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Hogarth judge

November 2018



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Hogarth judge

The real problem with guns

I think that ultimately, I'm uncomfortable with guns and the gun culture of the USA because I fear it could turn us into the kind of people Al Qaeda likes, and undermines civilization itself.

Historians contrast 'cultures of honor' with 'cultures of law'. 'Culture of honor' is one of those vaguely PC terms, and couching it in terms of 'honor' makes it even vaguer, but 'honor' in this context means something specific, and much more unpleasant than the word suggests. In this context, "honor" means a person's reputation for willingness and ability to inflict violent and disproportionate revenge for perceived slights. In a culture of honor, individuals and clans are ranked not only by wealth but also by reputation as dangerous enemies. Your personal safety is contingent on reputation: both your own, and your clan's, for being a badass. Anything that threatens reputation, or that makes you look weak, must be met with violence.

The "honor killings" you hear about from Middle Eastern countries are undertaken to defend the reputation of the clan: not being able to keep the females under control is a sign of weakness, and threatens the reputation of more than the individual. Elaborate codes such as the burqa and complicated ettiquettes arise in these situations to avoid giving even a whiff of offense, because the threat of violence is omnipresent.

In a culture of law, people do not take immediate revenge for perceived slights, and there is a formal social system for resolving disputes whose authority is generally respected. Cultures of honor tend to arise where law is simply unavailable, unreliable, or hostile. They arise naturally among nomadic herdsmen, such as you find in the mountains of Afghanistan or the Scottish border and highlands. There is no law they can appeal to if their herds are rustled away. The strong clans can and do raid each other's cattle, and low level warfare is commonplace. You can't police the areas without an army of your own, and once you organize as an army you're just another one of them.

They also arise naturally among aristocrats, to the extent that they believe themselves above the law. You also find them associated with gangsters and the criminal underclass. Like the herdsmen, their stashes and cash are easily stolen, and they can't look to the law for help. The perennial chip on the shoulder is diagnostic: they're not one of us.

In short, "culture of honor" is just PC talk for barbarism.

This is why the ideology of the gun culture strikes me as dangerous. It perpetuates attitudes I associate with criminals while maintaining its own sense of self-worthiness. The gun ideologues tell us that the police are too distant and the forces of organized society cannot help you. You must arm yourself to be ready to instantly retaliate against enemies. Guns are a key aspect of freedom, with a political dimension; not having one somehow dishonors and unmans you. So I must posture that I will fight to the death to keep them. I am always the first line of defense against my enemies.

This bullshit is corrosive to civilization. This is how the criminal underclass thinks. The only therapy that works on it is consistent and persistent humiliation.

I really don't have strong opinions about guns themselves. But we can't encourage more cultures of honor to take root in the United States. We have enough thugs as it is. To the extent that you internalize values consistent with a culture of honor, you are already a criminal. That's why the rhetoric of the "Second Amendment" gun nuts disturbs me immensely, and why I simply prefer to keep people like that several counties away from me.
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Gangsta rap never appealed to me musically. I was, of course, made curious by all the publicity it got for the violent and rebellious lyrics. That Sort of Thing will attract me; the best music always starts moral panics.

What I found was disappointment. The music that accompanied them was far less rousing than the alleged violence of the lyrics suggested, and I found it hard to make out a lot of the words anyways. I suppose this is just the white boy in me talking.

Still, the culture of honor is one of the basic patterns in the human behavioral repertoire. You don't have to look deep into American folk culture to find it. The Godfather movies, obviously. Just about every Western, many of which move on to depict the end of lawlessness as somehow tragic. A lone gunman taking on a corrupt system is one of the worst clichés in American cinema.

Even Mr. Whitebread Christmas Special, Kenny Rogers, has recorded two of the most repulsive songs ever written. Coward of the County is the lesser of these two. But Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town is a mini-masterpiece of sick-mindedness, with its tale of a crippled war veteran fantasizing about his wife's affairs, and wishing he could move so he could murder her. It's evil. I wish I had thought of it.