Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward
Whoever cannot take care of himself without that law is both
For a wounded man will shall say to his assailant
“If I live, I will kill you. If I die, you are forgiven”
Such is the rule of honor
Something I did not articulate in the last post is that honor, in its purest ultimate form, is unobtainable by humans; the human condition is such that perfection is unobtainable in this lifetime. We still ought to try, though. No human being has ever demonstrated that they were entirely consistent, self-sufficient, powerful, courageous, just, and intelligent. Instead those that are honored are honored for specific ways in which they demonstrate virtue, not for being perfect. One could honor a soldier’s combat prowess while also acknowledging the fact that he is a murderer or honor a bank robber’s tactical reasoning while also acknowledging that he is a looter.
This is important because there are people we can look at and say, “I want to have the athletic skill of that man, so I will emulate him… but, unlike him, I’m going to try to avoid doing drugs and beating my girlfriend.” Similarly, one can say that someone is a “good thief” or a “good cop” in that they excel at a profession, while still being aware that the profession in question is immoral. If you haven’t noticed yet, I avoid using the words “good” and “bad” with regards to ethics, as our language equates “good” with utility and “bad” with discomfort, neither of which apply in ethics. In this way, honorable action can appear to take on a multitude of incongruent forms.
The character of an honorable man does share certain commonalities across every specific instance of honor, though. They are active, personally engaging their environment in a manner which is efficacious. They are consistent, not stumbling into being honorable but instead consistently acting in accordance with principles for action. They are defiant, not in the way of being stubborn and childish, but in a virile and confident resistance against injustice, misfortune, or the petty squabbles of lesser men.
The aged farmer clawing food from a drought-scorched field, a spartan blocking the advance of Xerxes’ army, the scholar pursuing the truth in a society of liars, the Batman pursuing justice in a city of criminals, and the father leading his family to refuge from wicked men are all examples of honorable action. Looking at all of these examples, which I argue to be a representative sample, we will find several commonalities. They each face adversity in some form or another, whether it be the result of personal choices or environmental misfortune. They determine an appropriate course of action, whether it be fight or flight. They are willing and able to sacrifice everything they have in order to pursue that course of action. They do not expect others to do their work for them. Most importantly, though, they are not inviolate. Not planning ahead, resorting to misanthropic agendas, mis-diagnosing the problem, not living life in a manner consistent with achieving flourishing, reliance on vice, naivete, the list of shortcomings is quite long.
So, we’re halfway into a post titled “The Death of Honor” and I’m still continuing last post. What is the death of honor? Ultimately, the death of honor happened at the hands of the puritans. One day, I will share my full indictment against puritanism, but today really has little to do with puritanism; it merely dispatched a decrepit shell of what honor once was. Most of the work was done by the state.
It is no secret among historians that the sate, any state, has a vested interest in concentrating and standardizing populations. There is a fair amount of scholarship as to why this is the case; most popular and accessible of which is the writings of James C. Scott. The only reason pertinent to this discussion is that of dependence. If the state is to justify its theft and coercion, it must convince its victims that they need the state to commit these crimes for the sake of their survival. By securing the infrastructure for urban environments and taking advantage of the human tendency towards paranoia in crowded spaces, the state can convince its victims that without the state no one could build the roads or protect them.
I am certain you can already understand why the attitude of dependence is antithetical to the concept of honor but, before I address that, I want to address population concentration. I briefly touched on the Dunbar number before, and the time has come again. The Dunbar number is basically an expression of the reality that the human person is constructed such that one can maintain only a limited number of meaningful interpersonal relationships. Honor is closely tied to that number; normal honorable acts can only effectively serve as setting an example within a community of a few hundred people at most, and extraordinary honorable acts are limited to a couple thousand. I am currently working on an “Intro to the Dunbar Number” post, but for now, I will have to direct people here if they want to learn more about it.
Ultimately, by concentrating populations greater in number and density than the human person is built to handle, individuals are forced to begin interacting with other individuals as if they were merely objects in their environment. An object is not given attributions of things such as honor and virtue. One doesn’t have the ability to legitimately honor the girl making one’s coffee, the man taking away one’s trash, or often even one’s own grandfather, simply due to ignorance and the constraints of the lifestyle of a population-dense area.
“Now, wait a minute,” you’re saying, “What about Martin Luther King, John Paul II, and Murray Rothbard?” Well, they’re dead… so… “Ok. How about Pope Fancis, Stan Lee, and Edward Snowden?” These people certainly have done honorable things that are worth emulation, but have you ever met one of these three? Do you go out for coffee together, go to the same school, church, or bar? Unless you know them personally, you only know a story of a thing they did. These stories are quite useful in demonstrating socially preferable behavior, but only in the same way that Hector, Moses, or Bruce Wayne demonstrate such behavior: as mythology. In concentrating populations to unhealthy degrees, honor becomes an attribute of myth as opposed to man.
More importantly, the mindset of dependence which is instilled by excessive population density is strictly antithetical to the development of honor. Where honor requires that one takes responsibility for one’s situation, good or bad, and takes the initiative to improve that situation, dependence insists that the work be done by someone else and that the credit, good or bad, should go to that someone else. When a king conscripts labor to build the roads and aqueducts according to a central plan, he is credited by those that develop a dependence on those commodities. When the kings’ men stop neighbors from invading or pillaging, the king is credited for that security. When the kings’ men pillage and invade, it is seen as the necessary cost of these other things. Out in the fields, though, men are left to their own devices and still successfully travel, procure water, and ward off aggressors with little or no assistance from the king. These activities engender spirit of self-sufficiency, productive action, and responsibility, which overrides any sense of dependency and encourages honorable action. A less-than-perfect but only recently lost example is the anti-or-small-government sentiment amongst bands of farmers and other producers in rural areas of North America.
The modern democratic equivalent of this dependency vs. honor paradigm is readily available, however. The common citizen saying “there ought to be a law”, and attempting to accomplish one’s own ends by use of the ballot box as opposed to direct action is dependent upon his domesticators, whilst the “outlaw” identifies a need, whether it be a market demand or the homeless needing food, and fulfills that need, the law be damned. It may very well be honorable to grab a weapon and interject oneself between a murderer and his victim whether it is a back-alley assault, an abortion, or an ISIS beheading, but there is no honor in demanding that someone else do so. It may be honorable to advocate good causes and to expose misanthropy, but there is no honor in demanding that others should compel good behavior or kill those that exhibit bad behavior. It is even a possibility that there could be honor in assaulting me for my possessions, but there is no honor in sending someone else to do so.
The state is the death of honor. In order to restore this essential virtue, one must establish a geographically local community with a reasonable number of members and engender in themselves the virtues on which honor depends. In the interim, one ought to do what they can to become honorable whilst establishing deep, authentic relationships with friends, family, employers, customers, etc. Stop asking “is it legal?” and start asking “what is just and righteous?”
One cannot obtain external freedom without first becoming free internally.
TL;DR: Honor requires that one be willing and able to assess a situation and take matters into their own hands. The ethos ingrained in subjects of the state is antithetical to these requirements. So long as a culture is dependent on reputation systems, laws and their enforcement, and a mentality of irresponsibility, honor will remain dead. If someone may be faced with the need to call 911 or is anxious to keep their gold stars, they are not free. Without honor, freedom is impossible.
Also, you’ll have to bear with me on the wonkiness of my recordings. Audacity keeps doing something weird and I haven’t been able to figure it out just yet.