Reason Interviews

Grant McCracken on How To Reengineer the Honor Code

"The tissue of an honor society comes undone almost instantaneously once the wolf of 'everybody does it' enters the room."

|

In The New Honor Code: A Simple Plan for Raising Our Standards and Restoring Our Good Names (Tiller Press), anthropologist, brand consultant to the stars, and past Reason contributor Grant McCracken explores the history and use of the honor code, arguing for its relevance to our private and public lives today.

McCracken has consulted on the intersection of culture and commerce for IKEA, Sesame Street, Nike, Kanye West, Netflix, and the Obama White House. He spoke with Reason's Nick Gillespie in January.

Q: Can you define the Elizabethan ideal of honor?

A: Honor was like a storehouse of value. The value wasn't economic; it was personal. You were judged and understood to be accomplished, or to have failed to accomplish, a personal reputation.

Q: So the honor code meant you were a man of your word and could be trusted?

A: Yes, and it's also horrifying because it's so exclusive. It says that unless you're born into the aristocratic or at least the gentle classes, you can't be trusted at all. I tried to go through the book as a kind of cultural engineer and bring up what's good and get rid of what's bad.

Q: What are some recent American examples where honor was just completely absent?

A: Lance Armstrong. Here's a guy who doped, insisted that he had not doped, accused his competitors of doping, and in the process took medals that did not belong to him and denied people for whom those medals were intended.

Q: Why isn't it a legitimate defense to say, "Everybody knows that everybody is doping all the time. He just got caught?"

A: Because I'm not sure it's true. To save his soul, to save himself, he claimed that everybody in the sport was doping. That's statistically almost certainly wrong. How many people weren't doping? Even if it's just 20 percent, we're entitled to say those who dope are breaking the rules.

Q: Let's talk about Harvey Weinstein. You say that what he did was horrifying even if the women trading sex for roles in movies knew that was just how Hollywood worked.

A: The tissue of an honor society comes undone almost instantaneously once the wolf of "everybody does it" enters the room.

What I was hoping to do with the book is encourage the reinstallation of an honor code to elicit noble behavior. But if that's too much to ask, let's create a shadow of a doubt in [people's] minds where, when they are on the verge of doing something dishonorable, they think, "This could cost me my empire" or "This could be the end of my career." We're really fighting upstream against the notion of, "Everybody does it, so it's OK."

Q: Can you give an example of people behaving honorably and how we encourage that?

A: I sometimes walk in the afternoon with a guy who lives a couple of doors down from me. As we would walk by the Little League grounds, he would say, "I helped build that." We walk past some extension on the school and he says, "Oh, I made a contribution." Over several months it became clear that this guy was incredibly active in the community. Nobody in my community has any clue. His name is Bob, and I thought, "Wow, we need more Bobs." As it turns out, there are about five Bobs in my community. If you created a reputation economy, and you found some way of giving people credit for these accomplishments, you might be able to inspire 30 Bobs to behave in this manner. And all boats would rise with that tide.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

NEXT: Brickbat: I Hear You Knocking

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’m sure if Bob said something insensitive, he would be held responsible.

    Does that count as an honor code?

    1. Bob didn’t build that. Chairman Obama did.

      1. USA Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than regular DSED office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

  2. Thanks for sharing this Informative post. if you want best website designing company india

    1. Very dishonorable.

      1. It obviously didn’t read the article and came straight to the comments.

  3. “If you created a reputation economy, and you found some way of giving people credit for these accomplishments…”

    It’s called Facebook, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as you’d think.

    Some people just like doing genuinely nice things, and don’t like attention for it.

    1. Where is obl with libritarians for social credit scores
      And libritarians for social engineering?

    2. I’m sure China would be willing to share their notes on building a “reputation economy.”

      1. And how to exploit those who subscribe to such silly notions.

  4. The prerequisite to valuing honor is valuing personal accountability. Those who are busy trying to play the victim will attack honor at every turn.

    1. There is no honor among thieves.

    2. Excellent point!

  5. McCracken has consulted on the intersection of culture and commerce for IKEA, Sesame Street, Nike, Kanye West, Netflix, and the Obama White House.

    Excluding ikea
    1 progressive, woke propaganda company
    2 CCP slave labor company
    3 really?
    4 company confounded by a pedofile and pushes for them to be granted extra legal lrivliges
    5 disposition matrix, 5 new wars, using the irs fbi Cia etc to go after political opponents, uncountable mandates… This list is too long

    Long story short, is this the guy you want to interview about honor? Judging by the company he keeps Lance Armstrong is a better person to lecture someone about honor.

