Sir Jason contributes this excellent posting....
Max: The Aunchless happend peacefully...lets at least
be grateful for that.
Captain von Trapp: Grateful!...You know Max sometimes
I don't think I know you.
(The Sound of Music)
It didn't matter either way. There was no possible way the Austrians could have resisted. In a way he may have agreed with Max. Max spoke with reason, as it is called and the Captain would hardly have wished ill on his neighbors. Yet there was another part of him, the "von" part, the old school aristocrat, that would have rather Austria be turned into a battle-stricken ruin then have it submit meekly. It may not have meant a thing but at least it would have made a point.
How do I know this? Because that's exactly how I would have felt. And I'm not even a "von". What is it that makes us think this way? What makes us so often desire to do the opposite of what is materially speaking the logical thing to do? Among animals there is no worry about this-once the big dog has proven he is bigger the little dog pays homage and neither seems to think it odd.
Among humans it is not so. The very act of submitting to a bully is considered dishonorable. The Austrian decision may have been more morally correct. Yet the Austrians were despised. By contrast the Finns who still had a fierce and old-fashioned sense of nationalism did resist the Russians. They have more respect. The fortune of war was in Finland's favor-barely. Specifically they killed so many Russians that the Russians decided Finland wasn't
worth the bother. Yet they could not calculate that they could do so. They fought on instinct. And for once instinct was right. But it had no reason to expect to be so.
Another example is the Zionists. Aaron Wolf, while he was in the IDF, said that one of the chief motivations of recruits was to elaborately demonstrate (not in so many words) that "your girlfriend lives only a few miles from here". What was not said was that they could ship all their girlfriends to America. Which brings a second unspoken motive: that Jews had taken it for long enough and a boyfriend that would leave his girlfriends protection to "goyim" may not be worth having. And a girlfriend who hadn't enough loyalty to Israel to stay might not be worth having either. In other words, they were fighting at least in part-perhaps a large part- for honor. They may not have admitted it, but that was what they were doing.
Defining honor is difficult. It is not the same as morality. Though the demands of each are similar enough that it is possible to be moral and honorable at the same time (more or less each way) they are different. Honor has to do with status. Yet it is not quite the same as pride. It is invisible and we often don't know we are motivated by it. Perhaps the best definition might be that it is a given groups "psychological police force". Like the state's police it can pose a danger of tyranny, but it also at other times prevents us from being more evil then we might be. The state's police always has physical force as it's ultimate insurance. Honor works against the malefactors self-esteem. One might condemn this as unchristian. Indeed it is-it calls pride to fight against other sins. On the other hand it also provides a less ponderous enforcement mechanism. Which is one of the more obvious paradoxes of this phenomenon. And James Bowman, the writer of Honor: A History, explores this thing called honor, this thing that makes us admire the foolhardy Finns, and sneer at the sensible Austrians, or grieve over them as Captain von Trapp did. It is a book that deserves reading.
Honor takes many forms. Schoolboy honor(thou shalt not snitch, thou shalt protect your little brother, thou shalt not seem desirous of the favor of Authority), criminal honor(thou shalt not betray the family even if thou art the brother of Michael Coreleone). Arabs constantly talk of western/Zionist "Imperialism" even though history and present behavior would tend to
indicate that they are hardly ones to talk. What the Arabs really mean of course is, "We lost the last war and are real steamed about it". However if their PR people say that to westerners it would be embarrassing.
And despite all the official reasons given for the "War on Terror" the one not given is, "teach them a lesson"(though it is obvious enough a reason to be supported by a good many Americans). However some elements remain the same. Unchastity in a woman is unforgiveable and so is cowardice in a man. Islamists are extreme and exotic in their demands in this regard. The ideal of chastity sometimes has no relation to actual behavior. One woman in Pakistan who had been raped pleaded on the basis of Islamic law to the Imam-and found sympathy. She found no sympathy in her own tribe which considered her a stain. If they had assassinated the perpetrators it would have looked to Western eyes like frontier justice-it is the fact that no claims of justice are recognized at all that seems and in fact is odd. The same goes with the concept of "courage" which can mean "blow up little Esther and run when big brother, Yoni comes." Of course terrorists see western military honor, which is compatible with accepting immeasurable superiority of force-but not compatible with harming those traditionally considered noncombatants as being odd. Which hardly means we are wrong and they are right-or even that we are both wrong. It does mean that we have
different ways of seeing things.
All these permutations are wonders to behold. But James Bowman discusses at length what might be called "hippie honor", which makes it dishonorable to care about ones honor. Though of course as it is expressed by telling one another how stupid others who do care about honor are, one might wonder if they have just invented a new and less culturally productive form of
And there is the relationship between Christianity and honor. Originally the ideal of the West's ruling classes was not all that much different from that of Michael Coreleone. However it gradually was forced to modify itself until it became something different from what it was. It became more and more like to morality until the differences could be forgotten. But the
difference remained. The fact is that we should not care about our status as Christians but only care to honor God. On the other hand one might argue that that change still retains some elements of the old honor code-it may be undignified to be a slave, but it is not undignified to be a faithful vassal. Nontheless the only honor we have is what God gives us. And it
seems that God does not like us to think of ourselves in this way either. I like to think of myself as God's vassal-but it is embarrassingly often that we are told that we are, "sheep". Sheep are happy animals, they do no sin and have no care. But they also have no honor and not desire for it. I would prefer "hound dog"-but sheep!
But human societies are human and pride will always be a part of them. Whether it is better for people's souls to take pride in being virtuous it is better for society. If there is no honor, there remains only virtue and force. Virtue is never available to any in complete form, and even in partial form is to much to expect. Honor, which has caused much suffering is at the same time necessary for are survival. But what honor code will it be?
Finally, honor, though it can be a distraction from morality, can also lead to it. Someone who is taught by honor to do acts that please those whom he respects, can learn to do them for their own sake. Which is another paradox. James Bowman discusses these topics. Whether you finally agree with his conclusions or not, the book is worth the read.