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(#82, Version 5.0)


(Caveat: This discussion of honor does not propose to address all issues on this topic or to answer all potential questions in this matter. It is more of an overview of the topic, with the addition of many quotes from the Gorean novels on honor. Numerous questions about honor, for you to ponder, are also raised in this essay.)

Honor. It is a term used often within the online Gorean community yet do we possess an adequate grasp of its meaning? Can it even be defined or is it such an ambiguous term that each person defines it differently? Do we understand all of the potential ramifications of honor? We should first preface this discussion by differentiating between the various terms and parts of speech this word touches upon. For example, “honor” can be both a noun and a verb. It can also be an adjective and adverb, honorable and honorably. And each of these has its own nuances and meanings. For example, the phrases “You have honor” and “We honor you” mean different things. In addition, the phrases “You have honor” and “You acted honorably” also have different meanings. 

"As we honor this man we, in doing this, similarly do honor onto ourselves."   (Marauders of Gor, p.182) 

Thus, we do need to narrow the scope of our discussion to be able to adequately manager the topic. For now, let us consider the use of “honor” as a noun for now. Concepts of what constitute “honor” vary between cultures and even groups within those cultures. For instance, English chivalric honor varies from Japanese samurai honor, and both differ from the honor of the Gorean Warrior Caste. A brief example will show how widely different these concepts of honor can be. For a samurai, suicide is sometimes a very honorable death. It may be the only way for a samurai to die with honor. For a Gorean Warrior, suicide is never honorable. It is a violation of the Warrior Caste Codes. Do these differences mean that honor is undefinable? Or does it mean that it is a cultural concept that can only be answered within each such culture? Or do we simply need to find the common denominator between these disparate visions of honor? 

“My business with the Priest-Kings is simple, as are most matters of honor and blood.”   (Priest-Kings of Gor, p.14)

  The common denominator between these different groups is that they all follow a certain code of conduct, and possession of honor is generally based on whether a person follows that code or not. Their codes do vary, but all of these groups at least share the fact that they do follow some type of code. Thus, at its foundation, honor is an adherence to an ethical code of conduct. Honor cannot exist without reference to guidelines or standards of conduct, even if those guidelines or standards are not explicitly delineated. We may declare a man to be honorable based on his own code of conduct or we may base it our own codes. For example, if we consider honesty to be part of that ethical code, then we would consider those people who are honest to be honorable based on that standard. 

“Honor," I said, "has many voices, and many songs."

He looked down at me, startled, "That is a saying of warriors," he said. "It is from the codes. It is a long time since I have heard it. I had almost forgotten it. Where did you, a slave, hear it?"

"In Treve," I said.

"A den of thieves!" he said.

I did not respond. Who knows within what houses may be heard the voices of honor? Who knows within what walls may be heard her songs?” 

(Witness of Gor, p.711)

On Gor, the Caste Codes basically form these ethical standards, the basis for determining whether a man possesses honor or not. A person who fails to follow his Caste Codes is often seen as failing to possess honor. The Codes of the various Castes vary, sometimes significantly. A Warrior may lose honor for a certain action that an Assassin may not. These codes of conduct are intrinsically tied into the societal and cultural structure of Gor. Their standards may not be applicable to Earth societies or cultures, even those that seem similar in some ways. So, when a person states they have honor, they are essentially stating they follow a certain code of conduct. But, unless you know that person better, you may not know what their exact code entails. 

“I had a respect for caste honor. Honor was honor, in small things as well as great. How can one practice honor in great things, if not in small things?”   (Rogue of Gor, p.231)

Besides the specific Caste Codes of Gor, there do appear to be certain virtues that are commonly accepted by most Castes as being proper for Goreans. These virtues can also form their own general code of conduct from which honor may be based. But remember that not everyone will follow these virtues or even find them worthy. They are a generality only and caution is advised when considering if they are applicable or not. For example, though honesty is important to many Goreans it is far from an absolute virtue. There are numerous exceptions in which complete honesty is not expected or even desirable. For example, subterfuge in warfare is an acceptable form of deception. It seems to be a different case though where a person’s sworn word is given. That is often considered a matter of honor, by most, if not all, Castes. Most Goreans would feel that a person who broke their sworn word had committed an act of dishonor. 

