Sunday, December 02, 2007


Some people, especially in France but also here, have been wondering what those "suburban teenagers" from around Paris want. Well, IMO they quite obviously want honor.

When I say "honor", I mean the reputation as the kind of people who would react with extreme violence to any smallest insult, real or perceived. They might also call it "respect", although it has very little to do with any actual respect.

The desire, extremely annoying as it is, is quite understandable. Honor, in the sense of "extremely nasty reputation", is a very useful and valuable thing in a society where the rule of law is either nonexistent or insufficient. Where other people can attack you, your friends, family and possessions with impunity, it really makes sense to beat the attackers to a bloody pulp, or better yet kill them. And if you do it even for a small verbal insult, you might not even be subjected a single physical assault, ever.

This really works in the lawless places, be they Middle Eastern countries, Parisian suburbs or Soviet primary schools.

It's kind of hard to transform places where they use honor into places where they use law, for obvious reasons. Individual people, however, can be taught. When people move from the honor societies into the law societies, two things need to be taught to them: first of all, that the state will punish anyone who assaults them, so they don't really need a badass reputation, and second, that the state will punish them if they assault anyone, so the badass reputation comes with a rather big price tag attached to it.

It's not that hard, really. Except that: we don't really live in a law society anymore, do we? Not completely, at least here in Finland. We do have laws, and they are mostly enforced, but as far as crime and personal security go, we have pretty much moved on the a sort of a post-law society, where other things prevent people from hurting each other.

I can go outside and punch people in the face with impunity, or at least almost with impunity. If I just punch them in the face and run away, especially if I don't cause them any long-term injuries, the police won't look for me very hard, but if they find me, I'll just get a small fine. Probably 100 euro or so.

Do you have any idea how many people are out there whom I would gladly punch for 100 euro (that is, I'd gladly pay 100 euro to punch them)? Quite a few.

The reason that I don't do it is not the fear of punishment, nor any humane considerations. It's embarrassment. I'd find it rather embarrassing to be convicted of a simple assault in a court of law, even if the punishment is nonexistent. My friends would make fun of me, and think less of me. Even if neither the court nor my friends ever find out, I would be rather embarrassed all by myself.

I think this is the way it works for most people here. When some person is insulting us in a sausage kiosk line, we don't punch them, even when they richly deserves it, and we are reasonably sure of winning the fight and going unpunished. We just don't want to think of ourselves as people who punch other people at a sausage kiosk, so we usually don't.

Problem is, unlike a real law society, this is something that you cannot integrate honor people into. At least not as far as I know.

How do you explain to somebody from a culture where people are embarrassed by not beating up somebody who's been rude to them that here they should be embarrassed by doing so? It must be a very counterintuitive thought for them. Moreover, how can you tell them that the state will protect them? Most of the punishments for violent crimes in Finland are too light even for the average Finnish sense of justice - how can they ever satisfy anyone who'd accustomed to much harsher punishments? In addition, even if they realize that the light Finnish punishments are usually enough to deter Finns, they will also figure out that they probably won't be enough to deter their own countrymen.

No, I don't have any answers. Not letting in too many people from the honor cultures is a rather obvious one, but I am also wondering whether this post-law culture is really a step in the right direction, or whether it is the way back towards an honor culture. With or without outside influence.

No comments: