- / -
Varieties of honourTwo forms of "honour": Beyond honouring power and tolerating difference
Honour in practice
Institutionalization of honour
Honour cultures, systems and codes
Distortions of honour
Honour and credibility: "without honour"
In a society that is critically challenged by "truth" in every field, it is possible that "honour" transcends truth in its significance for social coherence. It may have a superordinate role. This may have always been the case, which would explain the extent to which its trappings have become a focus of attention. It could be argued that, in a period of increasing social turbulence marked by crises of law and order, that the role of honour will come to be seen as even more vital and fundamental. Whereas its role at the highest levels of society may be increasingly called into question, the recognition of its role in some form amongst the most disadvantaged, and even amongst street gangs, is of striking significance.
The challenge for society is that strategic decisions, if made by any leadership, are now made without honour -- or are quite incapable of being proved to have been made honourably. This is the case despite the honourable trappings that may accompany such decisions: ceremonies, treaty signatures, etc. Those at the highest level may even be subject to indictment, impeachment or be justifiably accused of lying to, or deliberately misleading, those they represent.
Maybe honour is of greater significance in providing coherence to social initiatives than rationality. This is the case in heroic action to save life (such as by emergency services), in terrorist suicide missions. In contrast to many qualities, honour is readily recognized across cultures and languages. The unusual lack of confusion or ambiguity in this regard suggests that it may be associated with a more fundamental and universal understanding.
There is now far greater capacity to present and declare anything to be honourable -- as an act of public relations -- than to recognize something that is. Curiously dictatorships are strongly focused on the trappings of honour as a means of shoring up legitimacy for their regimes. In this sense the perceptions triggered by the rituals of honouring provide a form of keystone.
Honour might be considered to be inherently dissociated from the preoccupations of most disciplines and from their practice. By extension, honour might therefore be considered as distant from any form of interdisciplinarity. This assumption is challenged in what follows. It is argued here that, on the contrary, honour is central to effective interdisciplinarity, if only because of its cognitive implications. A sense of honour and acting honourably conditions practice of a discipline -- as is often most explicitly articulated in relation to the martial arts -- but notably in the light of widespread preoccupation with "academic integrity". Failure to imbue the practice of any discipline with honour can then be understood as putting the effectiveness of that practice at significant risk. The question is whether what is understood as honour does indeed have some form of superordinate cognitive role in interdisciplinary practice.
It would of course be an exaggeration to assert that all leadership today is in some ways dishonourable. It is however fair to assert that those leaders who remain honourable are, through their undeclared knowledge of the behavior of their less honourable colleagues, tainted in some measure by their complicity in that dishonour.
Honour as a fundamental existential experience: Basic to this question is the distinction between the honours accorded to others in various tangible forms and the honour felt to be due to someone. The one is expressed through forms and the other is fundamentally experiential. The two may of course be related, and ideally the forms may be experienced as appropriately reflecting the inner judgement. The emphasis may of course be placed on the forms with little concern for their experiential significance. Some dimensions of the existential understanding of honour may include:
Just as dishonour may destroy an individual, honour may be the key to the rise and decline of collective identity (civilization, team, etc). In reflecting on collective honour, such dimensions raise questions as to whether (in the eyes of the past, the future, or extraterrestrials):
Honour and integrity: There is a natural assumption that integrity tends to be honoured -- in some measure and possibly only after a lifetime of being progressively appreciated by others. Such appreciation may however be broad in scope, encompassing:
There is a curious symmetry to be explored in the relationship between honour and integrity -- as notably held by gender symbolism, celibacy and the dishonour associated with adultery or rape:
Honouring exemplars: Honour is typically accorded to those who exhibit exemplary behaviour to the point of being recognized as role models for the future. These may include:
Varieties of honour
Honour in practice
Institutionalization of honour
Honour cultures, systems and codes
Distortions of honour
Honour and credibility: "without honour"
In reviewing the variants in the Annex, a major distinction can usefully be made between:
The two may be further characterized by analogy with two distinct crystal forms:
The distinction between internal and external forms of honour is well made in the words of Steven Dutch (The World's Most Toxic Value System, 2001):
One meaning denotes a set of largely internal attributes: trustworthiness, loyalty, courage and truthfulness. The other denotes an externality, as in the expressions "graduation with honors" or "honorary degree." The dual usage arises from the notion that honor given externally by others should arise from behavior that exemplifies the internal kind of honor. Thus, Winston Churchill was given honorary U. S. citizenship (honor in the external sense) because his leadership during World War II exemplified honor in the internal sense. It is perfectly possible, and all too common, to be vilified externally for pursing internal honor. It is also possible to achieve honor in the external sense without having the internal variety, in some cases through deliberate deception. The student who graduates "with honors" by cheating on exams is the perfect example.
One or other form of honour may be emphasized to the seeming exclusion of the other. For example:
Honour consists in living up to the expectations of a group expectations of a group -- in particular, in keeping faith, observing promises, and keeping faith, observing promises, and telling truth. Honour requires a social context in which individuals can bind themselves….. ..” (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The distinction is particularly evident in the case of expressions of power to which people may be obliged to be attentive in order to thrive, or even to survive, in a given social context. Honouring processes in response to the powerful may then be necessarily contrived or difficult to distinguish as genuinely felt or meant. Symbols of power, such as weapons, may be acquired to elicit such power-determined response -- especially in cultures that value machismo.
