Unsacred honor

We experienced a spike in site hits yesterday, thanks to Hunter Baker of Southern Appeal, who kindly linked to my recent post on dealing with honor cultures. I followed the link and participated in a comment discussion over there (plus a smaller one here). Some people raised legitimate questions about my views, and I hope I answered them ably. I also learned some things (even at my age).

I’m always a little alarmed to find myself taken seriously. When I’m over here at Brandywine Books, I feel like I’m more or less among friends, as if I were kicking back with buddies. When I give an opinion, I expect to be treated with some respect, but I take it for granted that the audience knows my weaknesses and humors me a bit. Facing strangers who seriously examine my arguments as if I’d spoken with some kind of authority makes me feel like an imposter in a Wodehouse story. “Did I pull it off? Apparently so. Jolly good! Now to the public house to restore the tissues!”

I’m not an expert, of course, except in a minor, amateur way in the area of Viking history and life. One might reasonably ask, “What right does that give you to spout off about Islamic culture?”

Perhaps none.

But I see a pattern here which I’ve rarely seen mentioned. When I look at the warrior culture I actually know about (the Norse) and compare it to my spotty knowledge about warrior cultures around the world, the similarities appear to me to outweigh the differences.

Whether you look at the Samurai in Japan with his bushido code, or the American Plains Indian with his warrior code, or the Zulu in Africa or the Mongol on the steppes, they exhibit highly similar behaviors. They do not tolerate insults. They do not apologize or forgive. When accused of crime or weakness, they deny or blame others. Rather than live with shame, they will willingly throw their lives away to kill the ones who wronged them. If they can’t manage that, they’ll commit suicide.

There are minor differences from culture to culture, of course, but the broad pattern seems to hold true wherever men are warriors.

Many people, no doubt (if they agreed with my observations), would attribute these similarities to basic human instinct, behaviors developed through evolution to permit the community to survive.

I attribute it to Original Sin. Because it’s really all about pride.

Which is not to say I despise the Men of Honor. I’m a Viking geek, after all. I see much to admire in honor cultures.

And there are kinds of cultures worse than the ones based on honor.

But honor and shame is a stage in cultural development that needs to be gotten past. It’s better to believe in compassion and forgiveness.

Unless you take it to the extent of national suicide, as I think some in this country would like to do.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong.

I’m not a Man of Honor, so I won’t kill you for it.

8 thoughts on “Unsacred honor”

  1. Well, there’s honor, and then there’s honor.

    Having met you, Lars, I think you are a man of honor, but not in the same sense as that of the honor/shame societies you mention. Perhaps a more accurate term is pride/shame? In other words, when one of *those* warrior-types rants about “You have impugned my honor; you must die!” What they’re really saying is “You’ve bruised my pride.”

  2. I see what you mean, but Honor is too central to the system I’m describing to use any other word. Our modern conception of honor is a superior one, but a bit of a case of watering-down the original concept.

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