Honor, Violence, and Civilizationrnby Michael HillrnFor evidence that academics miss the obvious, look no furtherrnthan the 1996 study by two Midwestern psychologistsrnon the proclivity of white Southern males to resort to violencernwhen their honor is challenged. What a surprise!rnPsychologists Richard Nisbett (University of Michigan) andrnDov Cohen (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) conductedrna series of what would seem to be experiments. Uponrnlearning firsthand that insulting a non-Hispanic white manrnfrom the South can be dangerous, the professors concludedrnthat white Southern boys, when insulted or threatened, experiencerna testosterone surge normally absent in their gentlerrnNorthern brethren. The unleashing of this politically incorrectrnhormone accounts for the South’s much-maligned “culture ofrnhonor.”rnMost of us regard the results of this study as welcome confirmationrnof what we like to believe. Years ago, in my dissipatedrnyouth, when 1 dabbled at being a Southern rocker in the days ofrnthe original Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and thernMarshall Tucker Band, a female groupie (I suppose there arernother varieties on today’s music scene) said she liked Southernersrnbest because they were still “real men.” What she meantrnwas that, unlike the long-haired peaceniks from Boston, NewrnYork, and San Francisco, Southern musicians and other assortedrnrowdies had not offered up their virility on the altar of feminism.rnAs reflected in many of their songs—both rock andrncountry—raucous and hard-drinkin’ Southern boys tickled therndistaff fancy by frequently engaging in knock-down, drag-outrnbarroom brawls over the slightest affront to Momma, Old Spot,rnSweet Thang, or some other loved one. To the average, redbloodedrnwoman-child, such a manifestation of high-testosteronernbravado more often than not proved sexually alluring, allrnbut assuring the cultural/biological continuation of this trait.rnMichael Hill is a historian and president of the SouthernrnLeague.rnNever one to defend (or understand) the ways of the South,rnRush Limbaugh intoned shortly after the publication of thisrnstudy that Southern men should take Nisbett’s and Cohen’srnstudy as an insult to their civility. Of course Mr. Limbaugh hadrna solution ready at hand: vote for Bob Dole and y’all won’t havernto endure such abuse any longer. Moments later a caller whornidentified himself as a resident of the “first capital of the Confederacy”rninformed Limbaugh that the revelations about whiternSouthern males were not news in his neck of the woods, andrnthat it was a good thing that at least one group of Americanrnmen still had their anatomy intact after several decades of government-rnimposed feminization. Limbaugh agreed, but bothrnhost and caller excluded Bill Clinton from this category, ofrncourse. 1 suppose we will have to await final confirmation fromrnPaula Jones.rnWhat indeed should we Southrons make of this study?rnThere are, after all, some not-so-obvious implications at workrnhere. Twenty years ago, my mentors at the University of Alabama,rnhistorians Forrest McDonald and Grady McWhiney, beganrnlooking seriously into the Celtic (Scottish, Irish, andrnWelsh) influence on Southern culture. As Southerners themselves,rnMcDonald and McWhiney knew that most crackersrnclaimed to be at least partly Celtic, and that the Celts werernproducts of a martial society in which men of action were heldrnin high regard. In one sense, these historians did not tell Southernersrnof Celtic descent anything they did not already know:rnthat they were prone to commit violent acts over questions ofrnhonor and repute. What they did was provide a proper historicalrnunderstanding of why this cultural trait is so prevalent inrnDixie. Professors McDonald and McWhiney advanced theirrn”Celtic thesis” with understandable regional pride. It gavernSouthern crackers and rednecks (the only group that can still berninsulted with impunity in polite company) a wider historicalrnidentity and made them proud to be descended from a fiercernand independent people. In doing so, it suggested to them thatrnAUGUST 1997/1 7rnrnrn