Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dueling: defending one's honor

While I was researching something or other a while back (I think it may have been this post about the causes of war), I came across a brief reference to dueling.

It struck me that dueling seems related to the whole shame/honor question, about which a great deal has been written lately, especially in connection with the Arab world (for example, see this by my good friend Dr. Sanity).

But in this country we have our own--quite different--version of shame/honor. A fascinating book by Fox Butterfield entitled All God's Children, which I read back when it first came out in 1996, deals with some of the more negative consequences of the shame/honor culture that the author feels permeates some areas of the American South.

Here's a good summary of Butterfield's thesis, taken from the first reader review at the Amazon link:

Butterfield argues that the white Southern mentality of easily aggrieved honor has made its way through time and the descendants of slaves, transmuted into the similar hair-trigger ethos of inner-city streets. The family he traces is from Edgefield, South Carolina. This was the home of Rep. Preston Brooks, who nearly beat abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner to death on the floor of the Senate. Butterfield shows that Southern society (of which Edgefield was an extreme example...measured "manhood" by the willingness to use violence in defense of one's "honor." "Honor" is defined as reputation, especially the reputation of being someone who cannot be insulted with impunity.

An emphasis on honor is one of those double-edged swords (an appropriate metaphor, given the topic of this post). Honor, of course, can lead to behavior that is--well, honorable--something any society would certainly want to encourage. But it can also lead to extreme sensitivity to slights to one's honor, or even to perceived slights, and a resultant readiness to use violence to undo or avenge them.

The idea of a duel is something I remembered vaguely from the movies and romantic novels of my youth, as well as from Pushkin, whom I read in college; I tended to look on it as a sort of quaint literary device. But seen in terms of the whole honor/shame culture scenario, it seems to be a dramatic historical example of how such a dynamic used to work in our own culture.

My concept of dueling was as follows: after the insult and the challenge, the two men went with their "seconds" to the forest, stood back to back, stepped a few paces away from each other, turned, and fired their revolvers. A process that seemed very stupid and very strange. But it turns out the whole thing was far more complex than that (isn't everything?), with styles and rules that make the NFL look simple.

Here's an example of one such code that governed dueling in America for a while. The entire undertaking seems to have been rigidly controlled, with various points along the way at which a person could bail through apology (although my guess is that such an apology was rarely, if ever, tendered).

Here are a few highlights:

Rule 16. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.

Rule 17. The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.

Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.

Rule 19. Firing may be regulated -- first by signal; secondly, by word of command; or thirdly, at pleasure -- as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited...

Rule 22. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.

Rule 23. If the cause of the meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground, and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses; in such cases, firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.

Wikipedia seems to be a font of knowledge on the general course of events that led to duels, and the way they were customarily conducted:

After the offense, whether real or imagined, the offended party would demand "satisfaction" from the offender, signalling this demand with an inescapably insulting gesture, such as hitting the offender in the face with a glove, or throwing the glove before him, hence the phrase "throwing down the gauntlet"...Both parties would name a trusted representative (a second) who would, between them, determine a suitable "field of honour", the chief criterion being isolation from interruptions. Duels traditionally took place at dawn, for this very reason. It was also the duty of each party's second to check that the weapons were equal and that the duel was fair.

At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be:

* at first blood, in which case the first man to bleed would lose;
* till one man was heavily wounded and unable to physically continue the duel;
* to the death, in which case there would be no satisfaction until the other party was mortally wounded;
* or, in the case of pistol duels, each party would agree to fire one shot each, after which the duel would be declared over.

...For a pistol duel, the parties would be placed back to back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. Typically, the graver the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon. Alternately, a pre-agreed length of ground would be measured out by the seconds and marked, often with swords stuck in the ground. At a given signal, often the dropping of a handkerchief, the principals could advance to the marker and fire at will. This latter system reduced the possibility of cheating, as neither principal had to trust the other not to turn too soon. Another system involved alternate shots being taken - the challenged firing first.

