After my post on the gun culture of the United States, I realized I was missing one key factoid to my argument: the “culture of honor” in the American South. In short, this culture, mostly attributed to the Southern (or Confederate) culture of the U.S. and related to the pro-gun culture, dictates that people should avoid offending others, or else they would be met by retribution. In other words, this culture allows killing or hurting others just for being pissed off or because of mere suspicion.
Its supporters may claim, this is how to keep troublemakers in line. But that’s it, what does “in line” mean? They should always agree with you, and if they disagree with you, you have the right to kill them? If they are of a different culture you find strange, you have to kill them? Then there’s something wrong with it. Also, here’s the problem: these people are likely anti-gay or anti-Muslim, or anti-anyone-of-another-culture. What they really want is if they encounter gays or other “undesirables,” they would want to kill them (like the colonel killing Lester Burnham in American Beauty). Or because of dumb whims, people can be wrongfully killed. For example, a girl insisting she is beautiful (when she is actually not) kills someone who disagrees with her. Or perhaps because a father was told by someone else his daughter was raped by his neighbor’s son, but it never happened; yet instead of checking if it’s true, he goes ahead and kills the neighbor’s son. So if this is the “culture of honor,” there’s nothing honorable about it. Lately, fellow blogger Paul Farol had raised the issue of the Davao Death Squads, who may have been killing innocent people as well as confirmed criminals.
Perhaps this culture had its day when there was no government and law enforcement during the pioneer or Wild West days. But those days are long gone, and there is law enforcement today. Thus, people still believing in taking the law in their own hands are favoring ethically questionable principles. It’s very likely that deep down inside, people who approve of retribution and things like the Davao Death Squads, have actually no or little respect for others.
Let me tell you one other fact. What terrorists are doing is retribution. They hate what they perceived the West did to them, so terrorist attacks are retribution for all that. In other words, terrorists have a similar attitude as the “culture of honor,” if only in the retribution part. If they believe that if someone has wronged them, they have the right to kill them. That is perhaps the best simple explanation of what terrorism is.
Here’s my answer to people who point to the Bible’s “eye for an eye” principle: my church teaches that the reason for the establishment of that rule was because, in retribution, humans wouldn’t be satisfied with just an eye. They would want two eyes for an eye and a jaw for a tooth. I think the movie line is from The Untouchables: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” So what damage he does to you, you do greater. So if he just insults you, you kill him. It’s this immature attitude likely based on pride that leads to escalation of violence – plus the attitude of “I can do better than that.” In this case of violence, it’s better not to do “better.” Thus in the New Testament, the teaching of “eye for an eye” was abrogated and replaced with “love your enemy.” In other words: prevent violence from escalating.
Let’s borrow a little bit of wisdom from Mohandas Gandhi.
To those who insist allowing free retribution will keep society in order: no, it won’t. Violence does not keep people in line. It leads to more violence. Because after retribution, people will want to repay the retribution, and again and again it goes. Non-stop. Also, if keeping people in line is done with fear, that is actually tyrannical. It is not “just.” For example, there are cases like the Davao Death Squads getting the wrong guy. The guy killed is actually law-abiding and doing nothing wrong, and that is what does he get for it? That is not justice at all. So other people living there are actually kept in fear that they will be killed by mistake. Retributive entities like this are not keeping society in “order,” but are actually keeping it in fear. And a fearful society is never a productive society.
And the question for the citizens who favor this kind of society is, are you sure you are law-abiding citizens? Or are you like the redneck right wingers who want people who they dislike killed? And perhaps the question after this is, do you really believe in human rights, democracy and all that? Do you actually hate your neighbors? This is something I pondered on in my blog post about tolerance – I reasoned that some people do not like other people who are not like them, and want them to disappear. That’s why the world is how it is right now.
Retribution is also prevalent in the Philippines with our warlords. Simply, the warlords of the Philippines use it: piss me off, I will have you killed (who knows if the DDS are under them). And they are the people who are voted to even the highest offices in the land. You think it ended with Marcos? Look at Mendiola, Lubao, Hacienda Luisita, Maguindanao and more. The Philippines is still indeed the “wild wild west,” and it’s a reason why we can’t move forward.
Until today, the people who believe they have all the solutions to the world’s problems still justify violence. And, sadly, but appropriately, their “solutions” only worsen the violence. Thus, elimination of the culture of retribution, so wrongly called “culture of honor,” is one step to creating a more humane and just society. Any culture that says violence by people against fellow people to keep them in line is unethical. If we are only willing to leave our neighbor to do their thing in peace (as long as it is ethical), and not force “assimilation” or “do it our way,” the world would be a much better place to live in.
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