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Honor/Shame, the Middle East and the American Left

| 28 Comments
The Gospel of Luke 14:1, 7-24:

14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath ... . 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

That last paragraph isn't the parable, by the way, which is found in vv. 16-24. Jesus's discourse on jockeying for position illuminates the kind of cultural values that Jesus grew up in 2,000 years ago, and which is still found across most of the Middle East today (and, in his renunciation of those values, helps explain why he made such powerful enemies). Cultures of honor and shame are literally foreign to Western minds. Matters of honor and shame have certainly been powerful in Western history, but such concerns have always been tempered and tamped by Jesus's teachings that "all who exalt themselves will be humbled." And the twentieth century's blood-drenched years did nothing to preserve the concept, either. Jonathan Rauch, writing in National Journal, explains,

Singularly, however, the West has backed away from honor. Under admonitions from Christianity to turn the other cheek and from the Enlightenment to favor reason over emotion, the West first channeled honor into the arcane rituals of chivalry, then folded it into a code of manly but magnanimous Victorian gentlemanliness -- and then, in the 20th century, drove it into disrepute. World War I and the Vietnam War were seen as needless butcheries brought on by archaic obsessions with national honor; feminism and the therapeutic culture taught that a higher manly strength acknowledges weakness.

He goes on to explain that in Arab culture, one's standing in the community is of paramount importance. What Easterners call "saving face" is a real force in the Middle East. Why else, Rauch asks, would Saddam lie about possessing WMDs, knowing that the lies could bring about his downfall and demise? "Saddam was more concerned about saving face -- preserving his reputation for being fierce and formidable -- than about his office or even his life. Indeed, he could not feel otherwise and still count himself a man."

The Middle East Quarterly explains the essence of the honor/shame culture:

[I[n traditional Arab society ... a distinction is made between two kinds of honor: sharaf and ‘ird. Sharaf relates to the honor of a social unit, such as the Arab tribe or family, as well as individuals, and it can fluctuate up or down. A failure by an individual to follow what is defined as adequate moral conduct weakens the social status of the family or tribal unit. On the other hand, the family's sharaf may be increased by model behavior such as hospitality, generosity, courage in battle, etc. In sum, sharaf translates roughly as the Western concept of "dignity."

Honor, then, is what is granted by the community, by the social units of society. Likewise, shame or disgrace is also so given. I demur, though, that what MEQ describes at sharaf corresponds, even "roughly," to the Western concept of dignity. A person's dignity comes from self-concept: you cannot rob me of my dignity because of my inherent worth as a human being. The idea of dignity of mankind was a concept that undergirded the American revolutionists and that led Thomas Jefferson to write that, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them." I wrote several years ago that the American Civil War pitted the Southern states' honor concepts against the Northern states' dignity concepts.

Holy War from the legacy of the American South is waged from an offense to the nation that is seen as a stain upon the national honor, or as vengeance for wrongs done to the nation. (Southern concern with honor was a major contributor toward both Southern secession and the attack on Fort Sumter, precipitating the worst war in our history.) Honor can be restored only by confronting the foe with great force. The foe's surrender or destruction restores the national honor. Honor codes have not played a large role in shaping the Northern model of of Holy War. Instead, the Northern codes spring from ideas of the dignity of humankind, and deep notions of sin and judgment. From the Northern model, Americans readily answer the call to colors to liberate the oppressed and punish the oppressors, a combination that probably springs from the North's Puritan and Calvinistic founding.

Back to MEQ:

In contrast, ‘ird relates only to the honor of women and its value can only decrease. It translates roughly as the Western concept of "chastity" or "purity." And as with chastity or purity, exemplary moral behavior cannot increase a woman's ‘ird but misconduct reduces it. In addition, ‘ird trumps sharaf: the honor of the Arab family or tribe, the respect accorded it, can be gravely damaged when one of its women's chastity is violated or when her reputation is tainted. Consequently, a violation of a woman's honor requires severe action, as Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader, explains: "A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure."

This dynamic, says MEQ, explains "honor killings" in Muslim societies, but especially Arab ones, in which a woman whose chastity has been compromised, even by rape, is punished.

