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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Function vs. Particular Actor Confusion: How To Be Wrong Fraternity Style

This way to be wrong pops up all the time thanks to the confluence of several cognitive biases. The basic idea is that there are some functions in a society--a family, a university, a democracy--that must be filled for the health of that society. The error comes when one believes that the particular actor who currently fills the functional role is either the only way to provide that function or the best way to provide that function. The press labors under this confusion constantly, but a recent example was highlighted by the a video of a racist chant that pledges of  of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were required to learn in order to join the organization.

Tyrone Speller, a black student who is president of a different fraternity at the same school, issued a written defense of the fraternity system purporting to answer the criticisms voiced in response to the uproar. See if you can spot the error in this quotation:

My experience in the OU Greek community has been an incredible one. This community has helped make me into the person I am today. It has never been about color, creed, sexual preference, etc. This Greek community truly is a family, has welcomed me, and is one of the reasons I attend this university. Going through recruitment, I never once felt out of place — not even in my experiences with members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
It disappoints me when the good in Greek life does not make headlines and is overshadowed by this horrible story. For example, last week OU students (mainly Greeks) raised over half a million dollars at Soonerthon which is OU’s official philanthropy benefiting the local Children’s Hospital. That is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Yet today, all we are talking about is the narrow-minded, hateful views of a few individuals.

Here we have a university society. I completely agree with Speller: it is absolutely essential to the health and success of that society that there exist "welcoming" student groups that give students a sense of "community" and make them feel like part of "a family". But how would you create such a group? Would it look anything like the fraternity and sorority system?

Of course not. 

Do you know any healthy communities with no girls allowed? Are there exclusive families that restrict membership in a secretive process originally designed to filter out blacks, Jews and women? Without unlawful discrimination is there any reason whatsoever for a rush process? Why not just let people join? In fact, most students find their community in non-exclusive groups based around interests. The student radio station manages to avoid racist chants despite 24 hours a day on the air.

Then, once you select your members through "rush", do healthy communities then subject their new members to violent physical and psychological abuse? Is deadly hazing a part of happy families?

The syllogism looks like this:

1. Students need self-created student organizations to survive college.

2. The current organizations are exclusive for no reason, generating an in versus out mentality that poisons the academic mission of the university; they are segregated based on race and gender (with rare exceptions) in a way that manifestly retards the emotional and intellectual growth of their membership.

3. Because of "1." nobody must ever threaten to replace "2" with something better.

Even a University of Oklahoma student should able to see how stupid this is... unless somebody can explain to me why some aspect of Greek life is essential to the success of "Soonerthon".

Famous (for DC) Writer Repeats My Point: Wrongness Is The Problem

Out With George, In With Mitt (Adventures In Internet Comments)