Sunday, 31 August 2008

Honor cultures vis-a-vis radical social change

On pages 90 and 91 of Culture of Honor, Nisbett and Cohen provide many very modern examples of violent urban "honor cultures". They show how in urban areas of the US, loss of manufacturing jobs (attributed by the right to unions and labour regulations making it expensive to hire workers) has lead to a violent culture owing to persistent job scarcity. All this agrees very much with what they say about the evolution of honour cultures from resource scarcity and portability in the absence of big government.

Nisbett and Cohen even liken these cultures to the messages of Public Enemy, which I find a little far-fetched because Public Enemy were always about radical social change rather than personal honor.

Most of these working class people, as the brilliant writer "janitor-x" used to say, value personal liberty and self-expression over everything else. Most members of violent urban gangs have a hatred for control by government and are suspicious of the possibilities of radical group-based social movements, which they fear will deny them their rights just as much as conservative religious bodies or tyrannical corporate executives. A tendency towards grave scepticism of any kind of idealism further entrenches the cynical worldview of the countercultures. The end result is a cult of individual self-reliance which, where people cannot gain enough money to even start saving, leads inevitably to pressure to steal money or gain it by countercultural pursuits like thrash metal or hardcore punk.

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