Sunday, September 19, 2010

Half heard on FM last week: philotimia or what?

I was doing chores, but they were talking about the social psychology of crimes of 'honor' and practices such as Chinese footbinding, searching for a unifying factor.
By crimes of honor were meant such as killing the man who has dishonored your sister (and in some cases the sister, too). I might have added murdering the persons who have profaned the graves of your family or profaning their graves in return and assorted crimes of compound blackmail.
Their discussion, however, was focused more on male crimes in the cases of dishonored sisters or mothers, and somehow they wanted to bring footbinding under the same heading.
In the first place, let us regard them all as anthropological, in the sense that more technologically advanced retaliations are now available in urban societies.
In pre-modern societies, where all families knew everybody else's business and were expert in assessing how much honor they would accord to other families, and where daughters with dowries had to be intact, literally, to be married into another family of similar property, honor killing on account of one's sister's being violated was due not only to its being grievous but in terms of property. For example, a dowry could include some land, and a family's sons depended in part on family honor to, themselves, win a wife with a good dowry. It was not merely to ensure that one's heirs were one's own. A family that had philotimia, a strong sense of honor, and whose family affairs were evidence of it, could marry well and forge the ties of good marriages. But philotimia therefore included the ability to manage one's household so that its daughters could marry intact.
Yes, I know that sounds like Xenophon's Oikonomika, and for an urban and educated Greek, Xenophon was indeed among the most socially conservative of his time.
And of course girls from ill-tended homes often, then as now, "got in trouble" instead of being properly marriageable. Am I blaming them? Who is anyone to blame girls who, aged 12 to 16, say, had to go to symposia and less elegant parties just to get something to eat? Why, I remember when social workers had to nab a 13-year-old in Eugene, OR, who was being fed, and used, by two fraternities in turn. She was homeless and clueless, and her mother was an addict.
Now the link, logically, is that only daughters of propertied Chinese families had their feet bound. It proved, heaven help us, that they'd never worked or gone out without servants to guard them. I suppose that foot binding had originated in a similar concern for the status in society of a family.
Now, when I said 'anthropologically', I wasn't using the adverb in an exact or scientific sense. I was thinking of E. R. Dodds' The Greeks and the Irrational, the wonderful Sather Classical Lectures (1951), which is still, in PB, in print and still so widely read that a large supply of used copies is available, too. This was where I made the acquaintance of the distinction between "shame" and "guilt" cultures, Homer being still largely a "shame" culture. That is the fundamental reason for Achilles' sulking in his tent. Of course, mafiosi of the 20th century are often represented as thinking similarly, but, developmentally, it still seems, shame does pre-date guilt.
Maybe that's too commonplace to bother about, but from time to time down the decades, and especially when I heard of a very nice young woman in a village who had become unmarriageable because she'd been taken advantage of, and everyone knew it, I was deeply troubled. That was itself half a century ago, but I cannot forget her.