In 2017, there were an incredibly painful number of senseless and infuriating murders in the United States. On October 1st, 2017, Steven Paddock a semi-retired professional gambler, opened fire on a crowd of people attending a music festival, killing 50 people and injuring 500, in the worst mass shooting in US History. Paddock, a man whose previous problems seem to have been limited to surliness and rootlessness, seemingly had no motive for doing this. A month later, Devin Patrick Kelly, entered a church and killed 26 men, women and children, seemingly as an act of revenge against his ex-wife.
2016 and 2017 were also the years of the Black Lives Matter movement, when activists started questioning the number of unarmed, non-violent young black people who were shot by police because they were behaving "erratically". For many years, as someone who has had some practice in self-defense, I didn't second guess the police in those situations, because in a split second situation, it is hard to know everything that will happen. And any single one of these cases could be viewed as just a mistake in a tense situation, but taken as a whole, it is hard to view the pattern as anything else than law enforcement viewing black people as being both dangerous and worthless.
You might have noticed that none of this is obviously related to hazing. I put this preface in to point out that the United States has had people dying in ways that should seriously make us question the sanity and functionality of our society. There are murders that should leave us bewildered, enraged, numb, terrified and repulsed. And with all these killings, these acts of disregard for human life that make me wonder if I ever want to return to my country, the ones that make me the most angry, the ones that literally make me want to punch the walls at 3 AM, are the murders by hazing of young college students. These infuriate me in a way that no other murders do: bring me a hatred for the perpetrators that I could never feel for a blank man like Steven Paddock. And this is despite the fact that murders by hazing are relatively few, are "accidental", and have victims that are at least partially responsible for their deaths.
Time Magazine has this list of the four people who were murdered in hazing rituals this year. There are clear commonalities: all four were under 21, the legal drinking age. Three of the deaths were related to alcohol, while the fourth death "probably" involved alcohol. Two of the alcohol related deaths were due to overdose, with the BAC well over .400, while in another, it was related to an injury while under the extreme influence of alcohol. Three of them were in the presence of groups of people, none of whom did anything to help the victims, and in some cases seems to have deliberately covered up what was happening. All of them took place at party schools, where drinking and fraternities play an important part of activities. All of them were met with an official response from the college administration of shutting down or suspending the fraternity system. All of them have led to criminal investigations and criminal charges, although to what extent prosecutors will be able to prove legal culpability is a big question. Most seem to have come from middle class backgrounds. Also, I would guess that probably everyone involved: the victims, the murderers, the universities, the families, would have known that something could happen. That fraternities haze and that alcohol involved is not exactly a secret. And yet this is often treated less than seriously, until someone dies or is seriously injured.
And this is why I am so angry. This is also why I use the word "murder", even though some people might say this was accidental or at most manslaughter. If you point and fire a revolver at someone's chest, and they die, that is murder: that you weren't sure that this chamber had a round in it is not much of a legal or moral defense. If you force or coerce someone into drinking an entire fifth of vodka, that is a murder weapon as surely as a gun is a murder weapon. Its not just something that you can do to prove your bravado or camaderie. It is not just a fun way to show that you are no longer at home. Its not a way to show you are beyond normal rules. And it is not "Haha, its just a prank, bro, don't be a faggot".
And this is where these few killings tie back to the much larger violence in the United States: because so much of this violence is based on a shifting scale of reality and unreality. Many of the African-Americans who have been killed by police have been doing it because some minor action was construed as violent, or a normal object, such as a pen, was seen as "a weapon". For African-American youths, or adults, every possible action is a serious threat to those around them, a sign of impending violence. For middle class youths, its all just a game. A game that they think they can exit at any time. Its this double standard of realism, that some people can be punished by death for the slightest imagined infraction, while others are allowed to behave in dangerous, anti-social behavior with a wink and a nod, that has made me so angry. Neither the physical consequences of actions nor the moral agency of them are things people can take a vacation from. As I said about sexual harassment, a society that has two sets of rules and you have to guess which ones you are playing by is in for problems. Hazing is a process where people are demeaned, tortured and sometimes murdered by groups of people who should know better, and treating it like a joke is not acceptable.