Amateur philosophy time, folks.
In a podcast called “The Art of Manliness,” sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe two basic types of worldviews as Honor Cultures and Dignity Cultures. They were outlining why “microaggressions” are such a dominant part of our nation’s colleges, but this part is what stuck with me.
Basically, a Dignity Culture reacts to offensive behavior (any actions that go outside social norms) with an attitude of “rising above” that deviant behavior.
It doesn’t matter what you do to me. You can’t hurt me, and I won’t lower myself to react. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
The idea is that the best reaction to harmful words or actions is simply no action whatsoever. A person’s worth is intrinsic, and cannot be given or taken away by anyone else. A man cannot earn worth, as it has been with him since his birth. It depends on the conscience of the offending person, who will hopefully become ashamed of their actions, and will hopefully stop doing them. A key factor is that everyone involved needs to live by this ideology. It appeals to the humanity of the offending party, and it works very well in modern, civilized parts of the world. There is no unending cycle of violence, and a lesson on being a better person is learned by all. Great examples of this can be found in the tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Gandhi, who practiced civil disobedience. Both men saw an injustice, and met it with non-violent means such as marching, or laying on train tracks in order to stop scheduled travel. They hoped that the humanity of their enemies would win over their hatred, and they won because their enemies had a conscience. They disagreed with Dr. King and Gandhi’s ideologies, but relented because the idea of killing them wasn’t (initially) something they wanted to entertain. They used Dignity Culture methods within another Dignity Culture.
An Honor Culture is quite the opposite. Whereas the Dignity Culture almost refuses to respond to intentional harm, the Honor Culture responds by escalating it. This is common in areas of the world where a perceived weakness can and will be exploited, usually with physical violence. Had Gandhi tried his methods in an honor culture, the results may have been quite different. To allow such a slap in the face would have made the honor culture seem weak.
If I don’t do something, everyone will know that I can be taken advantage of, and they will continue to do worse to me. I have to crush my enemies, because if I don’t, my tribe and I will die.
In Honor Cultures (common in less “developed” areas of the world), weakness is the ultimate sin. If you are weak, you could have all of your possessions taken. You could have your home destroyed and your women raped. You will probably die, unless you can show everyone that you are so violent that it is more beneficial for people to be your friends than your enemies. A man is not born with worth, he is given it by those around him. He has to earn that worth, and claiming honor without earning it is considered ridiculous and shameful. These cultures are commonly associated with the machismo societies, and are usually in places with lots and lots of violence. Examples include pretty much the entire Arab world, and even in the US military infantry. Essentially, if you can’t fight to protect what is yours, it will be taken from you.
Almost immediately after the attacks in Paris, a Parisian man wrote an open letter to ISIS denouncing the attack that killed his wife. In the letter, he assured ISIS that they will never receive his hatred, and that he will raise his children to live their lives in loving ways instead of hoping for revenge. Here’s where this letter comes into play. It is the “Dignity” reaction to an “Honor” culture, and while it is moral on a personal level, on a national or defensive level it accomplishes exactly nothing. The Parisian man is assuming that the ISIS terrorists will read his letter and hang their heads in shame for what they’ve allowed to happen. He is assuming that their ultimate goal is to get him to hate them and sink to their level.
They didn’t want his hate.
They wanted to kill his wife and terrorize a nation, and they accomplished their goal.
ISIS isn’t sitting in their caves, upset that they didn’t get this guy to hate them. “Oh no, he called me a ‘dead soul.’ Guess I’d better stop planning the death of the Great Satan.” They’re high-fiving that they killed over 100 people in Paris. His reaction of inaction may solve his moral problem, but it does nothing to staunch the prevalence of terrorism. While he is attempting to move on with his life, they are planning their next attack.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing that man. In a way I get it. These words are essentially the thoughts of a man who has no options. He can’t go fight ISIS, because he has children to raise and a home to hold together. It would be monstrous of me to criticize a man who lost his wife, when I can go home to mine every day. As an individual, he is a shining example of the words of Christ, when He said to “turn the other cheek.” He is putting together the shattered remnants of his family, and doing so without his wife and without hatred is admirable.
What happens when a nation desires to operate as “Dignity Cultures” in reaction to nations/organizations that operate in an “Honor Society?” If a country’s foreign policy is, “I refuse to sink to your level,” then they will have attacks like this continuously. Believe it or not, there are entire countries and people groups out there who want nothing more than the destruction of the West. You cannot combat an “Honor Culture” with a Dignity response. France’s response to this attack and the Charlie Hebdo shooting has thus far been ten airstrikes. Ten.
If a nation does not have clear lines drawn and consequences dictated, other nations will take advantage of that by testing them. If a nation does not respond aggressively, it may be taken to mean that other countries can do whatever they want with impunity. If the United States promises retaliation in response to attacks, but does nothing, the image of a strong, irresistible US gets shattered. If Turkey promises to shoot down Russian planes in their airspace, then does so after mere seconds over their borders, it may cause further problems down the road, but everyone in the world knows that Turkey will retaliate if provoked. They had clear lines, and when someone who knew of those lines crossed them, Turkey did exactly what they said they would do.
Don’t combat Honor with Dignity when you’re trying to protect your people, whether it’s your country or your nuclear family. It may be moral to turn the other cheek to a personal insult, but allowing your tribe to be attacked, sometimes in broad daylight and in full view of the press and police is not.
Something to think about.