Honor is, in our day, a forgotten virtue. Hell, some deny that it was ever really a virtue at all. But it behooves us to recognize this to be a fairly recent sentiment. Throughout history, East and West alike, a man’s honor was reckoned a considerably precious achievement. And should he be put into a position whereby he is forced to protect it, then well, he most certainly would do so.* Such was “the duel” amongst gentlemen. [Amongst non-gentlemen, “to step outside'” was probably the more appropriate title of the practice.] Strange how the official practice has disappeared, whatever we may call it. Why is it strange? Well, as Dr. Johnson aptly remarked to Boswell, “Indeed, we may observe what strained arguments are used to reconcile war with the Christian religion. But, in my opinion, it is exceedingly clear that dueling, having better reasons for its barbarous violence, is more justifiable than war in which thousands go forth without any personal quarrel, and massacre each other.” It is the reasons – or perhaps, the lack thereof – for dueling that I’d like to explore here, over the course of a few posts. Let’s begin by recognizing some facts about practical deliberation, and then moving on from there.
Jack Burton is a regular ol’ guy. And like many such guys, he’s often in the position wherein he thinks to himself something like this: “I need money.” Accordingly, he reflects on his predicament and begins to deliberate. He canvases various ways of obtaining money, weighing the reasons for or against each money-making option. Mayhap he asks for some money from his good friend, Wang the well-established restauranteur. Maybe he takes on a second job, driving Egg Shen’s tour bus around Chinatown. Or, perhaps instead he floats a loan at the bank using his rig as collateral. Hell, he might even consider selling his rig.
As it is, nothing I’ve said in relation to Jack is even remotely interesting. Again, he’s just a regular ol’ guy. But what is interesting, I submit, is the absence of certain options in his deliberative reasoning. And in this, I believe, Jack is entirely in keeping with the greater populace of right-thinking adults. To wit, Jack does not consider killing Wang and taking the money from his cash register; nor does he consider cranking up his big rig (“6.9 on the Richter scale!”) and driving it through the front door of the local bank and absconding with several stacks of bills.
No, the law – if it does nothing else – reminds us that, at least in garden-variety circumstances, what is not an option for Jack is committing murder or robbing a bank. The law, by itself, is supposed to remove such options from rational consideration. For the lot of us, it’s fairly successful in this regard. Now, I think that this is interesting because the very fact that a course of action would enable Jack to acquire money that he needs would normally be one hell of a good reason to pursue that course of action. And yet, when that action constitutes murder or theft, it doesn’t even count as a weak reason for acting in that way. Indeed, such options are not even considered in our deliberations; they are not even really options at all.
As I said, I find this interesting. But why? Well, in order to see why, let me provide a scenario. Jack and his girlfriend Gracie Law are at a bar. A drunk member of the local seedy gang, the Lords of Death, walks up to the couple, completely ignores Jack, and loudly propositions Gracie for a one-time sexual escapade, an escapade that he promises (for all to hear) she will find more invigorating than perhaps she’s ever experienced. He even proudly – and again, loudly – offers to pay her for her services in the venture.
Gracie, cool and intelligently recognizing the nefarious intent, immediately grabs Jack’s arm and proceeds towards the door…
But we all know, don’t we dear reader, that Jack Burton has options? Plural. Options. Among his options, for sure, is leaving the bar. But we all know other possible courses of action exist. His first thought – indeed, the first thought of many a man – involves going all-out Steven Seagal, wrapping a nearby bar stool around both that hoodlum’s kneecaps. This is, without doubt, the first option, generally speaking: to open up that proverbial can of whoop-ass. Jack knows, of course, that the can, once opened, might spray whoop-ass in the wrong direction…but that doesn’t matter to Jack. What matters is that he respond. What matters is that his self-respect remain intact. What matters is that he attempt to achieve some sort of satisfaction. And this, ladies and gentlemen, makes perfect sense. Or so it seems to me. Why? Because of two indisputable facts: (a) human nature – in particular, the nature of a male human – is what it is, and (b) the “whoop-ass” course of action is undoubtedly one of the options that Jack, again like many a man, will whole-heartedly, earnestly, and reasonably consider (even if he ultimately does otherwise).
Now, I do not wish to enter into any sort of long digression on the ins-and-outs of the criminal law. There are probably some jurisdictions wherein rearranging the face of Seedy Gang Member #1 in such a circumstance would be legally acceptable. Unfortunately, that is not most jurisdictions in the west. No, Jack would be guilty of Disturbing the Peace at best, Assault & Battery at worst. High prices, to be sure, for avenging one’s honor. My question is this: why should this be?
Squeamish, whiny, self-righteous school marm answer: “Because violence is never the answer.”
As a moral principle, absolutely ridiculous. Insert argumentum ad hitlerum here, if it pleases. As reflecting anything like facts of human nature, patented hogwash. I am reminded of Orwell on Gandhi: “Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.” Forgive my blatant appeal to authority, but by God George is right (as is so often the case). So, by my lights, we have a moral fact: there are times wherein one ought to engage in violence. We also have a metaphysical fact: as currently constituted, human beings are inclined toward settling disputes, when they believe it necessary, by violent means.
With these facts in mind, we might qualify the above principle in such a way as to make it a trifle more digestible:
“Uncontrolled violence is seldom the answer.”
There, that sounds better. No universal condemnation of violent activity per se, and ample recognition that violence may or may not be appropriate, depending on the occasion. Controlled violence can be – and often is – a good, and even if it is rarely the best course of action, there are times wherein it is. The question now becomes: what to make of Jack’s situation?
We shall have to investigate this further. In particular, we must explore more fully the first option before Jack’s mind, the option involving the deliverance of an ass-whoopin’ to Seedy Gang Member #1. We will do so at a later date.
(*) I make no attempt to define “honor.” Perhaps it approximates self-respect, integrity, what-have-you. Perhaps it is purely a self-regarding concept, though more likely there is some aspect of other-regardingness built into it as well. Nonetheless, pretend like you know what it is to this extent: you know it when you see it. [And don’t act like don’t: you do.]
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part V) - February 27, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part IV) - February 4, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part III) - January 22, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part II) - January 6, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part I) - December 29, 2016
- The New Jim Crow: Introduction - October 20, 2016
- The (Oh Too) Common Assumption - October 9, 2016