The last couple days saw two noteworthy instances of honor psychology in the viral media.
The first involves a California girls’ basketball team whose coach, Michael Anderson, had his Arroyo Valley Hawks run up the score to a 161-2 victory over their opponent, Bloomington High.
It’s a principle of honor that you don’t humiliate your opponents. Honor also enjoins us to seek out fair contests when possible. And thus there is something embarrassing for the winner in lopsided contests, suggesting perhaps that they sought out weak opponents they could bully around the playing field in an unseemly attempt to shore up a fragile ego. Unfortunately, in sports with a set schedule, it is impossible to avoid mismatches. And further research into this case suggests that the coaches for the two teams had an understanding that Arroyo would be allowed to practice their full-court press on Bloomington in preparation for future games against tougher teams. If the game was mutually understood as a sparring match for Arroyo, that also speaks against judging Anderson too harshly from an honor perspective. In any event, Anderson was suspended for two games.
Anderson’s suspension has been criticized by some parents and sports commentators. What I found interesting is how confused the arguments are on both sides of the issue. For instance, the reporter in the above news segment cites “compassion” as driving the decision to suspend Anderson, while the district representative herself (at least in this clip) cites honor. Sensing the suspension was based on compassion and not honor, some pro-competition critics of the “participation medals” movement defended Anderson (see the ESPN commentator Colin Cowherd’s inane comments about “grit” in the clip above). This is an interesting inversion, too, since these folks are usually the people who trumpet honorable contest and its virtues.
The other story that caught my eye was the furor over a Michael Moore tweet, where the lefty documentarian took aim at Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster biopic of Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle.
The tweet incensed many on the pro-military right. But the case is interesting because Moore is correct that snipers (and before them archers) were traditionally looked at as less-than-fully honorable combatants for precisely the reason he cites. When it comes to combat, honor favors voluntary, individual encounters with a respectable, evenly matched foe, preferably one with a recognizable identity. The further you get from this, the more problematic the conflict is from an honor perspective. (Of course, Moore’s appeal to honor is ironic, given that he certainly wouldn’t accept other principles of honor ad bellum, such as that an insult can be legitimate grounds for war.)
So once again, we get a weird inversion: those on the vaguely left, touchy-feeling side of things are citing honor principles to defend their actions or to score political points, while those on the more conflict-friendly right, who are usually moved by honor-typical reasoning, rejecting their honor-based rationales. One gets the sense that the culture war—in these two cases at least—has become one of merely provoking and disagreeing with the other side, not a dispute of principle.