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Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University student, died on November 19 in Orlando. It is believed that his death might have resulted from a hazing incident. FAMU, where I teach philosophy, has a history of unfortunate hazing incidents involving our famous band. While FAMU is currently in the spotlight, hazing is still all too common on American campuses-despite efforts to combat the practice.

The administration acted quickly by firing the band director, Julian White.  White is fighting his dismissal by contending that certain administrators showed “reckless indifference” when he attempted to seriously address the matter of hazing.  There is considerable evidence that White was, in fact, actively engaged in a dedicated attempt to eradicate hazing. Examples include his suspension of individuals for hazing and addressing the various problematic sub-groups within the band. Colleagues I have spoken with regarding White have spoken well of him and noted his efforts to combat hazing.

If Robert Champion was killed in a hazing incident, this clearly shows that things went terribly wrong. However, there is the question of who is at fault. Obviously, the brunt of the moral responsibility would rest on those who (allegedly) killed him. As noted above, White was fired over this death, thus indicating that the people who made the decision are placing the blame on him.

As the band director, White clearly has considerable responsibility for what goes on in the band. However, this does not automatically entail that he is responsible for the death of Robert Champion. As noted above, White contends that his attempts to address hazing were hampered by administrators. If this is the case and White fulfilled his duties conscientiously, then the moral and legal blame would then shift upwards to those who would have failed in their duties.

While initiation rituals and legitimate admission trials can be acceptable practices (for example, I had to run faster than other team mates to secure a spot on the varsity cross country team in college), crossing the line past which people can be harmed (or even killed) is unacceptable. After all, harming a person is only just when doing so serves some legitimate moral purpose. Abusing someone as part of some tradition or to test their willingness to endure senseless degradation to belong to a group would not be acceptable. People should, as Kant argued, be treated as being of moral worth. Abusive hazing practices clearly violate the dignity of the person and hence should not be tolerated. Those practices that inflict actual harm are clearly wrong and, of course, are criminal actions.

As noted above, I do accept the legitimacy of  some initiation rituals as well as certain trials of admission. However, the rituals need to respect the dignity of the person and must not inflict abuse or harm. Being a competitive athlete, I am well aware that admission trials can be  legitimate. As I noted above, I had to earn a spot on the varsity cross country team by competing against my fellow runners. As another example, those who wish to be Navy Seals need to endure a brutal admissions process. However, these admission trials are legitimate. In the case of cross country teams, a person must earn the spot on the team and this is done by being a better runner. In the case of the Seals, a person must qualify by enduring what a Seal will encounter in his professional activities.

In the case of a band, it does make sense to have people compete for places via competitions in performance. However, the sort of physical abuse that has occurred in hazing incidents clearly has no relevance to being in the band. While a Seal might need to be tested to see how he would stand up to interrogation by the enemy,  a band member has no need to be tested to see how many whacks with a paddle s/he can endure. As such, such treatment is simply abuse and must not be tolerated.

My personal view of  abusive hazing is that it is a sign of both moral evil and a pathologically defective psychological makeup that would seem to include sadism as well as profound lack of respect for the dignity and worth of other people. Naturally, the people who engage in hazing speak of the tradition of the practice (which is, of course, fallacious reasoning) and note that people need to show their commitment. While I do believe in the importance of commitment, this is not something that should be tested by paddling a band member until he suffers kidney damage or abusing him until he dies.

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  1. What is hazing????

  2. However, the rituals need to respect the dignity of the person and must not inflict abuse or harm…

    Isn’t the abuse and harm the point, inasmuch as it demonstrates the zeal of a prospective member of Tribe X? Even in its less dangerous forms – a friend’s Uni has a tradition where you have to down a pint if someone drops a coin into it; downing pints seemed fine to me but not tainted by dirty pennies – the focus is on how much they’re willing to endure.

    According to the e’er reliable Wikipedia…

    …it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing…

    Worth considering. It’s hard to eradicate something that isn’t understood.

