Within America, honor has had significant influence over social interactions to this day despite the influence of democracy, first world law enforcement and a higher standard of living than that of typical honor based societies in the world, but honor culture is still found in the day to day of otherwise “honorless” societies. Ryan Brown’s Honor Bound is particularly useful for pointing out these honor transactions within the first world context, showing how honor culture is not limited to only third world countries, but can scarcely be avoided in human behavior at all. This approach to understanding the honor transactions within modern Western culture is useful for the present analysis of Things Fall Apart to provide a frame of reference for how honor is involved with daily life in situations where violence is absent, but honor is still powerful and influential.
Because honor societies are strength oriented, this results in an emphasis on a male dominated culture where manhood and masculinity are the foundations for stability socially, economically and psychologically. Considering a children’s basketball game, Brown explains the nuances of honor culture present in modern society regarding masculinity: “If you’ve ever sat quietly and listened unobtrusively to young boys playing basketball or just about any other competitive game, you will likely hear little pieces of honor ideology falling from their lips as they exhort one another to ‘man up,'” (Brown 314). Brown expands on this, saying: “The insults are likely to go straight to the vitals, designed to emasculate their victims. The taunting boys might start off light, such as simply calling him a girl… These sorts of insults are designed to attack the core of a boy’s masculinity, and they are powerful for that very reason,” (Brown 314). Insults are far and again more significant in honor culture because of the obligation to defend against offenses in all their forms and the importance of the male identity is more sensitive to insults because of it. This emphasis on masculinity means a more sensitive male identity when it comes to insults and a weaker one in some regards because of it. The resulting power feminizing insults have is important because it marks the volatile divide between genders in a way that shows the disparagement in the value of men and women in heavily honor-bound societies, something to which dignity culture is fundamentally opposed.
The insult is the beginning of reproach in an honor culture, and the facets of the offense and what is offensive within a society create a benchmark that can define that group’s identity. In an honor culture, feminizing insults are almost always offensive to males. This sensitivity to insult begins at a young age: “Boys are socialized to fear such threats to their masculinity from a fairly young age and to do what they can to preempt them by displays of social proof. It’s far better to prevent such an insult from ever occurring than to be forced to react to one after the fact,” (Brown 315). Just as a slap in the face can have consequences down the line for the individual that does not retaliate in an honor culture, a feminizing insult is in many ways a kind of equivalent, an invitation to prove the aggressor wrong. Even in modern society, the transactions of offense and retaliation reflect the same core behaviors found in less developed societies where honor is the dominant value.
The consequences of losing respect in the community are severe in honor cultures and must be vigilantly defended against. This severity is less prevalent in modern society because social worth in dignity and honor culture is acquired and maintained in different ways: “In an honor culture, respect and social worth must be earned. Because they must be earned, they can be lost by failing to live up to the high standards of the honor code. When lost, they might be impossible to regain,” (Brown 330). Unlike dignity culture, honor must be earned. Dignity cultures reflect higher societal living standards because the fear of losing basic equality is non-existent. This point of departure is what puts the individual in honor culture at a constant deficit: “In a dignity culture, however, social worth is assumed by default. People in a dignity culture are more likely to grant respect to others simply by virtue of their being human… But the battle for social worth is not fought every day with the same ferocity as it is in a typical honor culture, because it doesn’t have to be,” (Brown 330). This constant trial of the individual is a source of culture in honor societies. In a structure much like a food chain, honor forms its economy with the strongest most masculine individuals at the top and the weakest at the bottom. In dignity culture this food chain structure still exists, reputations can still be enhanced or attacked, but the dangers surrounding reputations are less severe. The honor culture stands distinct as the less stable, more volatile model for society, but it is in many ways a less equal society, with potential for differences in social class, standing, or personal value just like any other.
- Brown, Ryan P. Honor Bound: How a Cultural Ideal has Shaped the American Psyche. New York: Oxford U Press, 2016. Ebook.
- Cooney, Mark. Warriors and Peacemakers : How Third Parties Shape Violence. NYU Press, 1998. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.simpsonulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=tru e&db=nlebk&AN=100399&site=ehost-live.