Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South
The homicide rate in the US South is much higher than in the North. This has been attributed to the weather: the air is hot, people get hot under the collar, they pull the trigger in the heat of the moment. It’s also been attributed to slavery: the whites dealt violently with the enslaved blacks, including killing them when they chose; that violent behavior simply carried over to fellow whites. But both of those explanations are inadequate to explain just where in the South the white non-Hispanic homicide rate is particularly high: not the deep, muggy plantation South but the mountainous South such as West Virginia and the dry plains such as Oklahoma (where it gets very hot, but dry heat is not as uncomfortable as moist heat). Homicides carried out in the context of another crime are about as high in the North as in the South. It’s for crimes of passion that the South leads the North, especially those prompted by an insult of some kind. The economic base of the North and the moist plains was originally farming; the economic base of the mountains and the dry plains was the herding of animals. Herdsmen have to be tough guys in order to discourage other people from poaching their herds. Look at me cross-eyed, get too friendly with my woman, make a joke at my expense and be prepared to get punched or worse. This sensitivity to insults is not restricted to contemporary herdsmen. The authors conducted experiments in which a student bumped male University of Michigan students and called them “assholes.” This increased the testosterone level of students from the South, but not of those from the North.