This short article mentions the role of the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel as being an important factor in the decline of dueling in America, and also that the practice lasted longest in the South (as one might expect, given its emphasis on honor).

And here we have a discussion of why dueling was so important to upperclass men of the time:

Duels were fought over anything and everything, from revenge for violent crime against a friend, family member or lover, to philosophical, religious or scientific disagreement. It wasn't just stupid young thugs who engaged in dueling, either. In the 1700's, the famous mathematician Galois left the world puzzled when, at the age of 21, he wrote in his notes an incredibly useful formula, with a note attached saying "The Proof is obvious. I shall write it out later", went off to fight a duel, and was killed. Nobody has been able to work out his 'obvious' proof, but the formula works, and forms a key part of a branch of modern mathematics.

So, why would a brilliant scholar go off to a fight he may very well die in, when the worst he would suffer for it by refusing is social ostracism? That is, in fact, the answer. If a nobleman will not defend his honour, then what is his word worth? He obviously doesn't value his own principles, for he will not defend them! Why, then, would anyone take his verbal guarantee on anything? Why would tradesmen do work for him without being paid up front, if he is not a man of his word? Why would anyone lend him money? Why would polite society tolerate him at all? How can judges rule in his favour when his word cannot be trusted? In a society where a person's word is taken as a commitment as binding as any court-order is today, demonstrating that your word is valueless is effectively social death.

A practice that appears irrational and wasteful and destructive--and no doubt is irrational and wasteful and destructive--is not without its purposes, if embedded in the proper context. A man's honor (and that of his womenfolk) was not a little thing, it was nearly everything; and losing it perhaps did seem something worse than death. So, why not risk death to defend it?

Just to make it clear: I'm not a fan of duels, nor am I advocating them (in blogging, I've learned to try to make everything crystal clear in an attempt to defend my own "honor" and head off various slings and arrows in the comments section, often to no avail).

In a sense, what is going on in the Arab world--the sense of desperate and outraged honor and the need to ward off and/or expunge feelings of shame--is not utterly foreign to our culture. Nor is the act of resorting to violence to do so. What's different--and it's very different, so different as to constitute a universe of difference--is the form such violence takes. Old-fashioned duelers would no more kill women and children than they would take an insult lying down; their honor did not allow such acts. The proper course of action was clear and prescribed, and it was specific to the person who had dealt the insult and he who received it.

In the Arab world where terrorists and jihadists are spawned, those inhibitions have been removed. The killing of anyone (women, children, and noncombatants included) who is part of a group identified as the source of insult and shame is not only allowed, but is encouraged by those "spiritual leaders" we've heard so much about. Honor is a double-edged sword, indeed.


At 5:21 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Bryan J Weitzel said...

Thomas Sowell's book Black Rednecks, White Liberals touches on the same idea and even refers to some of the same sources.

At 6:36 PM, March 18, 2006, Anonymous triticale said...

Typically, if one wanted to challenge someone to a duel over a perceived slight, it was done by the specific action of smiting him on the cheek. My inclination, admittedly without historic verification, is that this significance was intended in the Sermon on the Mount.

At 7:06 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

the thing that bothers me is that the MSM gives the Arabs a free pass on this type of thinking. They say: "Well, of course he had to become a suicide bomber, he was humilitaed."

Does it ever occur to them that humility is a virtue.

At 8:24 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

"Honor" is defined as reputation, especially the reputation of being someone who cannot be insulted with impunity.

Well, not exactly. In a traditional honor context, if s.o. calls you a liar, and you do not respond, then you are a liar. The whole idea of the duel is to invalidate the insult by hurting the person who delivered it. This is turn ties in with the idea of "defending one's good name" and it also ties into the idea of "trial by fire." It's also basically the idea that underscores lawsuits over libel, slander, etc. For this concept of European honor, I would recommend Schopenhauer's comments on that in "The Wisdom of Life" (very anti-duel, by the way, because he felt that to live an "other-directed" life dependent on others' opinions of you was a waste of time.)

