The Role of Honor as a Social Control Mechanism

I had always wondered about a certain aspect in martial arts or combat media that features some martial arts, and that is the “evil” or “dark” style that is considered reprehensible and immortal, and the style is… using guns, poisons, bombs, traps, hidden weapons, and so on. Every time there’s a battle with such practitioners, they always gets called “dishonorable” or “evil” or maybe even cowardly. But then you also have “if this was a real fight, you’d be dead” trope when it comes to something like a mock duel vs a duel to the death, which often shows how in a “real fight” there’s no use for honor and such and would often have the protagonist of such genre be fighting as dirty as possible and be treated as badass. My question then is… well, what exactly is “honor” in a fight? Isn’t “dirty tricks” like sands in the eyes to resolve combat as quickly as possible the most desired trick? What exactly should be the balance between “pragmatism” and “honor”, whatever the latter is?

Okay, so, I’ll have to level with you, I have never heard of a martial arts style that considers IEDs as an important technique. Also, martial arts that incorporate firearms are more of a myth than reality. There are disarms, but there’s no such thing as a, “gun kata.” That’s pure fiction.

Honor isn’t about good and evil, it’s not about right and wrong: Honor is about threat control. Honor is defined by those in power, and then applied to those below them, to ensure they cannot rise up and disrupt the status quo.

“The only unfair fight is the one you lose,” thought process comes out of the understanding that giving your foe a fair chance to kill you is an utterly terrible idea. Especially against a better trained and better equipped foe, getting into a stand-up fight is suicidal.

It’s dishonorable to run from a fight? Who does this benefit? Dying because you wouldn’t break and escape just means you’re dead.

It’s dishonorable to attack someone from behind? Again, this only really benefits your foe. It’s about tricking you into putting yourself into a more vulnerable position.

But, why is this a rule? Why is it dishonorable to stab someone in the back, but not to stab them in the face? In the distant past, when nobles fought on the battlefield, stabbing someone in the back meant you didn’t know who you had just killed. However, if you saw their face before killing them, it meant you could properly assess whether they were one of the enemy nobles, meaning they should be ransomed back, rather than summarily killed on the battlefield. It made the battlefield less dangerous for the nobility, but no safer for the peasantry, and also helped to further enrich the winning nobles. But, of course, the person who is expected to behave, “honorably,” was the conscripted foot soldier, who would see no benefit from, “being honorable,” but may face harsh retribution if they killed someone they shouldn’t have.

(This, also explains a large part of why guns and bombs can be considered dishonorable. These are indiscriminate, and therefore, a threat to those who set the rules.)

Honor is meaningless to a corpse. However, if you’re in a position of power, dishonor is incredibly valuable. Dishonor becomes a tool to politically weaken (or in some cases outright eliminate) a threat. Dishonor can be applied through mere allegations. Dishonor can also apply social stigmas, and if it applies to a family, can be used to undermine entire factions.

Because it’s dishonorable to lie, all but your most transparent lies can be used to implicate, and dishonor, your potential rivals. Best of all, questioning the honor of the powerful is often behavior that permits immediate, and vicious, retribution. So, even if someone does realize you’re lying through your teeth, it gives you the pretext to eliminate them.

Honor is not, and never has been, about being a good person. It was never about morality or ethics. It is a weapon, wielded by those in power, against those beneath them. The first, and most effective lie honor presents is the idea that this is about being a good person. It is insidious, because, for the person with good intentions, it will lead them to punish themselves, if they step out of line.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do the right thing. In many cases, that is laudable. However, honor is a about perverting that into a system where you will voluntarily hand advantage to your foes,

This isn’t just codes of honor. Laws (both secular and religious) can be used in similar ways. To punish and marginalize potential foes, while simultaneously entrenching your own powerbase.

In many cases, codes of honor can support ethical, or moral behavior. It’s something to consider carefully before fully ejecting the concept. However, living to see the next sunrise is more important than being honorable. It may be important to make your actions appear honorable, after the fact, but that’s more about political damage control. The most important thing to understand about honor is that its real purpose is not what it appears to be. It was always a lie, designed to get you to put yourself at a disadvantage.


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