  3. s. wallerstein (amos)

    There seems to be nothing in common between tests of skill or knowledge which are required before joining teams, getting jobs or entering universities and hazing.

    In my experience, hazing seems to give a green light to the sadistic
    tendencies that some members of every group have and since those sadistic tendencies are now legitimized, other members watch them passively or perhaps get vicarious sadistic kicks in some cases.

    Since cruelty is a source of pleasure to many, some may undergo cruelty during the hazing process so that in the future they themselves may participate in hazing, thus, discharging their sadistic impulses on a defenseless victim.

    I would not join any group, for which hazing is an entry requirement, because I would not want to participate in any group which sanctions or legitimizes this cruel practice.

  4. The increase in hazing and deaths is alarming. If one takes the time to Google hazing statistics, there are reports of “Nearly half (47%) of students have experienced hazing prior to coming to college (The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention )”, or “Among high school students, close to 25 percent of students reported being hazed when joining a sports team (The University of Connecticut).”


  5. Don,
    Good question; I wondered the meaning of hazing also.
    I agree with you on the relationship of hazing and sadism.
    It seems to me from “While initiation rituals and legitimate admission trials can be acceptable practices” you feel okay about some forms of hazing. Why? All forms of hazing, by definition (whatever it is) are a form of debasement to the individual involved. What the seals have to go through I don’t think is in the same ballpark as hazing. As to your experience of having to run faster than other teammates, that also doesn’t really rate as hazing. I assume the running team has a limit to size, so if you want to be on it you have to run faster than the slowest member(s).

  6. Don & Gra,

    “Hazing” is a American term for the type of humilating initiation rituals found in the UK amongst street gangs and infantry regiments.

    In the US, it occurs in universiies or colleges, often in connection with entry to their fraternity houses and sports teams. It is a more extreme form of the ‘ragging’ that used to occur in English private schools.

  7. Hazing exposes depths of the human psyche wherein we find all that is vile and loathsome in humans; schadenfreude, where we take pleasure in witnessing the distress of others. It embraces the desire to torture, laugh at, an poke fun at, someone who is physically and mentally restricted by virtue of an environment we have constructed and imposed. Certainly some volunteer to be thus abused for fear of rejection or being dubbed weak and fearful. On the other hand some do not volunteer but are forced to undergo the process.
    As an Army recruit in the infantry (I remember my American colleagues describing themselves as Combat Men In that connection), I witnessed so called initiation ceremonies in which certain ruffians who were also recruits, appointed themselves as the executors of what I now understand to be a kind of Hazing ( this practice is not of course the prerogative of ruffians; the highly educated are known to indulge therein). The process was to seize, in off duty hours, some person who was sometimes, but not always, of a retiring nature, or stood out as a bit different. The victim was stripped naked and bound securely to a bed with his legs open. Boot blacking was then applied liberally to all his private parts whilst he was jeered at and tickled with feathers and poked with sticks. People were invited to watch the spectacle, which was noisy and raucous. I only witnessed this once which was enough for me. I determined were I seized I would severely injure or even kill the first to lay hands on me. Fortunately for me, and possibly someone else, this event never occurred.
    Army training was extreme often driven to the depths of psychological despair and physiological exhaustion. It was something I knew was essential to prove to us that we were capable of enduring more that we had ever imagined. This I would not call hazing; it had a purpose which ultimately was to show us discipline, how to hang on to life, keep one’s head, and above all survive. Not a bad training for life generally.
    I can conjure up instances in my mind when for me at least, perpetrating Torture may be the only alternative. But Hazing as I have already said, arises from a dark, devilish, and peculiar aspect of humans, which is best vigorously suppressed.

  8. Hazing is outdated and should be stopped. It is surely a very poor “bullying” form of education/initiation.It is primitive and should be outlawed.