"Honor" and "honorable" in the sense we use it today is something else. It means that we have internalized values, beliefs, or ethics that we would be ashamed of ourselves to betray, even if we are the only one who knows it. An "honorable" spouse, in our times, would honor the marriage vow and not cheat. In Hamilton's day, the only thing "dishonorable" about cheating was if someone accused you of it in public. Big difference.

"Death before Dishonor" as the Marine Corps uses it, is that it would be better to die than to betray the _reputation_ of the Marines Corps, which constitutes everyone who has ever served in that organization. That is what is meant by "esprit de corps" -- that you have subordinated your identity in the collective body of the institution. But here "honor" is about dominance-relationships, because you can't afford to allow an instance of cowardice or weakness and then be seen as cowardly or weak.

I don't think one needs to go into a convoluted argument about getting the idea from the Old South and then transplanting it to inner cities. It's a very basic principle that even little boys know: "You gonna take that? You gonna let him push you around?" It's a pecking order thing about male dominance and is largely absent when you crawl up the socio-economic ladder.

What I've seen of it in rough neighborhoods and in the service is the same. It's a matter of "respect", or not being considered "someone's bitch." And you are shunned, or constantly harrassed, if you don't defend your "good name". So, you get into a fight, it gets broken up, and you're done with it.

_That_ concept of honor is much more related to dominance than anything else: let's call it "dominance honor" as opposed to "name honor". For example, it's common in inner cities to get into insult games ("playing the dozens") that would be inconceivable to, say, Alexander Hamilton (both he and his son died in duels) or Aaron Burr.

What goes on in Muslim communities I think is more of "dominance honor". "The Sunnis blew up our mosque: are we going to take that from them?" The problem of this in a war context or a terrorism context is just exactly how do you identify the guy, the ONE GUY, who is responsible? You don't, so you strike out at who you can.

I don't think the US is free from such "dominance honor" thinking either, in terms of foreign policy. I can't count the times I've heard people say something like, "Well, at least we showed them you can't mess around with us," in the context of a bombing, or what have you.

At 9:15 PM, March 18, 2006, Anonymous Spirit of the South said...

Dueling made this country great. If it wasn't for Andrew Jackson...

At 9:30 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Senescent Wasp said...

David Hackett Fischer in Albion's Seed in the Chapter, Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants, 1642-75, attributes this "touchiness" and quick tempered concern for honor to the particular period in which the gentry of the colonial south emigrated from England. The behaviors were then frozen in the amber of the immigrant's view of the old country. This is an argument that holds water since he points out the same mechanism in the other three major settlement areas. So, while the Borderland Scots/English may have imported their culture of feuding the same behaviors died out in the old country as it changed.

BTW, many duels were avoided by "apology" in which friends of the two aggrieved parties worked out face saving formats that would preserve both life and honor. Our family association has a personal journal of an ancestor who "went out" twice in his life; in British Canada, a hot bed of the Code Duello in the early 19th Century. His first time was in his youth the second in his late twenties and married. After the second, he comments that his wife made his life a living hell until he promised to never do it again. This promise soon spread in his circle of society who, far from greeting it with derision, honored the fact even though his government position meant that he was to anger many more people. Honor required that a gentleman kept his promises.

At 9:53 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger flenser said...

James Bowman has written many insightful essays on honor. I especially recommend "Whatever Happened To Honor?"

The second thing that people nowadays find it hard to accept about honor is that it is fundamentally élitist. That is where it differs from public opinion. In a public opinion poll, everybody’s view is equal. But in conferring honor, as in earning it, all men are not equal. If I had to sum up the meaning of the word in a phrase, I should say that it is the good opinion of those who matter

At 10:18 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger chuck said...

I'm sorry to say that the quoted bit on Galois is pretty much BS, apart from the fact that he *was* killed in a duel. The author seems to have mixed up the story of Fermat's last theorem with the story of Galois as retold by E.T. Bell in Men of Mathematics. Bell's story telling was unreliable, and not only in the case of Galois. It's a shame, really, because the book is a great read, maybe *because* it is partly fiction. Anyway, E.T. Bell was a very strange man who hid his early life, rather like Patrick O'Brian did. As a sidelight, I can claim one degree of separation as a family friend got his Ph'D under Bell at Cal Tech.

