Archive for October, 2012

The Economy of Grace

– Topher Endress

Being at a school like Purdue (or Vandy, in my case) allows us opportunities to see some of the big hitters of the corporate world.  We get the chance to rub elbows with recruiters for major worldwide companies, meet with alumni who have seen wild success and listen to the frontline of information concerning the economy – both from those in the working world and those studying it.  Of course, our schools are big enough to offer several alternative options of study in case rampant capitalism isn’t your ideal field.  And, as I will argue through this post, it shouldn’t be – at least in terms of Phi Tau.

Solidifying my position as a non-technical nerd, I’ve been spending my Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in an early morning ancient Greek class (it’s ok, I’m jealous of me, too).  Among the few things that I have learned from this class are two words, which we love to join together in English:

oikon nomy: home name. Rendered in English as “echo nomy,” or economy.

The original conception of economy was not one of dollars and cents.  Economy instead meant considering the needs of a household or family unit.  I believe that it is worth our time to consider how we view ourselves and our brothers in the economy of Phi Tau.

Is the economy of Phi Tau one of capitalism?  Do we look to our brothers and our organization for personal gain?  Is the economy of Phi Tau one of Kenynesianism, where the desires of our men are held in check by the pragmatism of our bylaws? How do we consider the value and usability of the fraternity?  After all, we affirm that each man has inherent worth, and I think we can safely assume that the abstract parts of Phi Kappa Tau (Ritual, creed, the membership in something larger than oneself, having 90,000 brothers, etc.) and the potentials of Phi Tau (networking, opportunities for leadership training, chance to work at SeriousFun, etc.) all have value.  So, the men, the abstracts and the potentials all must be categorized into a coherent system, or economy.

I will say that I think this can be done better by someone smarter than I.  However, I will do my best to create a system that works and is true to our chapter.

The Abstracts of Phi Tau are tools for teaching

There is much to be learned from studying most things.  However, our Creed, our Values, our Ritual and any other writings or Phi Tau knowledge is intentionally shaped to hold more weight than a cursory glance would indicate.  We have some dense documents and studying them in depth will prove fruitful.  We as initiated brothers have an obligation to foster deeper understandings of Phi Kappa Tau, and that comes in large part by participating in and studying what has been handed down to us.  The tools for learning how to lead, love, serve, learn and grow are all before you now.

The Value of Brothers should be considered above all in terms of grace

America is known for it’s insistence on free-market capitalism as the way to prosperity.  I’m not going to argue that case on a macro scale, but I will certainly make the claim that too much of our lives are dictated by this thought pattern.  Based on the Abstracts of Phi Kappa Tau, I believe that when it comes to our interactions with our brothers, we should not be shaped by the free market, capitalist, quid pro quo mentality. The value that each man brings is not a commodity to be bought, sold or controlled.  First, recognize that you are only in control of yourself.  Then, give of yourself with zero expectations.  You don’t need anything in return for sharing your gifts with your brothers, your house, your oikon.  Instead, work to ensure the livelihoods of each are taken care of.  Our market-based perception is easy and readily permeates everything.  It is safe to give with the expectation of receiving an equal amount in return.  Grace means giving without respect to being repaid.  Men of Character are not safe.  Go outside of the system and give everything to community, charity and brothers.  The Economy of Grace is radical and shocking. Be radical.
I really like this song – this small section can be encouraging and galvanizing.  Don’t let the nature of how others run things keep your from growing. This is a war against the norm!  What are you waiting for?  Why don’t you break the rules already?

The Potentials of Phi Tau are rewards only reaped after experiencing the Abstracts and Value of Brothers

I have heard several men try to recruit others (myself included) into fraternities.  Their main selling point is potential – large alumni/networking bases, leadership training, seminars, etc.  Sure, these are great things.  But by focusing on them without recognizing that our basis for having any Potentials is understanding our Abstracts and valuing our Brothers, they did a disservice to the men they ended up recruiting.  Not only is fraternity life not simply a club to join in order better one’s lot easily, the Potentials available are really only available to those who understand the Creed and live it out through an Economy of Grace.  Who can truly learn to lead without first serving?  And who can learn how to serve within Phi Tau without a knowledge of what Phi Tau stands for?  Serving, learning and growing are important, but each is far more edifying when you have reason to base your actions on.

I believe that if we re-categorize what we can gain from Phi Kappa Tau and place those benefits more or less linearly into this model, we will see that the Economy of Grace – built off of our Ritual, Creed and other Abstractions – will lead you to a better experience during your time as an undergraduate brother and will help the Potentials that can better you as a Man of Character materialize.


