Monday, 1 September 2008

Would workers be predisposed to honor culture without big government?

The book Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South gives an interesting perspective on what caused the high crime rates in the American South. They attribute the high murder rate to a "honor culture" that believes retaliation for offence is acceptable and was descended from the pastoralists of the Scottish Highlands.

Culture of Honor says that "honor cultures" are not likely to develop in hunter/gatherer or settled farming societies - in the first case because it is inefficient to fight over limited resources, in the second because peaceful coexistence with neighbours is so important to maintaining social stability.

When I considered what was said in Power in Eden for a second time a few days ago, I came to the conclusion that honor cultures could develop among industrial workers, though the suggestion is never made by Lerro.

My reasoning is that, once you understand that the real resources of an industrial or postindustrial economy can be interpreted as either money or metal ores. Both these resources are highly portable, which provides one criterion for radical machismo to develop. In all regions except Australia and perhaps Southern Africa or oil-rich states, mineral resources are very scarce, and for the young worker in the absence of welfare so is money. If we assume the kind of small government advocated by the Right, we have in industrial society all the criteria for men to become extremely macho except low population density. Even this may be reduced if development of urban areas were free and farm subsidies absent.

On another level, I have a great many recollections from biographies of famous people that do suggest tyrannical and/or abusive fathers were more frequent during the Industrial Revolution and up to the time "Big Government" developed after World War I than at any other stage in Western history. Childhoods like those of Margaret Sanger, Stalin and Alfred Kinsey were characterised by fathers who were always violent or extremely authoritarian in a way seldom seen amongst people at other times. Both Stalin and Sanger had fathers who had low-paid laboring jobs and were extremely violent to their children and devoutly feminine and pious wives. The fact that they had no access to public monies and were faced with extreme competition from other workers made it practically impossible for them to save up money to achieve a more secure lifestyle. This is what suggests industrial workers in most parts of the world will be naturally predisposed to violence in the absence of "big government".

Another reason a working-class industrial society might develop an "honor culture" where a settled agricultural one would not is that workers in free-market industrial society face more potential competition than in an agricultural society. Though groups of workers will need to co-operate, competition between different factories lessens this needs overall when compared with smaller-scale farming societies, so that workers have fewer potential restraints against violence as a response to poverty.

Competition also works among bosses who are forced to increase the productivity of labour. Whereas peasants starve if the strike, workers can easily strike to demand better conditions by force. Violent strikebreaking as a response by bosses as occurred very frequently in the US before the New Deal expanded government power against it, serves as further evidence (post)industrial society could develop violent honor cultures in the absence of very strong government to regulate working conditions and wages.

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