In complex societies power may take a variety of forms that may well be incommensurable -- for example the power of the priesthood in contrast with that of the military, or that of business. The various forms of power may then have to be duly honoured -- as representing different domains -- in a sustainable system of governance.
The matter becomes more complex when difference is not perceptibly associated with power, and may well be understood as some form of weakness or impotence. The traditional male view of females may be framed in this way. At best difference may then be tolerated or exploited without being genuinely valued. This may be evident where disciplinary "pecking orders" prevail in academia, or where religious faiths are viewed as variously distant from a particular doctrinal truth -- to the point where some are framed as "unbelievers". It is particularly obvious in understandings of racial "purity", to the point of distinguishing degrees of progressively "impure" coloration. Such distinctions may be embodied in caste systems, for example.
The challenge is to create a framework of understanding that honours difference as a celebration of requisite variety in the subtler dynamics of a complex system. The most illustrative analogy is that of the environment in which species of great variety, and extremely unequal power, coexist and are necessary to each other's survival. Systemically their relationship may only be apparent as weak, and easily ignored, signals. The extent to which the varieties of human beings (or their belief systems, sets of values, or disciplines) are to be understood -- and honoured -- as co-equal in ensuring the viability of the human race remains to be understood. Again this is not a question of simply tolerating difference but of appreciating and honouring its function.
In an uncompleted book by Paul Feyerabend (Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being, 1999), he specifically aims to show how "specialists and common people reduce the abundance that surrounds and confuses them". He is concerned with the challenge of incommensurability and the puzzle of how scientists immersed in incommensurable paradigms can even communicate -- and thus find themselves locked in abstractions and absorbed in self-generated problems. He therefore focuses on the irremediable ambiguity of discourse. He uses a passionate speech about honour by Achilles in the Illiad that stuns his audience. Feyerabend notes that scholars have seen this as the historical point of rupture in the meaning or concept of honour. In his review, Bas C van Fraassen (The Sham Victory of Abstraction, 23 June 2000) argues:
We distinguish between someone being genuinely honourable in character and someone honoured in society for his character and actions. The claim is that there had been no such separation in the Homeric world. When Achilles claims that "now equal honour goes to the virtuous and the worthless", the messengers hear something that literally makes no sense to them at all.
For van Fraassen, to explain why later readers of this epic find this comprehensible:
Feyerabend answers, in effect, that from the posterior vantage point we can see the ambiguities and conflations that were already there (in some way hidden) in the prior discourse, and became entangled throught that emotional crisis. For in the prior conception there were already, for example, links between honour and how the gods see the actions, which are distinct from how the surrounding humans see them. In addition Achilles sees other examples where in his own view actions which should have been honoured and were not, as well as worthless actions that received honours. These examples can then serve to break apart what was conceived as indissolubly linked in meaning.
Discussed in Annex 2
The relationship between titles and honour is fruitfully explored through the study of games by James Carse (Finite and Infinite Games, 1986) [ review | review | review | review | review ]. He distinguishes between "finite games" that are played for the purpose of winning and "infinite games" played for the purpose of continuing the play.
This distinction might be usefully related to that between the two forms of honour identified above, namely internalized and externalized. In that sense the distinction could be related to games as follows:
"Finite games": Titles as honourable outcomes of game-playing: Carse argues that what one wins in a finite game is a title, whose effectiveness depends on its visibility. He makes the following relevant points:
"Infinite games": Honour as authenticity in contrast to the honourability of "honours": Carse effectively distinguishes between those invisible characteristics of honour that are better understood as deriving from sensing the strength of an infinite player -- in contrast with the visible "honours" and titles deriving from skill in finite games to acquire power.
The sense of "authenticity" (integrity, etc) in its various connotations perhaps best describes the dramatic understanding of honour. This is notably sensed in the contrast between:
Such authenticity is recognized in phrases like "walking your talk", or through the "word of honour" implicit in handshake agreements.
Theory as paradoxical provocation: Carse explicitly recognizes the role of paradox in infinite play, and Plato's role as a poetry-maker (a poietes) engaged in infinite play in the invention of his Republic (effectively based on finite games). It is therefore important to avoid the playful trap implicit in Carse's own articulation (above) -- in the light of the points he makes about Plato:
Since all veiling is self-veiling, we cannot help but think that behind the rational metaphysician, philosophy's great Master Player [of finite games], stood Plato the poet, fully aware that the entire opus was an act of [infinite] play, an invitation to readers not to reproduce the truth but to take his inventions into their own play, establishing the continuity of his art by changing it. (ch. 49)
Whilst many strategic considerations relating to social development effectively ensure that those involved are appropriately titled and honoured, there is almost no concern with the honour sensed in relation to authenticity and integrity -- whether by players in the game of social development or its audience.
As Carse points out: "finite players acquire titles from winning their games, we must say of infinite players that they have nothing but their names.... Titles are given at the end of play, names at the beginning". With the focus on the titles of those involved "the attention is on a completed past, on a game already concluded" which "effectively takes a person out of play". Paradoxically, to the extent that the untitled are considered "nameless" -- the "nameless multitudes" that are the preoccupation of development -- all such untitled have is their name. This is not the case with the "the nameless ones" of Argentine who disappeared when the military junta took over in 1976, as noted by David Bryant (Anonymity is the road to nothingness, The Guardian, 16 April 2005):.
Depersonalisation is an insidious evil and it permeates society. Deprive people of their names and they become dispensable, third-rate citizens, fodder for a computer statistic. Stalin was a dab hand at this.... Victims in the Iraq war are daily "dampened down" and categorised as collateral damage. Give them personality, shape, name and a reference point in society and in conscience you couldn't bomb them....
