The new culture of social inequality

Honesty, Culture and Morality

Why do we value civility over morality and honesty? Venko Andonovski looks into Macedonian society.

Recently I had an opportunity to give a lecture pertaining to the title of this article in front of a chosen group of Macedonian businessmen. I simply presented my views, just as I am going to do here, and this time in a written format. Some of the views that I presented in my lecture provoked a debate among the respected listeners, especially regarding the hypothesis that we who are in Macedonia have an almost perverted way of understanding the concepts of Morality, Cultural Behaviour and Honesty. Of course, this hypothesis lead to a conclusion that all of those utterly incorrect understandings lead towards a creation of a futureless, ill society with pathological inclinations.

Therefore, I am obliged to start by explaining the concepts of culture and honesty, followed by [an explanation] of the concept of morality in the way we use it in our common semiotic society, in the most generic language and in the interactions of the society. To start with the concept of culture, which I will immediately reduce to the concept of cultural behaviour: our society implies that cultural behaviour is the type of behaviour that lacks honesty. Unfortunately, that is exactly how it is, and no any other way. I repeat: that is the case with our society. A person of culture is a man who will sacrifice his honesty, and then despite his conviction that the scampi he was just served deserve to be immediately thrown in the garbage can, and will still smile at the hostess, and he will say: “They are wonderful”; And then, despite the apparent revolution of his gastro-intestinal system, he will swallow the meal. We have turned into hypocrites and flatterers who are sacrificing their own honesty, only to be labelled as “men of culture, manners and civility”. Actually, over here, the price of the societal career and success in society equates to a complete elimination of honesty, more over a complete sacrifice of the person’s character, opinions and views. The society adores the flatterers and the hypocrites, because it believes that it is very civilized that they do not say out-loud what they are really thinking.

It is quite interesting that all of us have had and still do have almost an everyday experience with this completely perverted perception of the concepts of honesty and culture. I recall with uneasiness such an event from my past: an older university professor [already retired at that time], whom I never held to high esteem, came to my office at the university. He brought with him his own manuscript (textbook) and asked me to read it and write a review or recommendation for printing. Of course, the civil behaviour would imply that I was supposed to say: “It will be my pleasure to read it”. Accordingly, just because I did not want to be labelled as uncivilized, I started to betray myself from the very beginning of this unpleasant experience with the professor. I do not know who was inside me that said: ” With pleasure”, when I was never pleased to see the professor. But the matter of self -betrayal did not end with that. As soon as I read the manuscript, I noticed that it did not meet the necessary requirements to become a textbook. My opinion, although objective, did not match the public perception and professor’s ratings among the scholars. It was obvious that he had completely failed with his skills and in his attempts to create a useful textbook. I did not know how to tell him that, I thought that I would be very impolite if I gave bad marks to a man, who by his age could have been my father. Even more so because of the fact that this man used to be my professor during my college years.

And especially because of the way he entered my cabinet, the way he asked me about the review and by the superior manner in which he dropped the manuscript on my desk- he did not even stop to think that he might get a negative opinion. To put it simply-he was convinced that I would like his work and that pressured by our traditional understanding of civil behaviour, which transliterates into equation between the [private] respect of the elderly and professional respect of the elderly -I would not dare to break the code of societal prejudice and terror over subjectivity.

And to my pity, I did not break this code. For seven days, I tortured myself, attempting to write a review that will show that I was both civil and honest at
the same time. Of course, that created terrible pains as I was crossing out whole words, sentences, euphemisms and one billion other types of intellectual-psychological self-tortures. Just as I would write that the book was good, I would thought that I could write that book could have been better; but immediately the societal censor was inhabiting my minds, sending me signals that this kind of statement might insult the professor. Finally, I wrote a text, which by its mental structure corresponded to something known in the science of logic as “contradictio in adjecto”: iron tree, was the message of the text. Finally, after seven days of torture, I tore up the review and realized the following: a man can either be honest or “civil”. I use quotation marks here, because the real idea of civility everywhere in the world represents the exact thing that is being censored here- honesty!

The episode finished like this: I wrote a review in which I gave my opinion. A scandal broke out: I was labelled as uncivil, impolite, and totally eccentric man, one that has no sense for university hierarchy and no respect for the people who taught him. Despite the bitterness of the societal defeat, for a long time afterwards I felt a very strange internal sense of satisfaction, as I was able to preserve something very important to me, yet invisible for the outside.

Judging by this event, we completely misunderstand concepts of honesty and culture. So, instead an equation between the concept of civility and the idea of honesty, the first eliminates the later. That is why we do not have professional etiquette we have a complete lack of value when it comes to judging professions, trades or experts. We flatter ourselves as we play roles of civil people, instead of giving our honest opinion about the professional achievements of our close ones.

Maybe, this would not be so terrible, but we use the same perverted perception of these two key concepts when we look into the concept of morality. Morality for us means civil behaviour, and not honest relation to all things, and with this, the tyranny of the hypocrisy gets the crown (e.g. the seal of verification) of the societal norm. A moral act is giving up on one’s own opinion- is the devastating diagnosis of our pathological society. On the other side, it is immoral to say that something is not beautiful, even if it comes from a highly respected and prominent person.

That self-deceit will come with a price of total erosion of the system of values in the society, and once the erosion starts, it will create a total amnesia: When you take old coins, where the passing of the times has erased the markings, you do not know if it was a coin of 5, 10 or 100 money units; now, all of them are just worthless metal, since every coin is worth like the rest of them. That is the final outcome for the societies which do not make an effort, through the educational process, to clearly define concepts of honesty and culture and who fail to explain to the members of the society that the first does not automatically exclude the later. The final result unfortunately is: an incubator for production of exactly same type of people, who bare no signs of something special, subjectivity or individuality, who have no individual signature nor their own style.

I do not like to vote for such an incubator, nor will I ever vote for it. And if others decide to do so, I will leave, even if I have to face the things that most of the broilers do: the dangers of the competition which exists in the outside world.
After all, that is what the real life is about: risks, hazards, fight and victory or defeat. In any case the later would be honest and moral after all.

Published 7 November 2003
Original in Macedonian
Translated by Igor Masevski

Contributed by Roots © Roots Eurozine

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