1. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Cultures of Honor

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Bone2pick, Apr 21, 2019.

    I thought I'd share a worldbuilding consideration that was brought to my attention after recently listening to a podcast. As the thread title states, I'm referring to honor cultures and subcultures. Of course, you might be wondering: what exactly constitutes an honor culture, and what are some of its symptoms/consequences? As far as the two individuals on the podcast I listened to are concerned - it's a tricky concept to define; but they did seem to agree on many of the properties commonly associated with honor cultures. So I took a few notes. Here they are.
    • It appeals and resonates with deep (primal) intuitions about justice.
    • It's important for individuals to project an image that deters predation from other individuals or groups.
    • Collective responsibility and accountability.
    • A heightened concern for personal reputation.
    • A heightened concern for one's group reputation.
    • An increased sensitivity to slights and insults
    • Self-policing within groups
    • There are often unwritten rules for behavior
    • A higher value placed on virtues such as loyalty, solidarity, courage, integrity, and perseverance
    • A shared belief that people should resolve (handle) their own conflicts, and not rely on third parties for help.

    As far as I could tell/figure, the above are common characteristics of honor cultures. You may disagree with some of them—and that's fine—but that's not the point of this thread. The point of this post is to highlight the importance of honor in cultures, and how it can influence them—for better or worse.

    To give you an example: In the podcast they discussed the sport of baseball and its culture of honor. It's a sport with lots of unwritten rules (example: never walk over a pitcher's mound) and collective responsibility. If a baseball player from one team commits a significant slight against a player on the opposing team, the team that suffered the slight will likely retaliate against any player on the "offending" team. In their eyes, the group is responsible for the offense, not merely an individual.

    Many armed forces have successful honor cultures, while many street gangs and prisons have (what many consider) toxic honor cultures. And that's precisely why I find honor cultures so fascinating - they can have a beneficial makeup, a pathological makeup, or a mix of both. I view that as ideal story material.

    Personally speaking, when I create fantasy worlds and civilizations, I tend to layer conflict. For instance, for an epic fantasy story an aggressive barbarian horde could serve as a looming external threat. Next I might weave in throne and crown (political) intrigue. Then I might hint at a faction rivalry inside the kingdom, possibly a religious one. And finally personal relationship conflicts for my main characters.

    Going forward I'd like to occasionally feature honor conflicts. It's a universal human phenomenon, and it can apply to all sorts of communities, be they noble, despicable, or something in between. So how about you? Is honor something you give a fair amount of consideration to when you create worlds? Can you think of how you've featured it in an earlier story, or might feature it in a future one?

    Podcast in question:
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    No, I've never thought of using that in a story. But it's an interesting concept. It's one that I've never heard named before—except to call them 'gangs'—but we all know these 'cultures' exist. Whether they are beneficial to anybody, however, is another point to consider.

    The example about baseball is a case in point. What happens when a player gets traded to another team ...one he's been conflicting with as a member of 'the other' honour culture team. Who does the player side with then? And what's the rationale?

    It seems to be more about 'belonging' with a group of people who will 'have your back' than anything else, really. I suppose college fraternities and sororities have a similar reason for being. They may talk about 'excellence,' etc, but it's more about belonging than actually doing anything, isn't it? They may do (and be required to do) things to prove their solidarity, but it's the solidarity itself that really matters? I dunno....
     
  3. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    As I'm sure you're aware, that happens all the time. In fact, players often choose to leave their team instead of resigning with them, in order to secure a more profitable contract. And in those cases, the new team they join may be their previous team's arch-rival. Believe it or not, no one has an issue with it.

    You see, baseball is an instance where an honor culture is mixed with business. Which from my point of view is fascinating. As a member of a baseball team, players are expected to have group solidarity and respect their team's, and opposing teams', unwritten rules for behavior. But these expectations are flexible enough for the business side of the sport to function. In a sense it's very pragmatic. Everyone accepts that all players have the right to pursue their individual interests (e.g. more money). But for however long they're a part of the team, they are expected to be loyal and on the hook for group responsibility and accountability.
     
