358. The receptive (III)
I once attended a dinner—effectively a family dinner, but widely expanded out—held by a company executive. As I sat at the dinner table, I watched the man’s sister-in-law—his second sister-in-law, since his brother was remarried—overtly insult her host’s son; she literally swore in his face, though in that slightly deniable way women do. At the same time, the man’s second wife—the boy’s stepmother—made similar nasty remarks, so that the boy was trapped between a Scylla and Charybdis of strange bitches.
The host did absolutely nothing in response; and so I was tempted to think that he did not care for this son—except I knew that his son, after a relationship imploded, had vanished into the Thai jungle and the father had followed him out there and brought him back. Revealed preference showed that he cared for his son.
The real answer lay in the fact that we are a society without honour—and without dignity as well, incidentally. Indeed, if I imagine myself saying, “We are society without honour,” to someone in real life I just imagine them laughing or rolling their eyes and saying, “Yeah, right. What am I? A knight in shining armour? Get real.” Yet this whole dinner torture resulted from a life without honour. Now, the man was successful; he was a senior executive and so you would think he would be assertive and pushy. Of course, it is quite the contrary. Executives are nothing like the caricature created by leftist filmmakers, some psychopath who wants to grind the faces of the poor; actually, that is projection: it is the left that is deviant and dreams about grinding the faces of the poor.
No, executives are actually rather, well, nice—or, if not nice, then very careful and shrewd; very careful to retain good relations and cultivate, to drop register, positive feels. They are acutely conscious about how important it is to cultivate good relations; and this often leads them to remain cautiously silent: always watching, watching for a rival to embarrass themselves so they can tell on him to teacher—or if more patient wait for someone else to do the telling so they are completely clean. The best strategy is often to do absolutely nothing.
The problem is that this strategy can lead them to endure situations that should, really, be unendurable. They survive and prosper, but they do so without honour and dignity. My response, if someone’s wife had disrespected my son at my own table, would be to eject them from my house; and as for my second wife, she would be chastised so that she understood that my own blood is more important than her—especially if I had no children with her. This would, of course, incur a social cost; and so it is not “rational” in a certain sense. “Better not to cause a scene, got to keep up appearances—the connection could be useful…” The problem with this attitude is that at a certain point is segues into self-abasement, cowardice, and squalor.
Why do people disdain honour? Is it to do with the decline of religion? I doubt it; the concept of honour can exist perfectly well independently of religion—the Greek philosophers, even the atheists, knew it and respected it. No, I think it is to do with democracy. Honour is elitist. Honour says: there are things I would rather die or suffer public disdain than do. It says: to submit to that is beneath me. For the democrat, nothing is beneath their dignity; if you have a line that cannot be crossed you are an elitist—that is discwimination, bawls the child, and it is wery unfwair. In our democratised society few people have any limits except expedience (“It’s good for the economy, don’t you know?”); and this leads to considerable cruelty and cowardice—better to maintain good relations and appearances than to protect your son. The final price is your own dignity and integrity.