On Words: Honor

Much has been written about honor lately, most of it negative. Western society sees the concept of honor and they immediately prescribe “honor murders,” and the implications of a patriarchal society. The idea that a female, simply because of her gender, has no right to control her own life, is anathema to our culture.

Now of course, a multiculturalist will tell you that all cultures are equal. Well, I am here to tell you, “no they are not.” Cultures that denigrate, dismiss, dehumanize another simply because of their gender, their ethnicity, their religion, or their sexuality is not in any way shape or form equal to an open, egalitarian society that seeks justice, liberty and fraternity.

Without a doubt, western civilization is not the panacea that many would have us believe, but at the same token, we are no longer living in the 18th, 19th or even the 20th century. We, in the west have fought, died for, and reformed many of the negative and outdated notions that permeated the baser instincts of our human nature. Moreover, there is a discussion, or visceral disagreement to put it mildly, however you may look at it, as to what does “liberty” and “justice” truly look like. It is important to recognize as well, that only in a free, honorable, and repentant society could this discussion even take place.

Should our society adhere to the American notion, that we all start out on an equal footing, and end up according to our own abilities, or is it the French idea, that we should not only start out on an equal footing, but end up on an equal footing as well? Does merit count for nothing? And if it counts for nothing then how do we instill a notion of drive, competence, and success to the next generation? How far is corporatism allowed to flourish? What are the merits of capitalism, socialism, and libertarian ideology? What is free speech exactly, and how far do we allow the intrusion of hate speech into our world? What is the extent of religious freedom,  and how do we juxtapose that with civil liberties?

Additionally, what do we do with those that are truly unable to care for themselves, or for those who reach a certain level of aging and are no longer able to work? How far does the social safety net go? How deep are our pockets? What do we want our laws, ideas, and perspectives to say about our society? What do we want future generations to say about who we are and what we stood for?

As we have been witness to this past summer, there is a lot of discussion around the past. Who were those we hold up as emblematic of society? How do we understand those who stood for freedom, but denied these rights to others? How do we make the connection between the honorable men of our past, who launched this great experiment the United States of America,  and their abject failure to live up to their own ideals? Being human, full of foibles, does us no good. And yet, we cannot allow their failures to deride our entire culture. No person, no matter how honorable, is going to be perfect. It is up to future generations to delineate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, the righteous notions from the imperfection of the human being. Our experiment is not perfect, but it is the greatest experiment in freedom ever known to human history. How does it continue, and more importantly, how do we keep it from being destroyed by of all things, human nature itself?

Of course, that gets us back to the idea of “honor.” Honor is not merely the property of a medieval ideology that stands behind the belief that it behooves males to murder their female family members  if there is any perceived sexual impropriety. It is not simply the patriarchal notion that women cannot run their own lives, and that women to a greater degree are worth less than men. It is not simply an outdated and anachronistic perspective used to enslave, and devalue those that are not members of your tribe.

Honor in the western concept, is an idea that is built around “truth.” That a person’s word is their bond. That once you promise to do something, you are honor-bound to accomplish this goal, or at least do the best that you to reach the desired end. Honor is the guidepost that teaches us not to cheat, lie, or live beyond the law. Honor is the idea that to live a good life, you must be an honorable person. To be an honorable person is to not abuse, malign, nor disrespect another.

That is why in higher education, in the military, law, and even politics, there is an ethical standard that needs to be met and kept. That to break these “honor codes” is to meet with immediate expulsion from the group. To be excommunicated, as it were, from those withwhom you normally would socialize, make your living, and walk into the future. Once you have destroyed your honor, you are no longer welcome among respectable persons.

We also call this your “reputation.” It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, yet it can be lost in an instant. Our reputation, how we are perceived by others, is important to how we function in the world. While it is not always necessary to please others,  as a special needs parent I refused to care what the self-important in my community thought about my child’s right to an education, there are consequences when the group is displeased.

Alienation is a real fallout from not going along with the crowd. In fascist, totalitarian, oligarchical, and communist societies,  it also means imprisonment, torture and even death. But here in the USA, it generally means being outside the seat of power, of being held up as a trouble maker, as being the person, or persons that are alone, friendless, or unemployable. Much can be written about the alienation of marginalized persons in our society. I have felt it. My children live it. But this is a topic for another day.

Today we talk about honor and our society. What does “honor” mean relevant to our country? Honor is a contract between the governed and the governors. It is a societal belief in the “social contract,”  that if you do what is right and honest, you will be rewarded by those in power by being basically left alone, or if in the event of a catastrophe, society will be there to help. It is also a contract formulated when the government asks you for certain personal information, that those private details will never be used to harm, hurt, or abuse your rights, or the rights for which you think you have bargained.

The USA, has long held itself to be an honorable nation, at least since the Second World War. While we have not always been right, we did the best that we could, and when we found ourselves lacking we have worked to do better and to fix our own indiscretions. However, this latest attempt by the government to curtail DACA leaves us asking the question of who we are as a nation.

The problem isn’t that there are laws that might need to be changed. It isn’t even whether illegal immigrants should be granted a pathway to citizenship. It is the idea, that the US government through the DACA program, asked young persons for identifiable information proving that they are here illegally in the USA in exchange for the right to stay as an immigration bill was hammered out. These young people were told that they would not be deported, and that no harm would come to them, or their families. They took the US government at their word.

The US government, by ending DACA, has just disavowed this contract.

Think of that. The US government now knows who these young people are. Who their families are, and where they live. At any given time they can be deported. Again, this is not about illegal immigration, but about a promise and an agreement made between the US government and persons living within the purview of the borders of the USA.

Even if you think that the creation of DACA was an overstepping of the Executive Authority by a former President, it does not negate the promise that the US government made. In truth, there were many agreements made over the decades by former Presidents that have not been sidelined. The Iran Deal is one of them.

Moreover, the Iran Deal is still going strong. In order to absent the USA from that agreement, our government is looking for violations from the Iranian side. We are not simply saying, “nope don’t want to anymore.”  And even when the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, the US government made the case that it was a bad agreement, with no power, that hurt the US economy. Everytime the US government absents itself from a past Executive Agreement, there are legal, economic, or purposeful reasons. This is how the US government maintains it’s honor.

So where is the case that the ending of DACA fits into the concept of  US honor?

Simple. It doesn’t. 

When the government asks certain behavior of persons, and these persons live up to the agreement, the government is duty bound to follow through on their obligations. They are duty bound to adhere to the letter of the contract, no matter how much that does not suit their politics, or their perspectives.

People ask me why I never signed my disabled sons up for government benefits. Benefits that they were entitled to by law. It was not that I was too proud. It was not that we couldn’t use the money. It was because of the realization that we had no idea how future governments would use that personal information. We were concerned, that our good intentions for our children today, would hurt them tomorrow. With this new DACA debacle, I am sad to say that our fears may have been realized.

The government of the United States, when it is run by dishonorable persons, dishonors our history, dishonors those who adhere to the rule of law, and dishonors those that have died so that we may live free. When the government of the United States, acts dishonorably, and does not live up to it’s word, it’s agreement, it’s past precepts, it hurts our standing in the world, and evil persons have nothing to fear from our nation.

Our honor, never mind simply our great heart, demands that those in the DACA program be protected. It demands, that when the President of the United States is a dishonorable man, that Congress, a co-equal branch of government act honorably.

It is time to stand up and make certain that future generations don’t feel the need to apologize for our actions, but instead not only would feel proud to be called Americans, but would also understand what “honor” truly means.


About Elise "Ronan"

#JewishandProud ...
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