An invidious and disintegrating factor lies behind all this. As we categorise and exclude individuals from society's heart, so it becomes progressively more polarised and bigoted. In this depersonalised climate gang warfare, football rioting, street muggings, shop lifting and domestic violence thrive like rank weeds....
A name is life-giving. It is the summation of your psyche. It embodies all that you are. It gives you a sense of "is-ness". What's more it places you fairly and squarely in the quantum universe. Your name shouts out loud and strong that you are an invaluable and integral part of the sum of things. It roots you cosmologically and relates you to the society in which you move.... And none of us want to go down to the grave nameless.
This suggests that a fundamental trap in the current institutionalization of social change processes and development programmes -- and "making the world free for democracy" -- is that they are intimately bound up in, and defined by, finite games. This is recognized in the frustration felt by change agents with the extent of "game-playing" to which they are exposed, whether in the bureaucracies they have to deal with or in unfruitful relations with their peers. In Carse's terms, this "theatre" is in contrast with the "drama" of reality for the nameless (which the media may portray) and the challenge of embodying them into development as an infinite game -- "a vision of life as play and possibility" (Carses's subtitle).
Reminiscent of the emerging style of "open source" software development, the potential challenge of sustainable development, understood as an infinite game, might then be reframed in Carse's words as :
When a person is known only by name, the attention of others is on an open future. We simply cannot know what to expect. Whenever we address each other by name we ignore all scripts, and open the possibility that our relationship will become deeply reciprocal. That I cannot now predict your future is exactly what makes mine unpredictable. Our futures enter into each other. We prepare each other for surprise. (ch. 25)
This poses a real change for "participatory democracy" as currently conceived, where it becomes mathematically impossible for elected representatives to interact with the nameless multitudes they represent -- other than impersonally (through communications euphemistically described as "personalized"). It is very hard to have a real dialogue with someone with a title. (cf Practicalities of Participatory Democracy with International Institutions: Attitudinal, Quantitative and Qualitative Challenges, 2003).
Elected representatives, like other honourable bearers of titles, can be usefully distinguished as members of the Nomenklatura of modern society. The term was used to describe the elite of the USSR -- deriving from the Latin nomenclatura, meaning a list of names, understood here to be of a necessarily exclusive nature. It provides a useful contrast to the untitled "nameless multitudes". It is of course much easier to transform the nameless into the kinds of depersonalized, dehumanized units that can be allowed to starve or be subject to ethnic cleansing.
A title may be understood as a kind of one-stop "instant explanation" -- a form of conceptual shortcut for busy people. It bypasses any need to recognize the complexity from which the title has emerged -- or to comprehend the discipline which enabled that emergence. The endorsement of a celebrity avoids the need for further reflection or due process in policy making -- as with Jamie Oliver's endorsement of improved school meals (Gaby Hinsliff. Blair acts on Jamie's plan for schools. Guardian, 20 March 2005). UNICEF, for example, has a programme of International Goodwill Ambassadors; UNESCO also has Goodwill Ambassadors. Endorsements by Nobel Laureates may similarly be sought to advance intellectual and other agendas -- again bypassing considered debate.
Naming in this context is of course related to the process of nomination -- of being proposed as a candidate for a titled position. Of related interest is the notion of denomination. This is conventionally used in distinguishing both religious denominations within a faith [more more] and.monetary currencies -- by implication as part of a larger (unnamed) set. Disciplines might also be fruitfully understood as "denominations". [A "non-denominational" religious group (usually Christian) is one which does not necessarily align its mission and teachings to an established denomination. Some religious bodies consciously reject the idea of a denominational structure as a matter of doctrine. Theological denominationalism ultimately denies reality to any apparent doctrinal differences among the "denominations", reducing all differences to mere matters de nomina --"of names".]
From the perspective of finite game-playing and its pursuit of titles, sustainable development may be understood as conceived in terms of "entitlements" -- whether entitlement to the benefits of "development" (goods and services) or to the benefits of "environment" (quality of life). It becomes the sustainable development of entitlements. Such entitlements may then be intimately related to the property associated with acquired titles, whether real estate, "goods and chattels", or intellectual property. In effect it is the titled who are the "winners" in the finite game of life, with the nameless being framed as "losers" and "nobodies". It is understandably easy to set aside moral scruples regarding the collateral damage associated with their elimination of nameless "units" in warfare (carpet bombing, weapons of mass destruiction, etc) or through ethnic cleansing procedures (gas chambers, etc). Cynically it might be said that "nobodies" have been categorized as those whose bodies are scheduled to be preferentially eliminated!
From the perspective of infinite game-playing, there is a counterintuitive dimension to undertaking sustainable development understood in this way:
Infinite play is inherently paradoxical, just as finite play is inherently contradictory. Because it is the purpose of infinite players to continue the play, they do not play for themselves. The contradiction of finite play is that the players desire to bring play to an end for themselves. The paradox of infinite play is that the players desire to continue the play in others. The paradox is precisely that they play only when others go on with the game. (ch. 24)
Effectively Carse pleads for recognition of the culture that enables infinite play, arguing that:
"Ennobling" the Nameless as infinite players: The response of the Nameless to the East Asian tsunami of 2004 provided a major surprise to the Nomenklatura of the world. Whereas the latter were prepared to add the area to other zones of minimimalistic response like Dafur, the level of donations and initiatives by the Nameless forced the Nomenklatura to engage in a much higher level of promissory response to match the level of participatory engagement of their populations. However even the UN Secretary-General was forced to recognize that such official pledges were as often fulfilled as not.