As for rape, society perceives the violated woman not as a victim who needs protection but as someone who debased the family honor, and relatives will opt to undo the shame by taking her life. Failure to do so further dishonors the family.

Rape in such societies is not held to be principally an offense against the woman, as it is in the West, but against first the men of her family and secondarily the other women, whose reputation for chastity can be sullied by libertine ways of one. Because it is not really dishonorable for a man to commit rape as much as for a woman to endure rape, things like this occur:

On May 31, 1994, Kifaya Husayn, a 16-year-old Jordanian girl, was lashed to a chair by her 32-year-old brother. He gave her a drink of water and told her to recite an Islamic prayer. Then he slashed her throat. Immediately afterward, he ran out into the street, waving the bloody knife and crying, ‘I have killed my sister to cleanse my honor.' Kifaya's crime? She was raped by another brother, a 21-year-old man. Her judge and jury? Her own uncles, who convinced her eldest brother that Kifaya was too much of a disgrace to the family honor to be allowed to live."

The psychologist who uses the nom de blog of Dr. Sanity explained in Shame, the Arab Psyche, and Islam, that in Arab cultures, the principal concern over conduct is not that which is guilty or innocent, but that which brings honor or shame.

[W]hat other people believe has a far more powerful impact on behavior than even what the individual believes. [T]he desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else is one of the primary foundations of the culture. This desire has the side-effect of giving the individual carte blanche to engage in wrong-doing as long as no-one knows about it, or knows he is involved.

In contrast, he says, the West has a Guilt/Innocence culture. "The guilt culture is typically and primarily concerned with truth, justice, and the preservation of individual rights."

The great difference between the two cultures is illustrated by this matrix:


The key: if your principal concern about your social self is your standing in your community and what others think about you rather than your own inherent sense of conscience and personal sense of worth, then you are operating on a honor/shame model.

I am wondering whether honor/shame codes play a much larger role for the left side of the American political aisle than is first evident. It was mostly from that side of political aisle that just after 9/11 the plaintive cry was raised, "Why do they hate us?"

To many people in the Middle East and beyond, where US policy has bred widespread anti-Americanism, the carnage of Sept. 11 was retribution. And voices across the Muslim world are warning that if America doesn't wage its war on terrorism in a way that the Muslim world considers just, America risks creating even greater animosity.

Note how the concerns of others is implied to be of supreme importance even in waging war, even if the others are the actual enemy. The Abu Ghraib offenses called forth honor/shame language from all around the aisle.

U.S. military policy was to treat the detainees at the Abu Ghraib facility outside Baghdad in the same manner as enemy prisoners of war. ... For an American soldier, there are few crimes more shameful than breeching the standards of conduct established by the laws of war. ... Nothing will regain the respect of the Iraqis and the world more than doing the right thing in Iraq. That is the most determined response that America can make to the betrayal at Abu Ghraib.

Then there was the entirely false report that copies of the Quran had been abused at Guantanamo, which evoked strong honor/shame language from Western critics, especially on the left:

This is worse than Abu Ghraib; Abu Ghraib represents the physical and psychological torture of a few Muslims, Quran desecration represents a spiritual, emotional and psychological torture of all Muslims. Even if it turns out that the Newsweek report was false, most people will see it as a cover up and another American attempt to eschew accountability.

Note that this author deliberately eschews a guilt/innocence code by claiming that that fact of innocence does not matter. Only the perception of guilt matters. Then he comes to another part of the honor/shame code: rectufying by penance or even debasement of the offender:

The ramifications of mistakes such as this one, even if it is proven that ultimately the report was a false one, will take a long time to rectify. Perhaps Newsweek should dedicate a special issue to celebrate the Quran and the deep devotion that Muslims hold for it.

These words come as no surprise since their author is one Muqtedar Khan, a Muslim teacher in the United States. And it is no surprise that he was writing not for, say, National Review, but for Common Dreams News Center, "Breaking News and Views for the Progressive Commnity." (As for National Review, see this piece on the story and note its concern with truth or falsehood of the allegations, that is, whether the accused is guilty or innocent.)