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  4. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I wouldn't say honor so much, but certainly pride, and I think those two concepts are extremely correlated. In fact, I'd venture to say that honor is a concept that stems directly from pride; it's just pride augmented with rules of agreed upon fairness.
     
  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    There's certainly some overlap between the two. Though I think pride is closer connected to vanity, and thereby less connected to group solidarity than honor.
     
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  6. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I like the topic. I think it helps a lot with getting in the heads of certain characters.

    Mainstream US and Western Europe have a dignity culture, which allows people to retain their self respect when they aren’t benefited by a fight, so long as they express or live according to their ideals.

    Some Eastern countries have a “face cultures” which are fascinating, but in my opinion are more like dignity cultures with different weights on different aspects of social behavior, than they are like honor cultures.

    And then you have honor cultures anywhere that people can’t ask for help and help isn’t coming. Schools, gangs, prisons, rural communities without police presence, war zones, and so on. Military is interesting, because it’s a mix of honor and dignity culture, which I’m sure is stressful when the demands of honor run against other values.

    I tried to capture some honor culture in the first episode of my “Winoc the Traveler” web serial, but because I didn’t have any exposition explaining it, a number of readers were disgusted or confused by the behavior, while others thought it was just right.

    “Give no shit, take no shit,” is the shortest description I’ve heard of honor culture, and what it means to have honor—like French knights taking a slap across the face during their knighting ceremony as “the last unanswered blow they will ever receive.”
     
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  7. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I will say that I agree that the sense of belonging is something that pride doesn't cover, but it does play a role in group dynamics. People often make the groups they're associated with a part of their identity, and that is something that people tend to have ludicrous amounts of pride in. In that sense, following the rules of the group, self-policing, seeking the best outcomes for the group, these all contribute to preserving or enhancing the group's status and thus the status of the individual's identity as part of the group.

    I'm not saying that's the exclusive reason for behaviors that contribute to the benefit of the many over the few, but that it can play a significant part.
     
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  8. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    It’s interesting to think of “honor cultures” as individual groups that hold their own set of traditions and expectations. Honor is a fundamental human idea which we have seen across history in all sorts of societies, from the Samurai and the Knights to sports, military, religion, and even environments that are usually lawless, like the frontier or organized crime groups (“honor among thieves”).

    The term Honor Culture that you use here makes me think of the planet of hats, the fictional culture that is rooted in its own honor and sees itself as better than everyone else. But I like the idea of looking at this at a group level not a societal level, because at that level we can see that societies themselves are very diverse and its members do not wear the hats that fiction often assumes.

    Honor is important and the way that any one individual interprets it says a lot about them. What code do they live by and how well do they follow it? People are flawed — when do they abandon their ideals? Does their mind’s own propaganda really match up to what they do? These are interesting questions to me.
     
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  9. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    When imagining an honor vs. a dignity culture, I don't think you can over-emphasize the role law enforcement plays.

    If you have a world where the state has a monopoly on violence, crimes can be solved by law enforcement, and a fair court will give a just ruling, you will probably have a Face or a Dignity culture (in the real world at least).

    If the people living in an area are permitted to use violence against one another, or if law enforcement is not trusted, can't be reached, or can't be counted on to act in a just or predictable manor, you probably have an honor culture.

    The whole point of honor is to prove two things to your neighbors: that you can be counted on (to fight and to tell the truth), and that you are a poor target for crime (on account of your violent temper and unwavering commitment to the value of your word and name).

    You can see the difference between dignity and honor cultures immediately by imagining people in two different places insulting a man's purple-eye'd sister during a small party outside a church.

