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Question: Hazing incidents in schools, Can they be teachable moments to educate students about a culture of peace? CPNN article: Preventing Rites from Becoming Wrongs
Posted: Jan. 14 2004,06:52

Tony, thank you for raising the issue of hazing and initiation rites which are part of the culture of war, and for suggesting that we call them into question in order to promote a culture of peace.

To try and understand the origins of the culture of war, I have read extensively in the scientific reports of anthropologists who studied non-Western societies in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Many of them reported that a high point in the cultural life of the community was the initiation rites to become warriors that marked the transition from childhood to adulthood for young men.  These initiation rites marked the beginning of a culture of war; they were meant to support and prepare the people for the possibility that they might have to go to war.

The most direct equivalent of the warrior initiation rites is military basic training.   To this day, many people believe that this is something that should be compulsory for all young men, and some even believe that young women should also be trained.

Hazing and college initiation rites may also be seen as a holdover from the warrior initiation rites, preparing young people for cut-throat competition which is also part of the culture of war.

In the same way as the time has come to call into question the training of young people for war, it is also time to question hazing and initiations.  

I think it would be helpful if alternatives were provided to these age-old customs.  It seems to me that universal training in non-violent conflict resolution and non-violent resistance to oppression could provide an alternative to the need for a military, and if these kinds of training were institutionalized in schools, they could also provide a positive alternative to hazing and initiation rites.
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SC Brian
Posted: Feb. 02 2004,07:39

In highschool, I was involved in a hazing incident in which I participated in the hazing of a new member to our cross-country team.  While I regret the action in retrospect, it seemed at the time to be a natural social bonding activity.  Neither I or the other participants were severely disciplined for the incident which involved putting Icy Hot on a young man's genitals.  I never saw the connection between this usual high school activity and a culture that promotes death and egregious violence.  Does it not seem to anyone that such a connection might be a bit farfetched?  I don't intend to defend my foolish actions of the past.  I think that it is fantastic to try and expose the ridiculousness of hazing in America, but I don't think that the debate should rage over whether or not a bit of injured pride contributes to genocide when King George 2 is himself promoting eternal war for unjustifiable reasons.  Could it be suggested that malicious intent is rarely the reason behind hazing (except perhaps towards the females that attended the Citadel in the 90's)? The efforts should be concentrated against hazing which results in permanent physical harm.  As a recipient of such hazing myself, I see the psychological damage of such action to be minimal.  I have come out of my experiences with the understanding that overt violence, brutality, and war are revolting.  Simple boyish rites of passage can be such, but that is not always the case.
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Posted: Feb. 02 2004,13:21

Although hazing probably comes from our history of the culture of war, lots of other things also come from the culture of war and hazing isn't the worst.  In this respect I certainly agree with you, Brian.  For example, my wife tells me that when I watched the Superbowl I was watching a vestige of the culture of war.  Fair enough, but I don't think it is the first thing we need to change, especially when the war in Iraq brings suffering to millions of people and threatens to bring down the entire American empire just as Afghanistan contributed to the fall of the the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, it is probably good that we begin to understand how much our culture is shaped by the culture of war and what far-reaching changes it will take to arrive at a culture of peace.  Also, it may be that some people, unlike you, have been scarred by hazing rituals, in which case they will benefit from our understanding and solidarity.

And I do think it would be very powerful to think about rituals for a culture of peace in our schools.  In fact, I think that we can consider much of the peer counseling and conflict resolution now taking place in schools as just such a new direction of rituals that need to be strengthened.
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