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Occasionally I wandered in where I was not wanted and gave truthful answers.
Sometimes I even did it deliberately. A little disruption now can prevent disaster later.

The Old Breed

This is a page from the third version of Technopagan Yearnings. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at www.neowayland.com/C1325529963/E20070529000103

From classic philosophy to classic virtue, Paganism's best hope depends on what we choose to put out in the World - updated

On Monday I was extremely fortunate. I ran across a Bill Whittle essay (revised link here and here) hat not only has profound implications, but I can talk about it on two blogs.

In retrospect it's one of those semi-universals that seems obvious, applying the results of the classic bit philosophy of The Prisoner's Dilemma.

If you aren't familiar, in the problem there are two prisoners. Each is offered the choice to betray the other. If both keep quiet, they will each serve only a few months. If one betrays the other, the betrayer goes free and the betrayed serves ten years. If both betray each other, they each serve two years. It's a tricky bit because the best strategy depends on if this is a one-time thing or an ongoing relationship.

If it's a one time thing, then the winning strategy is to always betray the other.

If it's an ongoing relationship, then the winning strategy is to do what the other did to you the previous time.

At my political blog, I've excerpted the reasoning and given my own brief thoughts. And of course you can read the original essay. Because the distinction between long term and short term also applies to groups and cultures.

And that is the key point that I want to discuss here.

The difference between a one time encounter and an ongoing relationship is how you (your group, your culture, your society) treats the people you encounter. That is defined by the strategy used. If it's a chance meeting, you'll never see them again, and there are no long term costs, then of course the winning strategy is to take advantage. But in the long term, then the previous meeting shows how best to deal with them. Suddenly reputation and honor become deciding factors. You yourself can (and should) be judged on honor, as should the groups you associate with.

Paganism in America is a fringe movement. That doesn't mean it's "bad," it just means that we're not in the center of the culture nor are we likely to be so. Like all fringes, the extremes are exaggerated beyond what they would be in the mainstream. Fringes attract those who are disaffected by the main culture. Those who cherish honor put that at the center of their lives. Those who take advantage move on quickly because there is no short term payback in acting honorably.

I want to put this in perspective with a quote from Lois McMaster Bujold's excellent novel, A Civil Campaign.

Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself, The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same."
Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it may. And outlive the bastards.

Under this definition, honor determines if your outlook is short term or long term. Choose honor, and you'll be "nice" as long as the other side is nice. But if the other side takes advantage, then you can retaliate. Tit for tat as the essay puts it. In fact, if you don't retaliate after the other side screws your side, then all you have done is invite abuse again and again. Without consequences, the best possible way to benefit all the time is to destroy your opposition.

Boy that brought back memories of my Corporate Clone days. Bad ones.

You can't build long term if everything you do is focused on seizing the best advantage for the moment. Any gain you make will be fleeting and will have to be defended. That consumes resources that you could use to build or gain further advantage. In the end, you only have what you can keep others from taking. That may work for chess or poker, but it doesn't work in the office. Or the city.

Or the coven.

With consequences, the best way to win is to create rules that reward virtue. Then if someone breaks the rules, they get punished.

Actions have consequences. Long term rules means honor brings advantage. Short term rules mean that honor is a disadvantage.

And that brings us to part two of the excellent essay that inspired all this. Whittle talks about the Remnant, but he mentions that Victor Hanson identified that same group more poetically as The Old Breed (as used in E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa). Pagan and romantic that I am, I prefer Hanson's term. Especially after a little digging on the web. These are the people with the classic virtues, the ones my grandfather called "good folk," the "salt of the earth" types so beloved by certain writers. They may not be leaders or elites, but they are the ones who bind everything together by their actions.

They live their beliefs day to day. They value honor and virtue, thereby making things better for themselves and their heirs.

They can't be statistically predicted like elites can. (That is another very controversial essay that I may put on the web someday, but not today.) The only place that the Old Breed thrives is where honor and the classic virtues are recognized and rewarded.

I agree with Whittle that virtue can't be legislated or decreed. The only way to cultivate virtue is to put virtue out there. And for that you need those who have chosen to be virtuous for the sake of virtue, not out of hope of some reward or fear of some punishment.

The Old Breed.

Bill Whittle makes an interesting statement which I want to quote here.

No, the truth to improving – healing – a society where cooperation is on the verge of reverting to betrayal, is by a terribly unexciting and mundane path. The answer, I’m afraid, is to control the one thing you truly do have control over: yourself.  

The way to improve society is to improve yourself. A city is made up of its citizens. The higher the quality of citizen, the more secure and prosperous and wise the city becomes.  

We watch the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness accelerate as we scream and yell at each other, trying to bring our opponent around to our point of view. But the fact is, you have no control over anyone. You only control your own heart. That’s it. That’s the hand we are all dealt.  

But consider that example of the one person who, by taking action first, inspires scores of others to follow on his or her heels. What value can you place on a person like that? How many people is someone like that capable of influencing? 

Honor is a concept widely derided and discarded today. But honor is really nothing more than your personal credit rating. It is a statement of your character, and like credit, honor has leverage. It can move large numbers of people: elevate them, raise their spirits and their expectations of themselves. Honor and Courage and Character are beacons in the darkness; they draw all manner of people toward their light. Most people want to be good, to be brave, to be useful. They just need to be shown the way sometimes. And the only way to create such beacons to light our path is to commit to becoming one yourself.

Yes, if you’ll check my lexicon you’ll find I appropriated that definition of honor.

That sounds an awful like "As above, so below" and "Like calls to like," doesn't it?

Even though this essay isn't Pagan (and it does take it's swipes at modern liberals), I think the core ideas are sound.

In the long term, Paganism's best hope is the Old Breed.

This is part of who we are. Face it, we groove on this stuff. Honor and the other classic virtues are part of what we choose for ourselves as Pagans.

As I was researching and speculating Monday, I began to understand the roots of the Warrior Path a bit more. It's something that has always appealed to me. But here it was, the virtue that separated the soldier from the Warrior and it was rooted in honor. bad link "Soldiers march while warriors dance." Indeed. That's another essay I may do later.

But the warrior path isn't for everyone, and there is no lack of honor in other paths. It's important that we remember that honor means both compassion and retaliation, depending on what is deserved. Giving and forgiving despite the behavior of the other just invites them to take advantage.

If we want to build a lasting culture, we must find ways to reward honor and the other virtues while punishing those who claim the benefits without paying the price. No group can grant virtue, it must be earned by individuals. A future based ontology will recognize that earned virtue, and a forward thinking culture will honor it.

Posted: Mon - May 28, 2007 at 05:01 AM

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