There was a recent article laying out the facts of Galois' short life but I can't recall at the moment where it was published. Sorry.

At 10:47 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Chuck: That story did sound a little bit familiar, a la Fermat.

By the way, did you ever see this documentary on Wiles, the guy who solved Fermat's last Theorem? It was absolutely wonderful.

At 1:20 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger TmjUtah said...

"The whole idea of the duel is to invalidate the insult by hurting the person who delivered it."

Respectfully disagree.

It's a mechanism for resolving conflicts between peers with minimum disruption to the system they lived in. You stood on your word in society - whether you were the challenger or challenged. The protocol of "affairs of honor" was so broadly accepted (my opinion) by gentlemen because it remained one of the last marks of nobility in an increasingly egalitarian world.

Barbaric? It served a purpose: it kept posuers out of circle of power.

We have discarded the quiet morning appointment consisting of principals, seconds, doctor, and witnesses and replaced it with an entire industry of lawyers, courts, and legal paparazzi that can sustain a case beyond the memories (and sometimes lives) of the participants as to exactly what precipitated it and at a cost that would drain financial resources of most smaller countries to actually see a decision.

Before "I'll call my lawyer" became acceptable as a battle cry, there was "You have my word", which was backed by the person in front of you, and not a gaggle of three hundred - dollar - an - hour thugs.

At 1:27 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Before "I'll call my lawyer" became acceptable as a battle cry, there was "You have my word", which was backed by the person in front of you, and not a gaggle of three hundred - dollar - an - hour thugs.

That is when "Pick your weapons, sir, I challenge you" became "I'll sue you".

The problem of this in a war context or a terrorism context is just exactly how do you identify the guy, the ONE GUY, who is responsible?

They know exactly who blew up the Mosque, exactly who is aiding them, and exactly who Al Sadr sent to help stoke the fires. The Iraqis are just unwilling or incapable of executing their own criminals. And the Americans rely too much on the locals to do our own dirty work of court martials and tribunal executions.

It's ridiculously easy to identify the agent provacateurs. As seen in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and various other times and geographic places both before and after 9/11, in most cases you already know Osama or someone like him is your enemy. You just won't get rid of him until he has killed enough people, and he knows it.

BTW, many duels were avoided by "apology" in which friends of the two aggrieved parties worked out face saving formats that would preserve both life and honor.

In most cases, though I exclude the psychotic and the duel addicted ones, people go into duels because they feel justifiably angry over something. Men, unlike women, won't talk out their differences and do psycho babble like our feminized society does. They had their position back then and they were sticking to it. And most, regardless of intelligence, had not the WISDOM to realize how things looked from the other guy's perspective. Look at the letters written by Hamilton for example and the replies. They don't make any sense from our perspective, because they also didn't make any damn sense to the parties involved at the time. That is why they didn't render unto a resolution. There was no resolution without understanding, and without understanding over the difference, there cannot be an apology when both sides believe that they had done nothing wrong.

Duels are an effective tool for dealing with personal enemies, that the government is not responsible for removing. Duels are ineffective in keeping people alive. The variables are too multitudinous to determine how things might have been different without dueling or with dueling.

Duels are an inherently individual affair. So when you think of gangs, which are social heirarchies, dueling would actually dismantle a gang from the inside out. No collateral damage. The gang leader maintains power because he is the only one that can dispense social justice, retributin, and punitive punishments. Dueling takes the monopoly on power away from government and dictators, to give to individuals. Which is one of the reasons why it was favored in the South, with our extreme individuality. In the end, a gang war culture with dueling will have the leaders die off fast. The most aggressive thugs with the most singled minded greed, are singled out quite early in the process. Which makes them vulnerable to selective police action.

When you wonder about the 21 year old mathematician dieing in a duel. You have to realize that intelligence is 3 dimensional. There is education, problem solving and information analysis, and wisdom.

