Opinion

Hazing thrives in organizations obsessed with conformity. The military is the acme of this

Psychologists have many theories about why sadistic power rituals still exist in our supposedly civilized society. But the fact is they almost always involve men, in all- or mostly-male organizations, whose members believe that they are superior due to an embroidered badge on their blazer.

The mentality is always the same: either get with the program, or be an outcast

Any form of individuality is beaten down, and initiation rituals are an means to the end. Get with the program, or suffer the consequences. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Call it hazing. Call it initiation ritual. Call it tradition.

It could be a private school, or a sports team, or a military unit. St. Michael's College School. Upper Canada College. The Ontario Hockey League. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles or the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

Psychologists have many theories about why brutal and sadistic power rituals of this nature still exist in our supposedly civilized society. But the glaringly obvious fact is that they almost always involve men, in all- or mostly-male organizations, whose members believe that they are superior due to an embroidered badge sewn on their blazer, their sweater or their uniform.

Take a number of young males and form them into a unit or team of some kind, put them through physical and mental stress via rigorous learning, sports and athletic or field training, all while constantly stressing to them that they are superior — that the rules don't apply to them, that those who are not part of the group do not and cannot understand them, and sooner or later you'll have misogyny, racism and atrocity. (Don't forget to give them an embroidered badge.)

The military is the acme of this.

Obsession with conformity

It is perhaps notable that all these organizations, which are supposedly intended to create leaders and to enable individuals to rise to their full potential, are in fact obsessed with conformity. Any form of individuality is beaten down, and initiation rituals are an means to the end. Get with the program, or suffer the consequences. Of course the staff, administration, officers and other leaders routinely claim they knew nothing of what was going on after the fact, and profess shock and dismay. 

While I personally was never physically abused during my four decades of service as a reservist, there were many occasions on which my refusal to take part in traditional rituals caused me personal humiliation, intimidation and threat. Many of these stemmed from my refusal to drink alcohol; others were caused by my refusal, as an atheist, to take part in what were compulsory religious services.

To this day I vividly recall being pushed back against the mess bar by a choleric major who jabbed his finger into my chest and bellowed: "If you want to be an officer in this regiment you'd damn well better learn to drink like one!" I was rescued by the steward, a war veteran named Corky Ayers, who refused to pour a drink for me and told the major so. I endured many such incidents.

Admittedly, that is not anywhere near as bad as being allegedly buggered by a broom handle, or beaten with a hockey stick, but the mentality behind it is the same: either get with the program or be an outcast. It's a guy thing, and until we find a way to deal with that, it will continue to occur.

Imagine a Canada in which we had never segregated education, sports or the military. No boys' schools, no girls and boys teams, and women and men were equal in the Forces from the beginning. Would we have the same degree of problems with hazing, intimidation or sexual assault? 

We men have to own up to a very simple fact: it's our fault. And therefore, only we can really do anything about it. We must look closely at how we raise our sons, and teach them that they are human beings first, and men second. We must show them that they prove their manhood by respecting, not abusing, other people, men or women.

Perhaps we need to take drastic measures: re-organizing sports, or private schools, with gender-equality in mind. We must demand that the Forces take meaningful steps to eradicate all these hazing "traditions" and fixation with conformity. The Charter and the Supreme Court have made it clear what "the program" should be. Let's make them get with it. If Canada is indeed going to lead the world in this century, this would be a good place to start.


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About the Author

Tony Keene was a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces for 40 years and completed multiple overseas tours of duty. He has worked as a journalist in newspapers and broadcasting.

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