    I’m sure there are many reasons why it is practiced by many institutions – not least, because of; ignorance, bullying, lack of clarity about the purpose the perpertrators who practice them have, and above all, their lack of imagination in devicing more humane and pregressive ways of achieving the objectives, Hazing is supposed to give.

    Get rid of it – whereever it exist.

  9. Is not the hazer attempting to gain a sense of importance, self-worth, pride, and satisfaction by subjecting someone to undeserved humiliation? And, perhaps the willing subject is seeking the same in the ability to endure the humiliation? In this case it would seem to be a fair trade.

    It saddens me that it is so common for people to resort to such lowly methods to satisfy these needs. In this modern era of “self-esteem” are we still so lacking?

  10. Don,

    In the college context, it is the abuse of members of a group (such as a fraternity or band) by other members of the group, usually associated with earning membership. The term is also often used to describe abuse between members that involves rituals of the group even outside of initiation.

  11. Ben,

    Good point-most initiation rituals do aim to test zeal. However, there can be harmless initiation rituals. For example, someone who joins a club might get a hat with a club logo on it and have her name added to the roster.

  12. S.wallerstein,

    True-legitimate tests would not be hazing, but they both can be regarded as initiation processes. Hazing could be seen as (in part) as an initiation process that goes beyond the realm of the legitimate into the land of abuse.

  13. Dennis,

    Hazing does seem to be rather common. It does seem to come in various degrees. For example, one form that I knew about in my high school days was shorting new runners on teams (that is, stealing their shorts on a run so they had to return to the school wearing their shirt for shorts).

    My own limited encounters with hazing seem to support the idea that hazing is motivated, in part, by individuals with sadistic or cruel tendencies who get others to go along with them (perhaps out of the fear that it could be them).

  14. Gra,

    I should have been clearer. I’m against hazing in all its forms, but my point is that there are initiation tests that are legitimate-and these (as you noted) are not hazing.

  15. Don,

    You draw an excellent distinction between the hardships of legitimate training and the needless abuses of hazing. Training aims at achieving a legitimate goal and might involve conditions that are very harsh (for example, how Navy Seals are tied up and trained to still be able to swim under such conditions) while hazing aims at abuse.

  16. Pod,

    All American universities have policies against hazing and the official response when hazing is exposed is usually some sort of punishment or even legal action. However, hazing is sometimes tolerated in the shadows-especially in high status campus groups. Institutions, as recent incidents have shown, have an unfortunate tendency to allow terrible things to happen.

  17. Hi Mike,

    Many thanks for the various subjects you write about. Super!


  18. POD,

    You’re welcome-thanks for reading and commenting.

  19. Mike,
    I’ve been thinking about a different aspect of hazing. It looks as though we’re all pretty much in agreement that hazing sucks and should be done away with, but what about the rights of those involved. Can the hazers or all participants of hazing be legally restrained? Are there moral issues here to be considered?

  20. Gra,

    Most US states , including Florida, have laws expressly outlawing ‘hazing’. They recently increased penalties for incidents that resulted in great physical injury, and any death that occurs in connection with hazing is a third-degree felony.

    The strong libertarian could question whether the law should prohibit adults from engaging in forms of consensual sadistic/masochistic behaviour. In the UK there have, in the past, been prosecutions against homosexual men who freely engaged in extreme sadistic-masochistic sexual behaviour. Although there were no long lasting serious injuries and this was all consensual it was viewed, by the courts at the time, as criminal assault and personally I would question the rightness of that.

    But hazing seems to imply a lack of free consent, there is a cost to pay for not submitting in terms of not being allowed entry into, or granted acceptance within, a group. And clearly you should not have to be punched in the stomach to the point of death in order to be accepted by your peers within a marching band.

  21. Thanks Jim. Let me be more specific. Yesterday I came across the (libertarian) article:
    In which the following is a footnote:
    ‘J.S. Mill, On Liberty “the sole end to which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection… His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right… Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”.’
    It would appear that Mill and Macioce would say, perhaps with the exception of those who are being hazed unwillingly, e.g. not through some ritualistic initiation or the like, interference in hazing is unacceptable. What reasoning can a state use to outlaw hazing practices? How does consensual hazing differ, in the eyes of the law, from boxing, football, rugby, wrestling, etc?

