Cultures of honour and cultures of law  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Various sociologists and anthropologists have contrasted cultures of honour with cultures of law. A culture of law has a body of laws which all members of society must obey, with punishments for transgressors. This requires a society with the structures required to enact and enforce laws. A culture of law incorporates a social contract: members of society give up some aspects of their freedom to defend themselves and retaliate for injuries, on the understanding that society will apprehend and punish transgressors.

An alternative to government enforcement of laws is community or individual enforcement of social norms.

One way that honour functions is as a major factor of reputation. In a system where there is no court that will authorise the use of force to guarantee the execution of contracts, an honourable reputation is very valuable to promote trust among transaction partners. To dishonour an agreement could be economically ruinous, because all future potential transaction partners might stop trusting the party not to lie, steal their money or goods, not repay debts, mistreat the children they marry off, have children with other people, abandon their children, or fail to provide aid when needed. A dishonourable person might be shunned by the community as a way to punish bad behaviour and create an incentive for others to maintain their honour.

If one's honour is questioned, it can thus be important to disprove any false accusations or slander. In some cultures, the practice of dueling has arisen as a means to settle such disputes firmly, though by physical dominance in force or skill rather than by objective consideration of evidence and facts.

Honour can also imply duty to perform certain actions, such as providing for and disciplining one's children, serving in the military during war, contributing to local collective projects like building infrastructure, or exacting revenge in retaliation for acts one is directly harmed by.

The concept of personal honour can be extended to family honour, which strengthens the incentives to follow social norms in two ways. First, the consequences of dishonourable actions (such as suicide or attempted robbery that results in death) outlive the perpetrator, and negatively affect family members they presumably care about. Second, when one member of the family misbehaves, other members of the family are in the position to and are incentivised to strongly enforce the community norms.

In strong honour cultures, those who do not conform may be forced or pressured into conformance and transgressors punished physically or psychologically. The use of violence may be collective in its character, where many relatives act together. The most extreme form of punishment is honour killing. Dueling and vengeance at a family level can result in a sustained feud.

Honour-based cultures are also known as honour-shame cultures and are contrasted with guilt cultures on the guilt-shame-fear spectrum of cultures.

Cultures of honour are often conservative, encoding pre-modern traditional family values and duties. In some cases these values clash with those of post-sexual revolution and egalitarian societies. Add to this the prohibition against vigilante or individual justice-taking, cultures of law sometimes consider practices in honour cultures to be unethical or a violation of the legal concept of human rights.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cultures of honour and cultures of law" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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