    1. I once worked for the CDC. I was ypu g and needed the money…It is honorable that McCracken admits he worked for the Obama administration.

      1. Nice try Fauci

        1. Wear your mask!

    2. love Kanye.

    3. Obviously he subscribes to objectivism?

  6. Thank you so much. This article was very essential for me. I after a long time I found this kind of article. know about best hospital in delhi

  7. But if that’s too much to ask, let’s create a shadow of a doubt in [people’s] minds where, when they are on the verge of doing something dishonorable, they think, “This could cost me my empire” or “This could be the end of my career.”

    Alternative situation, called reality:
    When someone does some thing honorable, like tell the truth, say about biological sex, it becomes the end of his career.

    If he really wants to introduce the concept of honor, he has to fight to reinstate dueling.

  8. What are some recent American examples where honor was just completely absent?

    The Welfare State, where people are taught that they are “entitled” to a minimum standard of living, a “right” to demand that others take care of them. If you have a right to demand, others perforce have an obligation to provide. Which makes them slaves. Providing for others is charity for which one should be grateful, not an obligation that one has a right to demand more and be angry if more is not forthcoming. I’m tired of being a slave, of being chastised for being miserly because I believe that I have earned what I have rather than it being a gift from God that I have an obligation to share with “the less fortunate”. It’s bad enough that you rob me, to be told that I am wrong to not want to be robbed and that you are righteous for robbing me is just adding insult to injury.

    1. Do any welfare recipients ever pen thank you letters to those from whom they take?

      1. I used to volunteer at a local food bank but I had to quit before I lost my mind. It seems like for every person who would say “Thank you” and tell you how much the free food meant to them, there was another one who would pick through their box of food and throw cans of beans at you and tell you they didn’t want the goddamn beans and where was the good food and why are you giving me this crap and why isn’t there more? And it’s so hard not to punch them in the face and snatch the food box out of their hands and tell them to get the fuck out of here and how dare you criticize a box of free fucking food you ingrate. The sense of entitlement out of these people was just mind-boggling. Where the hell does this attitude come from? Jesus Christ, it just makes you want to cry.

        1. When making a ham donation one time at the local food cupboard, one of the staff told me that they usually reserve them for one of the larger families in need. She also told me that previously, some mid 20s guy who seemed able bodied came to get “his stuff. He saw a ham in the fridge and asked who it was for. She explained. He said that he should be able to take it because he wanted it. I understand the thought of punching one of those types.

          1. Wanna see turkeys turn into dope? Stand a block or so away from the free turkey line at St. Anthony’s around Thanksgiving.

        2. Where the hell does this attitude come from?

          Our education system and media. The left has spent decades convincing people they are entitled to others’ production because doing so creates left wing voters.

          1. They are victims. It is difficult waking up many hours before noon and laboring to produce something.

        3. “Where the hell does this attitude come from?”

          The media. The schools. Churches.

          Wherever leftist mantra is trotted out as dogma.

        4. With a bumper crop of cantaloupes, I asked my then-husband to take some down to the battered women’s shelter. The shelter refused them, claiming that they would endanger their food stamp balances. He called me with the news, and I said to take them to the Alcoholics Anonymous halfway house, a self-funded organization, and they accepted them joyfully.

          As a motel worker, I hear entitlement attitude constantly from the homeless who are brought in by churches and compassionate police officers. They take advantage of human sympathy so they can spend their cash on drugs and cell phones, and berate anyone who suggests a little attitude improvement and refraining from property damage.

      2. “Do any welfare recipients ever pen thank you letters to those from whom they take?”

        Not a single Tesla driver has thanked me for my helping pay for his car.

    2. “The Welfare State, where people are taught that they are “entitled” to a minimum standard of living, a “right” to demand that others take care of them.”

      Because America isn’t governed by an honor code. It’s governed by a legal code. Notions like rights and entitlements are concepts from law. If you disapprove of some law, you can try to change it. They’re changing all the time.

      1. “Because America isn’t governed by an honor code. It’s governed by a legal code…”

        To simplistic thinkers (or blow-offs), the population off a nation is defined only by what is legal; cultural norms are irrelevant.

        1. “cultural norms are irrelevant.”

          Norms are just that: norms. When they are codified they become laws.

          1. Keep ducking and weaving, blow-off.

            1. What happened to ‘ass’ and ‘shit’ and all that other anal stuff you like to shower us with?

          2. First of all, not all norms become laws, yet are nonetheless necessary to be observed to function in a particular society or culture.