So is the left side of aisle more concerned with image than with substance, that is with the opinion of others rather than the interior compass of the self? It seems to me to be so. I am not saying that, politically speaking, the right side of the aisle evinces no such conerns - pundits love to wax eloquent about how all politicians need to make sure they are attractive to the base of their party. But it does seem to me that the left side overall acts more within honor/shame frameworks than the right side. If so, it also helps explain why the left side is pretty fast to sympathize with the aggrieved feelings of Muslims generally when it comes to US policy: accusations are more important than evidence.

Crossposted at DonaldSensing.com

28 Comments

Superb post.

For some years now, I've been arguing the opposite point of view -- that we need to engage the honor cultures on their own terms, that the US military is best equipped to do it because of its internal culture of honor, and that we ought to further encourage this tendency by requiring the study of heroic epic poetry.

The first piece, from December 2003, is called Heroic Epic Warfighting.

I think, therefore, that you're right to point to the differences between honor societies and modern Western society as a source of misunderstanding. I think you're wrong, though, to say that the Left is more of an honor-based society than the Right (which, being more traditional, is of course more tied to traditional ideals of honor). The sense of honor and the heroic is one of the positive ways in which we can engage the Islamic world, and show it our own best side.

On a similar note on the importance of honor is David Pryce-Jones:

From the days of Homer's Greeks and Trojans onwards, shame has been the forerunner of hate and violence. In what anthropologists call a shame society, the acquisition of honor and its converse, the avoidance of shame, are the keys to motivation. A man cannot be reasoned out of shame; it becomes a passion which burns and consumes until such time as it is avenged. Nationalist movements were built upon this passion.

David Pryce-Jones
goes on to trace the role of shame in colonialism, subsequent national movements and the dissatisfying result.

But I think one of the important elements (according to me, not necessarily Jones) is in the irony that the Arab heartland suffered from a lack of imperialism. A new study of colonized islands concluded that "the longer one of the islands spent as a colony, the higher its present-day living standards and the lower its infant mortality rate."

This poses a double shame for the Arab heartland, which was either colonized late or not at all. First, is the shame of imperialism. Second, is in the failure of national movements to bring prosperity despite the widely-held view that imperialism was the source of all ills in the Third World. Imperialism was a significant source of ills in the Third World, but it also improved governments, markets and education.

To the extent that the American and European left has undergone the shift from a guilt/innocence culture to a shame/honor culture, we could also postulate that the course of world events since 1980 has been a long traducing of their honor, in Bowman's use of the word.

The trail of the left's dishonor - in the sense of reduction of their sharaf - runs on and on: from the placement of missiles in Europe to the invasion of Grenada to the Afghan war against the Soviets to the displacement of the Sandinistas to the fall of the Soviet Union to the abandonment of socialism for state-directed capitalism in China to the first Gulf War to the 2001 Afghan campaign to the Iraq War. All of these things they set out to prevent; all of these things happened despite their opposition.

The left are wild to "avenge the offense," yet still lack the power to do so or even inflict significant pain. Hence their embrace of the Islamists or the North Koreans, who have at least the ability to inflict the pain which they cannot.

"I think you're wrong, though, to say that the Left is more of an honor-based society than the Right (which, being more traditional, is of course more tied to traditional ideals of honor). The sense of honor and the heroic is one of the positive ways in which we can engage the Islamic world, and show it our own best side."

I think you are wrong. I think that it is true that the Right is more caught up in the traditional ideas of honor and the traditional language of honor than the Left, but it does not perforce follow that the Right has an honor/shame ethical system.

Rather, the Right is still caught up in the traditional pre-20th Western conceptions of honor and manliness which leaves it say stuck in the 19th century. But it would be very surprising to find anyone on the Right today so reactionary as to be caught up in a full force honor/shame ethical system, since those systems have not been in full force in the West since the Dark Ages.

The Right still believes in honor because it is preserving a recent tradition, and recent traditions of Western honor are guilt based. A person does what is right even when it means society thinks poorly of him, rather than thinking that because society thinks poorly of him he must being doing something wrong. Its not the honor as it would have been recognizable to Achilles.