The older someone is, the less dueling becomes an effective solution to life's woes. Simply because the older someone is, the wiser he tends to become. Education and problem solving intelligence is not going to help someone decide a matter of life and death. It never has and it never will.

Dueling was one of the few protections against character assassination. As a society, America has chosen that character assassination and the possibility thereof is a necessary component of democracy and has therefore removed the few protecting barriers to psychological warfare on Americans. I suppose that we were hoping that long lives and the lack of the necessity to risk one's life would bring more balance and stability to government and the nation. It certainly did not bring more unity.

People shouldn't confuse basic human impulses that frames the context for dueling in one case with the basic human impulses that form the context for gang warfare and Islamic Jihad in another. Those are completely different subjects, and while the basic human impulses are always basic and uniform, the end subjects themselves are quite diverse and differentiated.

The facts are clear however. Civilizations frown upon dueling, which is why we no longer practice the form. They seek to monopolize the use of force for themselves. In the end, however, the problem is always that the enemy, both domestic and foreign, don't really care about your desires to monopolize force. Enemies are free to attack from the shadows to weaken American individuals and institutions. CAIR, for example, can weaken free speech because CAIR has the support of the ACLU and the government. Without dueling, the government has the monopoly on force and enforced resolution. What happens when the government is co-opted by the ACLU and CAIR? Then you have no option in defending yourself against your enemies. How does a citizenry defend themselves against individual acts of terrorism when the government has succeded in monopolizing the right to use force? They don't, in Europe. In America, we are still defended, if only psychologically, through the 2nd.

And that is the fundamental flaw in all civilizations and the argument against dispersing the ability to use force. It will make for a more peaceful and harmonious society, that is true. But beware that f you want to remove individual uses of force and replace it with government, then you'd better make sure the "government" does their job. The same with the 2nd Ammendment. When you consolidate all power unto yourself, you also consolidate all responsibility and authority unto yourself. So all the blame goes to you, regardless of the source. It is one of the problems the United States is facing post-Cold War. We find ourselves with all the power, but not prepared to use our power or to take responsibility or authority even for our status. We keep acting as if this was still a Cold War, where all our actions must be funneled through a "proxy host nation" in order to avoid catastrophic nuclear annihilation.

It is a simple analogy. If you want to be free from disease, simply have a small community and isolate them for 5000 years. They will be disease free, I promise. The only problem is, if some foreign enemy comes along and infects you with a plague that has been mutating for 5,000 years, you might just get wiped out. America has been in the progress of becoming more and more democratic, and less and less of an elitist republic. Although elitism has never disappeared, and will never disappear.

In a society that believes that every voice should have a say, regardless of the coarseness and hypocrisy (Islamic Jihad, traitors, KKK, Robert Byrd, etc), personal honor takes on an entirely different meaning than it did in the 18th century. The infantry always seem to have this line if you ask them about anti-war protestors. It is most generally, that they are fighting so that everyone has the right to free speech, regardless of whether they have earned it or even contributed anything to those who have. As was mentioned here before, honor is something that is earned but our society is based upon protecting people because they are people, not because they have earned anything. Sounds like Social Security, anyone? Now as opposed to before, personal honor in the military is about doing what is right, a duty to one's oaths and loyalties, in protecting the weak and fighting the oppressors. The component of honor, having anything to do with reputation or how others see you, is almost completely gone from the modern sense. Because literally, you cannot achieve honor by gaining the praise of those who are dishonorable. Honor as an objective criteria has only been accomplished recently in the United States. As you can see with the "honor killings" in Europe, the phrase is still somewhat modifiable to the rest of the world based upon what people feel. Among the various different honor codes, what is still a constant is the fact that if a man's word can be trusted, then he is honorable. Regardless of the culture that had bred him.

Decadence comes with a price that is just as high, if not higher, than the cost of individual dueling. Don't lose sight of that fact.

At 1:46 AM, March 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a bit tangential.
In our society we have invalidated almost every means of self-help. As stated in the Powerline article “There shouldn’t be a law”, “there is hardly any middle ground between passive acceptance of antisocial behavior and a felony prosecution”. I would add civil prosecution into that mix.