  22. Gra,

    There is a sense in which people may ‘consent’ to hazing. But it is a case of coercion – there is a good you are entitled to, and you will be denied that good if you do not submit to it.

    There is a difference between being raped and being coerced into performing sexual acts in order to obtain the employment or promotion you have earned. And there is a difference between being randomly attacked on the street and agreeing to be punched repeatedly because otherwise you will not be treated thereafter after with respect by your peers in the sports team or granted membership in a fraternity house. The law will recognise those differences but will rightly forbid all such things.

    And this is all quite different from freely electing to engage in boxing. We cant say x was wrongly denied his place on the boxing team because he would not consent to being punched whilst in the ring. We are not talking of a young man who wanted to engage in boxing and died in the ring pursuing the sport he had freely elected to engage in. We are talking about a young man being punched to death because he wanted to be accepted by the other members of a marching band.

  23. s. wallerstein (amos)

    While it seems almost impossible and certainly counter-productive to try to ban hazing everywhere, it should not be permitted in public institutions, institutions which receive public money or public certification.

    It is futile to dictate that hazing cannot go on in private clubs, since it will continue to take place, with or without a law against it, but it should be illegal in any place that the state has some say in, that is “public” in the broadest sense of the word.

    By the way, boxing also should be illegal in any institution or circumstance or situation that is “public” in the broadest sense of the word.

    There is no reason that a practice in which two people, generally uneducated and from the poorest groups in society, are paid to try to produce brain damage in one another, should be considered a “sport” or sanctioned as a legitimate “public” activity.

    Public boxing is reminiscent of the gladiator “sports” practiced in ancient Rome.

    Those two young men should be given other opportunities to earn a decent living.

    As you may have guessed, I’m not a libertarian.

  24. Amos,

    I suppose that the main point is that even if boxing is permissible, given libertarian principles, it does not give sanction to hazing.

    Unlike the other sports Gra mentioned where causing injury is a risk and not the intent, in boxing injury is indeed the goal – punching somebody until they are unconscious or can no longer stand is the general idea (even if causing death or permanent brain injury is not the intent).

    It would be better if we were not the type of beings who enjoyed doing violence onto others and watching others do the same. But we are, and change seems a long way off..

    As it stands, boxing gyms in deprived inner city areas can divert troubled youths with a tendency for violence onto a less worse course. There is also the question of whether these things are better licensed and regulated than left to happen ‘underground’ -unlicensed boxing matches do occur and would occur more often if there was no legal outlet for this type of thing. We will be waiting a long time for fair paid guaranteed employment for all. And if certain individuals can use boxing skills to lift themselves out of poverty I don’t think I would not myself vote to prevent them from doing so.

  25. s. wallerstein (amos)

    Hello Jim,

    Justifying boxing for poor youth on the grounds that otherwise they might commit more violent acts and that anyway, society is far from offering them other alternatives seems like settling for a lesser evil that is still a great evil.

    I know that it is not your intention, but one could interpret that argument as saying that it is better for poor kids to beat each others brains in in the ring than for them to beat an innocent middle class citizen.

    Actually, there are two evils, two poor kids beating each other (for the pleasure of the spectators) and the possibility of a poor kid, in need of money or out of resentment, beating you or me.

    I’d say that the only good, the only right, solution, is to put ourselves (collectively, as a society, not just you and me) to work to create a social order where poor kids do not need to beat each other’s brains in to have a little pocket money and will not feel so resentful that they will beat your or my brain in for fun.

    Yes, I know that even rich kids are capable of beating my brain in for fun too, but that is a question of sociopathy.

    If you walk through any poor neighborhood at night, you are likely to be insulted by gangs of poor kids, who show their resentment against your middle class status, and I sincerely doubt that all of them are sociopaths.

