The absurdity of pledgeship, the absurdity of us

By Matthew Gillham | Staff Columnist

In the aftermath of the hazing allegations on campus with Phi Gamma Delta, ridicule and outrage have been thrown at the very idea of pledgeship. Is pledgeship absurd? Probably. Incongruent with human nature? Well, no, not at all.

Just last week, an opinion article by another CW writer articulated the absurdity of enduring physical and emotional turmoil at the opportunity to join a social group. How could a group of people subject themselves to that? And who creates these types of programs anyway?

And many echo that sentiment – a sentiment that’s fairly accurate. Yet, as absurd as that idea may be, it’s right in line with how we, as humans, Greek and non-Greek, operate. If anything’s truly absurd, it’s us.

It’s that we seek to find and create arbitrary structures and obstacles to overcome to validate ourselves.

It’s that we place primary value in selectivity, in difficulty, in the magnitude of the challenge rather than in what’s actually achieved.

It’s that we emphasize the process and the struggle so much, that the goal of a struggle matters far less, as long as there’s a challenge.

Sure, those apply to the absurdity of pledgeship, but also to the absurdity of how we all live, including all who aren’t dressed in a sport coat and tie every gameday.

We gravitate toward challenge. In challenges, we find purpose. We find worth. We find meaning. The world’s greatest men and women have looked challenges of immense nature straight in the eye and overcome them, breaking through barriers to justice and equality. But it’s not just our heroes who seek challenges – there’d be no reason for blood, sweat and tears to drip off a practice jersey five times a week for the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with another every Friday 
night, either.

Yet, we’ve begun to artificially create environments that attempt to provide this worth without having the same meaning and purpose behind them. It’s as if we’ve mitigated the purpose and extracted the image of challenges and obstacles in order to create environments that appear daunting, but lack the significance and risk that true challenges require. We do this in pledgeship, and we do this in life.

For starters, we tend to create arbitrary moats around our friends. Did the high school clique that you tried so desperately to join teach you nothing? We’ve become experts at using social status as a means of creating obstacles that give our identities and labels value.

Additionally, we, as students, place a supreme degree of value in selectivity and difficulty. Jobs and schools, for example, find their relative worth through these primary two means. The thought goes, that if most people want it, but few can get it, it must have value. And in these obstacles we begin to associate sheer selectivity with worth. Schools with low acceptance rates must be of higher quality, right? And jobs with the most daunting work must also always be superior, right? No, neither of those are true.

And how do we talk about passion? Few people, when given the opportunity, refer to passion in the context of goals rather than processes. We’re not told to find something worth fighting for, but simply to find something we enjoy – something that challenges us each and every day regardless of the end goal. Many overlook the purpose of overcoming obstacles, and in doing so, substitute a struggle of purpose with any struggle at all. Sure, you’re busy. Sure, your work is difficult. But what are you really working for?

So it’s no surprise that pledgeship, for all its flaws, exists, fulfilling much of what we informally do in many other facets of life. And in many ways, pledgeship remains a pointed, extreme case of these characteristics. But for all its absurdity, it’s certainly not altogether incongruent with how we, as humans, tend to live. So, I don’t disagree with the finger-pointing, the ridicule and the outrage – they just fall short of a much larger, innate issue, with much more significance than any 12-week period might bring.

Matthew Gillham is a a senior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly on Fridays.

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