Where is the Truth in Honor: II

Honor culture has its point of comparison in dignity culture, which has a contrarian principle of reputation regarding violence and insult. Dignity culture departs from honor culture by occupying the same territory within a society: “Honor is a warrior ethic quite distinct from from the morality of dignity that prevails in the office towers, shopping malls, and suburban homes populated by the middle and upper classes,” (Cooney 131). Where honor culture inhabits populations that are less exposed to the law, dignity culture is the opposite, inhabiting populations where there is a high regard for both the law and there is a stronger presence of the law, to begin with, taking the pressure off the individual to defend themselves by entrusting protection to the government. The ability to unshoulder this burden is particularly economic in modern settings: “Honor is, however, obsolescent for certain groups, especially the middle and upper classes… For them honor has ‘no resonance, no meaning’ (Ayers, 1984: 13). They value dignity, which in principle accords all persons equal intrinsic worth, regardless of how others view them,” (Cooney 114). Dignity, in other words, is the presence of culture in a modern society where honor once presided. The deep meaning and purpose behind maintaining a reputation and fighting to defend it is seriously irrelevant in settings like those found in an upper or middle-class society where life is more “civilized.” This point of difference stems from the necessity, or lack thereof, to convince the community that one is dangerous to ensure safety in honor culture that dignity culture has no use for. Getting into disputes of honor in from this perspective is not only trivial or meaningless, but it is also potentially illegal and morally wrong as well. This inability to understand the importance or value of honor is characteristic of modern and dignity culture: “Many people–¬particularly those who belong to a culture of dignity–reguard disputes about honor as incomprehensible, absurd, appropriate grist for the satirist’s mill (see, e.g., Amis 1989: 24). What strikes them is that triviality of the parties’ grievances, evidence, perhaps, of how cheap life is among the poor,” (Cooney 118). However, the presence of honor culture in a dignity-oriented society is not only possible but likely to exist within the populations of the lower class because of a lower value for life, an increased exposure to crime and reduced access to protection from the law because of it.

Cultures of honor can be found at multiple levels of society, and such differences can lead to disputes of honor or conflict between honor system where such differences produce offense. These differences can happen for a plethora of reasons concerning the intersection of not only honor but that of dignity. Dignity in a culture represents the opposite of the honor economic system (where one’s freedom or value is derived from acquired honor) and instead offers value for equality between all people, strong and weak. According to Cooney: “Honor is, however, obsolescent for certain groups, especially the middle and upper classes. Individuals who are integrated into jobs and families and whose youth is behind them are seldom concerned with developing a reputation for physical bravery,” (Cooney 114). Cooney goes on to say that: “They value dignity, which in principle accord all persons equal intrinsic worth, regardless of how others view them. A culture of dignity expects people to ignore rather than to confront insult, to cultivate inner strength rather than outward display, and to let the state rather than the aggrieved prosecute violence,” (Cooney 114). Dignity defines the opposing value system of reputation, violence, and power in favor of behavior that is doctrinally opposed to the requirements placed on people by cultures of honor. In engagements between differing cultures, the differences can be a point of conflict. This value for dignity tends to be more pronounced in more advanced societies, where law and order have more influence to protect people from misfortune at the hands of others. While less developed societies that do not have the benefits of effective laws, order, or statehood create honor systems that simultaneously prey on dignity in other cultures and become victims of the laws defending dignity cultural values.

The presence of honor in modern societies is, however, not extinct simply because of the presence of law. Law and the increased presence of enforcement of those laws influence the presence of honor, but do not extinguish it entirely: “But honor has not disappeared from modern society; it has just moved down the social pyramid… Never the less honor retains the same core, laying out a code of conduct that commands the use of violence in certain situations,” (Cooney 114). The presence of honor “inhibitors” such as dignity and laws has the most influence at the top of the social ladder. In a pyramid model of a society where the most powerful and privileged are at the top and the least powerful and privileged are at the bottom, a stronger appearance of honor culture at the bottom of the pyramid is reflective of impacting potentially more people and also of the fact that that there is less honor at the top of the pyramid. The relationship between law, dignity, and honorable reasoning would conclude that there is more law at the top of society’s pyramid and less at the bottom. The relationship between honor and dignity is nearly always going to be inversely correlated and an increase in either will result in the reduced presense of the other, but the distinction within society is not clearly black and white between the two. The dominance of one or the other, however, will not prevent them from mixing on multiple levels.

The combined values of dignity and honor can be found in most modern societies, but the ways in which honor can still reason an existence will often be adapted to the law rather than eliminated by it. Honor can create its own opportunities: “An honorable person must display heart, must not only be prepared to fight but be seen to, for in the competitive world of honor others will create tests: ‘There are always people around looking for a fight to increase their share of respect’,’ (Cooney 115). Because honor promotes displays of dominance, it is also a highly competitive culture. Such competition creates a dynamic in which honor requires maintenance, constant attention and update to stay in control. The fear that someone’s honor could be forgotten or mistaken would lead to the danger of being violated by the other. This fear of not having a known presence in the community for honor drives people to seek out opportunities where honor can be acquired and things like competitions are created to meet this need within the society. Accumulation of honor can achieved legally through sport or ceremony just as it can be done by picking a fight. Both offer options for the individual to prove themselves to the public.

The point of conflict between dignity and honor in culture is rooted in different perspectives on the experiences and consequences for responding to a threat. An emphasis on dignity will lead people to avoid conflict, while honor results in the opposite, calling people into conflict for fear that the consequences for being weak are a greater loss: “As in days gone by, maintaining a public reputation for fearlessness is a central consideration for those located within a modern culture of honor… Turning the other cheek does no good, avoiding confrontation now will only attract more later. Word that somebody can be taunted or pushed around will inevitably spread,” (Cooney 115). The requirements for reputation in honor culture are oriented around safety and protection that in dignity culture is provided by the state. The responsibility for protection is then outsourced in dignity culture because the reputation of the authorities is what absorbs the cultural capital of reputation that normally falls on the individuals in honor culture. Dignity culture in this context can actually be seen as the more liberating option of the two; while honor culture reflects more natural tendencies to be dominated by the strong for practical reasons of power, dignity culture would be far less likely to obligate its people to conflicts that are always a risk to competitors, combatants or rivals. Honor culture in many ways can obligate individuals to defend their honor in very unforgiving settings. A kind of honor “bondage” sets in because the members of the community cannot afford to be seen as weak and must act on the disrespect or offense of others to prevent appearing as an opportunity to bigger transgressions in the future.

To be continued 5/31/17


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