  26. Amos,

    ‘Justifying boxing for poor youth on the grounds that otherwise they might commit more violent acts’

    – Its not only a case of channelling violent tendencies into a more regulated environment, and trying to make violence only occur between willing participants. Its a matter of encouraging discipline, physical fitness, being away from drugs. So some troubled boys may benefit from bthe provision of boxing gyms.

    ‘I’d say that the only good, the only right, solution, is to put ourselves … collectively, as a society… to work to create a social order where poor kids do not need to beat each other’s brains … and will not feel so resentful that they will beat your or my brain in for fun’

    Amos, I agree we should work for a fair society. But we don’t have one and there’s no sign of one coming. We have to deal with things as they are. We have drugs, we have violence, we have prostitution and so on. Of course we wish those things to disappear. But in the meantime we have to think about what can realistically be achieved and, I think, keep a cautious eye on what we let the state decree. That’s not to dismiss ideals or long term goals but a ‘lesser evil’ is no evil if all the other immediate options are worse.

  27. s. wallerstein (amos)


    You say that “a lesser evil is no evil if all the other immediate options are worse”.

    I would say that a lesser evil is still an evil.

    I’m not sure if promoting boxing for potentially violent youth is the lesser evil or just the easy way out.

    However, I lack sufficient data about whether potentially violent youth could or could not be taught other less harmful pursuits, for example, sports like wrestling or fencing.

    It may be that what attracts potentially violent youth to boxing is precisely the dangers involved, dangers that are absent in wrestling.

    I don’t know.

    It would be sad if alternatives to boxing had not been tried, since boxing is very dangerous.

  28. Gra,

    I would be inclined to say that the participants should be subject to legal action. One touchy point is whether or not the target of the hazing should also be considered a participant if they knowingly agreed to participate in the act of hazing. After all, they would be a willing participant in an illegal (and immoral) action.

  29. Jim,

    That is an excellent point. On the one hand, I tend to go with Mill’s view that we only have a right to impose on the liberty of others to the degree that their actions can harm others. This principle might allow things like S&M and perhaps even hazing to fall under the domain of liberty. On the other hand, the fact that S&M and hazing involves other people could thus seem to entail that the principle does not apply: I am free to harm myself, but others are not free to harm me, even with my consent.

  30. Jim,

    You make an excellent point about the coercive aspects of hazing. While individuals might consent to participate, this consent (at least based on what I have observed) seems to typically involve a great deal of peer pressure and other forms of coercion. However, it does seem that a person could consent to hazing without there being coercion.

  31. s.wallerstein,

    I am all for hazing being illegal. However, I am fine with boxing and other combative sports being legal-though perhaps I should not be. I have a black belt and have fought in tournaments. My view is that as long as the proper safety precautions are taken, combative sports are acceptable. I do, of course, need an actual argument for this. 🙂

  32. Jim,

    We are certainly a violent species, but I suspect that a peaceful species would not have made it very long (except on a very peaceful world). Like you, I do think it is better to allow boxing and other such combative sports while also regulating them. I do have some concerns about the damage inflicted in these sports, however. Even the NFL folks have been worried about the “hard hits”, if only because valuable players are getting badly injured. Having fought in a few matches, I know that violent sports can be made fairly safe with the right gear, right rules, and right attitude.

  33. s.wallerstein,

    True-a lesser evil would be evil, but it would seem to still be preferable to a greater evil.

    The youth could probably be taught other things, but (as you say) maybe it is the macho appeal of beating people up in the ring that has an allure that can lead people away from more serious sorts of violence. I do know that communities do try other sports and activities, such as basketball. I rather favor competitive running-no violence at all there, plus the health benefits are awesome. But, I also like the martial arts.

  34. s. wallerstein (amos)


    Congratulations on your black belt.

