Monday, February 22, 2016

Old customs die hard

Conceptually, fighting for one's honor - for example fighting over an insult in a sausage kiosk line - is very close to trial by combat, and conscription in wartime is very close to human sacrifice, and yet fighting over insults appears to be close enough to many people hearts that it happens fairly often, and would happen a lot more if people did it every time they wanted to, and conscription in wartime is popular enough to be mandated by law in most countries, whereas the actual trial by combat and human sacrifice, as practiced by some cultures in the past, seem like a very silly idea.

With conscription and other forms of human sacrifice I can of course see the obvious practical difference in efficiency: when you sacrifice a young virgin or a considerable bunch of them to the cause of a military victory it might well be instrumental in bringing about that victory, but no matter how many virgins or more sexually experienced individuals you sacrifice to the gods of rain, it's not likely to result in any actual rain.

With fighting for one's honor (yes, I know, it's not a very common term for fighting over insults) it's more mystical though: what is the impulse that drives people to do it, and why doesn't it feel as silly as trial by combat? I totally have this impulse, and I still don't understand it. I don't actually do it, haven't done it as an adult anyway, but when I abstain from it it's for some practical "adult" reasons, such as that I don't consider it worth possible pain, injury, trouble with the law, and, in my most charitable moments, not worth the other person's pain or injury either. But I really should be abstaining from it because the whole concept is quite absurd and somehow implies that my honor is more worthy than that of the less physically able, and less worthy than that of the more physically able. Why doesn't it feel as silly as it actually is?

1 comment:

Timo Kiravuo said...

Honor is really about your standing in the society. Before efficient judical system, if you wanted to borrow money from somebody or engage in business, you needed to show that you would honor your word. Basically you needed a reputation that you would follow the rules of society rather than what would be advantageous for you at the moment (e.g., not pay back a loan). The so called honor killings are understandable from this viewpoint: when a patriarchial society has rules about women, the head of family is responsible for showing that his family obeys these rules.

Defending one's honor by physical combat makes also some kind of sense. It provides a mechanism for verifying one's willingness to belong to the group of honorable people and provides a speedy and public resolution, useful when the legal system is slow and unreliable.

Why these things still remain in our culture, I don't know.