In our society where rudeness is rewarded, I cannot stop someone from being a jackass or being abusive towards me or my family/friends. I can only passively accept the abuse, sue for money, or hope the police intervene. I have either no remedy or a Draconian remedy.

Back in the 50s you pulled some of the crap that is lauded as “civil protest” and you got punched. Now a day you punch someone for heckling, spiting on you, etc. you get arrested and sued. The heckler, who initiated the confrontation, is viewed as a victim and gets rewarded (both physiologically and monetarily).

As Robert E. Howard said, “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

I am not suggesting that people have their skulls split open or that we go around punching everyone like Mongo in Blazing Saddles. But, there should be a middle ground between ignoring rude behaviour and making it a legal matter. We have taken that middle ground out of our society and we are the worse off for it.

At 3:21 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger J. Peden said...

Nice rant, anonymous 1:46, and I agree. Things are brewing.

At 4:03 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

"It's a pecking order thing about male dominance and is largely absent when you crawl up the socio-economic ladder."

You're kidding, right?

At 8:23 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Berezina said...

I enjoyed the post until the penultimate paragraph. Is dueling really the best comparison to jihadi terror? Wouldn't the Inquisition be more apt? Or turn back the clock a decade and you'll find ecumenical atrocities in the Balkans.

Another point: Western culture has outlawed dueling. The ability to criticize one's traditions and improve over time is a thing the Muslim world desperately needs. Calling dueling a part of our culture is misleading: it's in our past, but we have changed.

At 10:10 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger David said...

I read somewhere about an incident that occurred in the Confederate War Office. It went something like this (quoting from memory):

Official A: Can you tell me where Major Smith is?
Official B: Find him yourself.
Official A: I think you are being very rude.
Official B: Well, I think it was rude of *you* to question me as if I were a clerk or a doorman.

(Someone had to intervene to prevent a duel)

Imagine trying to conduct business, much less military operations, in such a prickly environment. Yet it seems to me that we are in danger of re-creating such an environment thru the insane levels of "self-esteem building" as practiced in our public schools.

At 10:53 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Baronger said...

I'm surprised given our litigious society, we didn't just end up with small claims courst for honour. Both agreived parties go before an agreed tribunal, who decides who is the dishonorable person.

Duels were often said to keep society more civil. Perhaps we need something analagous today.

At 11:37 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

to Berezina: of course duels are not the best comparison to jihadi terror. Really, the only similarity is a connection to honor and expunging slurs on that honor through violence.

I wrote: "What's different--and it's very different, so different as to constitute a universe of difference--is the form such violence takes." A universe of difference doesn't indicate a "best comparison" situation.

To baronger: I shortened the post from my original concept, which included a discussion of Inuit song duels. I probably will write a post about that some day; it's a little bit like a small claims court for honor.

At 1:33 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

The search for honor and avoidance of shame -- however defined -- are Darwinian and will out. When the CSA was shamed by defeat in battle, the gentleman's code gave way to the terrorist code of the Clan:

"To maintain their honor and sacred heritage"

At 2:53 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

"It's a pecking order thing about male dominance and is largely absent when you crawl up the socio-economic ladder."

You're kidding, right?

You know, the second I wrote that sentence I knew I'd get that response. But I mean it in the sense of getting physical. In the lower social levels where I grew up and served in the armed forces, you talk too much, you get called out. In the higher levels where I went to school and later worked, things rarely get physical. In fact, it's at that level where "I'll sue you!" "I'll call my lawyer" are the common rejoinders for a push or shove. Someone in my neighborhood, however, would consider that total foolishness; they understand that people get hot and it will blow over.

I note that the common perception is that dominance that gets physical in the hoods is more 'honest' since dominance wars in the higher strata are, well, let's say less open.

When I was a kid I lived in mostly a minority hood, I was hassled and so forth but after a couple physical confrontations where I didn't back down, I was allowed to go where I wanted, and do what I wanted to do. Thing was, people didn't have knives or guns, just fists. Now, too many guns. And that's the problem in the inner city, I think.