For example, while the Right is more Hawkish than the Left, it would be rare and even extraordinary to find any American who believes not only that soldiering is an honorable occupation, but that war itself is a moral good - something you find in most honor/shame societies. Likewise, while you might find people who would feel the need to kill a rapist to avenge thier honor, only an insane person in the West would think that they need to also kill the rape victim for the same cause. But the honor killings Rev. Sensing describes above are proceding from what must be considered a rational - if despicable - basis.

On the other hand, I agree with you in the sense that positive engagement with Islam requires transforming some of thier 'sick' memes into 'healthy' ones. It's impossible to completely replace Islam's memetic ecosystem (and maybe even undesirable under some understandings of what is ethical behavior), but it ought not be impossible to get the a significant fraction of the population looking at old memes in new ways. Transforming what signifiers like 'honor', 'martyr', 'god willing' and so forth point to is I think the central step.

I find it useful to always mentally substitue 'reputation' for 'honor' when dealing with mideastern cultures. It clears things up enormously.

As others have pointed out, the western concept of honor (roughly being doing the right thing regardless of what others think or personal consequences) has totally diverged from the rest of the world.

An interesting aside, as judged from popular culture (which I think is a good mirror for this), the Japanese definition of honor has come to be very close to the western one...

Is our definition of honor a prerequisite for an advance society? Or a result of one?

Hmm, I think our honor is real, but it is a different honor. honor/shame guilt/innocence might be a bad analogy. A person in our society could be considered honorable without being 'innocent' and be 'innocent' without being honorable. The difference is, I believe, mainly in what we base our honoring on.

Our honoring is based on a Christian tradition-- we honor courage, justice, faithfulness, wisdom, integrity, honesty, chastity, etc.

But our honor does not hold the force of life and death. This is why it does not make such a huge appearance. So we might attribute shame to cowardice, (and cowardice is, considered a sin.) But we consider that our crimes are, on the real level, between us and God, if they are not crimes against the written law.

So we might attribute shame to you for your cowardice, but we recognize that as an adult, that shame or guilt is between you and God. We forgive you for acting cowardly.

The only way to really lose honor then, is to be incorrigibly cowardly, deceitful, etc. This tells us, that there is no relationship between you and God, and that you are not like us in our understanding of integrity.

Being a philanderer is dishonorable, while having a one-night stand really isn't (or not permenantly.) In fact, being involved in a one-night stand and having a complete turnaround because of it, almost makes you more honorable than if you had nothing to do with it. Honor is restorable by acts of contrition. Its not a points system, though, where you do bad things and then do good things to make up for it. The person does things to establish proof of their honor. Honor is strengthened by being tested, but people must be convinced by your proof of honor. If they are not, then no number of good things you do ever matters. Extravagent acts don't count- each person judges the proof with their own heart.

In fact, proof of honor is mostly done by particular acts that speak to the truth of whatever virtue is in question and the situation involved.

Do you all agree? Or am I off-base in describing western honor (or at least the American variety.)

This is like, how in some westerners' eyes, no matter how extravagent the gifts Bill Gates gives to various charities, and the good deeds he does, he's still dishonorable. Mostly, because his giving acts are just generic good deeds and don't speak anything to his specific dishonor nor do they show a proof of his honor. In fact, we consider extravagent gifts phony, A la the story of the rich man and poor woman.

Honor is still very important to us, but our Christian traditions remove certain mandates from it.

"Rather, the Right is still caught up in the traditional pre-20th Western conceptions of honor and manliness which leaves it say stuck in the 19th century."

I think that badly mischaracterizes the situation. For one thing, honor-based narratives flourished in America throughout the 20th century -- many of the movies of John Wayne, for example.

Far from being "stuck in the 19th century," the modern American right continues in the 21st century to hold a version of an ethic whose lines exist throughout the history of the West.

It is as valid a position to hold today as yesterday, and will be as valid in a hundred years or a thousand.

Nor is it an unchanging narrative -- just as "honor" meant something different to an early Medieval as to a Late Medieval, to an Englishman of 1660 as to an American of 1840, so too does the 19th century version of honor differ in slight but important ways to the honor practiced today. Yet it is still a proudly kept and living tradition of honor -- if you believe otherwise, tell it to the Marines.

