Monday, April 7, 2008


This was part of a discussion I was having with someone online about hono[u]r, and decided to post certain bits of it.

Maybe I’m jaded, but I read honor as little more than a justification of acts which aren’t really beneficial to you (but we’ll get back to this shortly)and in the aims of somebody that’s probably your boss in some way or another. I imagine what you refer to as foul are those things, like petty wars and that business about the Crusades.

The word in a way is kind of becoming synonymous with the Islamic concept of jihad; at its core, the word means "struggle" (I’d be kind of surprised if you didn’t know that, but you know, completionism etc), and the misuse of the word to justify all sorts of things has grown exponentially in the last three decades or so. Mohammad considered the internal jihad, the struggle with the self to do "good things", pray, and so on, was much more significant than the external, warring (and initially more or less righteous) and physical jihad. In a similar fashion to the Western ’concept’ of hono[u]r, jihad is used in place of the phrase "It’s in the bourgeois interest to do this" when normal motivational techniques won’t work. Here, "Freedom and democracy" have become the new hono[u]r.

I think you’re using the word honor as a characterization of acts of altruism, and that’s perfectly justified. I question the use of the word itself because I’m a prick and enjoy doing things like this and seeing how people justify things. Have you ever read/heard Richard Dawkins write/speak? (Read him write .. yeah) He’s an evolutionary biologist, but I think he’s making a lot more money these days as being a huge atheist prick than anything else. He talks (I don’t have a quote handy and I don’t have anything of his in the vicinity) about how being polite and beneficial to those around you is, from a biological standpoint, a mutually beneficial act; the hope is that you’ll be remembered for your act and, when you’re in need, the initial receiver will reciprocate. He said that it’s a bit more unclear why we do as much with people we’ve met only once and likely never will again, but I take this as an extension of the previous point, being that it tends to be an unconscious thing.

Altruism in general I find to be a bit of a farce. I like the Dawkins argument for the purpose of it biologically, but that isn’t really altruism. In order for an act to be genuinely altruistic, it cannot benefit the self. The honor that guides the hand to mend the broken bone isn’t doing it as an act to benefit only the poor guy with a broken arm, but because they’re getting a paycheck. If it occurs in an emergency situation, then the mender has two choices (provided he has the knowledge of mending a bone); he can either ignore the pain of the other man, and likely accumulate a level of guilt do to his more or less intentionally causing harm, or he can aid him, and derive a certain element of satisfaction and likely well-being. Were he doing something purely "out of the goodness of his own heart," then he would either break even in the act or suffer a consequence with absolutely no benefit. I tend to prescribe to the notion that this is impossible.

No comments: