I’m thinking about taking up cockfighting. Sure it’s illegal, but who isn’t these days. The Founding Fathers were into it, as were the ancient Greeks and Romans, and they seemed a classy bunch.
Cockfighting ceased to be an aristocratic pastime around the same time gentlemen stopped settling personal conflicts with a duel, and opted to take their opponents to court instead. The new high society preferred sports with rules and referees, where the loser doesn’t die, but goes home and has the opportunity to redeem themselves in the next match.
The progression mirrors our cultural shift from one of honor to dignity. Honor Culture arises in lawless societies, where people rely on their buddies to get their back. Violent retribution demonstrates your value as an ally, and deters future attacks.
In Dignity Culture, the state has a monopoly on violence. Vigilante justice is not tolerated, thus the desire to punch the guy who insulted your mother must be sublimated into a stiff upper lip. Society values thick skin and self-restraint.
In the 60s, a new phenomenon emerged where sports players pretended to suffer a foul inflicted by the opponent. In basketball it’s known as a flop, in soccer it’s a dive. The goal is to feign injury so that the ref will issue a penalty to the other team.
Where it was once a point of pride to take your knocks with dignity, now it’s more rewarding to collapse and go into death throes.
Scholar‘s Stage describes this as Victim Culture. The purpose of a moral culture is to come to consensus when resolving disputes, but as industries grow, people spend more time interacting with faceless bureaucracies than other humans. Conflicts that once settled with a face-to-face chat now now require an appeal to authority. More administrators are hired to deal with complaints, and people are conditioned to become whiny and helpless in the face of an amorphous blob. Competitive victimhood ensues.
But Victimhood is only half of the equation.
Remember the first lesson we learned on the schoolyard? Don’t snitch. If the class bully just gave you a beatdown, that’s a normal part of sorting the pecking order. Tattling to the yard teacher is a betrayal, not just of the bully but of the entire class tribe.
In a culture of Honor, the only thing worse than losing is being a snitch. Snitches get stitches. That’s how drug lords and crime bosses avoid being outed by captured henchmen. Detainees know that any punishment meted by the criminal justice system is nothing compared to the retaliation that awaits. (That’s why CIA interrogators resort to torture.)
Cops have the Blue wall of silence; the mafioso have Omertà. Even in the corporate world, silence was self-enforcing. Employees who expose their boss’s dirty laundry would never find another job, because no one wants to hire a traitor.
In modern society, we’ve dressed up snitches and deemed them whistleblowers. White House leakers used to get prison time; now they get book deals. Disgruntled tech employees used to end up in the unemployment line; now they take their grievances to the New York Times and get diversity offers. The SEC has paid out $330 million since the pandemic started, for people to rat out their bosses. This should be a sign of serious dysfunction, but the result of societal atomization is that no one is loyal to anyone, except perhaps the State*.
In short, we’ve adopted the moral values of a middle-aged spinster, pretty much the paragon of social isolation. The good news is, other countries have been through this and managed to recover. The bad news is, there was a lot of death and destruction along the way.
*Don’t get me wrong — Edward Snowden is a hero and martyr. Objectively, Snowden did betray the trust of the American Empire, and exile to Russia is pretty much what you’d expect from a vengeful State.