    Poor/isolated community policed by a single untrustworthy highway patrolman who only shows up to handle the complaints of a hand full of wealthy people, while everyone works in farm jobs, manual labor, or crime: A large man looks at you and says, "all purple-eye'd people have bad ears from playing music too loud, and so are useless at their jobs."

    You know that this person is interviewing you. If you let this slight pass, he will mark you for victimization later, because there is no law to stop him. So you reply, "my sister has purple-eyes. I demand an apology, right now." If this guy believes you are capable and willing to get violent on the spot, he apologizes and moves on. If you fail to act honorably, then everyone who hears about it will assume you can be victimized and abused without consequence.

    Now, put the scene on a large modern American university. "All purple-eye'd people play music too loud, so they are useless at their jobs." You hear this, knowing that there is no possibility that this person will physically attack you, that if he committed some crime, you could call law enforcement, and in fact, him assaulting you is to your advantage because it will make you look interesting and you might be able to use the state to extract money from him. Furthermore, people standing around know that your sister has purple eyes, and that you are publicly committed to the idea of equality.

    The only thing on the line is your dignity, and the way you maintain your dignity is by attacking the character of the person. "You are an ignorant, piece of shit racist, and I hate you, because people like you are garbage people. Anyone who makes a blanket statement about another group should be expelled, and I will try to make it happen!"

    An attack on this person's honor, this extreme, would result in a murder in an honor culture, but in a dignity culture, may be repaid by little more than a smirk, especially if your attack allows him to somehow display his dignity, such as by pointing out how you hate free speech and the market place of ideas or some crap. Everyone walks away with their dignity, knowing that it wouldn't come to blows, almost no matter what.

    Now, of course there are people walking around in our dignity culture with honor, and it is worth being careful not to offend them. There were also people concerned about dignity and ideology in honor cultures, and they were for sure interesting characters (who probably lived painful lives).

    A dignity culture will turn into an honor culture literally overnight if law enforcement vanishes, and I think most people living in a dignity culture and enjoying all of the freedom and safety it affords them, would do anything to avoid returning to an honor culture.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
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  10. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Interesting thought. Do you suspect the same about people who live/operate in both culture types? For instance, baseball players and members of our armed forces? I imagine many of those people have little or no desire to replace their honor cultures with dignity cultures, or any other culture for that matter.
     
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  11. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I wasn't in either, but I can talk about martial arts, because martial arts has an honor culture of sorts.

    In Brazilian Ju-jitsu, people wrestle with submissions (such as joint bending or chokes). Some of the chokes are so effective that they can cause a person to black out in seconds, and suffer permanent brain damage or death shortly after. In order to learn BJJ, you have to be willing to put yourself at the mercy of other people. There will be a teacher, and often this teacher has to maintain his reputation, while showing up to teach even if he is badly injured or in a great deal of pain. The teacher has to trust his students not to try to steal his honor by applying a submission while he is injured, or whatever.

    People give up by tapping with their hand, or by saying, "tap."

    You can imagine that this sort of martial art attracts a lot of psychopaths, and that their IS a short term cheaters advantage for experts who want to injure novices, because they can get realistic practice applying submissions quickly and violently, that wouldn't normally be possible outside of competition with dangerous equals. They can also cheat by changing the intensity of an activity and try to pull a fast one on a higher ranking person in order to steal their honor in front of other people and appear better than so and so.

    For all those reasons, people are very concerned with honor, and the second people think that you will not honor a tap, purposefully injure someone, pull a fast one on the instructor, break or change the rules of engagement, act out in anger during a roll, or boast about "gym wins," other players may start to despise you and could even ostracize you.

    On the other hand, there have been numerous scandals in BJJ AND other martial arts, where people hide behind honor to avoid answering questions, and use their authority and position to hide criminal activity, sexual abuses, cult-like behavior, and so on.

    So there is this tug of war. A lot of people make fun of honor culture. Many black belts, especially younger ones, laugh at old guard honor culture, try to treat people equally, hold up a dignity culture idea that "we are all here to make one another better," and kick out people who don't get on board. "Leave your ego at the door." Unfortunately, this too can be used by corrupt, fake honor people to call out questions about their behavior, telling the student that "their ego" is leading them to step out of line.

