Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Decline of Honor

Some historical background from the Art of Manliness.
In 1790, 95% of Americans lived in small, rural communities. By the 1990s, 3 out of 4 citizens made their home in urbanized areas. While in small towns everyone can keep track of the doings of their neighbors, in cities and suburbs relationships tend to be more impersonal and anonymous; any city dweller has experienced the sensation of being in a large group of people and yet feeling entirely alone. In large populations you can live out your whole life without anyone checking up on what you’re doing, much less judging your reputation as honorable or dishonorable.

In cities and smaller towns alike, civic participation and community-mindedness has fallen significantly since WWII. And while honor formerly centered on one’s clan, extended families no longer live close together and familial relations have constricted to the nuclear family alone, which itself is often split up.

As a result of these shifts, immoral, unethical, and cowardly behaviors are rarely known outside one’s immediate circle of family and friends. And even then, for reasons we’ll discuss below, they are more likely to shrug and say, “It’s none of my business,” or, “To each his own,” than to condemn and challenge the errant behavior.

The internet has only accelerated the shift towards impersonal and anonymous relationships. Traditional honor is designed to act as a check on people’s claims to merit and force them to stand behind and defend their insults; exaggerations of one’s deeds or shameful actions are called out and challenged by one’s associates. On the internet, however, people can claim to be a Navy SEAL or issue the basest of insults to another person without having to prove their claim, suffer consequences for their character, or allow the insulted person to defend themselves. They can be anyone and say anything, all while safely ensconced behind a screen. (Read entire post.)

Professor Anthony Esolen discusses the importance of finding the masculine genius. To quote:
 When a virtue falls by the wayside, when it is no longer a lived reality recognized by a community in its manifold forms, we recall only a scrap of it here or there, or we can only imagine a gaudy caricature of it.

That, I think, is the case now for both manhood and womanhood.

Many millions of boys in America, for instance, are growing up in homes without fathers, so they find "fathers" of their own on the streets or in the diseased and silly fantasies of mass entertainment, musclemen who can take down a city, or charismatic gang leaders who move caches of drugs and make exciting things happen.

They miss the more subtle fortitude of moral vision and farsighted self-sacrifice. Male heroes in popular literature for boys, 80 or 90 years ago, might be all right with a gun or a sword, but they might also be bespectacled dons like Mr. Chips whose discipline was a form of love.

I see manhood as the drive to lead -- to serve by leading, or to lead by following loyally the true leadership of one's father or priest or captain.

The man exercises charity by training himself to be self-reliant in ordinary things, not out of pride, but out of a sincere desire to free others up for their own duties, and to free himself for things that are not ordinary.

The man also must refuse -- this is a difficult form of self-sacrifice -- to allow his feelings to turn him from duty, including his duty to learn the truth and to follow it.

A man loves his own family, but he also loves his family by refusing to subject the entire civil order to the welfare of his family; he understands that if he performs his duty, other families besides his own will profit by it. (Read entire article.)
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