The concept of this site, encompassed in its title — “Honour and Ecology” — does not easily explain itself. Its original working title, Enech ocus Áesacht, may be even more cryptic, given it is its rough Old Irish variant. As such, a brief introduction and summary to the site’s contents and general purpose is in order.
Honour is a subject rarely discussed in modern Western societies, even if, to a lesser degree, in certain circumstances, or in isolated subcultures, it is still of account or importance. When it is spoken of, it very often is confused or conflated with “virtue,” “valour” — “good” behaviour or “righteous” conduct in general. We might implicate some of this confusion in turns of phrases such as declaring, “He is an honourable man.” But while being virtuous by a society’s standards is indispensable to being a man or woman of honour, honour itself is not virtue, but “face.”
Here I refer to the Gaelic concept of enech (and the first half of the Old Irish title). Enech has been roughly-translated as “face,” and in this simple word, we lift the confounding veil off of what honour really is. Honour — enech — is your “face,” your reputation within your society. In the Gaelic cultures such as were prevalent in Ireland prior to the beginning of their dismantlement by the English (re)conquest beginning in the 1500s, enech was the glue by which society was held together at all levels. At its most fundamental level, your reputation is determined by how you carry yourself and how you act towards one’s family and peers — and so here we find virtue’s place, for following the morals and conduct (virtues) set down by one’s society would generally improve one’s reputation and possibly one’s social standing. Here, then, is part of where one can find it, to a less formal degree, in modern society, as many of course go to greater or lesser degrees to maintain a certain image in different social environments at different times. In the Gaelic social order, we find honour tightly-interwoven into the legal system as well: a person’s honour could be quantified as the lóg n-enech, the “price of face/honour,” largely determined by one’s social station, profession, and other situational circumstances and credits of their character, which then was used to determine a person’s rights, how much was owed to them in disputes or in recompense for injury, or how much was expected from them if they likewise injured or crossed another. Such injuries included more than just the harming of a person’s body or damage to property — honour could be damaged in and of itself, and hence one finds a preoccupation and awe for the power of “satire” in Gaelic law and legend, for one’s social standing could be damaged by such an assault or denigration to one’s reputation as harmfully as a loss to their actual holdings/wealth.
There is much more that can be said about how such an honour system functioned in Gaelic Ireland and similar “honour-bound” societies, such as feudal-era Japan (and likely will be elaborated upon in future posts). For the point here, though, one can see that honour, as reputation, is necessarily founded on relationality, a concern for the perception of others, and the respect demanded of therein. Respect for family, respect for peers, respect in larger social arenas — one only would forego respect in relationships of immutable antagonism, such as against one who perceivably dishonoured you through the marring of one’s face or the face of one’s family, thereby placing themselves in the role of enemy.
From this, it may be asserted that honour and any legal/social system founded upon it considers and in turn upholds the various relations that go into shaping the individual, his honour, and how the individual’s actions influence, positively or negatively, his relations in turn. It is one of many reasons that can be cited as to why honour, by modern standards, is often considered “anachronistic,” outdated, useless. Ignoring for the moment any nuances of corruption involved, modern states often aver that all individuals are “equal before the law” — all people stand, as individuals, in equal judgement before the law of the one legal authority of the modern state, and therefore, the legal and social constraints once enforced by a community of relations is reduced to the one, overridingly-important relationship of the individual before the law of the state.
The fundamental importance of relationality and relational thinking, however, even though in many ways abandoned by the legal and social institutions of the West, remains far from anachronistic. In the hallows of modern science, there is a field that explicitly focuses on the relationships and interactions, and how those impact the individual, and that is the field of “ecology.” Ecology, textbook definition, is the study of the relationships and interactions an individual “organism” has with its environment. It comes in various shades and shapes as to the exact level of interest and analysis — the relationships of interest, in other words. A population ecologist looks at the relationship and interactions whole populations have with their environment and other populations; community ecologists study relationships and interactions that bind together entire communities (composed of many different populations) and how they live in their environment; human behavioural ecology examines human behaviour and how it is shaped by its relation to the physical and social environment. Just to name a few.
