A Texan told me he believed, in Texas, it is legal to shoot someone if they needed it. In other words, disrespect requires swift, violent retaliation, aka self-help justice. This is the Code of Honor. The honor code is an outdated, cultural remnant responsible for much of current American violence, according to Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Honor culture was in Europe hundreds of years ago. For example, 6,000 Frenchmen died in sword honor duels in the 17th century (By The Sword, Richard Cohen). The governments eventually stopped the dueling in cities.

Pinker explains in detail how the honor code came from remote parts of Britain to the American South. Pinker cites a 1996 study showing that northern college students laughed off an insult while southern college students had a strong negative reaction to the same insult (Insulted Southerners, Cohen, Nisbett, Bowels & Schwarz, 1996). Pinker uses statistics and documentation to show that, overall, southern whites are more violent than northern whites, and southern Blacks are more violent than northern Blacks. The difference is shown in quarrel homicide statistics.

When southern whites and Blacks moved north, the honor code was in many of them. According to Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the dysfunctional honor code died out among whites. Sowell states that the honor code continues in poor Black areas because people mistakenly assume that it is an African heritage.

Robert Sullivan
Oak Park

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