I conceed the point that Achilles' version of honor is different from the living tradition today, but that is really the point. Achilles is our cultural ancestor. We moved from there to here. What the Islamist would say is that we did so by abandoning honor (and therefore virtue).

I think we can demonstrate, as a culture, that we merely found a better way of ensuring that real honor is upheld: that men are really virtuous, regardless of who besides themselves knows what is right.

In order to do that, though, we need people who can carry the argument -- and live the example. I think our military is up to the latter part. Engaging the epic poems and sagas will enable them to perform the former part as well.

Very, very interesting discussion. The comments here are nearly as illuminating in their trace of the issues as the original article.

I find the author's final sentence very provocative:

"If so, it also helps explain why the left side is pretty fast to sympathize with the aggrieved feelings of Muslims generally when it comes to US policy: accusations are more important than evidence. "

This observation simply begs to be followed up with another: why, then, do representatives of the Left so easily let fly with outrageous accusations? Are they not sowing the very outrage - warranted or not - that they later exploit for their own political purposes?

I would disagree with your final sentence. I would not say that the Left is a shame culture that reacts to perceived injustices in the same way as does the Muslim world. Instead, I would characterize it as a pathological culture that fabricates or exaggerates injustices and then leaps to judgment based on the outrage they have drummed up.

We receive no quarter for the context within which our actions occur, no credit for good intentions thwarted when plans go awry, no recognition that opponents sometimes drive our responses. Everything is cause for outrage and all blame leads to America or the West.

As a song once put it: "We'll tell ourselves lies and then scream for action!"

Grim I would argue that the response to Honor based cultures is utter and unarguable destruction.

The Honor based culture in Tokyo was unable to continue the war because they could see the destruction all around them. It was a very un-honor based response to a honor society. Curtis LeMay did not embody the Samurai code, but that of the common man.

Jim,

Utter and unarguable destruction is certainly an effective response, not merely to honor societies but to any society. You don't have to be a Samurai to appreciate its effect on your community.

However, it may not be the only response that will produce good results. For example, consider the policy of paying blackmail in early modern Scotland, which was an intensely honor-based society at the time. The effect was to bind it into an economic model that produced enough potential for wealth that the old tribal methods of social organization fell apart -- disassembled from within -- and with them, the Highland potential for violent raids into the lowlands or England.

Now, in theory the English could have adopted a policy of unmitigated destruction. If they had, however, they'd have been poorer in the long run -- their economy benefitted from the engagement as well.

I suppose you'll laugh at the notion that Iraq might someday be a functional economy that will benefit our own, in that happy way that modern capitalist states often do. Fair enough -- it seems hard to believe, just now.

It might have seemed just as hard to believe about the wild Scottish tribes, in their uncouth dress of a shirt and their buckled-on bedclothes, who appeared in the British imagination mostly as raiders and armies bearing mad wailing pipes. They had honor killings too -- daughters burned alive for loving a man not approved by the family -- and superstitions, and murderous internal feuds.

It can be done. It will not be done quickly -- indeed, it will not be "done" at all. The process is viral. All we have to do is maintain the infection long enough for it to take. We need to bribe the tribes however richly we must to get stability out of them, we need to push out and establish the safety so that normal life and economic activity can take place, and we need to start helping them begin to enter that larger world of capitalism and peaceful prosperity. It can be done. It has been done, with men who were no better candidates. I say that as a man of Highlander blood myself, on my mother's side, and proudly: but it's true.

We had the problem with American Indians.

Our cure was to destroy their honor culture.

We did the same to the Japanese.

Arab Islam will be tougher. It will be done.

"Democracy, whiskey, sexy" is very powerful.

BTW you might want to look at Bad Eagle who is proud of his culture (Americanized Indian) and has written an opera about the Jews.

He has total disdain for the American left.

BTW honor in the US Military is based on evidence. Bringing disrepute on the organization can only be punished based on evidence. Rumor will not do.

