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On Honor

"When Goreans get the idea that honor is involved they suddenly become quite difficult to deal with"
~ Magicians of Gor, p.400

A few rambling thoughts on honor. I am fully aware of the prevailing Gorean outlook on honor. But I respectfully differ on the issue of whether a slave can "have" honor. I believe she can.

The terms "honor" and "reputation" are often used interchangeably by Norman in the books.

I define these terms as follows:

"Reputation" is what others think of you. It represents your standing in a community. It relates to how you conduct yourself when others are watching.

"Honor" on the other hand is what you think of yourself. "Honor" is thus a question of how you behave when no one is looking. It is your personal relationship with your secret self.

What is "honorable" is usually defined by one's society or peer group, but one may of course have one's own code of honor that is at odds with everyone else's.

One's honor is questioned when one is asked "How can you live with yourself, knowing what you have done?" A person with no honor sleeps well at night no matter how immoral their behavior. A person with honor is constantly evaluating their actions, and will not sleep well if they have behaved immorally, even if it is in secret.

On the issue of Norman's interchangeable use of the terms "honor" and "reputation for example, in Slave Girl we read:
"I knew she would get much work from me as her serving slave. I touched the ship's collar. It is a hard thing for a girl to belong to a woman. Further, I knew she would wish me to be a demure girl, a fitting serving slave for a lady of wealth and rank, one whose status and image requires that her girls be paragons of shy, perfect obedience, humility and modesty, that they reflect not the least dishonor upon her." (Slave Girl, p.41).

This is actually talking about "reputation", i.e. standing in a community. But Norman uses the term "honor", which in my opinion confuses the issue.

A dishonorable person may have a fine reputation. An honorable person may have a poor reputation.

It is often stated that because a kajira is utterly obedient to her Master (i.e. has no personal code of conduct other than to blindly follow her Master's rules), then her actions can only reflect upon him and his honor. I do agree that such a girl has no honor to speak of. I would say, however, that this same girl cannot affect her Master's honor by her actions or inactions. She can affect only his reputation.

It is my opinion, however, that a kajira CAN "have" honor, if she evaluates her actions against her own personal standards. If she is only concerned with whether her Master is pleased with her, however, then she is concerning herself with her reputation, not her honor.

For example, a Master asks his girl to clean the house. While the Master is away the girl does a poor job, and just kicks the dust under the carpet. Master returns and praises his girl for all her hard work cleaning. Girl smirks. Gorean guests come round for dinner and compliment Master and girl on how clean the house is. Girl quietly smirks. If only they knew!

Has she harmed her Master's reputation? No. No one knows.
Has she harmed her own reputation? No. No one knows.
Has she harmed her Master's honor? No, because in my opinion only I can harm my own honor, and only you can harm your honor. Another person cannot harm your honor.
Has she harmed her own honor? Yes, although if she feels no shame then she has no honor in the first place and therefore there is nothing to harm.

Now take a second girl and Master.

This Master asks his girl to clean the house. While the Master is away the girl does a poor job, and just kicks the dust under the carpet. Master returns and praises his girl for all her hard work cleaning. Girl feels shame. Gorean guests come round for dinner and compliment Master and girl on how clean the house is. Girl feels even more shame. If only they knew!
Finally she can bear it no longer and confesses her laziness and begs punishment.

Has she harmed her Master's reputation? No. In fact she has probably enhanced it, because the guests will likely be impressed that she owned up and begged punishment.
Has she harmed her own reputation? Unlikely, because she owned up and begged punishment.
Has she harmed her Master's honor? No, because in my opinion only I can harm my own honor, and only you can harm your honor. Another person cannot harm your honor.
Has she harmed her own honor? Yes, and she feels it. But by owning up and accepting punishment, she has likely redeemed her honor.

I have met kajirae in my time who were pleasing and who had a good reputation, but they had no honor for the simple reason that when no one was looking they conducted themselves in ways I deem unbecoming for a kajira.

In short, the question of honor for a kajira is simply: how does she behave when her Master is not present and when no one is looking? Only she knows the answer to that.

Let us ponder Tarl and his lost "honor" in the Rence marshes in Raiders of Gor. Tarl shows fear of death and comes to the conclusion that he has acted dishonorably, and his "honor" codes were fake. Accordingly he chooses for a while to live without any honor (no moral personal code), and just seek power and riches (and of course slaves) in Port Kar. Of course, throughout the book Tarl consistently continues to act "honorably", saving girls in distress, respecting the pirate's last wishes, saving the young boy-Ubar from death etc. In truth, Tarl never really loses his honor, but for a while he tries to suppress his moral codes. To no avail. He cannot but live an honorable life.

One can lose one's honor by abandoning all moral standards and no longer caring about what one does. A person who has no honor basically has no personal moral standards at all. But does that really describe a real-world kajira? Kajirae have always seemed to me to have very high personal codes of conduct. Thus, I see them as honorable persons. Because even though they dedicate themselves to be totally pleasing to their Masters (thus rendering themselves vulnerable to the accusation that they have no personal honor code because they merely do as they are told by someone else), this choice is voluntary in our real world, and by making that personal choice, they are fulfilling their own personal moral codes.

I believe any kajira who worries about whether she is doing the right thing, is revealing her sense of honor, especially when she is away from Master's watchful eye. Now of course, if her concern is only "WWMD" (What would Master do?"), then one could argue this is not her honor. And I would agree. But if she is evaluating her choices based upon her OWN moral code, then she is in my opinion demonstrating that she has honor, and is evaluating her actions against her codes.

Consider the final battle scenes in Port Kar, when Tarl is fighting to the last man. Up come the slavegirls:
"I took Telima in my arms. "When they. come again, I said, "hide below. If you fight you will doubtless be slain. When they come below, submit to them. They may spare you." And then I looked to Vina and Luma. "You, also," I said. "Do not mix in the matters of men." Vina looked to the boy, Fish. He nodded. "Yes," he said, "go below." "I, for one,' said Telima, "find it stuffy below." "I, too," smiled Luma. "Yes," said Vina, firmly "It is very stuffy below." "Very well," I said, "then it will be necessary, before the next attack, to bind you to the foot of the ladder below." ... "Go below!" I cried to the girls. They stood away, feet fixed apart, in- the garments of slaves, obdurate, rebellious. "We acknowledge ourselves your slave girls!" screamed Telima. "If we do not please you, beat us or slay us!" A crossbow quarrel swept overhead. "Go below!" screamed Fish to Vina. "If I do not please you," she screamed, "beat me or kilI me!" He kissed her swiftly, and turned to defend a wall. The girls took up stones and swords, and stood beside us. "Good-bye, my Ubar," said Telima. "Farewell said I, "Ubara." (Raiders, p.297-298)

It seems to me that here are two slavegirls behaving honorably, while at the same time completely disobeying their Masters. Their own personal codes compel them to stay and fight, regardless of the fact that they are disobeying their Masters. A kajira can act honorably, and "have" honor, even by disobeying her Master (as in the example from Raiders above).

On the other hand, total obedience has little to do with honor. A girl who does as she is told by her Master, even though what he asks her to do is immoral and a violation of her personal beliefs, has no honor, even though she obeys unquestioning. She is a tool of another person, and is used accordingly. But does that describe the kajirae YOU know?

Personally, I prefer my kajirae to have their own honor.

2004 Makaku Oyami

 

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