At 6:00 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The gang bangers couldn't fire a gun correctly if Osama was shooting at them with an AK 47.

It takes an escalation of lethality and violence that most civilians are unwilling to do, to defend against thugs with guns. At a lower level of escalation, looking someone in the eye and not being intimidated may be adequate for deterence, but not at higher levels.

At 6:01 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Imagine trying to conduct business, much less military operations, in such a prickly environment.

The British Navy actually had a rule about that. You couldn't challenge your superior officer. It would have been a nice promotion opportunity otherwise.

At 11:26 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

senescent wasp, I am so envious that you got in first with the David Hacket Fischer connection. Exactly what I was thinking when I read the post. There is a site called Albion's Seedlings, BTW, that takes its title from DHF, and discusses Anglosphere issues in detail. Excellent.

steve and bezuhov -- I would add that as one moves into a less physically violent culture, it is also more possible to choose how much of the posturing and defending of self one wants to put up with. You can go into a field or a power-competitive culture and have endless struggles if you wish. But you can choose alternative ways of living your life. The conflict comes when what you really want to do for work or fun carries with it more nastiness than you want to put up with.

Where I currently work I neither have to defend myself from people trying to push me to a lower status nor have much interest in gaining a higher one. That wasn't true ten years ago.

Huh. my sign-in letters are womgyne.

At 12:23 AM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Berezina said...

You say "what is going on in the Arab not utterly foreign to our culture". I agree. Innocent men and women have sometimes been murdered in the West.

Then you say "What's different--and it's very different, so different as to constitute a universe of difference--is the form such violence takes. Old-fashioned duelers would no more kill women and children". Thus, you use the difference between jihadi violence and dueling as an exemplar of the difference between the Arab world and the West. It is not the proper example, as you now - sort of - admit.

At 3:10 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

Dueling had it's virtues.
The rules were of vital import- they kept those outside of the aggrieved parties out of personal issues, unlike tribal honor systems which create chain reactions of violence. The gang violence issues, and for that matter the Hatfield/McCoys type feuds are a reversion from the civilizing rules of dueling. It's akin to how people today often cringe at the notion of 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth', but the purpose of those rules was to prevent what were commonly much more severe punishments, particularly for the underclass if they offended upperclass people. The complexity of the rules fpr dueling also made it difficult to kill someone over a minor offense, and gave many opportunities for the parties involved to find a way out. Pistols were a popular choice, because at twenty paces (ten each side) just try to hit a man sized target with an old 18th or 19th century pistol, even if your were fairly accquainted with the weapon.

Ultimately, this ties in with the reason that I often dislike Ymarks suggestions- the rules of war (and of dueling) are civilizing forces, which we should be VERY careful to erode. Now, I'm not an absolutist, but one must have a desire to adhere to rules of conflict. If you abandon them, civilization is already lost.

My word verification is: ouopigyh

At 5:37 AM, March 20, 2006, Blogger jw said...

Dueling was a matter of men in the upper middle class and aristocracy, (the lower class men used fist fights and the women used insult-wars, which were similar to today's internet flame wars). Honor was personal.

Today, honor is by group as well as by individual. Our world has long had a problem with grouping, "they are not like us." In the past that was a local problem. Today, grouping is a major international problem.

Add in using group honor instead of individual honor and things get worse. Add in religious or para-religious leaders inflaming the various groups and we have the current highly unstable system.

The Moslem world is only one case of the problem. A case made worse by the type of honor seen in that culture and the problems of the Moslem spiritual leaders.

I'd say the entire world is becoming less stable and more likely to move into world war. The reason for that being that people are increasingly moving into groups which do not listen to the other groups; plus, group leaders who inflame the matters which apply to the various local groups. The world is balkanizing.

Current group honor is a matter of all groups battling all others using any means possible, given their local government. The local government in the Moslem world allows more group violence (for a great many reasons). This shows the problem there better than it is seen here in North America. Yet, the same problems exist here.

