November 24, 2008

Going south

This rooster had a keen sense of honor, which may have led to his untimely demise.

For the last week, Goat Rope has been looking at cultural factors that may influence attitudes towards the use of violence. Please click on last week's posts if you find this interesting.

To recap briefly, in societies where the good things of life are scarce and easily stolen, people tend to develop a "culture of honor" which encourages people to engage in or at least credibly threaten violence in response to insults or threats. Such cultures often develop among herding peoples where central authority is weak or nonexistent, but once established they can continue long after a society's economic base has changed.

El Cabrero's beloved region of Appalachia may be a case in point...

In a 1996 book, Culture of Honor: the Psychology of Violence in the South, researchers Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen argue that many parts of the American south and Appalachia (the two are not identical in my view) were settled by herding people such as my own Scotch-Irish.

They also identify different attitudes towards violence between those areas and northern states.

Let me be the first to say that it's dangerous to overgeneralize about a region and that the American south has undergone many changes, demographic, political and otherwise. I'm not going to give this book the coveted Blanket Goat Rope Endorsement, but it is interesting in at least identifying historical trends.

Nisbett and Cohen found (using data from the early 1990s) that homicide rates for white southerners were higher than that of white non-southerners in fights that developed as a result of arguments which generally involve some kind of insult. They controlled for other factors, such as urbanization, poverty, etc.

In terms of attitudes, they found that

southerners were not more in favor of violence in general, that they were not more in favor of violence in many specified contexts unrelated to culture-of-honor concerns, but that they were more likely to endorse violence when it was used for self-protection and for social control. also showed that southerners were no more likely to endorse violence than northerners in a wide variety of specific situations. It was only for situations involving an affront, the protection of self, home, or family, and the socialization of children that southerners were more likely to endorse violence. Thus, southern ideology does not make all violence acceptable but, rather, allows violence as a tool for special purposes.

On the other hand, this attitude that violence may be permissible under some circumstances may have also contributed to southern traditions of courtesy, politeness and hospitality:

Perhaps that is also why southerns have a reputation for being so polite. The best way to keep a conflict from spiraling out of hand is to avoid the conflict in the first place. So southern hospitality, politeness, and friendliness are what keep social interactions going smoothly.

Y'all have a nice day!

PARTING SHOTS. President Bush is spending his last weeks in office rewriting rules and deregulating industries.

WHAT PRICE REFORM? This review of coal mine safety from the Charleston Gazette is a reminder that improvements were paid for by the deaths of miners.

MY PICK DIDN'T MAKE THE LIST. Here's one estimate of the 10 worst corporations of 2008.

DON'T JUST DO SOMETHING--SIT THERE. Here's more evidence that mindfulness meditation can be good for your brain.


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