Interdisciplinarity: Whilst honour may indeed play a fundamental role within a discipline, the question is what role it might play between disciplines in an interdisciplinary mode. Is there any honour operative between the disciplines -- beyond "academic integrity"?
A first answer might be sought in the evidence regarding the operation of academic "common rooms", notably as explored by Owen Barfield (Worlds Apart, 1971) in the light of the ideal Platonic symposium -- and caricatured by Arthur Koestler (The Call-Girls: a tragi-comedy with prologue and epilogue, 1972) with a theme taken up by Irving Hexham (On Christianity and Call-Girls, 1996). It could be argued that at best there is some tolerance, by those perceived as highest in the disciplinary "pecking order", of disciplines lowest in that order. The latter are however definitely not to be taken seriously by the former. Exceptions may occur through integrative bridging centres such as the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) founded at MIT by Gyorgy Kepes. The widespread acknowledgement of phenomena such as academic "back stabbing" points to a problematic relationship to honour.
It would appear that honour amongst disciplines in that context is more closely related to administrative matters, notably associated with tenure politics and career paths. Practitioners of each discipline are then obliged to accord recognition to those of others -- as fellow academics and scholars -- but this is unlikely to translate into recognition of the credibility of the other discipline. Colleagues of different disciplines may then be treated honourably through support networks -- but their research interests would not be so treated. Indeed the notion of a "pecking order" implies that, at least to some degree, the practice of some disciplines is more honourable than that of others. Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, 1970) has been assiduous in challenging such assumptions. He emphasizes the "disunity of science" as a a collage, not a system or a unified project, that includes many components derived from distinctly "non-scientific" disciplines, which are often vital parts of the "progress" science has made (however this is understood).
In the rare references to honour in relations to interdisciplinarity, it is not unexpected that there is sensitivity on the part of feminist scholars. Thus Marjorie Pryse (Critical Interdisciplinarity, Women's Studies, and Cross-Cultural Insight, NWSA Journal Volume 10, Number 1) cites Jane Roland Martin (Methodological essentialism, false difference, and other dangerous traps. Signs, 1994, 19, 630-657. 1994):
To suggest that an "unhinged" historicity, a quasi-historical-materialist interdisciplinarity, is the only route to "the counterhegemonic coherence" that determines the radical effectiveness of any feminist project -- or even that counterhegemonic coherence is a desirable goal -- buys into the kind of methodological essentialism Martin suggests is itself hegemonic and counterproductive to the collaborative enterprise of feminist scholarship. Thus a cross-cultural critical interdisciplinarity must also "honor diversity in the methodological realm as we already honor it in other areas" (p. 649), must construct an epistemological coalition, not a methodological monolith.
For M J Epstein (Teaching a humanistic science: Reflections on interdisciplinary course design at the post-secondary level. Current Issues in Education, Vol 7, 2004).
The integration of knowledge and methods from widely differing disciplines into a seamless unity requires respect, imagination and lateral thinking. For disciplines based in the methods of science, the task of integration with non-scientific fields is particularly problematic, since it may involve accepting the validity of alternative methods of proof. In a defense of multi-disciplinary and integrative approaches from a scientist's point of view, Stephen J. Kline [Conceptual Foundations for Multi-Disciplinary Thinking, 1995] presents a series of hypotheses based in Systems Theory. The second of these is:
Honor All Credible Data. In multidisciplinary work, we need to honor all credible data from wherever they arise. (This includes not only data from various disciplines and from our laboratories, but also from the world itself, since we have no labs from which we can obtain data for many important purposes.)
The question to be asked is whether this apparently significant recommendation regarding "honour" might not easily be interpreted tokenistically as a means of dealing with "externalities" that need to be accorded respect -- the first form of honour.
Most references to honour in relationship to interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity tend indeed to be essays or lectures "in honour of... " -- namely mutual appreciation honour systems with no reference to the methodological or epistemological implications of honour. The real challenge is the possibility of a second, intrinsic, form of honour through whose integrative potential the incommensurable forms and orderings of data may be integrated.
interfaith understanding: The spiritual disciplines that are the core practice of religious faiths are variously understood to provide means of understanding what is otherwise incomprehensible and inexplicable. In many ways, in epistemological terms, their perspectives are incommensurable, to employ Feyerabend's term. The many religious conflicts around the world are a more or less direct consequence of this. The challenge they constitute for each other is to some extent explored in efforts towards interfaith dialogue.
In contrast with interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, as described above, the nature of the fundamental integrative insight -- and how it is to be experienced -- is a matter of the greatest subtlety and sensitivity. The many efforts towards interfaith dialogue are indeed honourable -- the most ambitious being the Parliament of the World's Religions (cf Learnings for the Future of interfaith Dialogue, 1993).
Honour figures prominently in such events. It may be an honour to attend. Participants may be honoured by the presence of a spiritual leader. Words may be spoken to honour other faiths, spiritual paths, and the many expressions of God. Spirituality may be honoured above religion. Commemorative events may be held to honour victims or martyrs. Participants may honour one another in their pursuit of their respective paths. But again, is this not the first form of honour -- of externalities? Or how is the distinction made?
