I had an interesting exchange the other day with a friend. I say exchange, because it started via text and then turned into a phone call. I hope soon to finish the discussion face to face. We are indeed “living in the Future.”
The subject under discussion was honor, which my friend considered to sit in opposition to expedience. And if honor means living your life according to a personal set of values, then expedience is pretty much the opposite of that: doing whatever is necessary to achieve results now. In fact, expedience pretty much means ignoring all kinds of values except success.
My friend likes to quote the film Rob Roy and say, “Honor is a gift a man gives to himself.” Which is pretty much true, in that being honorable, like being a dick or not, is voluntary. But in fact, the concept of honor is not something one gives to oneself. We give it to each other. It is a social construct. It is, if you like, a myth.
Now, because most people use the word myth to mean something made up or not factually true (i.e., a lie) I am going to explain just what I mean by that. I’m using the word myth in the context of relating to the mythos. Mythos, according to Wiktionary is “A story or set of stories relating to or having a significant truth or meaning for a particular culture, religion, society, or other group.” It is, in short, the underlying assumptions we have about our world. The Mythos are the things we believe without question; the assumptions we never discuss.
For instance, we believe that the United States is a democracy. Even saying that we believe this is to almost commit an act of heresy, because it implies that it might not be true. But it isn’t true. The underlying principles are democratic, but our electoral system frequently thwarts the wishes of the majority. And even when a candidate is elected with a clear majority of the population (As opposed to the most votes cast) they frequently ignore the wishes of the voters.
Likewise, there is the belief that the US is a Christian Country. It isn’t. It clearly isn’t because there are a lot of people who aren’t Christians, and the Constitution prohibits the establishment of any state religion. Now it is true that the culture is based on a lot of Western Christian Traditions, but that isn’t the same thing at all. It would be like saying that the US is a nation of meat eaters. There are a lot of ‘em out there, and there is a great tradition of hamburgers around here, but no one is required to eat meat.
So that is what I mean by a Myth. Something we act as if was real, even if, upon investigation, we find out that it isn’t.
So back to honor and expediency.
One of the reasons our elections aren’t “democratic” is because of expediency. We want quick, easy to understand elections that give a result in one day. Whoever gets the most votes wins. This is called “First Past the Post.” Other democracies think this is unfair. Any country that uses proportional representation or single transferable vote think first past the post is undemocratic. But we believe in first past the post because it is part of our Mythos. So we continue to say we live in a democracy, even when politicians are elected with less than a majority of the votes, and when elected, ignore the needs and desires of the people.
It seems to me that a man of honor, elected by an unfair system, would work to change the system. Funny how rarely that happens.
And this is because Honor, like democracy, is a myth. It also doesn’t exist.
And here is the interesting thing: none of the Mythos, the underlying beliefs that we have about our country, our society, our planet, our species, none of it exists. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, take the whole of the universe and everything it and grind it down to the finest powder. Pass that powder through the finest sieve imaginable, and not one atom of honor will you find, not one molecule of democracy. Not one atom. Because things like Honor, Democracy, Love, God, General Electric, the United States, don’t exist as atoms and molecules. Honor, charity, truth, perhaps, only exist in the mind or the heart. They are ideas, emotions. And they are a gift we give – not to ourselves – but to each other. Because it is only by agreeing to act as if these things exist are we able to live as human beings.
Honor is a gift we give to each other. As is respect.
We may or may not agree on whether the US is a democracy, or that our elections are fair, but unless we agree that democracy as an idea exists, and that one way of making it work is elections, we’re screwed. Unless we agree that some people have honor, and you can trust them, and that you should maybe not trust someone who values only expedience, we are going to find any kind of society difficult. In fact, everything that makes life worth living is a myth. It only exists because we believe in it. We want it to be real.
But here is something I think is really cool. We get to decide what we want to be real. My friend gets to choose to be honorable. We get to agree that our country will not be a tyranny, run by a King Dick. In fact, that’s why the United States exists at all: people agreed to it. It was an act of will. It still is. Honor, honesty, generosity, loyalty, patriotism, faith. We get to have these or not. But we have to choose for them to exist. It isn’t automatic. The sun will rise tomorrow; that is a fact, made of atoms. But being honorable, that is a choice. That being the case, we really have to think long and hard about what we want our society to believe in. Honor or Expediency? Generosity or Greed? Our world, our lives and our children’s lives depend on what we choose.
I choose to be a loving man, and an honest one, because although I am made of atoms, those things are not, and I have to will them into existence.
And, just in case you are wondering, I think tomorrow I will try to not be a dick.