“…the Gorean tends to take such things as honor and truth very seriously.”   (Magicians of Gor, p.255)

Real-time Goreans often state that honor is a virtue of the Gorean philosophy and lifestyle. Few would disagree that honor is a worthy virtue for any person, Gorean or not. But, there is far less discussion online on the actual components for a code of conduct that would be applicable to real-time Goreans. Thus, an objective is given, honor, but the guidelines for achieving that objective are not provided. A more extensive discussion on the topic of codes of proper behavior would be of great benefit. Obviously the Caste codes from the books cannot be used as is. First, none of the Caste Codes are complete in the books. We really only know much about the Warrior Caste Codes and even those Codes are missing numerous aspects. Second, those Codes are tied far too closely to Gorean society to have a lot of applicability to Earth. Gorean laws vary significantly from Earth laws so what Codes might be permissible under Gorean law would never work under Earth laws. 

“Honor is important to Goreans, in a way that those of Earth might find it hard to understand; for example, those of Earth find it natural that men should go to war over matters of gold and riches, but not honor; the Gorean, contrariwise, is more willing to submit matters of honor to the adjudication of steel than he is matters of riches and gold; there is a simple explanation for this; honor is more important to him.”   (Beasts of Gor, p.42)

Some may say that each person should rely on their own personal code of conduct, that there is no need to create a code of conduct that would apply to a group. Though that is a possibility, it raises some compelling questions. How would we then assess the honor of others? We could not assess their honor without knowledge of what codes of conduct they followed. We could assess them based on our own codes of conduct but that will often mean little, especially if their codes of conduct vary from our own. As an example, how could a Gorean Warrior judge the honor of a samurai if the Warrior had no concept of bushido? If he tried to base it on his own codes, some of the samurai’s actions might be seen as dishonorable despite those actions being fully honorable according to bushido. 

“It is seldom wise, incidentally, to impugn, or attempt to manipulate, the honor of a Gorean.”   (Mercenaries of Gor, p.297)

How would we learn the personal codes of conduct of others? Few people publicly list such matters. They may discuss certain specific aspects of their personal beliefs but not their beliefs in the entirety. It becomes a complicated mess to try to assess someone’s honor based on little or no background information. Though accusations are sometimes made against others for being dishonorable, those accusations most often depend on the accuser’s code of conduct, not the code of the accused. Thus, such accusations have limited applicability, if any. So, unless we are fully cognizant of a person’s individual code of conduct, assessing their honor becomes near impossible.

“There is no loss of honor in failing to achieve such a task, I told myself.”   (Nomads of Gor, p.8)

There are no universal codes of conduct that would be applicable to all people. Thus, there is no universal standard to assess a person’s honor. As an example, let us consider honesty. Although it may seem clear that everyone should be honest and that it should be a part of a proper code of conduct, it is not that simple. Do we truly believe that we must provide complete honesty at all times? Or are there areas of exception? For example, the Warrior Caste Code states that a Warrior must not break his sworn word. But, it does not state that a Warrior must be honest at all times. In actuality, the Caste understands a need for deception at times, especially in wartime. There is no dishonor involved in such deceptions. Even something like murder is not universal as definitions of what constitutes “murder” will also vary. According to bushido, a samurai could kill a peasant just to test the cutting ability of his sword. How many other cultures would view that as murder? 

"There are no mere points of honor," I told her.”   (Vagabonds of Gor, p.63)

What is the true test of a person’s honor? What proves their true convictions? Honor can be restrictive, setting a man on a path on which he is not expected to veer away from. Sometimes that road is easy to traverse and sometimes the navigation is far more difficult. Anyone can follow the road when it is easy but it is those difficult moments that show a man’s true character. It is easy to possess honor when times are good, when following that honor does not come with a cost. It is when the choices get difficult that the true test emerges, when a person must weigh the cost of pursuing the path of Honor. That is when you see how important honor is to a person. Does one adhere to a path of honor despite the negative consequences of such a path? Does one abide by the obligations of honor despite the difficulty? 

