There is, in the world, that which is Right and that which is Wrong. Most interactions and situations do not rise to the level of Right and Wrong, and it would be incorrect to say that they do. But to be honorable, or to have honor, is to work for and do what is Right and fight against and do not do that which is Wrong, even at cost to yourself, because that is the Right thing to do, and to be internally consistent (that is, have integrity) in those endeavors. Period.
One who “is honorable” is one who has a clear definition of Right and Wrong, an understanding of why those beliefs are held, and holds to them with a high degree of consistency. One who has demonstrated such over a period of time is said to “be honorable”.
Closely related to honor is the concept of integrity. Integrity is an internal and external consistency in belief, behavior, and action with regard to one’s Honor and ethical code, especially in the face of adversity. While one’s beliefs may change over time, and it is in fact worrisome if they do not evolve as one gains experience, they should not do so on a whim.
As humans are by nature fallible creatures, perfect integrity is impossible. All people will at some point in their lives, probably at many, fail to provide consistent adherence to their honor and ethical code at the time, either in their beliefs, behavior, or action. At that time, a reasonable judge of integrity is the frequency with which such inconsistencies occur, the severity of them, and the steps (or lack thereof) the person in question takes to amend said breach and to avoid a repeated breach. In fact, one’s actions in response to a breach of integrity are a better judge of one’s integrity than behavior in more normal times.
“The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.”
There are, of course, many possible definitions of “Right” and “Wrong”, which often conflict. Gorean honor specifically is that which is derived from the books, but again that is not prescriptive and can only be derived implicitly.
Core to the Gorean sense of honor is accountability. That is, accepting responsibility for one’s actions (or lack thereof), whether the result is good or bad. That could be as mundane as apologizing for stepping on someone’s foot to accepting genuine blame for a large failure at work. It also means, however, not assisting others in avoiding accountability. It means being true to one’s word (even if doing so is otherwise detrimental). A Gorean is accountable to himself, and to those around him.
“Flee,” she said. “I am of the Warriors,” I said. “But you may die,” she said. “That is acknowledged in the codes,” I said. “What are the codes?” she asked. “They are nothing, and everything,” I said. “They are a bit of noise, and the steel of the heart. They are meaningless, and all significant. They are the difference. Without the codes men would be Kurii.” “Kurii?” she asked. “Beasts, such as ice beasts, and worse,” I said. “Beasts such as the face you saw in the sky.” “You need not keep the codes,” she said. “I once betrayed my codes,” I said. “It is not my intention to do so again.” I looked at her.
“One does not know, truly, what it is to stand, until one has fallen. Once one has fallen, then one knows, you see, what it is to stand.” “None would know if you betrayed the codes,” she said. “I would know,” I said, “and I am of the Warriors.”
Beasts of Gor, Page 340
Another key aspect of Gorean honor is strength, and striving to increase it. Not strength in the physical sense, but strength of character and will. In this regard it draws heavily from Nietzsche’s concept of Master-slave morality, which embraces the inherent inequality of the world.
Gorean philosophy does not claim that all are equal. Quite the opposite. Gorean philosophy asserts that inequality is the natural state of humanity, as not all are equal in skill, in intellect, in will, or capacity in a myriad of ways.
However, contrary to the inequality espoused by racists and bigots, that inequality is not static. That inequality is taken not as a way to hold another down, but as a challenge to lift yourself, and your fellows, higher. There is always higher to climb, another challenge to meet, another lesson to learn. Gorean honor calls on Goreans to always seek to climb and better themselves.
The morality of slaves says, “You are equal to me; we are both the same”; the morality of masters says, “We are not equal; we are not the same; become equal to me; then we will be the same.”
Marauders of Gor, Page 9
On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.
We also hold that, if one shares a kinship with another (through family, caste, or Home Stone) then one is obligated to, as appropriate, help that other person to climb. “Here is my hand, now come up to my level.”
Curiously, while the above “Right and Wrong” definition of honor is common amongst lay-people in the US today, that is not how sociologists and anthropologists use the term. In sociological terms, an honor-based culture is one that uses an implicit set of rules of behavior (an honor code) rather than an explicit one (a legal code), and places the responsibility of enforcement on all individuals personally.
That is, in a law-based society if someone wrongs you, it is the responsibility of an established and accepted structure to penalize the offender (government, legal system, police, judges, etc.), and the consistency of punishment acts as a deterrent of such behavior. In an honor-based society, in contrast, it would be your personal duty to seek vengeance upon the offender (possibly with help, possibly not, depending on the circumstances) as a way to dissuade others from wronging you in the future. Such honor-based systems are far more common where a law-based system is impossible, due to limited resources, high temptation to wrong someone else (the reward often outweighs the risk), and institutions to enforce an explicit code are ineffective or non-existent.
While such a “do it yourself” approach to law and order is romantic and appealing, historically it frequently lead to a lot of dead people and repeated cycles of violence through escalation, revenge killings, blood feuds, gang wars, and such. That is why most cultures have switched from implicit to explicit systems as soon as the resources and institutions for a law-based system were available.
We do see, however, that “vengeance” approach to honor in the Gor books as well. Even in cases where it is arguably to his detriment, Tarl will attack or dress-down another person for a social slight.
“It was so tiny a thing,” she asked, “a point of propriety, of precedence?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “You risked so much for a mere point of honor?” she asked. “There are no mere points of honor,” I told her.
Vagabonds of Gor, Page 63
As virtually all industrialized nations today are, primarily, law-based societies and discourage personal vengeance as a social enforcement mechanism, what then of honor? Can this form of honor be compatible in a modern society?
We hold that yes, it can, as it does not require vengeance and violence to exist but simply correction. If wronged, a Gorean has a responsibility not of revenge, but of correction. Severe matters are indeed better left to law enforcement, but honor in this sense is the flip-side of accountability: Holding others accountable for their behavior, especially if one is the aggrieved party. That does not require personally punishing someone, simply seeing to it that they are held accountable.
That is, not only is it dishonorable to cheat, lie, or steal it is dishonorable to knowingly allow another to cheat, lie, or steal, and especially so if the cheating, lying, or stealing is committed against you.