Let me note that Bad Eagle disdains the left because they have no honor. They are not proud of their culture. Bad Eagle thinks they should be.

It's a Warrior Thing.

The white man may have taken my land. But he took it like a warrior, fair and square. Yes, he treated my people harshly. But he never denied their bravery, never besmirched their memory as warriors.

I also like this one.

Whats Up With White Women?

"Look, Dr. Yeagley, I dont see anything about my culture to be proud of. Its all nothing. My race is just nothing."

The girl was white. She was tall and pretty, with amber hair and brown eyes. For convenience sake, lets call her "Rachel."

I had been leading a class on social psychology, in which we discussed patriotism what it means to be a people or a nation. The discussion had been quite lively. But when Rachel spoke, everyone fell silent.

"Look at your culture," she said to me. "Look at American Indian tradition. Now I think thats really great. You have something to be proud of. My culture is nothing."

"Youre not proud to be American?" I asked.

"Oh, Im happy to be American, but Im not proud of how America came about."

Her choice of words was telling. She was "happy" to be an American. But not "proud" of it.

On one level, I wasnt surprised. I knew the head of our American History department at Oklahoma State University-OKC, and I recognized his hackneyed liberal jargon in Rachels words. She had taken one of his courses, with predictable results.

Yet, I was still stunned. Her words disturbed and offended me in a way that I could not quite enunciate.

Also note that the concept that sexual morality is an essential part of honor and any dishonor is permanent died with that Jesus fellow and his encounter with the adultress.

In that respect Islam will need to go back to its Christian roots. It will need to become christianized.

Even loss of courage is not a permanent stain if one regains courage. Crane's "Red Badge of Honor" is exemplary in that respect.

I note in my piece on Tribalism that you can not make viable nations out of tribes. Honor, for the west to work must be individual. Truth must be evidence based - truthyness doesn't count. Trust bsed on truth must cross family and tribal boundaries. That is how individuals join to become a nation.

In time as American culture dominates the planet we will have a planetary wide society.

What makes America (and the west) great? We honor the evidence. Thus our preeminence in science. Very powerful.

The Arab Way of War also sheds some light on this. Being right is more important than getting it right.

Also note that the concept that sexual morality is an essential part of honor and any dishonor is permanent died with that Jesus fellow and his encounter with the adultress.

In that respect Islam will need to go back to its Christian roots. It will need to become christianized.

Even loss of courage is not a permanent stain if one regains courage. Crane's "Red Badge of Honor" is exemplary in that respect.

I note in my piece on Tribalism that you can not make viable nations out of tribes. Honor, for the west to work must be individual. Truth must be evidence based - truthyness doesn't count. Trust bsed on truth must cross family and tribal boundaries. That is how individuals join to become a nation.

In time as American culture dominates the planet we will have a planetary wide society.

What makes America (and the west) great? We honor the evidence. Thus our preeminence in science. Very powerful.

The Arab Way of War also sheds some light on this. Being right is more important than getting it right for tribal cultures.

It should be "Red Badge of Courage".

What was I thinking? (It should be obvious).

I think the Left aims at more primitive human instincs: not only honor/shame, probably developed in human evolution as a kind of response to the hierarchy in the tribe; but also the paternalistic figure of the State, able to provide everything to its spoiled children; a cataclysmic interpretation of climate variations: which endorses a natural envy towards the people of the future, that probably will live much better than we do; collectivism based on the group instinct, created to glue together the tribe, against individualism; or, for instance, a defence without sending troops abroad, that is, security without effort, something for nothing.

Therefore, the Left has a natural advantage in a Democracy, which decreases as more advanced is the society. The history of the Civilization is indeed the story of the man against his natural instincts. A story where religion had much to do. Maybe that is the reason far Leftists hate it so much (well, hate all except Islam, which provides a justification to unleash some basic instincts such as that that allows killing the different one: the Jihad; or some dominance above each other's freedom).

The problem, as M. Simon points out in #14, is that human Civilization has gone so far, that it is becoming unatractive for the average citizen. It does not fullfil her natural instincts. Then it is easier that he fall in a Leftist ideology.

