Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Die like a man, like your brother did!"

Malcolm Gladwell, on a possible reason for the high prevalence of violence and crime (related to personal honor) in the Southern (Appalachian) areas of the US:

"The so-called American back country states - from the Pennsylvania border south and west through Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, and the northern end of Alabama and Georgia - were all settled overwhelmingly by immigrants from one of the world's most ferocious cultures of honor. They were "Scotch-Irish" - that is, from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern countries of England, and Ulster in Northern Ireland."

"...Cultures of honor tend to take root in highlands and other marginally fertile areas, such as Sicily or the mountainous Basque regions of Spain. If you live on some rocky mountainside, the explanation goes, you can't farm. You probably raise goats or sheep, and the kind of culture that grows up around being a herdsman is very different from the culture that grows up around growing crops.

The survival of a farmer depends on the cooperation of others in the community. But a herdsman is off by himself. Farmers also don't have to worry that their livelihood will be stolen in the night, because crops can't easily be stolen unless, of course, a thief wants to go to the trouble of harvesting an entire field on his own.

But a herdsman does have to worry. He's under constant threat of ruin through the loss of his animals. So he has to be aggressive: he has to make it clear, through his words and deeds, that he is not weak. He has to be willing to fight in response to even the slightest challenge to his reputation - and that's what a "culture of honor" means. It's a world where a man's reputation is at the center of his livelihood and his self-worth.

"The critical moment in the development of the young shepherd's reputation is his first quarrel," the ethnographer J.K.Campbell writes of one herding culture in Greece. "Quarrels are necessarily public. They may occur in the coffee shop, the village square, or most frequently on a grazing boundary where a curse or a stone aimed at one of his straying sheep by another shepherd is an insult which inevitably requires a violent response."

Page 167, Part Two: Legacy, Chapter 6: Harlan, Kentucky. “Die like a man, like your brother did!”.
From ‘Outliers, The Story of Success’, by Malcolm Gladwell

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