Hazing, Collectivism, and Traditionalism
The video resembled a scene out of Lord of the Flies. A group of 17-year-old-girls, all in monochromatic yellow jerseys, the faces of some smeared with war paint, hurl chunks of mud, paint, and excrement at a helpless, cowering group of younger girls in the middle, smeared with a repugnantly unrecognizable cement-colored muck, and screaming for their lives. A crowd of fifty students dressed in standard suburban gear, fleeces, baseball caps, blue jeans, stand by and urge on the predators, who shift to lunging and beating, some with their bats, others with bare hands clenched into structures resembling the claws of a savage feline. Cheering and crying, sadistic revelry and pain-suffused cringing, all permeate the scene. A girl’s earrings are yanked from her ears. A group of vegetarians is forced to devour the fetid entrails of fish. A junior girl whose ankle had been injured in the midst of the din and chaos attempts to crawl out of the circle of atrocity. She stumbles and trips, and the predators intercept her. “Which ankle hurts?” they inquire, feigning sympathy. The girl points to the injured limb. Those looking down upon momentarily procure a bat, and begin to pound the wounded appendage into the rain-diluted dirt of the forest preserve. Five girls are hospitalized; one develops a bacterial infection of the stomach from the consumption of feces. All this has been committed by students of one of the most prestigious and affluent high schools in the country.
Thus is posed the glaring question: how do the residents of a prosperous suburban community, seemingly untainted by crime, poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, and gang violence, descend to the level of tribal savages, with no offense having been dealt their livelihoods and no provocation having instilled the same latent loathing which had been the syndrome of irrationality afflicting the “known” variety of young criminals, the school shooters? And why, moreover, when the shooters are treated with almost an instant abhorrence and condemnation, do the observers of these young criminals not merely stand by but add attitudinal fuel to the massacre? To discover the motive force behind the situation, I conversed with several of my contacts within the Northbrook area. Upon accessing a plethora of detailed and appalling information from various sources, I realized that it was not chance nor heedlessness that had ignited this tragedy. Rather, it was two of the most devastating ideas in the entirety of human existence, collectivism and traditionalism, closely intertwined and mutually reinforcing.
Collectivism is the doctrine which compels or encourages the individual to sacrifice his personal interests, gains, and aspirations for the alleged benefit of a group. In order for this mentality to flourish, it must retain what it classifies as this “benefit” on a conveniently vague level. Upon any close scrutiny of the situation, one realizes the self-evident, that is, that a group is but an amalgam of its constituent individuals and a designation thereof serving a purely linguistic convenience. Its sole purpose is to serve the mutual interests of those comprising it. When any ideology subverts this truth, it inevitably comes to worship a false, metaphysically non-existent idol in whose name the most abominable crimes in human history have been committed. Hitler’s genocide of Jews had been facilitated by deluding the German people into believing that such crimes would reinforce the fabric of “The Fatherland.” The bloodied altars upon which Aztec sacrificial victims were vivisected had been kept pulsating by the priests’ claim that such rites were essential to maintaining the stability of the universe and the Aztec Empire. The tyrannies of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Allende, and Pol Pot had been the most avowedly collectivist of all, expropriating millions and herding them into concentration camps, extinguishing the brightest minds of the lands, for the pretense of benefiting an imagined “greater good,” the Proletarian Revolution. Like the hazing massacre but on a different scale, all of the above movements had obtained and maintained a following of unthinking millions, ready to drag themselves and other millions to their deaths for blurry promises and charades of benevolence and philanthropy. How does collectivism penetrate into the individual and render him a willing pawn of either his own sacrifice or the sacrifice of others? Let us examine the situation at hand to reveal the answer.
The hazing incident began in seeming mildness as a football game between members of various junior and senior girls’ sports teams. Shortly afterward, kegs of beer, willingly and knowingly supplied by some of the students’ parents, were hauled into the throng, and consumption commenced, some students raising their heads in parallel with the sky and pouring the bubbling brew down their throats. But erratic cheering and hollering had occurred then, but the crucial blow was already dealt. The alcohol had stunted the students’ analytical faculties as well as their speed of reaction, the emergence of the moral outrage that this incident should have immediately invoked. Subsequently, only a mild trigger was needed for the atrocities to promptly escalate, without any opposition.