In Defense of Andrew Lohse

– Topher Endress

It has recently come to light that Andrew Lohse, a former Dartmouth SAE,  has revealed not just fraternity secrets but intimate stories of hazing. The details are as gruesome as anyone might expect, which you can read about in the original Rolling Stone article here.  And for this, the non-Greek community has generally raked Greek life over the coals, lambasting the “cult of Greek life” for being an institution that could allow such practices. These criticisms, though largely valid, are also stemming from a lack of knowledge concerning actual fraternity life. Most of those reporting on news of hazing and culture frankly are offering opinions shaded with lens that haven’t been in the systems.  There are several ‘in house’ sites that have taken this story on, though, with opinions and commentary from men and women from Greek backgrounds.  However, it saddens me that I felt it necessary to write this critique in light of these writings, as many of these stories seem to be coming from pro-hazing web sites.

Total Frat Move, a comedy website that I will admit to reading, recently produced an article critical of Andrew Lohse using arguments and structure similar to an article that would defend rape by attacking women. It is against this that I must take a stand.  When it comes to a story that is so intimately tied to fraternity culture, I want to read commentary by someone who knows what that means.  However, all I have read from pro-frat sites sickens me.  The TFM post announcing the content of Lohse’s leaked book proposal immediately attacks college newspapers as being run by geeds who are fed up with being kicked out of frat parties.  The author (going by the name Sratire) then attacks Ivy League education by mocking Lohse’s word choice.  His intentions are immediately assumed to be ignoble at best – either making money or simply by dragging friends’ names through the mud.  I can barely contain my rage when I read this ensuing paragraph:

“Really, having followed this story since well before it was covered nationally, the most remarkable fact is not the drug use or his tales of pledgeship, but rather that both this man and the original whistleblower were able to go through rush and pledgeship next to the other brothers and then engage in this behavior. If, as a member of an organization, you feel concerned about drug use or hazing, it is your responsibility to speak directly with those involved and try to better both that person as an individual and the group as a whole rather than to silently cultivate an attitude of moral superiority.”

Clearly, Sratire is unfamiliar with the current thought processes of abusive relationships, where often women are technically free to leave or stand up at any moment but psychologically or emotionally cannot do so.  In a system like a Greek house, the overwhelming culture makes it difficult to stand against the tide.  Perhaps if only one or two brothers were responsible for the drug use and hazing, there would be a case here – the other 40 men could overwhelm their culture instead.  But what Lohse is writing about is a systematic and institutionalized culture that works to change to mindset of these young men.  It cannot be easily broken.  There is no quick fix and standing up for oneself, while noble, is not quite as easy as TFM seems to think.

The language here is an issue.  Instead of attacking the problem of hazing, distancing themselves from the disturbing and illegal practices going on at Dartmouth, TFM mocks the very idea that hazing is an issue.  Imagine the uproar if someone were to write this exact same article about a proposed book on a rape event.  Only a few slight details need to be changed for continuity and you have the beginning of one of the most insensitive articles you should ever hope to read.  The mentality is the same – by blaming the victim instead of the institution, no changes have to be taken.  They can live with what they’ve done or what they’re doing because the blame is no longer focused on the actions.  Sure, should Lohse really be sharing all of SAE’s secrets?  Probably not.  But he is absolutely right in blowing the whistle on hazing.  Any defense of author-victimization or institutionalized hazing shows me that the author really doesn’t care about what makes a fraternity a fraternity (or a sorority a sorority).

So yes, anyone who takes issue with a practice needs to speak up.  But it is not incumbent upon them to change an organization.  A fraternity, like Phi Kappa Tau, must be vigilant for practices that will make men uncomfortable.  I am proud to say that if someone were to write an exposé on Lambda Chapter, I would not feel any need to distance myself from any of our actions.  Lets be real, the closest we’ve ever come to hazing was trying (often unsuccessfully) to get guys to sing Disney songs at karaoke nights.  But eventually, a time will come when someone suggests an activity that makes someone uncomfortable – but that they feel a need to be a part of.  It will be up to everyone to put an end to anything like that well before it starts.  More than that, though, we must actively take a stand against the silent condonation of hazing that members of the Greek community apparently are taking.  Not a single TFM comment offers any sort of “hey, hazing is pretty bad” opinion.  Instead, every single comment either mocks him for being gay (which he is not, and that type of language used as insults is offensive for far too many reasons to include here) or for being a liar (which seems unlikely).  No one wants to face their own demons.

Men, hazing is a problem.  And condoning hazing is a problem.  And we all know this.  But pretending that hazing isn’t happening is also a problem.  Pretending that pledges feel free to stop any action they aren’t comfortable with at any moment is a problem.  Frankly, no matter how careful you are with traditional pledgeship, there will always be the issue of newer guys trying to fit in and feel accepted.  Peer pressure happens almost regardless of intentionality.  Maybe we don’t have the “sink baptism” of SAE, but any time someone thinks they have to do something that is against their own conscious in order to fit in, we have failed just as badly.  As these new men are receiving bids, understand that becoming a traditional frat means fighting a losing battle against a culture war.  We should never be considered anything less than different.  I don’t have the answers, but I know that the answers do not involve ignoring, condoning or participating in any sort of hazing.  Ever.