Dignity/adherence to an archaic honor culture

Chivalry is an ancient honor culture that promoted gender inequality.[1] Organized crime cultures allegedly promote violence, especially as an acceptable means to avenge a perceived insult. Street gangs may require violence, including murder, as a demonstration of courage or as an initiation rite. These and perhaps other honor cultures promote values that are contrary to human dignity. Whenever this conflict arises, such honor must yield to human dignity.

Honor often serves to maintain discipline and a structure of social power within certain honor cultures. Behavior codes—rules of how to behave to preserve or achieve honor—are to be obeyed. Insults that threaten honor must be responded to, perhaps by a slap, a duel, a feud, or some more violent action to avenge the affront and restore honor. Honor cultures often serve to define and sustain differences in social class. These are often gender based where the woman is tainted if she does not sustain her sexual purity, and a man is obliged to defend his and his family’s honor.

Archaic cultural scripts have been found to contribute to conditions where: 1) female infidelity damages a man’s reputation, particularly in honor cultures; 2) this reputation can be partially restored through the use of violence; and 3) women in honor cultures are expected to remain loyal in the face of jealousy-related violence.[2]

In contrast to honor—which must be earned and preserved so it is not lost—dignity is an intrinsic human quality obtained at birth that cannot be lost. Honor is socially and culturally specific and varies greatly, whereas dignity is universal. Honor prescribes specific behavior that must be followed, while dignity arises spontaneously, unless it is destroyed by extreme behavior. Honor implies social status, while dignity celebrates our equality and the good in all of us. Honor relies on fear, shame, and humiliation while dignity is fostered by empathy and compassion. Honor becomes a zero sum game, while dignity can grow without diminishing anyone. Within honor cultures altruism and generosity to others are interpreted as weaknesses. These benevolent actions only strengthen dignity. [3]

Note that use of the word “honor” means allegiance to some particular honor culture. Some honor cultures are modern, enlightened, compassionate and generous. Others are archaic and even barbaric. Therefore honor has at least two very different definitions. In addition to the widely shared definition of honor as virtue, a second meaning of honor has to do with honor as status, precedence, and reputation. In this second definition, honor is based on a person’s strength and power to enforce his will on others or to command differential treatment. Therefore honor itself cannot be judged as either good or bad; it depends on the relevant honor culture. Reject honor if it requires behavior that assaults human dignity.

Any honor culture that abridges human rights or challenges human dignity is illegitimate.


References edit

  1. Bowman, James (2007). Honor: A History. Encounter Books. pp. 382. ISBN 978-1594031984. 
  2. Vandello, Joseph A.; Dov Cohen (2003). Male Honor and Female Fidelity: Implicit Cultural Scripts That Perpetuate Domestic Violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. pp. 997-1010. 
  3. Kretzmer, David; Eckart Klein (2002). Concept of Human Dignity in Human Rights Discourse. pp. 231-262. ISBN 9041117830.  See: “Honor and Dignity Cultures: The case of Kavod and Kvod-ha-adam in Israel society and law” by Orit Kamir
  4. Authentic Humility