M. Simon (#15)

Also note that the concept that sexual morality is an essential part of honor and any dishonor is permanent died with that Jesus fellow and his encounter with the adultress.

Personally, I find this the most striking point of the New Testament, taking into account the Greek, Roman and Jew society of that time; though in the end, is simply to apply the same philosophy in all cases.

But Christianism evolved in a very cosmopolitan and advanced society, (much of it we copy now, they invented the Republic), on the two pillars of Judaism and Greek culture, developed both during more than one thousand years; apart from civil power... compare it to the evolution of Islam, in the tribes of the desert, being Muhammad a prince as well as a religious leader...

Not all religions are equivalent.

I think that Grim is simultaneously right and wrong. The Jacksonians who comprise a substantial portion of our military do have a strong sense of honor. However, not all honor systems are created equal. As pointed out by Walter Russel Mead in The Jacksonian Tradition, American Jacksonians distinguish between honorable opponents and dishonorable opponents. During World War II they considered the Germans honorable opponents and the Japanese, ironically among the most honorable of people, as dishonorable—sneak attacks did not conform to the code.

If you went to Central Casting looking for someone to fill the role of “dishonorable enemy” it would be hard to do better than al-Qaeda. That's why Grim's suggestion is probably impractical.

However, I might remark, that not all of our Arab opponents are dishonorable. And maybe that is what Grim is getting at.

First, all of this critique of "The Left" is falling into a common fallacy of selecting outrageous examples and then generalizing to the entire group. If I were to ascribe to "The Right" all of the insanity coming out of Ann Coulter, you would dismiss my argument, and rightfully so. Same when the shoe is on the other foot.

Second, as I see it from the Left, most of the "Why do they hate us?" questions are prompted more from a guilt/innocence framework than from a shame/honor framework. The concern is not with our reputation in their eyes, but whether we have (possibly inadvertently or unknowingly) been violating our own standards of right and wrong in dealing with them. It's a version of: "Cast out the beam from your own eye, so you can see to remove the mote from your brother's eye."

In frontier America, character was a substitute for rule of law, contracts, and financial assurance. By character, I primarily mean "honesty" in particular, but in practice I mean "reputation." If Bill got a reputation for watering down his corn whiskey (common currency at the time), he might find himself much poorer than others (whether the reputation was deserved or not). In fact, Bill might try to be extra-generous to avoid any motives for such rumors.

There is a lot of good to be said about such a system, particularly that it has a tendency to reinforce virtue. The downside is that it does not have the features of an advanced economy. If we relied primarily on character in our interactions we would have very minimal interactions. And reputation is not character, it can result from falsehoods, bigotry, or stupidity.

As far as the Arabs go, the Arab heartland has a honor-based society that finds little use for rule of law or contracts. Instead, the currying of favors, what we would tend to call corruption, protects the honor, as do exaggerated displays of virtue. Extreme religiosity, even at a level which a community might find shocking, can be justified when honor is on the line.

Its my anecdotal understanding that dueling in Early America was frequently illegal, condemned by family, friends and social institutions, and yet occurred anyway. I would suggest that may be true of honor killings as well. Condemned by the mouth, but appreciated by the heart. Even if we feel that this person acted improperly, we might still recognize that his extreme actions were in pursuit of honor and trust him for it.

#22 PD Shaw says:

Its my anecdotal understanding that dueling in Early America was frequently illegal, condemned by family, friends and social institutions, and yet occurred anyway. I would suggest that may be true of honor killings as well. Condemned by the mouth, but appreciated by the heart. Even if we feel that this person acted improperly, we might still recognize that his extreme actions were in pursuit of honor and trust him for it.

I suppose we ought to trust them for it. And hang them if they get caught and convicted. Old American custom. Trust us for it.

As the British General of the Raj once said to an India Indian who claimed that suttee (burying the wife with the dead husband) was an ancient Indian custom. The General replied that hanging for murder of any human was an ancient British custom and the General intended to see it was enforced.

PD, your multi-culturalism will get a lot of women killed or reverse thousands of years of feminism. As a comitted leftist myself I'm against that sort of thing. Empower women. Every where. Not just where it is convenient. If that destroys cultures, tough.

