Hazing: A Quick and Dirty Fix

Hazing. It’s an activity I particularly dislike.   Pain, humiliation and shaming are invoked to “make men and women” out of boys and girls. Think of it like whipping our kids–or slaves, when slaves abounded in the United States. Think of it as a kissing cousin to sexual abuse of children. Hazing, a virulent form of scapegoating behavior, uses physical and psychological violence to enforce roles and relationships which please and profit the ones who hold the whips. It pleasures sadists and creates victims among the powerless. Hazing engenders more hazing. It perpetuates itself from generation to generation.

Whipping and slavery is outlawed in most part of the world, though not all. Hazing should be too, universally.

The sort of extreme work and discipline that is required to competently learn a difficult role, such as we find in medical school or basic training in the Marines, is not hazing, although it can become that with leaders who are inadequately trained or do not understand the goal of the training. As a medical student, I am my classmates worked long hours to learn our discipline. Not scapegoating.  But we also were forced into frequent all-nighter and 72 hour weekend which served no learning task but did provide skilled labor at cheap wages. Yes, scapegoating. I remember asking my teachers over bleary early morning rounds what the purpose of these ordeals were. The answers were much the same as provided by fraternity leaders in justifying hazings: to solidify identity, to bind with our colleagues, to promote group cohesion etc. It did nothing of the kind.  What it consistently achieved was perpetuation of a very bad system. Hazing like all sadistic behavior is an infection which transmits its poison. See one, do one, teach one is an elegant teaching model for bad as well as good ideas behaviors.

Six recent student death’s in Portugal apparently caused by hazing in universities were recently reported in the New York Times.  Jose Miguel Caldas  de Almeida, a professor of psychiatry and a former dean of the medical faculty at Nova University in that country provided a fascinating analysis. He said that until two decades ago “hazing in Lisbon simply didn’t exist.” But, he went on, with declining quality in higher education, “many of our universities, especially private ones, are of bad quality, so people are desperately trying to recreate the feeling that studying there is something special.” He added that what he witnessed as a university dean “was more violent than the hazing that I saw in the Army in Africa while serving there as a military doctor during the Portugal’s colonial wars.”

Just as individuals who have little self-esteem turn to scapegoating to further enhance their identity, so groups struggling with their own inferiority  turn to scapegoating to find a special and exciting distinctiveness.Hazing in tottering system isa quick and dirty fix and a lot easier and more destructive than working positively to achieve excellence.

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