“A man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.” 
(Walter Lippman) 

Let us assume that one has chosen as a code of conduct never to break their sworn word. Would you adhere to that principle always? Or would you seek exceptions to avoid unpleasantness? If you swore to assist someone, and that person turned out to be someone you disliked or even an enemy, would you still follow through on your word? Would it depend on the nature of the assistance you had sworn to provide? How much inconvenience would you accept to remain true to your word? Suppose you had sworn to volunteer at a local charitable event. You then got tickets to a once in a lifetime event, one you had always dreamed about seeing. Would you renege on your word to go to that special event? Instead, what if your car broke down on the morning on the charitable event? Would you pay $100 to a cab to take you there? Or would you remain home instead of incurring such a cost?

“But few of them, it seems, no matter how exquisite we are, no matter how beautiful we are, will compromise their honor for us. And I do not object to this for, without honor, how could they be men, and, if they were not men, true men, how could they be fit and perfect masters for us?”   (Witness of Gor, p.498)

What cost would you be willing to pay to retain your honor? Would you be willing to pursue honor if it might cost you a friend? If it might cost you financially? If your reputation among certain people might suffer? If few people might understand your reasons for your actions? At the extreme, would you accept death over dishonor? Would you only accept death over certain types of dishonor? Or is self-preservation more important than honor? Does your own personal code of conduct state that you do not have to engage in any behavior that could lead to your death, even if that behavior would be otherwise dishonorable? 

“The men of Gor, our masters, tend to take honor very seriously.”   (Witness of Gor, p.408)

Would you compromise your honor for anything? If you answer negatively to this question, then you are essentially placing honor above all else. And that can be easy to say but the true test will always be when your feet are placed to the fire and a choice must be made. Would you be willing to sacrifice the life of your wife and/or children for your own honor? Would you allow yourself to die an ignominious death for your honor? Would you allow yourself to be maimed over a point of honor? Consider the matter of Tarl Cabot in Raiders of Gor when he was given the choice between slavery or an honorable death. He chose enslavement and though he felt he lost his honor then, and now only can recollect it at times, others did not feel the same. Samos stated that the Codes do not contain all of the truths of the world and he did not feel Tarl was any less honorable. Would anyone have rather chosen such a death in the swamps? 

“…the average Gorean…his honor, which he values highly,…”   (Fighting Slave of Gor, p.144)

Some of these questions raise another important issue. Is one obligated to deal with all people in an honorable fashion? Or are there certain people you can handle without regard for honor? Do your enemies deserve to be treated honorably? Or do different rules apply? Can you break a sworn word made to an enemy? In the chivalric code of hospitality, if you welcomed someone into your home, and later learned that they were an enemy, they were still entitled to hospitality. You could take no action against that guest. Does being honorable depend on those we interact with or is it more a personal matter? 

Which must also consider the effect of what happens when a person fails to live up to his code of conduct. What happens to your honor if you commit a dishonorable act? Is your honor lost forever? Does it matter the nature of the dishonorable act? Are all acts of dishonor equal in their effect on one’s honor? Is there a way to atone or redeem your honor? If so, how do you accomplish that objective?

When Goreans get the idea that honor is involved they suddenly become quite difficult to deal with.”   (Magicians of Gor, p.400)

Can someone else’s actions affect, positively or negatively, your own honor? Can you affect, positively or negatively, the honor of someone else? Or is honor so personal that only the individual can affect their own honor? If honor is adherence to a personal code of conduct, then it seems unlikely that any outside force could affect a person’s honor. Only the individual involved could make the active decision to follow or violate their own code of conduct. But, how would this work with the honor of a person’s Home Stone, city or Caste? As each of these generally consists of a collection of individuals, could then a single individual affect, positively or negatively, the overall honor of these matters?

“I sat in the darkness and wondered on honor, and courage. If they were shams, I thought them most precious shams. How else could we tell ourselves from urts and sleen? What distinguishes us from such beasts? The ability to multiply and subtract, to tell lies, to make knives? No, I think particularly it is the sense of honor, and the will to hold one’s ground.”   (Marauders of Gor, p.6)

Free Women & Honor

“Men are honorable,” she said.

“So, too, are some women,” I said.” 

