Seeing Through the Haze

I recently watched a TV program about hazing in college fraternities. In it they quoted disturbing statistics such as every year for decades at least one student has died as a direct result of hazing. They went on to look at what colleges, parents, police, and even the leadership of fraternal organizations are doing to combat this scourge.

As the credits were rolling at the end, I realized that not once during the entire show did anyone say anything that even hinted at what I saw as the central issue: consensus. Instead, the focus was on answering the questions “Who is responsible?” and “What can be done about it?” On both counts the answers were confused and anything but complete, let alone satisfying. Yet had they seen what I did, answers would have been both clear and certain.

Everyone is responsible for their own version of everything that happens in their lives, and this is certainly no exception. I say their own rendition, because no two people ever experience precisely the same events, no matter how it may seem. So the conventional view involving “victims” and “villains” is just a game, with each participant playing certain roles within it. It is psychodrama pure and simple. Yet some people play it for keeps, and some of them die in the process. If you are asking yourself, “Why would someone do that?” my answer is: for reasons of their own.

No one pulls the plug on the life of another, regardless of the appearance or the popular view. You and only you decide when and how you will die (not to mention everything else in your life), though you may keep these choices invisible to your conscious mind. After all, would you really want to know that just around the next corner you’re heading into a head-on collision that will kill you? For most of us, this would be inconceivable. However, I think it’s quite possible that many, if not all, who create such an exit scenario do let themselves in on it at the last possible moment, when it’s too late to change the outcome. Unfortunately, that is unprovable, because moments later they die and can neither confirm nor deny it.

But rather than concentrate on the exceptional situations that have such dramatic outcomes, let’s take a look at the more garden-variety ones that are far more common. As always, you have leaders who instigate, a majority who agrees with them, and a minority who acquiesce and become the “victims.” Why would people do this? Why would they willingly instigate, support, or participate in such activities? The answer is, at one level, the same for all: they believe it will further their own purposes. Now this does not mean to imply that it is actually to their benefit, only that they believe it is at the time.

It is all about personal power versus powerlessness. The leaders are usually seeking to prove their power in the face of beliefs in their own powerlessness. Their supporters are seeking the same thing at a lower level (strength in numbers). And the victims are seeking to prove the same belief by expressing their sense of powerlessness directly.

So what breathes life into the whole process is the belief that the individual is powerless, and that only by asserting some kind of coercive force can even the illusion of personal power be attained. All involved conspire together, largely behind their own backs, to prove this belief is true. This requires that the roles be played, and all aspects of it be acted out by someone.

What’s more, those with similar strength of belief and with similar conflicts related to that belief tend to gravitate toward each other. Otherwise, they would not have a suitable ensemble from which to cast parts. In the cases where the results are particularly dramatic, as where someone dies, the beliefs are very strong as are the conflicts involved.

So if you want to know where it all begins, all you have to do is look at where the people involved acquire their beliefs, especially the conflicting ones. Who comes into their life with such beliefs firmly in place? My guess is virtually no one. But people do enter life with an intention to explore such things, some more seriously than others. These people will intentionally seek out parents, teachers, and others who will teach them these beliefs and how they are supposed to work. Then, once they have internalized the beliefs involved, they strike out on their own to explore them. Often this happens in high school and college. This is why you see more hazing in people of that age than in those either younger or older.

Until and unless there is a change in the prevailing mass beliefs of a group, such as a society, there can be no change at the level of the individual. Sure, individuals still make their own choices, but when the whole world seems to be going one way, it takes more courage and resolute individuality than most people have to run counter to the grain. Even those who later in life reverse such ideas, are likely to get caught up in them earlier on. Consensual validation and peer pressure is a powerful force and not easily ignored.

Though few of us instigate such things, the same cannot be said of supporting them, nor of acquiescing to them when the majority says we must go along. The obvious solution is to be aware and attentive when such issues come to the fore, and to choose quite consciously not to support them in any way. That is something we can all do if we are willing, and that alone will, over time, drain the life out of them. This is, in fact, the way all social phenomena that slip out of the cultural mainstream do so. They are basically canceled due to lack of interest. And it is always an individual thing. One person at a time withdraws their support until there aren’t enough left to keep the life-support system operating. Until that happens, the beliefs and the events they spawn will continue. Just remember: you vote on this issue, and all others, with every thought you think, for that is the true source of all power.

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