Sunday, April 05, 2015

[Rant] Fraternal Disorder

When I was in college I belonged to a fraternity (this was at The University of Michigan). Of course, my fraternity was not anything like your stereotype. I don't recall many formal parties and, since we were really a bunch of low-end slackers, it wasn't like the sororities were remotely interested in spending time with us. A significant portion of our membership were there because they really had nowhere else to go, and because nobody complained too loudly about how much weed they smoked. I won't mention which fraternity so as not to embarrass anyone who has tried to lead an upstanding life since then.

So here's my SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) story from thirty years ago. Every year there was a festival called Greek Week where all the frats and sororities on campus got together and held silly little competitions and various events, mostly for charity. Supposed to be a fun thing. Since there were many more frats than sororities, each team consisted of two frats and and one sorority, randomly drawn. One year, my frat, probably the least desirable one on campus, got teamed with SAE and some sorority I don't even remember. Needless to say the SAE Hitler Youth were not happy about this; it must have been a source of great shame to have to been associated with us. At one point a couple of them stormed over to our house and told us we were going to do whatever they told us, when they told us, or we were going to get our asses kicked. This was the mentality of these idiots.

So when I heard about the racist video from their Oklahoma chapter and I realized they were going to have the full weight of righteous progressive society dropped on them from on high, my gut reaction was that it couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch of guys.

I don't really have a SAM (Sigma Alpha Mu) story. In my time, they were thought to be a decent sort; good Jewish boys, and such. Although SAM hadn't been exclusively Jewish for decades, it was still predominantly Jewish at the time. I have to think that changed because -- and this is not intended as a backhanded bigotry -- most of the Jewish people I know are way too intelligent to trash a ski resort in a drunken rampage.

Anyway, both those places -- the Oklahoma SAE chapter and the Michigan SAM chapter -- are history now. That's probably appropriate. Although I will say in a half-hearted defense of SAM, it's really hard to cause 400K in damages in a weekend, even for frat boys. My guess is the figure is closer to 100K and 400K is just the start of negotiations.

In further mitigation of outrage, I'll just point out that fraternities are an easy target; they are reviled in popular culture and you will see them get painted with a broad brush by people who would go into a fit of moral indignation if you engaged in such stereotyping in any other circumstances. All fraternities aren't full of drunken, spoiled brats who drug and rape coeds with impunity. All chapters of a given fraternity aren't the same from campus to campus or era to era. It's entirely likely that the SAE chapter at Michigan is no longer peopled with Hitler Youth. It is certainly true that my fraternity at Michigan is no longer filled with layabouts and scoundrels. Indeed, those times had changed before I even left.

But I have to say, given the events of the past few weeks I have never been happier to have been a part of a brotherhood of low-end, bong-hitting, undesirable slackers. Whatever our shortcomings at the time, at least we did no harm.