"A Good Gift For Bad People"


I strive to be an honorable man, but increasingly I wonder if that is always consistent with being a good man. We all know that mafias have honor codes, but aren't good men in spite of living by these codes. It's an interesting question. Assuming for the moment that honor and goodness don't always line up, which one should be preferred? Alternatively, can you give an account of why they should always line up, one that would explain that codes like the mafia's aren't really honorable?

You might want to have a drink while considering the question. It's the kind of thing we live or die by.


james said...

In the event that honor requirements conflict, to whom do you owe first loyalty?

Grim said...

That's a good question also. It's the basic issue that troubled feudal Europe, and which animates much of the Arthurian literature of the period.

Tom said...

Yeah, one of my first thoughts was the war between Lancelot and Arthur, and the relationship between Arthur and Mordred.

I'm not sure having a drink has clarified this any for me, but I have an observation and a question.

Whenever Honor and the Good end up in conflict, the result seems to be Tragedy.

My question is, what is real? The Good seems to be real because it is based in God and Truth. Is honor real? If so, what is that reality based in?

We have an understanding of mutual debts, of the value of one's word, but what gives them meaning?

jaed said...

It strikes me that an honor code such as the Mafia's is conditional good misapplied: contingent virtue applied to absolute bad.

Persistence is a virtue, but persistence in achieving bad ends is not virtuous conduct. Loyalty is a virtue, but loyally cleaving to a leader who does evil things - to the point of cooperating in and forwarding those deeds - is not virtuous either. Honor possibly can be analyzed similarly. What end is it striving toward?

(The tragic element then might be that someone capable of the high virtues of loyalty and honor - a potentially very good man - misapplied them to evil ends, and thus twisted his own virtuous qualities to evil.)

Eric Blair said...

I like what Jaed says. I am willing to bet the failure to understand this is what creates a lot of the trouble in the world.

David Foster said...

Honor and goodness...a very interesting case is that of Colonel (later General) Hans Oster of the German Army. Oster was one of the earliest and most effective of the military opponents of Naziism.

In late 1939, Oster began to pass military information about Germany’s plans for an invasion of Western Europe to his friend Bert Sas, who was the Dutch military attache. Sas assured him that this information would be passed to his Belgian opposite number, and Oster surely expected that the information would also reach the French and the British. On May 9, 1940, he provided Sas with a final update: a massive German attack was about to begin. Sas notified his superiors, who apparently did nothing with the information. If they had taken it seriously, history might have been very different.

The decision to pass detailed military information to an enemy state was extremely painful to Oster, despite his loathing of Naziism–he knew that if the Allies acted effectively on the information he was giving them, it would likely mean the deaths of tens of thousands of German soldiers, among them many of his friends. Nevertheless, he did it. After one session with Sas, Oster unburdened himself to a friend:

"It’s much easier to take a pistol and shoot someone down, it’s much easier to storm a machine-gun emplacement, than to do what I have decided to do. And if I should die, I beg you to remain my friend after my death–a friend who knew the circumstances under which I took this decision, and what drove me to do things which perhaps others will never understand, or at least would never have done themselves."

I think it speaks well for Oster that he did what he did....AND it also speaks well for him that it was painful for him to do so.

Outer fought in the First World War, and if you had been an American, a Brit, or a Frenchman, he would have shot you and probably not felt very bad about it. But Naziism was a bridge he would not cross.

Maybe the rule should be: honor controls up to some threshold X, which each individual must determine for himself... but beyond X, other values may preempt the demands of honor.

douglas said...

Isn't honor the law and virtue the act? and one only operates as honorable and virtuous by acting in accordance with the values from which the laws of honor are drawn? So ultimately, values govern both honor and virtue, and the tragic issues aren't in those things themselves but in our difficulties in deciphering the truly good values from the values that attempt to pirate honor and virtue away from their proper course.

This pondering calls for a good port, I think.

Ymar Sakar said...

Honoring oaths to evil people in organizations controlled by corrupt humans, is how General Lee got to where his life ended up.

A good person fighting for an evil cause, is still fighting for an evil cause. Especially if they do not want to do so.