Old Irish does not have a world quite equivalent to “ecology” — the modern Irish word, éiceolaíocht, is a loan word from the English “ecology.” The third word of the title (Áesacht, after ocus, which is simply “and”) is a conjugate of áes and –acht. It may be somewhat useful to think of –acht as “act,” or the “condition of-” (your average etymological source will say along the same lines of -ness, -ity, -hood, etc.). Áes will certainly require much more elaboration in the future, but in short, it can refer to an “age,” “era,” or a “people.” Taken together, it roughly denotes the “Condition of Time,” of Being, Being-ness, Peoplehood — and, like the “study of Oikos,” one’s “house” or environment, the Condition of Being is the conditions of the countless relationships and interactions which sustain it. Áesacht can then serve as a suitable proxy for the totalising concern of ecology.
Why “Honour” and “Ecology?”
Because “Honourable Ecology” sounded a bit odd. Though, more seriously, both honour and ecology, while being concepts commonly exercised and conceived of differently (one is a socio-cultural practice, while the other is a pursuit of “natural” knowledge), are linked by their shared interest in relationality and the importance attributed to it. In an honour system, your relations/standing toward the rest of the society makes you, in determining your “fate” among your peers; in an ecological system, your relations/standing toward the rest of the biological world and environment, whether the human society or global chemical cycles, makes you as well, in the shaping of your mind and body. One would be fair in pointing out that one is nested within the other —plainly, human society and anything that occurs in it, honour or otherwise, is nested within the wider world of ecological interaction and relationships enclosing it.
But unfortunately, it is not so plain to many. Returning to the point of, in the typical modern Western society, the individual generally stands alone legally and is judged before the power of the state, we likewise see the modern phenomena of “individualism” branded throughout the rest of the culture and society. Gratification of the self, selfishness itself, is popularly upheld as the definitive virtue of the day. Combined with the reality of most peoples who live in such a society not provisioning themselves except through what is provided to them through complex chain of middlemen, one creates a mass of “individuals” who, by and large, have very little knowledge or appreciation of the various relationships and interactions that sustain their solipsistic realities. If honour — one’s face before the community, and how one should comport oneself therefrom — is regarded as unimportant, ecology — one’s face before the wider world, human and otherwise, and the accounting of it with the scientific method — is often belittled as well, except where it is considered immediately “economically-useful” to the culture and commodity of “individualism.”
So why honour and ecology? It is my belief, as shall be more fully elaborated in posts to come, that both of these are critically-important to know and/or enact, based on my upbringing and my academic lineage that has been informed by the former. Honour is essential to the health of a society — relational thinking, respect as it is due based on these relations, and merit-based accolades. This relationality and respect extends to more than just the human community — just as the non-human, ecological interactions permeate the course of human affairs, honour reaches into the non-human world as well, with a “respect” towards non-human communities, or a lack thereof, inescapably impacting one’s own society, positively or negatively. They are intertwined — but here, conceptually separated to variously demonstrate to an individual unfamiliar to either or both how they have come to “stand alone” and how they can relate. In effect, this blog act as a reflection on the breadth of honour (and ecology) in my undying hope of such a reconciliation in the popular mind — whether of the ecologist paying more heed to the human element as more than a neutral or exceptional element in the wider, “objective” systems which they catalogue, or of the average person thinking more on how they walk in the world, how their face appears to others, and all that is or could be gained thereby. It is something that I believe whole-heartedly that the modern world could benefit greatly from in its recall and practice.
The concept, it just so happens, also gives me much freedom to post about a wide variety of topics, ranging from social commentary, glances at popular media, comments on an ecological concept, or my own work, as honour is not something one sets aside at a moment’s notice. It is, as outlined above, all pervasive, this cultivation of and being cultivated by one’s relations. So, while I will attempt to keep the eccentricity to a manageable minimum, expect there to be quite a bit of… “diverse” material on this site. You will also find, if it had not already been guessed, much of this revolving around or framed with “Gaelic” cultural terms or concepts, with an unapologetic preference given to it as a part of my heritage. I welcome all comments and communications, but keep them respectful if you expect a response or an acknowledgement. At any rate, I welcome you to the site, and I hope you will enjoy its contents!
Note: If you would like to become a contributor to this site, please contact myself (“Iobhar Blackbeard”) through the Contact page.