On the Dignity/Honor Paradox
There is a curious paradox involving what anthropologists call ‘dignity culture’ and ‘honor culture’. To define terms: dignity culture says that respect for a person is a right, owed to all; honor culture says that respect is a privilege that one must earn. Dignity culture preaches equality; honor culture preaches distinctions. Dignity culture sanctions by guilt; the feeling of wrongdoing. Honor culture sanctions by shame; the feeling of disapproval.
In political/economic terms, honor culture corresponds to ruthless oligarchy, and dignity culture corresponds to the guaranteed income. In psychological terms, honor cultures display pride masking fear, and dignity cultures display idealism masking vanity.
Dignity culture requires a respected authority to enforce justice; honor culture thrives in societies lacking a trusted rule of law. Dignity cultures tend to be lawful, orderly, lenient, wealthy, peaceful, and creative. Honor cultures tend to lack these virtues.
So going by results, dignity culture is a superior culture, even though it deplores the very concept of superiority! And though honor culture demands that all within it earn respect, honor culture itself does not earn such respect!
Dignity culture earns the kind of respect that it cannot claim, and honor culture claims the kind of respect that it cannot earn. That is the Dignity/Honor Paradox.
The Dignity/Honor Paradox can be parodied by two political caricatures; the Limousine Liberal, who preaches that all are equal, and thus joins the elite; and her dark shadow the Deplorable, who preaches that there are inferior persons, and proves it by his own example. The first rises by vanity, the second falls by pride.
Of course all cultures are a mixture of dignity and honor; some respect is owed to all, plus there is extra that must be earned. And of course the traits of the individual need not be that of the collective. Individual altruism can serve collective egotism, for example when those within a group treat each other as equals, but all others as inferior.
And of course the direction of causation is ambiguous. Do dignity-culture citizens have rights because they are rich, or are they rich because they have rights? Are honor cultures lawless because they are backwards, or are they backwards because they are lawless?
The ‘character’ of a nation is really that of its ruling class; so after any important political change, the national character will be seen to have changed. As an example of ruling-class dignity culture, I offer the Obama administration. As an example of ruling-class honor culture, I offer the Trump administration. I predict that we will see, in retrospect, proof of the political, economic, and moral superiority of dignity culture.
Dignity culture needs a respected central authority to administer justice; this authority’s high officials must possess personal honor to do their jobs right. Therefore dignity culture, which denies that there are superior and inferior persons or stations, must have superior persons in its superior stations. That is the paradox of dignity culture; it’s based upon contradiction. Egalitarianism requires meritocracy.
Whereas honor culture is home-made justice, necessary if you cannot get justice from the Man. This is if the Man himself is not just. His own lack of honor makes the pursuit of honor necessary for everyone under his misrule. That is the paradox of honor culture; it’s based upon hypocrisy. Top honor has no honor.