Does such explicit honouring not obscure the challenge of the nature and consequence of the learning to be obtained through encountering honour of the intrinsic kind -- that is fundamental to the integrity and worldview of the other pursuing a different path? The challenge of such honour is evident in that it is the "fundamentalists", whether Christian or Islamic, who do not participate.
Relevant points regarding interfaith "honouring" are made in Islam and the "Interfaith" Movement (2003):
Interfaith initiatives may appear similarly offensive to Catholics. For example, in 2003 many Catholics were reportedly rallying "to defend the honor of Our Lady of Fatima" in response to proposals to build an interfaith shrine at Fatima in Portugal [more] more].
The core role of honour in the interfaith challenge is well addressed by James L. Fredericks (Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity, Faith Meets Faith, An Orbis Series in Interreligious Dialogue):
Interestingly, in relation to the earlier discussion regarding the Nameless, Fredericks emphasizes the challenge of the unnameable:
... Roman Catholic fulfillment theology can be contrasted with what is often called the pluralist model of the theology of religions championed by John Hick. In his philosophy of religion Hick argues that we should assume that all religions are roughly equal attempts to interpret a transcendent Absolute, "the Real", that ultimately remains beyond our ability to express in language. Salvation is a matter of moving from ego-centeredness to Reality-centeredness. As no religion can claim to be any better than any other religion in its attempt to name the Ultimate, so also, no religion can claim to be superior to any other religion in providing a path that leads to salvation.
However, as with the perspective of Islam, the exceptional challenge is made clear by Fredericks:
Christians talk about faith in Jesus Christ. Hindus seek mystical union with Brahman. Buddhists meditate in order to achieve nirvana. Daoists talk about harmony with the Dao. Muslims call for submission to Allah. According to the pluralist model all these believers are really trying to name the same unnameable Ultimate Reality. There is nothing that is superior or unique in any religion, including Christianity and its faith in Jesus Christ.
Like replacement theologies, theologies based on the pluralist model fail to do justice to the demands of Christian tradition. If replacement theologies do not sufficiently honor the universality of God’s grace and the unrestrained work of the Holy Spirit among all the religions, the pluralist model does not sufficiently honor the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Christianity does not teach that Jesus is but one way among others to become "Reality-centered", as John Hick has argued. Instead, Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life". The Christ event is the one great mediation of grace that reconciles God and creation. All salvation is in Christ.
Such a perspective precludes the role of honour recommended by the renowned Indian king Ashoka the Great, over 2,300 years ago, which neatly makes the distinction between the two forms of honour. As noted by Francis V. Tiso (On world religions and peace, 2002) the decree is unprecedented and never fully emulated by any other monarch in the entire history of the world. It reads:
The Beloved of the Gods, King Piyadasi (Ashoka) honors both the ascetics and the householders of all religions and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds. But the King does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this: that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way.
But it is better to honor other religions for this reason: By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought, "Let me glorify my own religion" only harms his own religion. Therefore contact [between religions] is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. The King desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
Transcendent honour -- a third form? What is the experiential, intrinsic role of honour in providing integrative insight under such conditions. How does this avoid the challenge of intellectual and spiritual disciplines who may legitimately fear that their insights are inappropriately subsumed? Given the level of religious violence, these are important issues in a context of movement towards faith-based governance (cf Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003). Equally, the lack of integration between the disciplines inhibits effective strategies in response to the challengs of society.
The polarizing distinction made above between external and internal forms of honour may well be an unfruitful simplification. Specifically it fails to address the ways in which internal honour may endow external forms with greater significance, just as the external form may enhance the internal sense of honour (as when the "job makes the person"). Neither does justice to the transcendent, depersonalized experience that evokes what might be termed honour in conditions where the other two forms are secondary or transparent to that expression. In the case of both transdisciplinarity and interfaith, this third form might be:
In both cases, others may indeed honour that transcendent experience, to the extent that it is felt to be expressed through the individuals concerned -- possibly to be described as "transfiguring" them. In the religious case, even the potential may be honoured in ritual greetings: "The Spirit in me honours the Spirit in you" (Namaste). But of course, such processes may be purely symbolic and tokenistic for those who engage unthinkingly in them. On the other hand their cognitive and epistemological significance for the experiencer may well be beyond description. As explored in enactivism, the experience is essentially participative -- thereby transforming the significance of the honoured-honourer relationship. Under these conditions, any distinction made between the quality of the integration from an "interdisciplinary" perspective and that from the "interfaith" perspective may not be meaningful. For example, Nicholas of Cusa (De Docta Ignorantia) held that the true love of God is amor Dei intellectualis and that the intellectual act through which the divine is revealed is mathematics.
The relations between the three forms of honour might be usefully described by the following very tentative table in which they are understood as forming a continuum -- at one extreme of which the focus is on the finite games of the "Nomenklatura" and at the other on the infinite games of the "Nameless". Of the 9 conditions, the 4 yellow-coloured cells are indicative of harmonious conditions of different degrees of "depth". The uncoloured cells are indicative of more asymmetric conditions in which the participants have very different perceptions of the honourability of the relationship. The descriptors of each cell call for further reflection since they should hold both insightful and alienated perspectives (see also Table 4: Symmetric and asymmetric conditions of honour).
|Table 5: Tentative Relationship between Forms of Honour in Dialogue|
|.||.||Perspective of the "Honoured"
(finite games >>>><<<< infinite games)
|endowing integrity ("divinity") / enactivism||integrative
|well-meaning / cynicism||profound
|dedication / "devotion"|
|tolerance, tokenism, formalism||cynicism / well-meaning||superstitious
projection / sceptical
The intransigence of the Islamic perspective (above), concerned that honour might be "eroded" by interfaith perspectives, is metaphorically well-matched by that of Steven Dutch (The World's Most Toxic Value System, 2001) with his emphasis on "toxic". Within such a shared metaphorical framework, it is worth reflecting on the nature of the insight, traditionally articulated through the symbolism of an alchemical "vessel" in which all "base matter" can be dissolved -- the epistemological container for the "universal solvent". Religions might then be fruitfully understood as agents -- necessarily mutually destructive -- through which the invariance of spirituality becomes apparent, as a result of their mutual "destruction" in dialogue.
