Wednesday, September 16, 2015

honor culture: the killer-ape solution for microaggressions on the deck of the Titanic...,


bloomberg |  We used to call this "rudeness," "slights" or "ignorant remarks." Mostly, people ignored them. The elevation of microaggressions into a social phenomenon with a specific name and increasingly public redress marks a dramatic social change, and two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, have a fascinating paper exploring what this shift looks like, and what it means. (Jonathan Haidt has provided a very useful CliffsNotes version.)

Western society, they argue, has shifted from an honor culture -- in which slights are taken very seriously, and avenged by the one slighted -- to a dignity culture, in which personal revenge is discouraged, and justice is outsourced to third parties, primarily the law. The law being a cumbersome beast, people in dignity cultures are encouraged to ignore slights, or negotiate them privately by talking with the offender, rather than seeking some more punitive sanction.

Honor cultures frequently developed a lot of rituals to constrain the violence which otherwise would have degenerated into a blood-soaked war of all-against-all. If you look at the Burr-Hamilton duel, you see a tremendously elaborate process for what is basically two men deciding to duke it out over a nasty remark at a dinner. The seconds, the formalities, the extended opportunities for apology, raise the cost of fighting, lower the cost of not doing so, and thereby mitigate the appalling violence to which honor cultures are prone. Unless victim culture can find similar stopping mechanisms, it will collapse into the bloodless version of the endless blood-feuds that made us seek alternatives to honor cultures in the first place.