What is the mechanism employed by collectivism to bring about complacency with sacrifice? It is the dulling of man’s consciousness, reasoning proficiency, and autonomy of thought, and it can be achieved through a myriad of means. In Lord of the Flies (a book with whose moral evaluations of man in general I disagree but whose depictions of mob violence are vividly realistic and relevant), the young dictator, Jack, prepares a feast of wild pig on his side of the island and invites the boys stranded there to share in the spoils, to gorge themselves on the meat and perform a ritual reenactment of attacking the mythical “beast” which is alleged to roam the island. When Simon, a thoughtful and autonomous individualist, descends from the nearby mountain to inform the boys that the beast is a fraud (it is the corpse of a dead pilot), the mob, unthinkingly, transitions from a performance into the genuine act of collective murder, literally ripping Simon to pieces. In 1984, a book for which I have written extensive analytical commentaries, the masterminds of Ingsoc employ a constant stream of pornography, rap-like hate chants, alcohol, and artificially inflated sentimentality to desensitize the populace to the most abominable of dissent-crushing campaigns amid a hypothetical world war that takes a toll never before imagined. Orwell’s dystopia was but a historical projection of similar acts employed both by Hitler (namely, the pornography) and Stalin (namely, the “mutation of the past” and the manufacture of foes and scapegoats to whip up hate amongst the masses). The means are diverse, but essentially the same in their fundamental application and goal. The most desirable goal for a collectivist is to convert the rank-and-file into zealots, to be used as agents for grotesque sprees of destruction.
Every collectivist movement’s underlying particular creed is not genuinely professed; it is manufactured for ulterior motives. The doctrine of sacrifice is ideal to be used for ends such as dictatorial power and the elimination of one’s ideological opponents. Jack employs collectivism and mob fervor in order to monopolize the leadership of the boys on the island. The Ingsoc oligarchy was prepared to stall technology, silence reason, slash man’s life expectancy, and plunge the world into an escalating torrent of mass murder, simply to maintain the “eternal continuity of the Party,” the hold of its ruling elite on power. The ideology of collectivism was employed in the Glenbrook North hazing incident as well. A sophomore girl from Glenbrook North, with whom I have had the opportunity to converse, informed me of an intense loathing of the senior girl ringleaders for the junior girls. This may have been sparked by a rivalry wherein the junior girls were markedly superior in their athletic skills. The indolent seniors, incapable of elevating their own proficiency, resolved to cross the line between mutually uplifting competition and a debasing, degrading, and humiliating initiation of force. The cause for the hazing tragedy, given this interpretation, is the basest impulse which can ever be encountered within man: the desire to destroy the good for being the good, otherwise known as nihilism.
Slothful nihilism is always the origin of collectivism, not merely in this situation. Jack in Lord of the Flies is scientifically incompetent and exhibits a glaring lack of survival skills; venturing out, in the beginning of the book, to hunt boars for pleasure instead of assisting in the building of a signal fire, subsequently allowing the fire to spread out of control into the forest while brutally prodding to death a sow with piglets. Unable to survive on his own accord, Jack seeks power by overthrowing the decorous and scientifically proficient Piggy, the prudent and calculating Ralph, and the generous and inquisitive Simon. The oligarchy in 1984 consists of exclusionist sociopolitical elites who seek to annihilate the middle class and block the ability of aspiring members thereof to obtain positions of wealth, prosperity, and ample technological advancement. They fear that their insufficient talents will be displaced in a free market society where every man is permitted to ascend to his fullest productive capacity. Why would the producer, the thinker, the honest laborer, ever descend to the level of fabricating a framework flawed in every possible manner for the purpose of obtaining despotic authority and stifling others? He is not a parasite. He does not require the failure of others to thrive. Hence, he will never, by the very virtue of his identity succumb to collectivism. Like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, he, on the other hands, benefits from cooperation with others. Piggy is physically disadvantaged due to his obesity, but he provides the ideas behind the scheme of actions which, if carried out, promises to result in survival and rescue, such as the gathering of firewood for the signal flame. This provides a fundamental insight into the ideology of collectivism. It is not a framework of benevolence, generosity, mutual assistance, or harmonious coexistence. Individualism furnishes all of the above, while the inherent purpose of collectivism is to destroy, demean, and demolish all that is most virtuous and poses the greatest threat to the indolent nihilists.
Hence, it is self-evident that the ideology of collectivism has been partaking to the fullest degree possible in the Glenbrook North hazing massacre. And, taken to its fullest logical conclusion, collectivism has indeed yielded naught but pain and suffering. The mob exercise did not in any manner benefit the intelligent, the creative, the athletic elements of Glenbrook North. Instead, it merely provided a sadistic outlet for a few envious seniors to unleash primeval rage upon the innocent. Yet, this event could not have been organized without another ideological motive force, namely, traditionalism.