Alchemy postulates the existence of such a universal solvent as being capable of transforming "base metals" into "gold" and bestowing eternal youth and therefore immortality on human beings. Disciplines may in this sense be understood as "base metals" from which spirtitual insight is to be extracted. The universal solvent -- counterpart to the "philosopher's stone" -- is not ordinary water, but "philosophical" water, the water of life, aqua permanens, aqua mercurialis. It is what cannot be "eroded", and is unaffected by "toxins", that describes the essential nature of the transcendent -- the Sanskrit Neti, Neti ("Not this, Not that") characteristic of the Via Negativa of apophatic (rather than kataphatic) theology [more], as notably articulated by Maimonides (The Guide of the Perplexed):
You must understand that the description of God by means of negative terms is the only sound description which contains no element of loose terminology, and implies altogether in no circumstances a lack of perfection in God. His description by positive terms, on the other hand, comports polytheism and a lack of perfection in God...
The role of mathematical insight in clarifying this distinction -- with regard to any expression of the highest forms of integrative understanding -- is explored by Thomas J. McFarlane (Mathematical Poetics of Enlightenment, 2004) with:
Gödel showed that truth cannot be contained within the limits of strict logic. Only if we allow paradox can truth completely reveal itself in form. These two sides of Gödel's proof represent the apophatic (via negativa) and cataphatic (via positiva) approaches to truth, respectively. In the apophatic approach, one adheres to strict logic to show that any attempt to represent or speak of truth necessarily fails--the truth is beyond all rational comprehension. In the cataphatic approach, on the other hand, one embraces paradox and the coincidence of opposites to demonstrate the tangible presence of truth in all its limitless expressions.
The fundamental role of metaphor in conveying such insight is a theme explored by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez (Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, 2000) [reviews].
It is time that the complexity implied in such forms of understanding benefits from the various lines of research in the complexity sciences -- and the challenge they pose to comprehension (cf Psycho-social Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos and order, 2005). The associated implications for sustainable development also merit consideration (cf Sustainability through the Dynamics of Strategic Dilemmas: in the light of the coherence and visual form of the Mandelbrot set, 2005).
The rise and fall of empires, notably that of Imperial Rome, might arguably be related to the sense of honour on which they were held to be based -- whether by their citizens, their armies, their priesthoods, their leadership or by neighbouring countries -- however that honourability was articulated and manipulated. Could it be said that at some point their fall was precipitated by an increasing lack of integrity and dishonourability at the highest level? Could the disintegration of the USSR be understood in these terms?
And what of the sense of honour that sustains the American Empire? Is there a danger that American society will implode -- from the kind of shame that obliges them to honour their own military dead by stealth, and to resist attempts to identify those whose death they caused? Given the emergence of "neopraetorianism" -- into which the American people have democratically bought -- can the honour of the American people, nourished and articulated by the military, sustain the levels of collective denial and schizophrenia? (cf Charles J Dunlap Jr (Melancholy Reunion: a report from the future on the collapse of civil-military relations in the United States, 1996)
For the American people, the sense of honour has in many ways been subverted by the need to call upon it as a means of justifying actions that many in the world find questionable and reprehensible -- notably through widespread priest-like appeals to God by politicians ("God Bless America") to credit belief in the honourability of the Manifest Destiny of America. From this perspective, the sense of honour, so vital to the esteem in which Americans hold their culture, has been placed at risk (as with their own self-esteem therein). This is strikingly exemplified by the realities of indiscriminate military action, notably as illustrated by the dishonouring images of Abu Ghraib, for which the American flag is the implicit backdrop.
What is to be said of a culture that needs to dishonour its enemies in order to justify both the reprehensible means by which they were defeated and its subsequent judgement of them? The point is tragically made by the dissemination of the Abu Ghraib images, those of a "broken" Saddam Hussein awaiting trial in his underwear [more], and inconclusively investigated reports of the widespread nature of American torture involving even the highest levels of its military hierarchy [more | more | more]. There is every possibility that these were deliberately leaked, as argued by Naomi Klein (The True Purpose of Torture, The Guardian, 14 May 2005). Paradoxically, the USA is in the curious position of now being completely unable to provide credible proof that Saddam Hussein is not regularly beaten, perhaps even personally by the highest officers of the Bush regime who derive pleasure from such humiliation -- or that the output of the three CCTV cameras permanently trained on him is not offered as a feed to selected others around the world to reinforce their own sense of honour. Is he being "persuaded" by military chaplains to convert to the faith of those who so gloriously defeated him?
As argued elsewhere (Paradoxes of Tyranny and Death: Judging Saddam Hussein and La Santa Muerte, 2004), it is how a culture treats its enemies that is the measure of its honourability. Honouring those "who are with us" is ultimately a form of narcissism, in comparison with the capacity to honour others "who are against us" -- transcending their radical differences in values and behaviour. The latter capacity might be said to be the essence of democracy and of a mature civilization.