    I don’t know anything about the possible dangers of karate as a competitive sport, but boxing is clearly dangerous, even with normal safety precautions.



    However, my problems with boxing have a social outlook.

    I agree that in a society of equals, adults should be free to
    engage in practices or sports which are potentially harmful, boxing, smoking, eating junk food, as long as they do not harm others.

    However, we do not live in a society of equals.

    Boxing as a professional sport is almost entirely practiced by uneducated people from the poorest sectors of society.

    Rich kids or middle class kids do not become professional boxers.

    I doubt that the reason for that is that rich and middle class kids are physically weak or cowards.

    Simply, boxing is a dangerous job which no rich or middle class kid will undertake, since they have better opportunities to earn a decent living.

    So in boxing poor kids try to produce brain damage (the knockout) in one another for the pleasure of paying spectators or those who bet or gamble on such events.

    As I said before, that sounds like Roman gladiator shows.

    It may be that a poor kid is free to opt for a career as a boxer, as a drug-dealer or frying hamburgers for the minimum wage.

    I agree that technically he is free to choose.

    Still, it’s ugly. I’m not even going to say that it’s wrong, just that it’s ugly.

  35. Mike,

    An action remains self-regarding if it harms others “with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation”. There seems nothing in Mill that sanctions in the prohibition of boxing or of x from enjoying his weekly thrashings from Madam Whiplash and her enjoying the rewards of that activity (be they financial and/or erotic).

    As for hazing, I fail to see the free, voluntary, and undeceived consent – it is is submitted to as a means to an end, an end that should be earned and granted without engagement in group S&M activities. Some may happen to enjoy the initiation or be quite willing to pay the price of admission, but they should not be forced with the choice.

    As for least-worst option a being a ‘lesser evil’ (I should have used scare quotes), to talk of a ‘necessary evil’ is unproblematic if you mean only to express your regret that circumstances are such that x is the best option currently available. But if we want to mean more than that we have to admit the possibility of moral tragedy – this can be reasonably argued for but I think the burden remains with those who would so argue that sometimes there is no morally correct choice.

  36. An action remains self-regarding if it AFFECTS others “with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation”. There is a tension with ‘harm’ yes.

  37. Amos,

    I appreciate that we do not live in a society of equals and I do not think your concerns about exploitation and the causes of certain ugly things in society are at all unwarranted. I think it is a mistake to reason entirely in the abstract using libertarian principles – we do have to look at social realities and their causes. And we have a duty to work to reduce levels of inequality, increase social mobility and give fair opportunity to all.

    I think boxing is an ugly ‘sport’ myself and I see a big difference between it and ‘eastern’ martial arts. Still – and this truly is not intended as a pointed remark at you – I am wary of middle class intellectuals decreeing what the working classes may or may not engage in and I am wary of the state enforcing such values by rule of law.

  38. s. wallerstein (amos)


    I too am wary of middle class intellectuals dictating to the working class or sub-proletariat.

    The track record of middle class intellectuals in that area is depressing and often ethically irresponsible, perhaps more so in Latin American than in the U.K.

    However, if you read my comments above, you will see that I never
    suggested that boxing per se be prohibited, that it be made illegal within the world of working class culture (which would be impossible to enforce), only that it no longer be considered as a sport, that it no longer be funded with public money and that it be prohibited in public spaces, in the broadest sense of the word “public”.

    What I find most morally repugnant in boxing as it is practiced today is the gladiator aspect, that poor youths beat each other brains in, as a spectacle, a very profitable spectable for promoters and businesspeople.

    So I am not dictating what may or may not go on within working class culture, but what can be considered as a legitimate business and public activity.

  39. Amos,

    I appreciate that – and why – you find it morally repugnant that working class males beat each other’s brains in as a spectacle that is enjoyed by other working class males and is profitable for promoters and business people.

    Still, I don’t know that my or your “moral repugnance” should determine what careers can be pursued by working class males, or what entertainments can be enjoyed by working class males on television or in public arenas.

