Written by Sanford Begley
Originally published at the Otherwhere Gazette in March 2015
Most SF fans believe in honor. How can you read stories about heroes and not? I think we all believe we are honorable, I know I do. We can’t be certain though, we all fall short of our ideals, all we can do is try. Lois McMaster Bujold has a pertinent line about it. When her protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is comforting a lady who feels that she has violated her honor he say something along the lines of “Didn’t they show you your honor reset button? I think mine is located somewhere around my belly button” While that was obviously black humor in a bleak situation it is true. Oh no, I’m not crazy, there is no real reset button. We have to assume it can be done though. No matter how hard you try there will come a day when different choices all violate your honor. You have to pick your heart up and try to be honorable again or die. Dying is seldom a good option.
How do you do it? Well you don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The only way to do it is to acknowledge it to yourself and truly determine not to break it again. This is the place where honor become iffy for everyone. If you do not truly mean the promise to violate your honor again it is very easy to let it slide. Pretty soon you basically ignore it and it dies completely. Every violation is serious. You must be determined to uphold your honor or you won’t have any.
I am not talking about how people view you. everyone can think you the most honorable man in the world while you know you have none at all. See, honor is a unique concept we each build into ourselves. My sense of honor is based largely on the example of the characters of Louis L’Amour who wrote some very good novels with honorable men doing their best. This does not mean I am a paladin, if you read his work you know that many of his characters were outlaws, The laws of god and man do not determine what is honorable. What determines what is honorable is an internal view of the man you wish to be. Not the man you are I hope, but the ideal you wish to live up to. If you have a sense of honor and actually meet it your standards are too low. What you need is a goal, if you meet that goal too easily it isn’t much of a goal.
So you have a sense of honor and are determined to live up to it. You’re golden, right? Well not really, after all you live in an imperfect world and are imperfect yourself. Well, unless you are an avatar of a god, in which case why are you screwing around living a life instead of fixing the world? As less than perfect people we have our foibles and weaknesses, all of which are going to interfere with living the ideal.
The biggest thing that will interfere with living up to your ideals is probably something else that is important, love. Not for your spouse, but for everyone who is part of your life. Lets take a simple one. You have a friend who has just had a baby. It looks like a red wrinkled monkey and he proudly displays it and asks you “Isn’t she beautiful?” You are now in the land of lying. Even if it is the most hideous child you have ever seen you are going to say something complimentary. Either that or you soon have no friends. Life demands little white lies. They are still lies and it is easy to slide form “You have a beautiful baby” to “why yes I’d love to help you move” to bigger lies. So life demands you compromise principles from the get go. The trick is to keep the lies white and not get carried away.
This becomes even more important if the person needing you to compromise your principles is your spouse or family. Your friend is in trouble, broken down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Honor may demand you go get him and bring him home safe. Your mother may forbid you going out after ten PM. Which demand on your honor takes precedence? Obedience to your parent or assisting a friend in need? Either decision will be a problem to your sense of honor.
Of course the fact that we live in an Orwellian world makes this all worse. My sense of honor says that wrong is wrong and people should be held accountable. Certainly if you are going to criticize your cultural opponents for some particular type of action, then you need to criticize those on your side.Honor should demand that. The sad fact of the matter is that many people feel differently.
This is not the post I was going to write this week. I was going to criticize the handling of an event by some people who are nominally on my side of a cultural divide. I got sat upon by multiple people and told that I wasn’t to do that. I found that being forbidden to do that is an honor problem for me. You see my sense of honor demands that people are equal and if one side doing something is wrong it is equally wrong for the other. Apparently All Animals Are Equal but, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.
This has left me pondering my reset button. I still don’t know how much I am going to compromise my honor. I agreed not to write about what I was going to. Now I have to decide what not writing what I felt I should have is going to demand in recompense. It would sadden me if upholding my honor cost me friends. They don’t have the same sense of honor I do, they are, after all, different people. The question remains, can I still consider them friends when being friends with them will cause this conflict again? I don’t know. Still contemplating that reset button.