Our unities should be based on the recognition that our enemies are not each other but the oppressive state. We have seen this when the fraternities of UP declared fratwar, not against each other but a fratwar against budget cuts, fratwar against Lumad killings, or the frat war against tyranny and fascism.
By BEN TE
The history of fraternities is a history of class struggle. But no, it’s not a history of a group of oppressed workers who sought to take down an oppressive system. It was an attempt by middle-class professionals, merchants, and intellectuals to consolidate power during the era when monarchs held control of the feudal state. Historically, fraternities were established as a means to develop scientific and philosophical thought, the mastery of a particular craft, or to pursue enlightenment at a time when knowledge was not only limited but also repressed. But despite these “noble” goals, it was essentially a network for the male peti-bourgeoisie that helped them tip the scales of power in their favor. Such that when the revolution came to wrest power from the landlord class, they embedded themselves in the newly built system of capitalism to benefit from it and eventually helped preserve it.
Subversive as they were at the time they were founded, fraternities have lost their radical orientation when they patterned themselves according to the system that favors capital and connections over merit, a system that breeds exclusivity, hierarchies, and superiority over others, and a system that teaches individuals to seek power and wealth above all. Its feudal origins and bourgeois character has cemented its own culture of elitism and (for lack of a better term) douchebaggery.
The feudal-patriarchal and the bourgeois-decadent are thus the roots of the toxic frat/male culture. The simplified statement that “men are trash” should be enough to define the feudal-patriarchal culture that is propagated in an exclusively male organization. It allows the proliferation of sexist and misogynistic statements and acts with hardly anybody to call them out about what’s wrong with the things they do. They also perpetuate the “macho-male” stereotype as the norm and tries to assert organizational and territorial dominance over others like the feudal lords of old. Whereas the bourgeois-decadent culture is seen by how fraternities promote elitism, values social status and capital, reveres wealth-seekers, and pursues political monopoly. The consumerism of the peti-bourgeois millennial culture also does its part to aggravate the vice-driven decadence of fraternities. Apparently, it is also manifested in the inbred superiority complex or how they treat the “others” as inferior. Hence the racism, xenophobia, and the aversion to barbs, cracks, and even the wokeass millenials.
But should fraternities be abolished?
It seems difficult to find any redeeming qualities for the Greek-letter societies. But as a member of a progressive fraternity myself (and yes I do have my bias), I still cling to the possibility that there is hope for fraternities. The fate of fraternities lies solely on their own hands. It is the inviolable law of history that all things are subject to change. Some fraternities may see themselves as above the law, but they are not impervious to this fundamental law of nature. Either we see the need to change by abandoning outdated traditions and culture or perish into obsolescence. No simple apology can ever undo the role fraternities have played in perpetuating feudalism and violence. The existence of a few “good” fratmen will not outweigh the crimes committed by fraternities as a whole. It may be true that not all fratmen or fraternities are the same, but saying it does nothing to rationalize the misogynistic and barbaric practices of most fraternities and fratmen. The benevolent advocacies and gratuitous charities of fraternities are also merely tokenistic and does more to conceal the wrongdoings than to actually make amends for them. Society should demand nothing less from us than real, sincere, and genuine change.
But how do we change?
The existence of progressive fraternities is not an evidence in itself that fraternities are capable of change. But there is still value in recognizing that a number of fraternities were established during martial law and were founded with the ideals of nationalism, democracy, and service. If elitism is all there is to fraternities, then they would have done nothing to take down the tyrannical Marcos regime. Instead they helped establish progressive organizations, forged alliances, and took to the streets with the calls for justice. But it wasn’t really the fraternities that breathed life into the student movement. It was the student movement that shaped the principles of fraternities. In fact, many pre-martial law “traditional” fraternities were heavily influenced by the nationalist fervor that swept the university. More fratmen were recruited into becoming activists than there were activists being recruited into fraternities. The height of the progressive culture among fraternities was when the strength of the student movement was at its peak. Fraternities were principled because they had comrades among them that educated them about progressive ideas.
After martial law, there have been many attempts among fraternities to forge peace among themselves. For short period of times some fraternities forge alliances to ensure mutual respect and camaraderie. The UP Fraternity Alliance, to this day, continues to foster more than amicable relations among its member fraternities. Also, a number of fraternities have now completely abandoned or are already starting to abandon the practice of hazing. For others it has almost been a decade or more since their last rumble preferring peaceful resolution of conflicts over violence. But all of these efforts are obviously not enough. Nothing can take the place of forging principled unities among fraternities. Our unities should be based on the recognition that our enemies are not each other but the oppressive state. We have seen this when the fraternities of UP declared fratwar, not against each other but a fratwar against budget cuts, fratwar against Lumad killings, or the frat war against tyranny and fascism.
Of course, even in progressive fraternities there is still a need for a continued process of change. History merely teaches us that change may truly be possible. For example, men in a patriarchal society are capable of change but only if they take part in the struggle for emancipation of women and the LGBT+. The peti-bourgeoisie are capable of change but only if they take part in the struggle of the workers, peasants, and indigenous people. Similarly, fraternities may also be capable of change but only when they unite with the broad masses of the Filipino people in their struggle for liberation. Their absolution lies in the hands of the masses – the supreme judge of history. Only by fighting with them in their pursuit of freedom and democracy can fraternities prove that they deserve to exist. Fraternities should not seek to change merely for their own self-preservation. They need to see their role in nation building and in shaping social realities. By recognizing their role in society, they would see the need to change themselves. Indeed, history has already proven that only in the aspiration of serving the people and in the collective and militant struggle for social change can the best in any of us emerge.
Reference: Hazing deaths and abuse in Philippines
* The author is a first year law student at UP College of Law. He is a member of the Sigma Kappa Pi Fraternity.