Similarly, by what ethical standards do boards of directors of multinational corporations consider themselves to be honourable people -- faced with the evidence of the consequences of their initiatives -- and their excessive personal benefits? How honourable is "corporate social responsibility" when the corporations in question pay little or no tax to society and their? Similarly, do executives of development agencies, faced with the discrepancies between their salaries and those of the people they claim to assist, ask themselves questions? What of the consultants benefitting from some three quarters of technical assistance to developing countries? [more] What legitimacy can Members of the European Parliament claim, given the unchecked level of their own perks that they continue to .protect? [more]. As a legitimate focus of conspiracy theorists, how is the honourability of elite initiatives of world leaders to be assessed: the Club of Rome? the Bilderberg Group? the Trilateral Commission? the Davos Forum? the G8?
Terrorists are deemed to be impossible partners in any dialogue, thus encouraging them to express themselves otherwise. Those who righteously refuse such dialogue have now been wrong-footed by their own atrocities (Abu Ghraib, etc), dubious allegiances (proxy torturers, rendition, etc), and lies -- to the point that they themselves are no longer viable partners in any honourable dialogue. How can those who claim the honour of seeking to spread democracy and the "untamed fire of freedom" deliberately ally themselves with despots known to boil their critics alive and to fire on unarmed citizens? (cf Jonathan Freedland. He's our sonofabitch. The Guardian, 18 May 2005). How can they knowingly and openly shelter those charged with airline terrorism whilst assiduously pursuing others for lesser crimes? [more]
Is it to be assumed in a democracy that those elected to the highest office are the most honourable in the land? Do the highest honours indeed go to those who can cheat without being found out? What to make of a Tony Blair whose key theme for his newly elected governement in 2005 is "reform and respect" and "fostering a culture of respect" -- at a time when he has lost the respect of society he governs? [more | more]. Madeleine Bunting (Threats, fear and control, The Guardian, 23 May 2005) provides a valuable comparison of the "respect" currently valued by politicians with that valued "on the street". Commentators remark on the curious fact that it has only been the politician most universally "loathed" by colleagues and journalists, George Galloway, that has had the courage to speak out face-to-face against the manipulation of the Iraq situation by the USA (Galloway vs. The US Senate, 2005).
It is easily forgotten that a major driving force for Arabs sympathetic to al-Qaida is a sense of humiliation that could be understood as the converse of any sense of honour. Robert Fisk (The Independent, 17 October 2001) remarked:
It's intriguing to read the full text of what bin Laden demanded in his post-World Trade Centre attack video tape. He said in Arabic, in a section largely excised in English translations, that "our [Muslim] nation has undergone more than 80 years of this humiliation..." [more]
Such resentment is recognized as the root of terrorism by Mahdi Elmandjra (Humiliation à l'ère du méga-impérialisme, 2003) and others (cf Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: Breaking the cycle of humiliation). Elmandjra notes however:
Westerners do not know that there is no equivalent in Arabic for the word "humiliation". The Arabic terms Ihtiqaar and dhul apply only to a person in the sense that the he or she feels self-humiliation; one may drop to one's knees before someone who is stronger. However, the true meaning of humiliation in Arabic does not apply to the person who suffers humiliation as much as it applies to the person whose intention is to humiliate another. [more | more]
The theme has been developed from an historical perspective, including Christian martyrdom, by Farhad Khosrokhavar (Suicide Bombers, 2005) -- as reviewed by Madeleine Bunting (Honour and Martyrdom, Guardian, 14 May 2005):
Elements of all these precedents can be traced in the research done on motivations of suicide bombers in Palestine, Chechnya and al-Qaida and probably now those in Iraq. A sense of humiliation and the need to avenge honour on the part of their faith and/or people (or a potent combination of both as in Iraq) is emphasised by Khosrokhavar. He also picks up on how hating the world (because of the experience of injustice and oppression) leads to a longing for death - a rejection of this world's vale of tears.
These are concepts which are very difficult for westerners living largely comfortable lives to grasp. Honour is meaningless to us; we have replaced it with a preoccupation with status and self-fulfilment. We dimly grasp self-sacrifice but only apply the concept to our raising of children. Meanwhile, nothing can trump our dedication to the good life of consumer capitalism, and certainly not any system of abstract beliefs. Not having experienced the desperation of oppression, we have little purchase on the extremism it might engender. Meanwhile, we have medicalised rather than politicised the condition of hating the world and longing for death. The gulf in understanding yawns wide.
There is increasing concern that the condition of the global economy, and notably that of the USA, is perhaps best recognized as a "bubble economy" susceptible to collapse [more]. The term "global bubble" is now used in this context (cf Bubble Trouble, 2005; Nat Weinstein, The Global Bubble Grows, 1999). This suggests a different understanding of "sustainability" -- as "keeping the bubble up" -- ironically contemporary with worldwide preoccupation with remedial products for erectile dysfunction. Might it not also be the case that there is an unsuspected intimate relationship between sustaining economic value and sustaining ethical values? Is it possible that there is a need for recognition of a phenomenon best described as a "bubble ethic"? This is sustained to no small degree by assumptions about honour expressed through token institutional concerns for human rights -- increasingly shown since 9/11 to be a sham, despite expectations that the Geneva conventions would be "honoured". Should efforts towards sustaining any "global ethic" be examined in the light of the bubble-like nature of current approaches to "global"?