    I din’t see that it is our business to enforce our moral sensibilities on other adults.

  40. Jim,

    True, Mill’s principle could allow an individual to consent to being harmed by others. This does raise the question of whether people have the right to inflict harm on themselves. Perhaps consent is not enough to morally allow certain harms. It could be argued that what would be wrong to do to another, even with consent, would also be wrong to do to one’s self.

  41. s.wallerstein,

    True, boxing is rather dangerous. I’ve been punched in the head numerous times and it is rather unpleasant. Boxing seems even worse than martial arts bouts. Martial arts matches are usually quick while a boxing match can go on for quite some time with round after round of beating. As you note, the consequences can be very serious.

    Boxing was once a sport of the upper classes, but as you noted it seems to not be so now. Fights can get rather ugly-boxers bleeding and drooling, staggering about while they flail at each other.

  42. We can indeed leave Mill behind.

    But on what non-religous theory could we ground the claim that I may not harm myself if such is my prefernce and nobody else is forced to bear any cost?

    It is obvious what constitutes bodily harm, but morality concerns persons not mere bodies. A harm to the body may be no harm to the person if such is his preference. And who but ourselves has the right to decide that is harmful to us as persons? If my wish is to live a life of drink, drugs, cigarettes, S&M sex and brawling you harm me as a person if you intervene to protect my physical body. The same is true if you intervene to prevent my settled decision to kill myself.

  43. Jim,

    We could go with Aristotle or another virtue theorist: self damaging behavior would not be virtuous and hence wrong. Or we could go all Kantian and take his view about rational beings being obligated to develop (rather than impair) their abilities.

  44. Yup, that was indeed a stupid question.

  45. s. wallerstein (amos)

    I’ve known a few alcoholic and heavy drug users.

    Far from being autonomous individualists who were willing to harm only themselves, all of them were very dependent on others for money, for emotional support, for attention, for rescuing them from time to time, for basic household chores, etc.

    I’m wondering if the idea of an independent self-destructive personality isn’t a fiction, useful for thinking out some philosophy problems, but non-existent in real life.

    If so, their harm to themselves, far from harming only themselves, necessarily harms others in exploiting those others, if only because they fail to assume their share of life’s normal responsibilities, they fail to put their shoulders to the wheel, so to speak.

  46. I’ve known many alcholics and hard drug users too. Those were the circles I moved in. Mill would have given them their right to buy their alcohol and opium up until such time as they caused harm – not merely hurt – to others. Amongst the flotsam and jetsam, I did know a couple of intelligent men of means who were the independent self-destructive personalities of which you speak. A number of artists, men of letters and musicians have fallen into this category too. And an ordinary single man can work and spend most of his earnings on drink and cigarettes. Many of my countrymen do. If the money is mine and my minimal duties are discharged, it is my right to drink myself to death. I may warrant your ethical disdain, but for your state to prevent me from doing what I choose to do is I think a worse evil.

  47. s. wallerstein (amos)


    I never suggested that my state should prevent people from drinking themselves to death, only that in my limited experience the independent self-destructive personality is a myth.

    That observation, which once again, is limited to my experience has ethical ramifications, but not legal ones.

  48. I say this strongly convinced that it is a great tragedy that alcohol, tobacco and opium were ever discovered. But the worst problems caused by the latter are caused by the very fact the state intervenes in such a thoroughly counter-producive way.

  49. Yes, I see the distinction which I may lost sight of. But the conversation has rather been drawn into the context of what the state may or may not forbid indivduals from doing on account of what causes them physical harm (and others moral disgust).

  50. s. wallerstein (amos)


    I’m in favor of legalizing or at least not criminalizing opiates, cocaine and of course cannabis myself.

  51. As society we’d be better without all 3.But the ype of state that could effectively eradicate them isn’t one I’d like to live in.
    And given that we have these things we should adopt a sensible policy about them yes.

