responsibility. This is all our problem - frat men, military men and normal citizens alike.

 Every single problem, regardless of its size, has a solution. I am convinced of that. Otherwise, why were we even given hearts and brains? But the solution needs to be well thought out, and I certainly cannot do it alone. And this isn’t a frat man versus non frat man war either. Many of the most wonderful, decent human beings I know belong to these organizations. My best man at my wedding was the head of his very illustrious frat, one the oldest in Asia I am told. These men are not bad people and so many of these brods, especially the older ones that have outgrown the primitive cycle of demanding tit for tat, want the violence to end too but are also stumped as to how.

I think that before effective solutions can be reached the right questions first have to be asked. So what are these questions anyway?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Violence at Whistlestop Jupiter

Below is an open letter for all fraternity members and military personnel:

November 26, 2012

Dear Frat Men,

You don’t know me and I wonder if you would even really care what I have to say given I am not a frat man nor do I have any links to anyone within your organization. My only relation to you is that last Saturday around ten of you decided to pounce on someone from your rival fraternity in my restaurant at around three am.

To be honest, my first reaction was to file a case against you given that you may have noticed the many CCTV cameras that are at every corner of our dining area. I also thought about going to your school and trying to have you all expelled for conduct unbecoming of your University’s esteemed reputation. I was also considering giving the CCTV footage to ABS-CBN to air on the news, where they show similar footage daily. I was appalled by what happened because you left the store in shambles - broken bottles, smashed plates, glass everywhere, in fact you even managed to somehow break a wood post at the center of the store. On top of that, all the people working there and eating there peacefully were traumatized by watching you maul this single defenseless opponent.

The reason I decided against the above courses of action was because of the following reasons: Somehow, news of my last Facebook post regarding this got to some of you and you offered through a very good friend of mine to pay for the damages; to my dismay we share an alma mater; and after all the sensational news from people dying in fraternity wars and initiations over the years, nothing seems to have changed, so those directions will most probably not work anyway.

Given I have never joined a frat, nor will I ever, there are some things about this culture that I cannot seem to accept or understand. Among these are:

-As a man I get the need to sometimes prove your manhood. Ancient cultures would have their teenage men fight wild animals or live alone in the forest or desert and only upon the successful completion of this would they be considered men. What I don’t agree with though is that part of frat war methodology where a whole bunch of guys beat up one other person who is literally defenseless against the barrage. I find this to be completely dishonorable. I mean, how can you live with yourselves knowing you beat up someone who couldn’t fight back, with your brods waiting in the wings? How can you look at yourself alone in the mirror after doing this and proudly say, “I am a frat man - a real man.” I was always taught that a man may defend his honor against another man anytime so long as this is one-on-one and weapons of any kind are not allowed. I’m sorry to have to say that in my honest opinion anything less than that is really characteristic of cowardice.

-Also what are the reasons that frats fight? To an outsider, a “barbarian” like me, this seems just like nothing more than a juvenile pissing contest to see who is tougher. Meanwhile, human lives are in the middle as collateral damage. I have heard that the two biggest reasons frats fight are over a girl or when one feels offended via the dreaded “masamang tingin”. I mean really, is your honor really being desecrated when someone looks at you badly. In fact, maybe you just imagined it. If I had a brother, a real brother I mean, I would surely fight for him anytime he needed me IF and only IF I believed he was doing the right thing. If he asked me to fight for some petty reason, I would gladly stand back and have my blood brother have his ass kicked. I would never fight for a friend or a brother if I thought his reasons for doing so were not sound. Thus, what are the reasons you fight? Is there any weight to the cause you are fighting for or is it really just out of misplaced pride?

-If you do choose to fight you should make sure that other people, especially innocent bystanders and legitimate business owners are not caught in the crossfire. You beat this guy up in my restaurant at 3am on a Saturday night. Our restaurant was packed. Obviously, self-control was not being used, nor common decency or a respect for the rights of others.

-My fraternity member friends have always argued that the hazing process teaches self-discipline, the love for the group, a shared experience despite the differences in background, a respect for tradition, and a true understanding of what the fraternity stands for. While I cannot argue that this process instills some positive virtues it is also clear to me that this right of passage also instills many negative ones. The initiation teaches that you should treat your members like brothers but everyone else outside your group can fend for themselves; breaking the law by doing something illegal (like paddling a neophyte) is okay so long as there is some greater purpose being served; and when we do something wrong (like oops…killing someone) we are supposed to cover things up. This logic would make Machiavelli very proud. When one begins down the road of compromise and justification the deception (be it the deception of others or self-deception) never stops. If you are being taught to be a law breaker at the onset, do you honestly think that later down the line, when you are already a professional, a politician, a military officer, a lawyer, or a doctor, you will at any crossroad start doing the right thing? Or will you find a good enough reason instead, some higher justification, to tell yourself that what you are doing isn’t so bad after all? Can we be dishonest and make many personal compromises during initiations, and after it become suddenly honest and upright? Or is the slippery slope to hell actually embarked upon as soon as the paddle first hits our legs? This isn’t just in our regular universities either as PMA, our oldest fraternity, has had hazing deaths regularly since even before World War II. And we wonder why nothing in our country seems to change?

Bottomline, I would truly appreciate it if you would put some thought into what I am saying. Hopefully more young people, especially future lawyers like yourselves, would find more productive ways to spend your time.

Every weekend I spend half a day inside the National Bilibid Prison where many frat members are incarcerated for life for crimes that they committed during these so called rumbles. Having been behind bars for decades now I would guess they have most probably forgotten the cause of the initial fight that landed them behind bars. I am sure that whatever it was it had a lot to do with someone’s pride and the defense of that. Somehow, spending a life in prison to defend the pride of a brother doesn’t seem like a fair trade off to me.

If it wouldn’t be too much to ask I would also like to respectfully request that you and your group no longer frequent my restaurants. I am working as hard as I can to support myself and my family by running these establishments. I would prefer it if you find some other place to hang out as I’m sure you would understand.

Lastly, I really pray that the spirit of peace enters your lives now and always. Honestly, this is my deepest desire. I am sure you believe in some kind of faith and regardless of your specific belief system these teachings surely promotes love for your neighbors, even if they happen to be from a rival frat. Also, you are children, grandchildren and maybe even parents, or at the very least future parents, so if you can act respectfully and lovingly to those within your family and frat, shouldn’t this mentality be evident in every other part of your life.

I really hope and pray that you don’t throw your lives away because maybe sooner than you think you will be part of my Saturday sessions, experiencing the view from inside prison walls. Trust me, whatever you are fighting about, this fate isn’t worth it no matter what.

Allow me to share an old Cherokee quote I found on Facebook:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between the two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Lex Ledesma