Traditionalism is the adherence to long-maintained practices regardless of any constructive purpose that such undertakings may have served originally. An extreme traditionalist will ride in a horse-drawn carriage during the era of the automobile. An extreme traditionalist will refuse to reap the benefits of electric light in favor of the kerosene lamp. This does not oft occur today in terms of technology. The advantages of technological breakthroughs and the folly of retaining adherence to obsolete machinery of lesser efficiency are too self-evident. Yet traditionalism does manifest itself wantonly in the practice of ritual. Tribal dances, pep chants, and the donning of face paint are its most overt displays. They serve no constructive purpose; they neither enhance intellectual understanding nor boost athletic proficiency. They merely serve as modern-day shamanistic “spirit-talking,” a legacy of the revival of hippie irrationalism forty years ago. What is the motive of those who practice idle rituals, with a fervor that they seldom reserve for genuinely productive activities? The fact that it was practiced for “time immemorial,” whatever their perceived definition of that term may be.
The football game between juniors and seniors had been a tradition at Glenbrook North since 1977. So was the post-game hazing. My primary contact had met witnesses of the hazing of 2002, of far intensified violence in comparison to previous years, but nearly not as gruesome as the most recent massacre. Both school authorities and police had been informed of the habitual undertaking, and, in intent at least, sought to quell the hostile displays. However, in 2002, police had arrived at the scene of the hazing and watched it from a distance, while remaining in their vehicles. No ringleaders of the event had ever been apprehended or punished. Why the reluctance? Traditionalism again. It is a prevalent logical fallacy to hold that a practice since time immemorial is merely a manifestation of a quasi-natural phenomenon, that it cannot inflict any appalling damage to its victims. A school shooting cannot become a tradition by definition; it is erratic, sporadic, and unorganized. It cannot be planned and choreographed so that future generations can orchestrate it once more. Hence, progressive and traditionalist alike will shrink back from it with repulsion; the overt violation of human life is too monstrous for any resident of a free society, even a self-proclaimed collectivist, to embrace. Moreover, there exists an ample legal deterrent against partaking in or cooperating with a school shooting. Traditionalism, on the other hand, requires a moral sanction by an external authority or by one’s particular cultural milieu. A ritual by definition requires a standing adherence to it by a substantial group of individuals. The sanction is not necessarily legal, for hazing is not condoned by any proper system of law. It is merely the approval of the majority of those present in the immediate vicinity of the undertaking that the traditionalist must acquire.
Collectivism may have permeated the mechanism of the massacre, but traditionalism was responsible for its inception. Even if a vehement hatred of several senior girls for the juniors existed, a mob of fifty students would not have gathered in the vicinity of the event, nor would they have spurred it on. As merely a particular scheme to suppress the advancement of the juniors, this massacre would never have materialized. The vast majority of the bystanders were not likely afflicted with any degree of loathing for the tragedy’s victims. They, in all likelihood, would never have lifted a finger against them. A traditionalist will abide by the law (even in regard to one whom he intensely dislikes) so long as the law does not conflict with his tradition. Members of various religious faiths in the United States are granted free rein to attend any church gatherings they see fit; few have ever held rallies of hate against atheists or engaged in anything but a manifestation of their individual beliefs. However flawed and unfounded I may deem their views to be, they are merely exercising their right of free ideological expression. Similarly, a football game may be held from a motive of tradition and exclude the hazing. Effectively, it remains harmless. Traditional practices in themselves are not necessarily malignant and may even be of constructive benefit, depending on their nature. I am no traditionalist, but I embrace attitudes of the nineteenth century free market in opposition to more recent dogmas of socialism, statism, and environmentalism. Should I launch a campaign for economic liberalization, certain traditionalists, who also embrace the free market, will aid me and benefit from the consequences. It so happens that what they adhere to as a long-held practice also yields objective gains. The same (if precariously) can be said of a football game.
Yet the menace of traditionalism is in this: when one employs judgment of custom rather than judgment of reason as one’s benchmark, one possesses no standard by which to weed out the irrational and avert oneself from the immoral. For example, a progressive thinker will embrace the ideas of Locke, not because of their age, but regardless of it. To him, Locke offers a pivotal framework of individual rights and the relationship of the individual to government upon which all further constructive explorations of the matter must be founded. A traditionalist, on the other hand, will admire Locke because Locke’s thoughts are old. Likewise, he will come to admire the ideology of Hobbes, for Hobbes had written a generation prior to the time of Locke. And, seeing the two frameworks only through the lens of tradition, he will uphold the statist Leviathan over the autonomous individual. A man of such leanings is tolerable (though his ideas should be subjected to heated dispute) and violates the rights of no one, unless he becomes a politician. But similarly traditionalist can be a man from India, who professes to uphold the rich legacy of Indian mathematics but also extols the inhibitive oppression of the caste system. The danger of this man to aspiring individuals designated as “lower-caste” is self-explanatory, but the specifics of its manifestation instill horror. To this day, reactionaries in India lynch couples who had undertaken a “mixed-caste relationship,” and several hundred persons yearly fall prey to displays of caste hatred. It is this case of traditionalism that most fittingly resembles the mindset of the hazing crowd. While a football game (played mildly) is non-inhibitive to health, reputation, and productivity, the hazing which had occurred is perhaps the most repugnant means of degrading the human spirit. Traditionalism cannot distinguish between the two. This is the inevitable outcome of a false standard of judgment. Just as a man who will eat anything so long as and only if it is green will fail to differentiate lettuce from poison ivy, so will the traditionalist fail to separate good from evil.