    The same I think follows for prostitution which is something I’d rather did not exist but given that we have it it is better regulated and made as safe as possible for the sex workers involved.

    Probably we agree on pretty much everything bar exactly what to do with professional boxing. And we’d both like to see the back of it.

  52. Professional Boxing does seem in the main to be a working class sport. Personally I like watching a bout but not without great concern that one of both may acquire a bad injury. In this connection the referee has the responsibility to stop the bout if this looks likely. This of course is not fool proof.
    It is amazing what rough treatment the human brain can withstand; however when damaged, it can lead to most horrific consequences. I think the majority of boxers are aware of this but have the feeling ‘it can never happen to me’. In this connection I was speaking to a friend recently who had been an RAF fighter pilot; he mentioned the large number of colleagues who had died or nearly died in accidents. I asked if that had worried him at the time he replied ‘No! I thought it only happened to other people.’
    I think there are many other sports and adventures, which are equally as dangerous as Boxing, but we do not seek to shun or ban them. As a sport Boxing is most demanding, it calls for, as do many other sports, dedication, the desire to win, supreme physical fitness, bravery, and great skill. Those who do well are financially substantially rewarded.
    I would not box myself. My brain is the last thing I want to go wrong, or become injured. For this reason I have never smoked, overindulged in alcohol, or drugs. Those who want to box I wish them well but will always view their efforts with appreciation but a accompanied with a little trepidation. What I do dislike watching is those who hazard their lives deliberately for my pleasure Like Tight rope walkers at great height, trapeze artists who will not use a safety net, or climbers who use little or no safety equipment. Again I would not stop them, but there seems something immoral in getting pleasure by watching someone deliberately toying with certain death.

  53. After some consideration, I still have no suggestions of how to prevent hazing. There have been some interesting suggestions on how to safeguard against it. S. Wallerstein has suggested avoiding any known organizations that tolerate hazing. Don Bird has suggested that he will severely injure the first person who tries to haze him.

    If boxing were deregulated, it would merely shift to hidden arenas with the bear-baiting and the dog fights. As long as boxing is regulated by a boxing commission, and operates under agreed rules such as the Marquees of Queensberry rules, it represents a better example that society can openly demonstrate. Although I have not seen comparative statistics, I would guess that the number of deaths related to professional boxing is lower that that perpetrated in gang fights and dugouts.

    Mike LaBossiere claims a Black Belt, which may or may not put him at an advantage from being grabbed by hazers. One good aspect of non-contact martial arts training is to give one a better sense of danger around the corner. One learns to keep the head up and eyes open for trouble. The fear of hazing is still there, but the fear is now controlled and tolerated with confidence.

  54. Prior to reading the comments section I was slightly conflicted about the legitimacy of boxing but that is no longer the case. Thanks to the comments here I am entirely in favour of the ‘sport’ remaining perfectly legal. Whether it should receive any public funds is another question entirely, and whether non-adults should be allowed to participate is again questionable.

    However, since we allow all sorts of harm and risk of harm to ourselves to enable the possibility of a better life then I don’t see how boxing is any different.

    That I could go for an operation to reduce indigestion (rather than be on tablets) to enable a better and richer life but not risk my health in a ring for the same is inconsistent.

    I note that it is the risk of long term harm that so harms your sensibilities. Isn’t that true of any sport? Or is it, in fact, the enjoyment that others appear to take in the brutish behaviour that so appals?

    As to hazing, it should be banned from any university-approved group but not from groups where potential members are made aware of what it will entail beforehand and they consent.

  55. Keddaw,

    I do agree that boxing should remain legal. I am concerned about the long (and short) term impact of all those impacts and also concerned about other sports as well. But, as you note, we do accept that life involves risks. An athlete getting into the ring or onto the field risks injury (even death), but so does everyone who drives to work. That said, I do support efforts to reduce injuries in sports (and in driving).

  56. Talking Philosophy | ZT News Today - pingback on December 17, 2011 at 6:00 am

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