            Secondly, you have just contradicted yourself: if norms become laws, as you say (and yes, norms often do become laws, even if this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient source of laws), then developing the norms first in a society is a crucial step for them to becoming law.

            But it can’t be emphasized enough that not all norms become law, even if they are crucial for normal functioning of society, and not all laws are based on norms, even if the laws that aren’t based on norms are likely to anger society, and may ultimately get repealed.

            1. Wait, wait, wait.

              Let me call a lawyer so I can find out what the law says. And what my “rights” are.

            2. “even if the laws that aren’t based on norms are likely to anger society,”

              I ain’t no lawyer, but I know what law suits me.

      2. Wow. A little peak into the twisted Statist mind.

    3. I’ve always found it strange the left claims you’re greedy for wanting to keep your money but they are altruistic for wanting to take it. It seems obvious wanting to take what others work for is vastly more greedy than wanting to keep your own earnings. Similarly money they claim other people are “materialistic” even as their own economic program and concept of “justice” itself is taking their money.

      But this is just another example that their only principle is winning.
      Making sense simply isn’t a relevant factor.

      1. But, but, but. It’s for the good of us all.

  9. The same Obama white house that ran guns into Mexico, prosecuted leakers and whistleblowers, started wars, droned civilians, ran up the debt, claimed Russia was old news, spied on his successor and allies, used the patriot act and FISA courts and IRS and SEC to punish his enemies, ginned up racial hatred, etc.

    1. “The same Obama white house that ran guns into Mexico”

      The US exporting guns to Mexico goes back much further than Obama. It was happening during the revolution over a century ago.

      1. Did he stop it, or was it ok? Approved by twisted Statists everywhere.

        1. Why would anyone stop it? Gun exports to Mexico are big business. Don’t Mexican drug lords have a right to defend themselves?

      2. We’re not talking about legally exporting guns to Mexico, which happens all the time.

        We’re talking about Federal agents telling gun shops to illegally process guns, being assured it was for a Federal program, so that they could be smuggled into Mexico, and then used by Mexican gangs to kill people, so that the Obama administration could trace these guns back to America and claim “we need to do something about these illegal guns being smuggled into Mexico and being used to kill people.”

        That is dishonorable.

        1. “That is dishonorable.”

          Using guns to kill people? I agree. I prefer piano wire myself.

          1. Using guns to kill people isn’t necessarily dishonorable; indeed, Self Defense Law is all about defining the times when killing people is appropriate.

            Allowing guns to get into the hands of gangs so that they could bump up the number of murders committed by “guns purchased from gun shops”, to make it easier to pass laws to limit gun rights of people who typically don’t do such things, however, is dishonorable.

    2. On the bright side the cartels then used those guns to kill atf agents

    3. To be fair Holder was only running guns to the moderate drug cartels in Mexico. How could he know they were all drug cartels? It worked in Syria, right? Why not give Mexico a whirl?

    4. You RACIST!

      How dare you defame Obama. He was a genuinely nice guy, looking out for America’s best interests at all times. There was not a crooked bone in his body.

  10. What I was hoping to do with the book is encourage the reinstallation of an honor code to elicit noble behavior.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from history it’s that high ranking people in positions of power and trust have almost always behaved honorably and when they don’t they are always held accountable for that.

    1. So, everybody does it huh?

      1. This is the sole fallacy with honor. It is a universal good which reduces business embezzlement and keeps–or makes– neighborhoods safe.

        The serious crook loves honor. It keeps him or her above suspicion, This is the rationale for Southern Christianity: you aren’t allowed to question salvation and anyone can claim allegiance to the Ten Commandments, especially if they can pass on the blame to a scapegoat, preferably a dark-skinned one.

    2. Off with their heads!

  11. The U.S. would be far different if we had an honor culture.

    1. Yes, yes it was.

      1. icwydt

    2. America chose legal culture. The idea that laws, legal documents and armies of lawyer and judges will keep us honest. It works especially well for people like Harvey Weinstein who for years flouted the honor code with impunity.

    3. Do you want to adopt Bushido, or maybe just go back to legal dueling?

      1. It’s one way to keep the aristocracy in line. A corrupt legal system isn’t up to the task.

      2. Bushido not so much. There might well be circumstances in which meeting on the field of honor is still appropriate!! If you know you may have to back up with your $5 mouth with your two-bit ass, people will learn (some the hard way) to restrain their slanderous tongues.

  12. Q: What are some recent American examples where honor was just completely absent?

    And the best this guy can come up with is Lance Armstrong?????

    1. Armstrong is a case that’s non-controversial and where the facts are open to everyone. It’s obvious the idea was to not derail the conversation into a discussion of politics.

