Letter to the editor: The morality of criticism and discourse

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On Dec. 4, The Brown and White published the article, “What would Lehigh look like without Greek life?” The article has been circulating on campus, and the fallout has been very discouraging. In particular, Kyle Higgins —someone  I have known since our freshman year — is receiving very unfair treatment from a significant amount of people. Along with his views being sensationalized, the situation quickly devolved into ad hominem attacks and identity politics. Rather than focusing on the issue — on the ideas — Higgins has been pigeonholed as a flag bearer for the anti-Greek portion of our campus. This mode of discourse is not just bad, it is dangerous.

It is my understanding that the intent of the article was to engender an intellectual discussion about Greek life at Lehigh. Despite those intentions, many have ignored them. An intellectual discussion is, by its nature, inquisitive, critical and rational. If one of these conditions is eliminated then the rest crumble as well. Higgins proposed to pursue a critical discussion of the Greek system, and in response, some who are pro-Greek have erected a psychological barrier between their feelings and that discourse, thus destroying any way of identifying truth. Our generation has a deep-seated urge to hide behind bromides like, “I’m entitled to my opinion” or “What about my feelings?” First, merely having an opinion is not enough. Anyone can read a textbook, or listen to a lecture and regurgitate a view. But this reduces rationality to the arbitrary by committing oneself to those views which ‘sounds best’ rhetorically. Second, your feelings are not an argument. Whim, arbitrary assertion, unreasonable claims, and the like are all entirely disqualified from discourse. Taken to the logical extent that it implies, such a subjective view results in the most disastrous, barbaric, nihilistic societies like the Soviet Union.

I grant that there are those people that are pro-Greek who recognize particular issues in Greek life (e.g. hazing and the expectations of women). Those issues are not merely relevant, but are indeed important. Those who are working to make changes in these areas should be commended. Nevertheless, few are willing to critically reflect on the system as a whole. This reluctance is the root of the danger that has been exposed by Higgins’ debacle. If you are not willing to step away from your interests and contemplate those things which you take for granted, then the only tool you have, namely, reason, is broken. Once you have lost that, there is little-to-no chance of bettering yourself or your community. Moreover, actively shunning those who are willing to pursue critical analysis of any system — Greek or not — is the paradigm case of moral cowardice. In our own lives, we must each strive to embody virtue by facing our flaws, destroying the contradictions, and transcending those weaknesses. Similarly for social institutions. The Greek system as such has very deep rooted traditions and practices. Regardless of the outcome, they must be questioned. Why is participating in Greek life good? What are the psychological implications of elevating others to the status of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ in your life? Are you a member of Greek life first or an individual first? These questions must be asked and answered if any resolution is to be achieved. Before that can happen, however, many in our generation need to reevaluate their view of what it means to be a good person; namely, they need to reject dishonest assertions that stem from the arbitrary or feelings.

— Vincent Graziano, ’18

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3 Comments

  1. The majority of your article is centered on the idea that the recent article on Greek Life at Lehigh was supposed to foster intellectual discourse. However that article in no way does that, considering it is a one-sided argument that uses hearsay and sensationalism to defend the writer, and Kyle’s narrow point of view.

    Secondly, you claim that a large portion of people that are pro-Greek, or are against the POV of Kyle or the article to use “arbitrary assertion, and unreasonable claims.” That itself is ironic considering Kyle, an individual who has never been a part of a Greek organization, makes claims based on rumor and hearsay.

    How is there anything even resembling an intellectual argument in the article? Of course people believe that sexual assault, hazing, and other issues every college faces is a large hurdle we must all overcome, but to stand behind Greek Life as the reason behind it is laughable; especially considering the fact that there are many schools with higher rates of assault and issues WITHOUT Greek Life.

    The fact that so many individuals choose to demonize an entire group of people, especially a group that makes up 40% of the institution you attend is a joke.

    If you truly want to have an honest discussion about the Greek system as a whole there needs to be a level playing field. An open and honest dialogue between both sides that uses hard facts and not sensationalism. One cannot say, “I heard this fraternity makes their pledges raise and kill small animals,” without a shred of evidence to back it up. Why don’t these people who claim to be so morally sound ignore rumor and look at the hard facts; like when Sigma Chi and AOPi raised over $10,000 for charity this year. Is that not a good enough reason for you? That a group of individuals enjoy helping others?

    I hope that the Brown and White can do more in the future with its research and attempt to remain without bias because currently it is lacking.

  2. Amy Charles '89 on

    Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight: you want a level playing field so that the mostly-wealthy mostly-white guys backed by alumni with beaucoup bucks and influence aren’t…disadvantaged in a conversation about ways that fraternity members chronically misbehave. And by “misbehave” I mean “commit criminal acts”, many of which are reported right here in the Brown and White, in a direct line from criminal acts committed in the far-off days when I used to report them right here in the Brown and White.

    Am I hearing you right?

    I mean the thing is, if fraternities had, somewhere along the line, managed to clean it up, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As things stand, though, when there’s a rape, or a beating that ends in criminal charges, or a question of provision of alcohol to a young person who’s in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, or a hate crime, nobody’s actually surprised when the guy who’s been charged turns out to be a fraternity brother. They’re very much surprised when it turns out the guy’s a member of, say, a real service organization. Or a campus arts group. Or a whole host of other types of groups. For them, criminal behavior is surprising. For fraternities…unfortunately, no, it’s not surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising. And that’s because fraternities have taught us to expect this of them.

    Make it surprising, and we won’t have to have these conversations anymore. And baby please, with your fair playing field. Come on now.

    Amy

    • Ms. Charles (AMY CHARLES ’89) has a tendency to write anti-fraternity comments on articles posted on the Brown and Whites website. Anything she says should essentially be null and void and should not be taken seriously due to her extreme bias probably resulting from bad experience with fraternities while on campus.

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