The sophomore girl with whom I had spoken was visited on the day of the hazing by a friend who had been a spectator. “Hey,” he told her with fanatical enthusiasm, “what happened there was so cool!” He ventured into the details of the event, in the meantime inserting sadistic commentary. “We had a lot of fun.” He was not repentant, nor did in his mind at anytime emerge the realization that the violation of inalienable human rights and the degradation of human beings to a level below that of swine is naught but immoral. The hold of the dogmas of collectivism and traditionalism upon him was spellbindingly strong. The girl, however, was repulsed. She could not fathom the reasons for which such torments must be inflicted upon innocents, when even the guilty are not deserving of this mode of brutal humiliation. Of course, this was because no reason existed in it. Slothful nihilism and its agent framework of collectivism, as well as the simultaneously petty and frightful anti-logic of traditionalism, masquerade as legitimate justifications, permitting those like the male spectator of the massacre to brazenly proclaim that assault is “fun” and filth is “cool.”
It is never my practice to conclude an essay on a note of outrage devoid of hope. The massacre past and its victims recovering, it is presently necessary to consider the issue of punishments. On May 8, 2003, the school had issued a statement that it cannot in any formal manner penalize the instigators and primary participants of the massacre due to the fact that it did not occur on school grounds. I urge reconsideration. Whatever my or anyone else’s views on public education may be, given a public facility, attendance of which is compulsory, the said facility must be rendered optimally safe for all students frequenting it. A civil community, especially one as generally prosperous and reputedly tranquil as Northbrook, Illinois, cannot brook the coexistence of deliberate orchestrators of mob violence with peaceful, studious youths whose purpose for attending school is not to maim nor to humiliate, but rather to receive an education. The administration of Glenbrook North would not allow Jack from Lord of the Flies into its school, hence it should not permit Jack’s real-life equivalents, the primary participants in the infliction of physical harm, to remain there. School officials have already closely scrutinized the videotape recording of the event and have publicly stated that they have been able to distinguish the chief culprits from the obnoxious but physically inactive bystanders. The former should be expelled, tried, and imprisoned as adults. The perversity of the torture they had inflicted smacks of young dictators whose like should be barred from higher education, the workplace, and any similar paths to advancement and power at all costs. The latter, however, deserve naught beyond chastisement and unofficial punishments, perhaps a decent grounding by their parents or expulsion from any sports teams in which they are enrolled. Although, attitudinally, they had established the necessary background for the ritual to escalate in intensity, they personally retained the last vestiges of humanity, the reservation from initiating force themselves. For sake of justice, this distinction must be duly noted.
News of this incident shall soon subside and fade out of the minds of the general public as it is bombarded with media scandals, genuine and manufactured, from every conceivable direction. Due to the reductionism of media reporting to perceptual concretes, this can only be expected. Yet an event of this grotesque a nature should not be forgotten. Profound insights concerning the wickedness of collectivism and traditionalism are contained within it, from which every individual of every age group can stand to benefit. The sole antidote to these perils, and the ultimate guarantee that one shall never partake in any ritualized violation of rights, be it a hazing incident, a violent protest rally, or an outbreak of gang violence, is individualism. As has been proven herein and by numerous philosophers and economists prior, individualism is the only ethic which guarantees unmarred and non-sacrificial social cooperation, wherein every person seeks genuinely to ascend by developing his fortes, and every other person benefits from the unique values he has to offer. It is a system of mutual respect devoid of humiliation and not requiring tradition to prosper. It is a system that reaps from the past all of its best and discards into the abyss of history all of its worst. The envious, the slothful, and the incompetent practice violent collectivism. The industrious, the motivated, and the proud exhibit and encourage radiant individualism. Whom would you prefer to be?
G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, former weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov’s new blog, The Progress of Liberty, offers a combination of commentary, multimedia presentations, educational materials, and suggestions for effective activism in favor of individual freedom. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on Associated Content. Mr. Stolyarov has also written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.
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