  13. lol consulted on the intersection. he’s right about the rep though you gotta protect it, especially now when you can be ruined in an afternoon.

    1. Sure. But what’s considered honorable, changes with the winds of political extremism.

      Just this morning, I had a Microsoft Store ad in my inbox with the headline:

      ” Celebrating the Asian American and Pacific Islander community”.

      That is just so honorable. Isn’t it?

  14. What I was hoping to do with the book is encourage the reinstallation of an honor proggie code to elicit noble woke behavior. But if that’s too much to ask, let’s create a shadow of a doubt in [people’s] minds where, when they are on the verge of doing something dishonorable unwoke, they think, “This could cost me my empire” or “This could be the end of my career.” We’re really fighting upstream against the notion of, “Everybody does it, so it’s OK.”

    This guy’s getting close to cancel culture.

    1. That was my first thought as well.

  15. There are two kinds of honor. Individual honor, and collective honor. The former is good, the latter can be very bad. The Victorian sense of honor was somewhat in between. Honor was held by individuals, but assumed to exist because of class.

    Collective honor leads to honor cultures. They are common in Asia, and also in the American South. When one person brings shame upon himself, then shame comes to everyone in the group. Likewise, when the honor of one is at stake, then the honor of all is at stake. This is both good and bad. Good because it encourages honorable behavior (do not bring dishonor upon the family). Bad because it’s a huge incentive to overlook the dishonor of leaders.

  16. In real life everyone derides Bobs as privileged as if actual accomplishments were irrelevant. Which they are to left wingers incapable of accomplishment themselves.

    1. Well, there is the fact that Bob was making it a point to tell the author about all of his honorable contributions and activities.

      Real honor, is doing something honorable and not taking credit for it. At least in my book.

  17. Seems only white men are expected to live up to an honor code. As Alinsky taught it’s to be used as a weapon against them.

    1. That’s the thing. Honor only matters to those who have it.

      1. And provides evil powers to those who want to use it against the honorable.

  18. Grant McCracken is promoting nothing but, “idealistic fiction” that has no basis in reality past or present….lol

  19. Lance is dishonorable because he didn’t let the other dopers win.

  20. Several people commented on the lack of gratitude that many people show for what is given to them. While I’m sure learning the lesson was frustrating, it was a simple lesson in human nature that many people reach adulthood without having learned. What you work for or otherwise earn, you appreciate; what is given to you is little valued, and upon repetition of the gift it is taken for granted. (A favor, once done is appreciated; repeated a second time it is accepted; on the third performance it is thereafter assumed to be a permanent obligation.)
    Honor codes, and the concept of honor and honoring one’s obligations now is a weapon, handy to be utilized by ne’er-do-wells to the disadvantage of the less avaricious in our society. The military academies realized that enforcing their old, obsolete honor code would result into too many dismissals, and perhaps lessen the desired diversity of the graduating classes. And from what I can see of our current military, the concept of honor is not only forgotten but forsworn by anyone rising above O-5 or maybe O-6. There’s a rumor that the military academy honor code now is, “We don’t cuss, smoke, drink, or chew, but we will dance with girls that do!”

    1. “and perhaps lessen the desired diversity of the graduating classes.”

      You sexist, racist, homophobe! 😉

  21. If one ‘needs’ an honor code, it will not work.

    1. I can’t help but get the impression that an “honor code” is something that you need to choose for yourself, and you need to be convinced that sticking to it will be beneficial to you in the long run for both yourself and your family (perhaps even after you are dead, and you are standing before a Supreme Being justifying your actions for some sort of final Judgement), even if honoring it will hurt you, or even kill you, in the short term.

      Ultimately, honor is something you do because it is right, not because you get admiration for it (even if sometimes you do). As others have pointed out, setting up social systems to encourage honor are likely to fail, because the “Bobs” of this world help the community not for attention (and may even despise it), but because they genuinely want to help the community, and want to do it quietly, and go about their business without anyone else the wiser.

      The other side of the “we must recognize the good everyone does” coin is that you may very well end up like a college, where almost every brick, almost every chair in the auditoriums, and certainly every building, has a name on it, for the person who donated a little bit or a lot of money to make that possible. After a while, the cacophony of bragging gets tiresome, and one begins to see the value of anonymous contributions!

      1. What is important is the intention that lies behind our good deeds.

        1. I can’t entirely get behind that. Even if your intent is good, if your deeds still make the problem worse, and you don’t try to correct that, then you are just as dishonorable as someone who intends to do harm.

          Intent matters, but results trump intent.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.