    I, personally, subscribe to the dignity culture idea, and believe that novices and experts are equal, we are here to make one another better, and that people who can't get on board should GTFO. My attitude is by no means universal. There are a lot of people who love the honor culture for all kinds of reasons, and I have played along with it many times in the past.

    Sometimes, it is unavoidable. If you start sparring with gym bros who don't know or care about you, they may try to hurt you while sparring if you don't show them you can and will hurt them back. While sticking to my "dignity culture" idea of "lets make one another better" is nice, if you are faced with a limited number of training opportunities and aren't willing to pack it up and leave, you may have no choice but to engage on an honor level.

    A part of the problem of maintaining a dignity culture in a martial arts gym is that there has to be someone with a monopoly on force, say the head coach, who is always watching the martial artists train, who is charismatic enough to explain the dignity culture ideal, and willing (despite the financial loss) to kick people out who don't play nice.

    It's even harder to maintain because people always perceive attacks against themselves as stronger than their own counter attack. If I hit you, and someone instructs you to hit me back just as hard, you will always, ALWAYS hit me back harder than I hit you. For that reason, it is very difficult for novices, intermediates, and thin-skinned experts to stop themselves from ramping up the damage dealt when boxing. It comes down to the men inside the ring being willing to step it up, or ask the other people to tone it down, because a coach stepping in often feels dishonorable to people, and the problem can be hard to see in time before someone gets hurt.

    Sometimes the guy who says, "lets go lighter" is seen as dishonorable because the other people will believe that they are only answering the energy that "go light guy" brought, and it seems like cheating and cowardice, sometimes. Worse, there are legitimately psycho "go light guys" who mean to hurt people, and are trying to trick their partners into going easy. So, many people would rather get hurt than ask someone else to go lighter, not wanting to be mistaken for a cheater, coward, weakling, or psycho.

    It's complicated. Honor exists in any system where it is useful. When dignity culture people engage in honor culture behavior, it might not be primitive—they may be doing it because it is somehow keeping them safe.

    On the flip side, an honorable person may not be happy swallowing his pride when insulted in a dignity culture, because their honor was what kept them safe and they identified with it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
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  12. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Honor culture in a martial arts gym can get real, very fast.

    Years ago I was training with this guy who was preparing for his first amateur MMA fight. He had lost like 40 pounds in six months and was turning into a hugely muscular guy, ready to fight at 205# (Fun fact, he knocked his opponent out in like ten seconds with his first two punches).

    Anyway, we were both very sweaty and slippery from rounds of grappling. He drove into me in a weird way that caused my grip on his wrist to slip off, and I smacked him full across the face. We just kept going, and I honestly didn't think anything of it because I'd been doing it a long time and shit happens.

    This guy, on the other hand, had trained for less than six months and had never had something like that happen. After the round, he walks over to me and in a very even tempered voice (the purposefully emotionless #serious kind) asks, "did you mean to slap me?"

    So, I immediately apologized, and explained the slap was an error caused by my own fatigue, and that I would never slap him like that on purpose. In that moment, if I didn't restore his sense of honor, he was going to beat my ass, for sure.
     
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  13. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    I think that most cultures within the contemporary world do honestly fit this definition of an honour culture, or at least fit most criteria of it, though the onus has switched from physical violence to that of social/financial prestige instead. However, I do think that some traits listed are somewhat contradictory, considering there's collective accountability but an emphasis on individuals to problem solve.

    However, in terms of stereotypical honour cultures, the nation that one of my text's is set in has quite a heavy one due to their being a warrior caste, though the emphasis is less on the individual and instead of the collective in the form of squads or regiments. If your job is to hold the left flank and it breaks, you're going to be given massive amounts of shit.
     

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