November 8, 2017

Athens Vs. Alpha Delt

The focus on mainstream Western intellectualism prevents us from leading truly meaningful lives.

Some people bring nuanced arguments to the table about disbanding fraternities, namely their immensely sexist, classist, and racist histories. There are valid concerns about how they foster toxic environments in our universities that lead to lax and ambiguous attitudes toward sexual assault, how they protect hateful and marginalizing speech on the grounds of freedom, and how they exclude people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Not to mention, fraternities started as institutions meant to bring together wealthy white men, and to develop exclusive and inaccessible networks that are, to this day, still meant to privilege the already-privileged and offer a clandestine sort of protection and untouchability.

And then there are those who criticize frat parties on the basis of music, the volume of bodies in a room, and the fact that people choose to drink. We posit that, not only are these the most misplaced points of frustration with frat parties, they are also judgmental of different lifestyles and choices and socioeconomic histories (with a tinge of white supremacy). It’s almost as if people can either go to frat parties, listen to black music (read: rap and hip-hop), and drink alcohol; or sit at home with classical (Western, white) music in the background, eat brie on a dry cracker, and talk about Hegel on their Friday nights. And that the same person cannot be capable of both. As if people are not complex, multifaceted beings, but rather one-dimensional caricatures that are only capable of partying OR intellectualizing, drinking OR discoursing, dancing OR debating—but never both.

(To be clear, this article is not a defense of Greek life. If you look into a mirror at night, and say “disband frats” three times, we will pop up in your living room and tell you about all the reasons why we think fraternities should be abolished once and for all.)

Of all the ways to go about criticizing fraternities, berating them for not hosting parties that will bring “meaning” and “camaraderie” to your life is not one. To be fair, we have definitely become a more individualistic, selfish, and capitalism-driven society. We are encouraged to put ourselves first and we are expected to always be productive. But to say that this issue stems out of college frat parties is honestly giving them too much credit.

Meaning in our lives doesn’t just come from high discourse and intellectual conversation while drinking tea, it also comes from honest, emotionally raw, and supportive relationships. We get it, people on this campus like the idea of hyper-intellectualism and intellectual superiority, it’s the hallmark of UChicago’s “Life of the Mind.” But it’s just sad when we base our friendships on an extravagant (and highly Western) nexus of academic, highbrow discourse; it’s offensive to the dynamic nature of friendships.

Plus, more obviously, not everyone wants to “turn up” by eating hors d’oeuvres, nipping from cheese platters, and ruminating over Nietzsche. We don’t know about you, but that’s not our idea of unwinding after a week of midterms. In fact, that’s not our idea of unwinding ever. Does this make us barbaric and unintellectual people who have deviated from the superior practices of the white male philosophers that came before us? Perhaps. But if that’s the standard, we really don’t mind.

Here’s the deal about philosophy as an academic realm: It is an extremely biased and not-at-all-diverse intellectual sphere. To give you some perspective, the philosophy department at UChicago has 26 full-time professors and only four of them are female; fewer still are people of color. This breakdown is roughly the same in the entire field. “The Whitest, Malest” field in Western academia is philosophy. The majority of the people we read—what is considered “canon”—are white men from Europe. The numbers and the representation are so bleak that in the most cited 500 philosophy papers, there is a man who has been cited twice as many times as all the women on that list combined.

This whitewashed, patriarchal (and frankly, patronizing) perspective on what it means to do something as basic as socialize—that if your conversation does not fit into the western dialectic means it is unsophisticated and futile—is the biggest offense to the complexities of human potential for discourse. Not to mention that any focus on hip-hop and rap as unintellectual and decrepit sources of music is racist, because it’s our society that is rife with rape culture and misogyny, and to single out hip-hop and rap is to single out blackness. Let’s not mask racism with intellectualized critiques of socialization.

And sure, Athens is our most cited origin for democracy (a city that currently has one of the most poppin’ party scenes in Europe), but let’s not forget that Athenian democracy also had slaves, and the only people that were allowed to participate in its highly discourse-driven political life were free, white men. And Western thought, that always boasts of blossoming from this source, carried on all its -isms (just look at the founding of America, for example).

Just to emphasize once again, the Western canon is not the be-all and end-all of human thought and discourse. Meaning-making and coming together to answer the difficult questions of human existence have been, and continue to be, tackled by people from all over the world. It’s an oftentimes unmentioned and glossed-over fact that the preservation and development of current Western thought was only made possible by medieval Muslim scholars that translated and added onto the Greek manuscripts that were found and valued. And let’s not forget that some of the oldest and most complex and comprehensive faith traditions and philosophies in the world come from India and China. Ultimately, valorizing white philosophers at the expense of others is not only problematic; it’s historically revisionist.

Even after all this, we just hope that when you have your wine and cheese discourse symposia, that you’re contextualizing intellect. We hope that you’re talking about Avicenna, Maimonides, Abhinavagupta, Angela Davis, and hundreds (if not thousands) of other influential thinkers, and not just circlejerking on a Western-philosophical high about Kant and Heidegger.

Nur Banu Simsek is a third-year majoring in philosophy, and Salma Elkhaoudi is a third-year majoring in political science.