Pic of the day: Wanya, the sentient baby-sitter pet from the planet Otto, is inspired to go the second mile. Screenshot from the anime Daa! Daa! Daa! -The rest of the entry may be less funny, but the principle still holds.
Honor, conscience, law
I was just thinking about how sad it is that we are a civilization of law. But I guess it could have been worse. We could have been a society of honor, for instance ...
This whole idea came from a correspondence I had with an Internet acquaintance about taxes. In principle, I am for redistribution of wealth, but against forced redistribution of wealth. That is to say, I would like to see rich people being generous with their money, rather than politicians being generous with the rich people's money. Or, as is the case these days, generous with common people's money.
In honor-based societies, generosity is an important way to win honor. In such societies, honor is very important. Thus, there tends to be quite a bit of generosity. Of course, in the end the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. And since the act of giving transfers honor from the receiver to the giver, the rich will find their opportunities enhanced by their generosity, and conversely those who receive will have less honor and therefore less opportunities. But then again, they did not have much to start with, usually...
I don't like honor-based societies. They are patriarchal, and honor is rather blatantly a currency of manhood. Thus in such societies, a man gets honor by having sex with as many people as possible. That's pretty disgusting. Conversely (and perversely) the honor of women is to not have sex with anyone except her husband. Obviously this equation does not compute. Luckily for all involved, there are other ways to gain honor. Such as doing impressive feats of sports or even poetry. My Viking ancestors were big on that stuff. There is also the less palatable tradition of winning honor by killing people. Of course you need to kill them in a honorable way, but then you can add their honor to your own. Pretty sick. So, overall, I don't think a honor-based society would be a good place to live. But the taxes could be much lower ...
Another alternative is a conscience-based society. Honor and shame depend on people seeing you. As long as honorable people were not watching, you could do pretty much what you wanted, in a honor-based society. With a conscience, you have always someone who knows. That is indeed the meaning of con-science: With-knowing. Your conscience knows along with you what you do. Kinda like God. It can be hard to keep the two apart sometimes.
Christianity is supposed to influence society in the direction of conscience. But history shows that consciences are not always enough. The imperialist epoch of Christian Europe for instance does not speak too well about conscience's abilities. And I am not sure we have progressed all too far since, either. Then again, we don't have much chance to develop conscience. There are laws and regulations now for even tiny little details, more than any one of us can keep in our head. Most likely we are all lawbreakers at some point. Sometimes you may wonder whether it would not be easier to make a list of things that are legal...
I fear that in our justified distrust of fellow men, we have gone too far. These days, sometimes there seems to be a conflict between law and conscience. For instance, we recently had a case where an old doctor helped a terminally ill patient to die at a time and place of their choosing, rather than suffer pointless pain and humiliation as the illness progressed. Considering the law, it was clear: The old doctor was a murderer. But most people's consciences disagreed with this.
In a reversed position of this, taxes. People have no problem at all with a system that wrenches money from people who have been instrumental in making it, and giving it to random strangers, whether or not they are worthy poor. A newly bereaved widow with a home steeped in debt and hungry children is in the same boat with your common street thug and hobo. This would not have been the case in a honor-based or conscience- based society. But in our law-based society, things become so impersonal, we don't mind. "Well, it's the law." That the law is unfair does not really bother us, at least as long as we are not the one to lose something. And if we are profiting from it, we certainly won't complain. Why don't we? Because we are so many, we don't need to take personal responsibility. The law diverts responsibility.
The way I see it, the only way for conscience to progress is to surpass the law. This was a main message of Jesus, whom some of us call the Christ and Lord. He spoke to a people who had a Law, and who considered the Law holy. He spoke to them about going a second mile, beyond what was required. We have different laws now, but I think the principle still holds. If we want to grow ethically, we have to go beyond the law. Otherwise we will stagnate.
It won't be easy, but it is the only solution I can see.
Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.