In recent months, I’ve turned back to revising my book manuscript on hazing within black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). This will be one of my last books on these groups, and much of my focus at this point is on the range of factors that give rise to and perpetuate BGLO hazing. Ironically, some of these factors can be equally applied to many of the other issues that BGLOs face—e.g., attracting new members, member retention, member reclamation, member engagement within the organizations, and member engagement outside of the organizations. As I write over the coming months, I’ll share some of the well-tested theories I’ve read about, and how they apply to BGLOs, via my blog.
One of the disturbing aspects about BGLO hazing (and other BGLO issues)—especially among members and leaders–is the naïvely simplistic analysis of and dialogue around the issue. For example, as I’ve seen across the organizations, there’s an effort to explain the issue in ways that suggest one, or a handful, of root causes–e.g., brotherhood, hyper-masculinity, red letters, war stories. What is implied, and sometimes overtly stated, is that there is a silver bullet or easy remedy. Logicians might describe this as “the fallacy of the single cause” (or “causal oversimplification,” “causal reductionism,” or “reduction fallacy”). It’s a fallacy of cause that occurs when it’s assumed that there is a single, simple cause of an outcome when in reality the outcome may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.
Part of what may explain this is the metaphor of an iceberg. BGLO members and leaders see the portion of the iceberg that’s above sea-level. In fact, they only see the portion that is above sea-level from their vantage-point. For example, if they are approaching it from the east, they believe all that exists is the portion of the iceberg that is above sea-level and on the eastern side. The problem is that what can be most destructive about the iceberg is that which is unseen, not understood, the ninety-some-odd percent that remains out of sight.
In many ways, this phenomenon has been explained in other contexts. For example, in 2002, then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked in a news briefing about the lack of evidence linking the Iraqi government with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. Rumsfeld responded:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.
The terms “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” are concepts studied in the fields of behavioral economics and project management. Known unknowns are risks you are aware of; rather they result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood. Unknown unknowns are risks that arise from situations that are so out of this world that they never occur to you. Unknown unkowns fall in the realm of uncertainty. They are phenomena that cannot be expected, because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting them.
When one says that BGLOs are tilting at windmills or rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (no pun intended) with respect to hazing, the critique is more than apropos. In my estimation, it isn’t so much that hazing cannot be adequately (though not totally) resolved within BGLOs, it is that they have not been imaginative and bold enough in addressing the issue. As I close, think about the movie Interstellar (see it if you haven’t). In the movie, the basic plot is that mankind is on a dying Earth and as a result will also die. As such they have to make a choice—maintain the status quo or be bold and search the universe for their options for survival. Given reasonable information about a narrowed set of options, they embark on a bold mission to search the universe for that which would give mankind a shot at surviving and thriving. BGLOs will need to do the same.