Don’t Fall With Honor

Thursday , 9, July 2015 4 Comments

“Don’t you see? It’s Galaxy-wide. It’s a worship of the past. It’s a deterioration – a stagnation!”- Foundation, Isaac Asimov

There is a natural, even reasonable resistance among those who appreciate Blue SF to want to defend it, but not at the cost of honor.

Science Fiction itself, however, indicates that this concept is not only self-defeating but, paradoxically dishonorable.

The idea is something like this:

“Blue SF is obviously under persistent attack by shiftless, cheating attention-seekers, and I will not use their tactics against them in any defense I mount. I won’t lower myself to their standards. If I fall, I fall with honor.”

Perhaps these fans see a little Roy Batty in themselves – a fighter and survivor who proves in the end that his motivation was always a higher calling than his murderous rampage might indicate – ultimately he sought purpose, and to be remembered.

When it came “time…to die…” replicant Roy Batty fell with honor. Why shouldn’t you?

But the Blue defender isn’t Roy Batty – a doomed machine destined to lose, who recognizes that bringing down a good man in the end isn’t going to add a second to his termination date. Keep in mind, after all, that the merciful Batty is the same one who blinded his own lying creator to death.

No, Blue man has more agency than that, and more options. His insistence on honor has little to do with virtue and a lot to do with a misplaced faith in staying quiet. Don’t forget that a man’s honor has little to do with his virtue, and almost nothing to do with what is right (after all, a man can receive honor for doing immoral things, such as tossing innocents off of buildings, or taking over a government under the guise of wisdom and discretion).

Honor; noun – high respect; esteem.

Honor is thrown around as if it is a virtue. As in “Sir, you have no honor;” an insult often cast when one doesn’t approve of another man’s conduct. But among the virtues, you have the Greek: prudence, justice, temperance and courage, and you have the Christian: faith, hope and charity…but “honor” is not among them. Now, honor can serve as a check on pride, and may occasionally be called upon in the service of temperance, and the retention of honor (esteem) can spur a man to acts of courage, but honor – on its own – is no virtue. Batty died with it – he would be esteemed and remembered as a creature who lived, instead of forgotten as a murderous, anonymous android who took down one more cop before expiring. But this is no virtue.

What about Mr. Spock? Did he not die for honor to defeat the devastation wrought by Khan’s pride, vanity and vengeance?

No. He died with honor, but not for it. He of course is rightly esteemed for his sacrifice, but his sacrifice was an exercise of virtues, of both courage and of temperance. Honor didn’t factor in to his tactics or his thinking.

There’s a sort of false, if well-intended, modesty that affects Mr. Blue Defender.

It is not dissimilar to the subtle opportunity that Arthur Dent misses spectacularly in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Up until this point in the novel, Arthur is mostly a quiet and befuddled hanger-on, tolerated but mostly dismissed by the far more exciting and lively semi-cousins Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox. Zaphod is particularly dismissive or indifferent to Arthur’s plight, but when Arthur takes action — as the entire crew is paralyzed with fear — to save The Heart of Gold and its inhabitants from nuclear destruction, the President of the Galaxy takes notice.

Zaphod acknowledges Arthur’s heroism…and Arthur rejects the honor:

“Hey kid you just saved our lives, you know that?”

“Oh,” said Arthur, “well, it was nothing really …”

“Was it?” said Zaphod. “Oh well, forget it then.”

Too many Blue defenders are early Elliot Ness in The Untouchables:

Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Ness: Anything within the law.

Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do?

But – because of honor – they become squeamish over late Elliot Ness:

I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Honor isn’t what you fantasize yourself to have for falling silent when there is no tasteful way to fight. Honor is what you earn when things get dirty.

  • TheCarl says:

    This reminds me of Bujold’s comments on Reputation vs Honor:
    “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”

    I like that contrast, but I’m not sure how accurate it is. For example, it doesn’t mesh well with the way the word is used in honor cultures vs guilt cultures. Interesting take on it.

  • Tom says:

    I liked this. In particular, following the seven virtues means you’re doing fine in life. Sometimes things are just that simple, even if there are plenty of sophists who would love to trick you.

  • Jill says:

    I think you are right on track with the difference between honor and virtue. But when I consider this subject of “fighting fire with fire”, I see that the Repubs have been doing that for years in attempting to combat the Libs, and have rather become like them instead of making any progress. They are playing the game by the same rules, but they didn’t create the game or the rules. “Fighting fire with fire” is an acknowledgment that there is a fire in the first place, and how could that fire have been prevented? Cleaning. Clearing. Pruning. Not leaving the fuel in the first place to go up in flames. I don’t know anything about warfare, but I do know about silent propaganda wars which have been going on in this country for well over a hundred years. Fighting fire with fire works because small controlled fires eat up fuel and end up starving the larger fire. But those tactics don’t prevent other fires from erupting unless some maintenance cleaning occurs. I think I’ve taken that metaphor about as far as it will go. Sorry about that.

  • Jack Amok says:

    His insistence on honor has little to do with virtue and a lot to do with a misplaced faith in staying quiet.

    Misplaced faith in staying quiet, or hidden fear of being noticed? Declining to fight – or at least declining to fight in any way that might be effective – means you aren’t a threat to the enemy, and he is likely to turn his attention towards your more dangerous allies. Dealing damage to the enemy OTOH is sure to draw his return fire.

    The Fall-with-Honor Knights are in fact cowards. They only attack those who they think won’t strike back, namely their own allies. They are afraid to attack the real enemy, who will fire back, and rationalize their non-action as “not sinking to his level.”

    An honorable man is not above pistol-whipping a dishonorable one. But a coward is afraid to.

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