The Psychology and Physiology of Hazing (Or why intelligent people do stupid things.)


In war, you die in the hands of your enemies and are brought home by your brothers. In fraternities, you die in the hands of your enemies who profess to be your brothers.

When will they ever learn? People know that smoking causes cancer. But not for them. They know that unsafe sex may give you AIDS. But not for them. Fraternity neophytes and officials know that some have died during hazing. But not for them.

Statistically speaking, others are expected to get what they deserve. But not me. Never me. So when they join these fraternities, they probably said to each other, "Come on! That's a thing of the past. It wouldn't happen to us." Until they feel the pain, slowly get dizzy on the way to the emergency room, watch the fuzzy images of the hospital personnel frantically doing CPR on their chest, and see their whole life flashing before them. But there's nothing they can do about it. Because it's too late.

Hazing is a recurring theme in Philippine news and current affairs. It awakens society like an alarm clock frantically begging to be turned off. But all society does is hit the snooze. And it sounds off again after just a few months.

Hazing is a ritual that extols the perverted sense of brotherhood prevailing in fraternities and sororities. It is a rite of passage that purportedly tests a neophyte's resolve to "join the brotherhood". A brotherhood that will ensure the neophyte's academic future while in school and his professional future in the real world.

But these "masters" tasked to give them a hard time are not chosen for their skill in doing this job. In fact nobody chooses anybody. It is a free-for-all wherein they can do much anything they want to do to you in the name of lofty ideals such as "Integrity", "Loyalty", and "Brotherhood". So the neophytes are, ironically, at the mercy (pardon the pun) of these masters who have nothing but brotherly love for their future brothers.

If inebriated students huddled together around a table are capable of doing unruly things in full public view, what more would they be capable of in isolation with weapons in their hands, authorized to inflict pain and injury to helpless underlings who are duty-bound not to defend themselves?

This is what has been theorized in crowd psychology as "De-individuation" by Gustav LeBon wherein each individual loses his own analytical judgment and the crowd takes a mind of its own. Such human behavior has been observed in large gatherings such as revolutions (French revolution, People Power) and riots (Watts, Los Angeles).

People find themselves doing things they normally wouldn't have done. Good people are able to kill people. Nuns and priests are able to stand firm to stop an oncoming tank. And peace-loving citizens become looters in the middle of the melee.

Fraternity initiation rites are not much different. Granted the power to inflict pain in the name of lofty ideals, self-restraint evaporates with the last shred of inhibition they might have had as the alcohol slowly soaks their neurons in their demolition derby.

And with every smash of the paddle on his muscles, his blood slowly clots in his veins. With every punch of their fists on his face, his capillaries slowly break leaking blood under his skin. With every elbow hitting his stomach, his liver slowly bleeds. And with every strike onto his back his kidneys slowly fail.

He may not notice it right then and there with the adrenaline rush from the fear and excitement. But once the "excitement" dies down, after the beatings are done, on his way out of the dungeon, in the car on the way to the hospital, and finally, at the emergency room when the adrenal glands shut down, his BP will start to go down. His blood vessels will constrict in an attempt to raise his BP. But this will further compromise circulation to the brain, to the kidneys, and finally, to his heart.

His heart will try to beat faster but go into a rapid-fire rhythm called fibrillation, up to 300 beats per minute of shallow irregular heart rate that cannot even push the blood for a few millimeters. The doctor will apply gel on the paddles, rub them together, cry out, "300 joules!", and then, "CLEAR!" With a sudden jolt the neophyte jerks on the table like a dying fish out of water. But that will be his last attempt at life because he has become a victim of hemorrhagic shock, a human being out of blood.

When the flat line on the cardiac monitor appears, the ER personnel will shake their heads at each other. Ready to tell the bad news to the family. But there will be no family ready to hear the news. Because the family is at home thinking he is in the good hands of his brothers.

So the neophyte dies alone, left in the hands of hospital personnel who in spite of superhuman abilities, could not extend the life of a bright young man at his prime. A bright young man who yearned for acceptance from his elders and peers, but instead was left for dead in a hospital far from the arms of the family that has truly cared for him.