Since I'm a feminist universalist I generally vote Republican. Democrat feminism has fallen on hard times.

"Its a Warrior Thing. You Wouldn't Understand"

M. Simon: Nice link.

I often think that the difference between a liberal and a conservative comes down to the fact that the liberal never got into any fights on the playground. This has left him with a very sheltered outlook, a poor understanding of evil, and a very unrealistic understanding of violence.

All of the left's assumptions could get blown away if they'd just had to fight a little more often in elementary school where the lessons could be learned without a lot of permenent harm. The 'parent' can't always be there to help. Not everyone who is in a fight was asking for it or deserves it. The winner of a fight isn't always the one at fault. The weaker combatant isn't always a victim. And fighting isn't always invariably destructive. So forth.

Some of my best friends have had my blood on thier knuckles, and vica versa. It's a warrior thing. You get back to reality, you learn that your friend has honor, and the fight only increases the respect that you have for each other. I wouldn't recommend that anyone get in a fight deliberately, but when it happens its not always a bad thing (especially with kids who have only a limited ability to break things).

The thing about Native Americans, is that now that the war is over, with a guy like Mr. Yeagley, he's someone I know I could trust to watch my back. He's someone I would want to have at my back. He's got honor, and he's proud of his people for what he can be proud of when he could be wallowing in the whole 'We were just a bunch of savages and we got treated badly now we are victims, woe is me' thing. Or he could be into the whole, "We were all noble, until the white folks came along and ruined everything" myth that honorless white folks tell and encourage. He could be the guy wallowing in self-pity, shame, and other unmanly indulgences you just can't trust to have your back. But Mr. Yeagley 'gets it'. He has the sort of pride that is neither arrogance nor hubris, but self-respect and respect for your fellow man.

As he points out, Mr. Rushing doesn't get it. He doesn't respect anyone: not himself, not Mr. Yeagley, and not me (I'm white). He's wallowing in fear, loathing, and anger. How can I trust someone like that? Why would I want someone like that as a peer?

Mr. Yeagley on the other hand is welcome to be my peer or even take a leadership position in 'the tribe' of America (which is about the least tribal tribe in history, as Mr. King reminded us, its a content of thier character not a color of thier skin thing that determines who you want 'watching your back'.)

OK, so they lost. He's over it. Things had worked out the other way - and sometimes they did - the Comanche would have treated us badly and adopted the rest. That's the way these things work.

Welcome to the tribe, Mr. Yeagley. But you clearly don't need (or want) my acceptance like some sort of gift, which it isn't, because you know you've won your honors.

I submit that honor can be nothing more than a lie. A lie perpetuated to cover the truth of a soiled reputation or the facts or the truth behind an overinflated ego.

"I know I'm a lying, cheating scoundrel, but in order to preserve my false reputation and to continue functioning in this society, I have to make it look like I am not who I really am by protecting my 'honor'." After all, only an honorable man fights for his honor, right?

M. Simon: PD, your multi-culturalism will get a lot of women killed or reverse thousands of years of feminism.

I never intended to convey support for either honor killings or dueling. Dueling leaves wives without husbands and children without fathers, both fair game for flop houses and orphanages. Honor killings leave husbands without wives and children without mothers. Obviously, they take place in different social settings: one in which too many chivalric romances have been read and another in which women are property.

Other ethical components:

For the good of the nation or the state or city or community.

For the good of the race. (In the case of "La Raza", the race can be defined as a blend of European, Indian, and black genetic admixture together with Hispanic culture.)

For the good of the religion.

For the good of the family or tribe.

For the good of an abstract community such as humanity or democracies or the environment or animals.

Winning as the primary virtue. It may not matter much whether the success is due to inherited genetic traits, inherited wealth, culture, or birthplace. Dishonesty may be accepted as long as the person is seen as a winner.

Pursuit of knowledge or truth as the primary virtue. This may be expressed as "the public's right to know" or "information must be free" or "a scientist must pursue knowledge without regard for social consequence".

Empathy as the primary virtue. Concern for the feelings of others. Charity. Motivations may be seen as more important than actions or results.

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