Whilst "value bubble" is a common expression in relation to financial, equity, property and other markets (cf Erik Ogard, When Value No Longer is Value, 2005), the term "ethical bubble" has already been used by Jim Hoggett and Mike Nahane (Ethical Investment: deconstructing the myth, 2002):
If there is such uncertainty about the nature and performance of ethical funds, why do they continue to grow? The answer appears to be twofold. First, promoters of ethical funds are many and expert and ethically challenged when it comes to providing facts and performance. Second, investors may receive a 'psychic income' from apparently doing good. One suspects, however, that as investors become aware that the ethical bubble has burst, the psychic rewards will be overwhelmed by the desire for hard returns.
Given that security is increasingly perceived as the most fundamental value, it is not surprising that there is now a preoccupation with "security bubbles", notably with respect to information systems and physical protection. A radical new initiative for a "worldwide security envelope" has been proposed in 2005 by the US Minister for Homeland Security in order to speed "trusted people" and shipments across checkpoints and boundaries. This is matched by EU proposals regarding facilities for "trusted economic operators", such as business travellers [more]. In science fiction terms, this could be caricatured as providing "security wormholes" as tunnels through the risky chaos of a complex society -- restricted to the honourably titled of course.
This initiative in favour of the Nomenklatura could be seen as a precursor of a new apartheid-style institutionalization of privilege -- with its accompanying "pass system". It is to be expected that the Nameless, necessarily deprived of this facility, will indeed be largely distinguished by race and class. Presumably the technology required for the "security bubble" will also enable each individual to be surrounded by a personal "communication bubble" -- perhaps to be termed a "Potemkin bubble". This would ensure their exposure to "good news" and reinforce their sense of honour -- filtering out any information about the shadowy world of the Nameless and their condition (cf Globalization within a Global Potemkin Society, 2000). As part of this strategy, and in addition to control over telephone communications worldwide, the USA has also explicitly stated its intention to "control the internet" [more | more].
Despite much mutual honouring to sustain mutual credibility -- effectively "talking themselves up" -- is leadership by the titled Nomenklatura of the world now inherently dishonourable? Or, at least, unable to demonstrate its own honourability unequivocally? Under such circumstances, institutions (or their leaders) with power to distort the truth -- to mislead -- have no power to prove that they are telling the truth. How is such leadership to respond to the untitled Nameless multitudes, who are now obliged to evoke a sense of honour otherwise? (cf Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon -- a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004)
It could be argued that the integrative cognitive insights, essential to viable interdisciplinary and interfaith responses, are a requisite for humanity to respond to the global challenges it now faces. The argument here is that these derive from an intrinsic form of honour that effectively transcends perspectives of lower dimensionality and engages participatively with higher levels of understanding. These might bear some relationship to the flow experience and to the kind of understanding associated with infinite game-playing. It is this attitude which would provide the necessary response to complex dynamics in dealing with strategic dilemmas (cf Sustainability through the Dynamics of Strategic Dilemmas: in the light of the coherence and visual form of the Mandelbrot set, 2005)
Sign at entrance to Guantanamo Bay detention facility
Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo. Guantanamo: "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom". Oberon Books, 2005 [review]
Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law (CIMEL) and the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS). Annotated Bibliography on Crimes of Honour. 2001 [text]
Michael Davis. The Honor System. Perspectives on the Professions, Vol. 14, No. 2, January 1995 [text]
Gregory J. Dierker. Core Values: a history of values-relatedminitiatives in
the Air Force ( A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Logistics Management, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1997) [text]
K G Denhardt. Unearthing the Moral Foundations of Public Administration: Honour, Benevolence, and Justice. In: Bowman, J S (Ed.), Ethical Frontiers in Public Management. Seeking New Strategies for Resolving Ethical Dilemmas. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1991,
Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. Melancholy Reunion: a report from the future on the collapse of civil-military relations in the United States. USAF Institute for National Security Studies, US Air Force Academy, Colorado (INSS Occasional Paper 11), 1996 [text]
Ellen Deborah Ellis.The Honor System Re-examined. Perspectives on the Professions, Vol. 14, No. 2, January 1995 [text]
Mahdi Elmandjra. Humiliation à l'ère du méga-impérialisme. Casablanca, Annajah Al Jadida, 2003
J. Goodwin. Price of Honour: Muslim Women, Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. Warner Books, 1995
Stephen Lambden. The Background and Centrality of Apophatic Theology in Babi and Baha'i Scripture. In: Jack McLean (Ed). Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Baha'i Theology. Los Angeles, Kalimat Press, 1997
Paul Robinson. War and Honour in the Western World (forthcoming 2005)
Paul Robinson. Sword of Honour (The ancient code of insult and revenge in America’s South). The Spectator (U.K.) 07/26/03 [text]
Kyndra Rotunda. Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials. Carolina Academic Press, 2008
Adam Schwartz. Swords of Honor: The Revival of Orthodox Christianity in Twentieth-Century Britain, 2000 [text]
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. Honor Systems and Sexual Harassment at the Service Academies. Washington, DC, GPO, 1994. 256 p. (103rd Congress, 2nd Session, hearing held February 3, 1994)
Jonah Winters. Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Baha'i Theology, and Symbol and Secret: Qur'án Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i Íqán (Reviews). Iranian Studies, 32, 1, pp. 141-145, 1999 [text]
Jean Zimmerman. Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook. New York, Doubleday, 1995. 336 p.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License..