At 1:01 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It is not the proper example, as you now - sort of - admit.

You see that as an admittance of fault or past mistakes. I see it as Neo simply providing information in addition to her views, which are both necessary and central to her original thesis and topic. Which, through linguistic analysis, is Dueling and Defending Honor. Those two meta-topics, produce spin-off examples such as Islamic extremism. Because the logic hub simply functions that way. One lone axiom produces branch offs that are not meant and will never be, the exact same as the original logical axiom in the hub.

In the scientific fashion, the observer should not contaminate the data with his own preconceptions and beliefs. They should be as impartial as possible. If the scientist is not impartial, they will mistake their own personal beliefs for the data they are observing.

This applies to any human, regardless of sect, personality, or political spectrum.

I don't speak for Neo, but my view is that she didn't use it as an example in the sense that you, Berezina, is using it as.

Neo doesn't "compare" things in the manner most people compare them. Rather, it looks to me like a stream of consciousness effect. Unto which various different lines of thought proceed logically from one central hub thesis. Branching off into various other territories in space-time.

Sometimes they will encounter things that look similar, but then the recognition will fade and more details produced as the logic branches produce ever finer distinctions.

Innocent men and women have sometimes been murdered in the West.

Vari wrote about that time in our history.


Pistols were a popular choice, because at twenty paces (ten each side) just try to hit a man sized target with an old 18th or 19th century pistol, even if your were fairly accquainted with the weapon.

One of the reasons they did it at the crack of dawn. Hard to see. They also sometimes chose freaking foggy days and stood in shadowry spots.

I did not in fact suggest that you should remove the rules of law. I stated that the consequences to law, in the end, becomes just as chaotic in the end as chaos unrestricted.

That the price, is only different in the speed of reaction and not the power of the magnitude.

Specifically, the question isn't whether you should erode the rules of war and civilization. But rather, how are you going to enforce them when nobody wants to abide by them?

Keep things stagnant and you know what happens.

At 5:31 PM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Jim said...

"Imagine trying to conduct business, much less military operations, in such a prickly environment. "

This confuses you only if you have a worldview in which everyone is eqaul. That isn't the case in military settings, for utilitarian reasons. This very minute if you stride into someone'sheadquarters and bleat out a question like that, you had better be very careful not to do it to an equal or somoen senior to you. It makes you look like an idiot if tou do it.

The point about dueling being elitist is bang on. The areliest mention of it is in (pagan) Iriash literature (recorded by Christian Irish monks) Warrior/nobles would come to blows over anything that reflected on thier position in the kingdom and society. Banquets, where the "hero's portion" indicated who was top gun, were the favorite venue for this kind of thing. There was generally room in fromnt of the main table for the show.

Hurting non-comabatnts - thisapplied only to nobility and academics. Harming a lady was inexcusable, an unrecoverable breach of honor, but if you happened to kill a female peasant, that was more like a property offense, if anything. BTW, peasants were valuable ebnopught hat it made no sense to kill them if you could avoid it, and that is why European customs spares civilians in warfare as much as possile.

One more thing about elitism - there was a German custom, and somethng simialr applied in Celtic societies - you could not just challenge anyone you liked, as if everyone were all equal. You had to be "Gefechtfaehig" and that meant on the same social level.

Final note on rules of warfare. There are two fundamentally incompatible systems. One is the traditional European system of chivalry, that descends in a straight line form pagan Celtic society. It works like a sport, because at bottom that's what it was. George Custer was a fine example of this system. It statred dying in the West in WWII. The other is the the winning-is-everything school Sun Zi lays out. They have almost nothing in common. When these systems collide, guess which one survives.

At 11:18 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

BTW, peasants were valuable ebnopught hat it made no sense to kill them if you could avoid it, and that is why European customs spares civilians in warfare as much as possile.

Actually, European customs spare civilians because if they didn't, wars would wipe out European civilization and both side's population, allowing some other prince to come in and take everything over.

Not because peasants were valuable.

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