Monday, December 28, 2009

Cultural Honor

So, I’m reading this book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s kind of a strange book in that it doesn’t really help you do anything exactly, it just sort of helps you understand things. Basically, it examines some successful people, and tries to figure out exactly what it is that makes them that way. There are some really interesting parts, and some parts that I sort of skimmed. But my favorite part so far was this:

Cultural honor.

Stick with me, please, because I found this to be profoundly eye-opening.

You’ve heard about family feuds and stuff, right? How for generations and generations, families will just fight with each other for reasons they might not even remember?

Well, as Malcolm Gladwell points out, one family doing this is a feud. A ton of families right along the Appalachian doing it is a pattern.

What in the world makes those people so prone to violent out breaks with each other?

Did you guess it? Cultural honor. Because the main profession of the mountain areas was livestock and stuff, people honor was very important. I mean, if you were a farmer, you had to rely on other people and get along with your neighbors, but there was never a danger of having your crop actually stolen. When your job was tending sheep or something, people very well could steal your hard work, and it wasn’t necessary to get along with the people around you really.

All you had to protect your livestock and your family was your reputation. Build up your reputation as a tough guy and no one will mess with you. Keep your honor intact.

There are other reasons why culture honor was (and is) such a big thing in those parts. It has to do with heritage.

Back when people were still coming regularly to America, a certain group of people settled in a certain spot: the Scotch-Irish immigrants settled along the eastern/southern US.

That would be “from the Pennsylvania border south and west through Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, and the northern end of Alabama and Georgia.” And that’s where all this “cultural honor” stuff is big. You can steal my stuff, but you can’t insult my mama. That’s how it works here. *clears throat* I mean, there…

Okay, I’m from North Carolina. And when Mr. Malcolm Gladwell started raggin’ on my homeland, I started getting pretty hot inside.

And as I started boiling, I blinked and realized I was proving his point.


I read on.

There was then an experiment described. In the early 1990s, two psychologists decided to get together a bunch of 18-21 year old guys and insult them, see how they would react. They came up with the insult they thought would resonate with them the most. “A—hole.” (I am quoting the book, sorry.)

Here was the experiment set up:

“The social sciences building at the University of Michigan has a long, narrow hallway in the basement lined with filing cabinets. The young men were called into a classroom, one by one and asked to fill out a questionnaire. Then they were told to drop off the questionnaire at the end of the hallway and return to the classroom.”

Half the guys were from the states that were high on cultural honor, half of them were not.

“As they walked down the hallway with their questionnaire, a man—a confederate of the experiments—walked past them and pulled out a drawing in one of the filing cabinets. They already narrow hallway now became even narrower. As the young men tried to squeeze by, the confederate looked up, annoyed. He slammed the filing cabinet drawer shut, jostled the young men with his shoulder, and, in a low but audible voice said the trigger word: ‘a—hole.’”

Through different tests that I go into in too much detail, the suspicions were confirmed. Confirmed A LOT. The cultural honor boys were mad. Even though they didn’t act out in violence, their handshakes were firmer than usual, saliva samples revealed that being insulted had raised their levels of testosterone and cortisol (hormones that drive aggression). The guys were also given a short story and told to supply a conclusion. The story had to do with a guy’s girlfriend being come onto by another guy. The cultural honor guys who had been insulted made it end violently, while the guys who lived in other places did not.


I’m going to be perfectly honest with you:

I never thought people reacted any differently.

Call me ignorant, but I thought this was the same everywhere. I had no idea that in other parts of the US, it wouldn’t be natural to react violently to having your honor insulted. I mean, you just don’t do that here. No one gets upset if you steal their stuff, but if you attack their honor, boy, it’s on.

It’s not just guys, it’s girls, too. I mean, I honestly had no idea that it would occur to anyone not to get wild about something like this…I think I’ve already said that :) But you get the idea.

Who knew? I had no idea that culture honor wasn’t the same everywhere. What a cool eye-opener!

Hope you guys found this at least half as interesting as I did :)



Izori said...

Uh...I'm from that Scotch-Irish area. I AM Scottish and Irish, although I'm not Scotch-Irish. That's weird.

JT Norlander said...

I think it also can be a part of spiritual honor as well. I'm not from one of these "honor" areas, I've lived in Wisconsin all my life. It's hard to keep your honor intact in one of the heaviest drinking states in the country, but oh well. :)

but back to my point, I think it has to do with a lot of spirituality. As a Christian man, it's my duty to protect, defend, and make peace with others. I'll make peace if I need to, I'll defend and protect my honor and the honor of others (especially girls, as described in the author's example) because that's what God has commanded us to do.

Just a thought. :)


Logan said...

Have a Happy New Year!