(Renegades of Gor, p.202)

There is often discussion on who may possess honor though it is generally agreed that all free men may possess honor. It is less accepted that free women might possess honor though the Gor books do support such a proposition. Honor though does seem to be a more popular concern for free men than free women. As free women are part of the Caste system, they too are thus bound by the Caste Codes as men would be. If free women are so bound, then they too can possess honor by following their appropriate code of conduct. It is a simple logical progression. So why would some believe that women cannot possess or understand honor? 

The Gor novels often emphasize the honor of the Warrior, concentrating on their Caste Codes, their conduct. Warriors are clearly not the only Caste that possesses honor, but it is the Caste that the books primarily discuss. Now, women can belong to the Warrior Caste. They can be born into the Caste or Free Companion a Warrior and join his Caste. But, such women are never trained as Warriors. They do not learn the ways of combat. Thus, much of the Warrior Caste Codes are inapplicable to them. As this is the case, then discussions of the honor of the Warrior are largely irrelevant when discussing women in the Caste. In the areas where the Warrior Caste Codes are applicable to women, little is said of them but they do exist. In addition, such women would be bound by general Gorean ethical norms and virtues, providing an additional basis for assessing honor. 

Slaves and Honor

“The slave, incidentally, wants to be owned by a man of honor. We want to be proud of our masters. Too, we are safer with such a man. The man of honor, of course, and perhaps in part because of his sense of honor, holds us in uncompromising, perfect bondage. But that is what we want, for we are slaves.”   (Witness of Gor, p.408)

Can a slave possess honor? Is the answer different for a slave in the Gorean books as opposed to a real-time slave? There is much disagreement over whether slaves may possess honor or not, many believing that slaves may not possess honor. This is partially justified by stating that slaves are property, like a sleen, and thus cannot possess honor. Some also feel that honor is a type of possession and since slaves cannot own anything, they cannot possess honor. Still others feel that since a slave must obey her owner in all things then she cannot possess honor as she is simply obeying her owner. These are not easy questions as they raise many questions concerning the nature of honor.

Interestingly enough, many people believe that no one else can affect your honor. You are in complete control of your honor. The actions of others does not and cannot affect your honor. If we accept that honor is a personal code of conduct, then this would seem to be essentially true. It is only your choice then that will determine whether you conform to your own code of conduct or not. But, this then raises an interesting point on the issue of whether a slave can possess honor or not. If a free man who possesses honor is forcibly enslaved, is he suddenly stripped of his honor by that act of enslavement? Does it make logical sense that someone else can strip you of your honor? If no one can affect your honor, then the act of enslavement should not strip you of your honor. That would mean that a slave could possess honor. A forcible enslavement would be very different than where a person voluntarily submits. Then, a person might lose their honor if honor dictates that they should not submit. What happens when a person is freed from enslavement? Do they automatically regain their honor? Or can they never regain their honor? Will they regain their honor only if they were forcibly collared? 

Can a slave bring honor or dishonor to her owner? Is the answer different for a slave in the Gorean books as opposed to a real-time slave? If you believe that a slave cannot effect the honor of her owner, then why does the infamous Rask of Treve believe that Elinor can “stain his honor” through her actions? Is there any passage in the books that states a slave cannot affect a free person’s honor? 

Is honor a possession or simply a virtue? Are all virtues possessions? Are virtues like courage, wisdom, justice, and loyalty possessions? Can a slave possess virtues? Are there multiple definitions of possession where a slave is permitted “possessions” dependent on a particular definition? Does the prohibition against slaves owning possessions extend only to tangible items? 

If honor is personally determined, then why couldn’t a slave possess honor? Could not a slave construct an honor code for herself? Could not that code contain such values as loyalty and honesty, which are commonly thought of as honorable? If an owner commanded a slave to violate her code of honor, could she not disobey him to remain true to her code of honor? 
Is there a difference between having honor and acting honorably? If there is a difference, can one have honor but act dishonorably? Can one act honorably without having honor? Can a slave act honorably though not possess honor? 

Obviously many of these questions do not have simple solutions. We should also clearly differentiate between real-time slaves and slaves from the books. There are significant differences between the two so the rules may be different as well. 

“The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be; all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice and experience of them.”   (Socrates)