A young lady I know said to me today, in response to my mentioning a piece in the National Review, "Well, they are liars. It's hard to deal with people who lie." I was a bit too shocked to give a proper reply.

Really, the Highland Southern upbringing is incompatible with (but superior to) that which is offered in the rest of the country. I guess it's not a big deal to call someone a liar these days, even if what you mean is that you find their argument so removed from reality that you don't care even to begin addressing it. I had a bit different training.

I remember when I was sixteen, and my father decided to buy a car for us to use to drive to Atlanta, where he worked and I went to school. The salesman wanted to sell us a mid-sized car at a modest price, but we decided that, as it would be only the two of us, we wanted a compact instead. Oddly, that caused the price to go up. When we asked why, he made some noise about how supply and demand was making the deluxe model cost less than the stripped-down, smaller body.

Dad asked me what I thought. I said something like, "If that's the going rate, we should pay it. Just please," here addressing the salesman, "tell down on the counter a few bills of sale that show where anyone has paid that price. If you can produce three or four of them, I'd say we were getting a fair deal." The salesman sputtered, my father made some noises that sounded apologetic, and we withdrew.

Once we came into the car to ride home, I found that my father was furious at me. "You all but called that man a liar," he said. "I would not have blamed him if he'd climbed over that counter and beaten you to death. In fact, if he had, I wouldn't have stopped him."

"But he was lying," I protested.

"It doesn't matter," Dad said, and nothing else. I didn't quite understand his wrath at the time. I do now.

"[P]erhaps the worst thing one could do to challenge someone else was to accuse him of being a liar," notes an article on the Code Duello. To call a man a liar, to one of the Old Code, is to dare him to kill you if he can, and to swear that you will slay him if he dares to try. If the Old Code has faded in the light of the modern world, it hasn't faded much in the South. My father was looking at a sixteen year old kid trying to challenge a man to fight or die to prove his honor, and he was both embarrassed at my cheek and outraged at my audacity.

A kid can't fight a duel. He has no standing to offer the insult. As a man would be a bully to accept a fight with a child, for that child to call a man a liar is cowardly. It is to attack from a position of perfect security, humiliating a man who can't reply. For a girl to do it is the same.

I am born to the Old Code, and--as this story shows--I was raised in it. I don't call men liars unless I am ready to fight them, and I won't accept it from others. Is that unsophisticated? It is certainly outside the modern, common tradition. I cannot help but look down on those who resort to deadly insults with neither the intent nor the ability to back them up. Such is the old way.

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