"Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let me label you as they may." ~ Mark Twain
"Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong."
The concept of consistency is sadly lacking these days, I think, even among those older than me, who should have received better grounding in the ideal of honor than I. I am saddened to think that the pure ideal of personal honor has fallen by the wayside today, to be replaced with a vicious resentment of slight, which, in its worst form, leads to such crass endeavors as the drive-by. When a man responds to a "dis" with a hail of bullets into an occupied dwelling which may not even hold the offender he wishes to silence, he has sullied himself far more effectively than any outside insult could.
Many think "personal honor" is an antiquated idea, and some even relegate it to the category of "silly," citing the many points of delicacy one must observe in order to maintain it. I do not find the conceit of a code of behavior founded on the regard for the rights of others as well as oneself to be an expression of silliness. A common objection I hear to acting honorably is the one which the Federals are now trying to put forward to justify the torture of inmates in Iraq and Cuba, namely, these people don't fight fair, so why should they? Besides, 'innocent lives are at stake.' This is just a twisted iteration of the "ends justify the means" fallacy, a popular refrain with armies and police agencies. What these people, who claim to have integrity and honor in order to get elected or appointed, fail to realize is that the ends never justify the means. Whenever a people or system uses corrupt means to gain its ends, it is itself corrupt, and its ends can never be otherwise. Surviving by the slaughter of others who have never harmed one (like the non-combatant residents of Guernica or Fallujah) is morally indefensible. As Thoreau so ably said of slavery, this people must cease to support the government capable of these acts, even if it costs them their existence as a people.
On a more individual level, when I am enticed by the liquid love the gods called 'beer' down to the place where it is served along with the promise of a game or two of billiards, and am exposed thereby to the often ill-intentioned and worse-informed airings of opinion common in those realms, the 'sheets of glass' theory of international relations is a frequent refrain among the amateur statesmen honing their craft, as in, 'what we need to do is turn Mecca and Baghdad and all those other sand-nigger towns into sheets of glass.' As charming as I find these quaint notions on the proper use and deployment of nyoo-cyoo-ler weapons, I cannot help but wonder if very much better people than they are elected, especially since the 'nuke the Middle East' proponents are the voting base of those who wage these unjust wars. Even the expression 'unjust war' is a redundancy, since they all are. How can this be consistent with honor?
Some would argue that the word 'honor,' like 'freedom,' 'liberty,' or 'hero,' has been so stained by those who misuse the term by referring to our 'honorable' troops who are 'fighting for our freedom,' or our 'heroic' law enforcement who are 'fighting to keep us safe,' that the words have no meaning. Leaving aside for the moment whether the troops or the police are 'ours,' rather than 'theirs,' to be used to oppress 'us,' instead let us examine the ideas of symbology and euphemism as they relate to honor. If one advocates 'gun safety,' or 'gun control,' one advocates the disarmament of victims in the face of crime. If one advocates 'reproductive rights,' or is 'pro-choice,' one advocates the killing of children. If one advocates a 'war on drugs,' one advocates one's government killing both one's own citizens and those of other countries, most of whom have done no harm to anyone but themselves. If one advocates a 'war on terror,' one advocates the expansion of the police state and the end of freedom as it used to be known. If one advocates 'social security,' or 'public assistance,' one advocates extortion on pain of death. If one advocates 'eminent domain,' one advocates theft. If one advocates 'democracy,' one advocates majoritarian tyranny. Anyone who uses any of these terms positively is either dishonorable or deluded.
How can I state this so positively? Because each conclusion is inescapable:
- 'Gun safety' advocates claim to want to 'get guns out of the hands of criminals,' but even if a restrictive law has that effect in some cases, it also gets guns out of the hands of those who could otherwise not defend themselves from attack, rendering them decidedly unsafe.
- For all the rhetoric about 'a woman's right to choose,' when a womb is 'dilated and evacuated' of a viable fetus, a child is killed.
- When any police agency has a 'we are at war' mentality, as the paramilitary cadres who conduct most drug raids do, 'collateral damage,' i.e., the killing of people who have done nothing except be in the wrong place at the wrong time, is inevitable.
- When any State (or super-State) is allowed to define who are 'enemy combatants,' or 'terrorists,' and have free rein to humiliate, torture, or kill them at will, the 'war on terror' has become a war on freedom and human dignity.
- When a person receives a check from the government because they are 'needy,' that money was taxed from the person who actually earned it by the threat of punishment in the form of a fine, or, if one does not wish to pay the fine, imprisonment, or, if one does not wish to be imprisoned, death. Taking money from someone, for whatever reason, by means of the threatening of harm, is extortion, whatever legislative blessing may shield the extortionist.
- When property is taken from its owner by the State for the 'public good,' and the owner is paid not what the property is worth in free market terms, but whatever a judge says is its 'fair market value,' though the owner gets some compensation, he is robbed of what he may have realized from the sale of his property on his own terms.
- When an election is said to have been a 'mandate from the people,' even if an overwhelming majority voted for one side or another, forcing dissenters to accept the results and live under those they would not have govern them by choice is tyranny, as surely as Nazism or communism are. Democracy gives the illusion of freedom without its real substance: freedom from the interference of others in the conduct of one's peaceable life.[i]
All of these arguments have been made before, and will be again, until dissenting speech is finally punishable by death, as it always has become in the past and shall be once more, eventually. Even then, the voice of honor will still be heard from those with the courage to maintain their convictions in spite of the club of the State and its willing accomplices. There is only one path to true honor: educate oneself as to what the actual meaning of real honor is, and act accordingly.
Since the observations I make here are perfectly well known to most of the people liable to read these lines, why do I restate what others have said before so much better than I ever could? Because such statements cannot be made often enough. There is never a point past which the preaching of honor becomes redundant. Only when high-minded rhetoric is combined with higher acts can any State be called anything approaching legitimate, and this government has, for generations, strayed from that road. Whatever moral mandate has ever been enjoyed by the State has long since evaporated, along with its honor, in the fires of the cities it has burned to the ground.
[i]As Ibsen said, 'Oh, yes--you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has might on its side -- unfortunately; but right it has not.'