Curmudgeon's Corner, Ethics and Morals, Philosophy, science fiction

Curmudgeon’s Corner: Honor in an Orwellian World

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.

5 thoughts on “Curmudgeon’s Corner: Honor in an Orwellian World

  1. I think there are three aspects to ‘honor’ in this situation.

    1. You must remain faithful to yourself. That’s the basis of personal ‘honor’. However, I also have to accept that I’m a flawed human being with at least as many problems as the next man; so I may not have a clear perspective on a situation. I may be viewing it through my flaws, ‘blinkers’ that limit my vision. Therefore, if my friends (who, by definition, I regard as ‘honorable’ people – otherwise they wouldn’t be my friends) insist that I mustn’t do something, it’s incumbent upon me to listen to them and spend more time thinking about it. They may be right – and I’ve been wrong often enough to acknowledge that.

    2. Does ‘honor’ always demand action? If you feel strongly that something is wrong, you can satisfy your personal honor by refusing to be associated with or participate in it, without necessarily taking the step of publicly opposing or condemning it. There have been many such things in my life. I’d have made matters worse by coming out against them, rather than simply letting them go their way while I went mine. Only when I believed that not opposing them would lead others into danger, or dishonor, or something else very negative, did I take the additional step of publicly arguing against them. I’ve lost friends by doing so, and I still regret that, even in the cases where I believe my public opposition was correct in principle.

    3. The demands of honor must be weighed up against the demands of humanity, life, etc. Take the example of a soldier. His honor demands that he not surrender the post with which he’s been entrusted: but his family will be slaughtered unless he does. Sometimes he chooses honor (see, for example, José Moscardó Ituarte – look him up on Wikipedia). At other times, in less important posts, other soldiers have chosen family over military honor. I think the relative importance of every factor has to be weighed up before making a decision. There’s an awful lot of gray sometimes, and a paucity of black and white.

    There are, however, times when an issue is so important that one simply has to take a stand. I’ve done so myself, at grievous personal cost. To this day, I wonder whether I was wrong to do so . . . but I daresay that if I were faced with the same dilemma again, I’d make the same choice.

    Just my $0.02 worth . . .

    1. I was in a position where my wife was sick. When she is sick she wants to avoid confrontation, so she told me to not anger others by pointing out the flaws of a particular situation. I allowed something wrong to pass that I was opposed to, because my wife was sick and I wouldn’t push her under those circumstances. You see, someone “respected” was saying that doing the wrong thing was right if it was the right people doing it. I am not that way, evil is evil no matter which side it was on. I should have called them on it , but my wife was sick

      1. Hmmm. VERY gray area here.

        Could you have prevented the wrong action by speaking up at the time? My honor has in it not causing distress (harm) to someone not involved by speaking up, unless it is to prevent harm to yet another person (and then I have to weigh the relative harms, quite imperfectly). And I have to admit that avoiding harm to family is usually weighted rather more than avoiding harm to non-family.

        (By the way, for some reason I can honestly tell a new parent that their newborn is beautiful. I seem to switch gears to when mine was the “most beautiful thing” and run from that mindset.)

        1. It was a situation at a convention where things were screwed by fandom politics. The con was partially run by Puppies, partially by Truefen. I truly believe that we should not have shielded the con from being called on the carpet because some Puppies were involved. Both sides of any dispute should be held accountable.

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