Over the years, as the Gorean community has grown, many have struggled to define more succinctly what Gorean philosophy and world view actually is. “Gorean philosophy is the philosophy shown in the Gorean books” is the only universally accepted statement, as it is a tautology. The books are, in this regard, more parables than prescriptions, which requires one to self-reflect, analyze (both oneself as well as the books), and read deeper in order to find the patterns and meaning.
Which, in a sense, is the first principle of Gor: It cannot simply be taught, it must be learned and experienced.
Do not ask the stones or the trees how to live, they can not tell you;… do not ask how to live, but, instead, proceed to do so.
Marauders of Gor, Page 9
That, however, should not be taken as a condemnation of teaching; no society that refuses to teach its newcomers will survive past a single generation. Nor should it be taken as a message that Gor is “simply be yourself, whatever that is”. Such an anarchic approach would be completely incompatible with the books, as they show over and over again social structures and pressures and conventions that are not evil or repressive at all; rather, they are presented as superior to the (often-strawman) presentation of conventional western culture.
“Truth not won is not possessed. We are not entitled to truths for which we have not fought.”
Marauders of Gor, p.7
But what, then, constitutes Gorean philosophy? It is, simply, the philosophy agreed to and adopted by Goreans. But which Goreans?
In this case, the Scribe of this site. We do not claim the following to be the ultimate word on Gorean philosophy and belief. It is however, one which we accept and follow, and which has stood the test of countless debates and discussions over the past 20 years, a battle of wits in which many an innocent electron was spilt.
There is, in the world, that which is Right and that which is Wrong. Most interactions and situations do not rise to the level of Right and Wrong, and it would be incorrect to say that they do. But to be honorable, or to have honor, is to work for and do what is Right and fight against and do not do that which is Wrong, even at cost to yourself, because that is the Right thing to do, and to be internally consistent (that is, have integrity) in those endeavors. Period.
One who “is honorable” is one who has a clear definition of Right and Wrong, an understanding of why those beliefs are held, and holds to them with a high degree of consistency. One who has demonstrated such over a period of time is said to “be honorable”.
Closely related to honor is the concept of integrity. Integrity is an internal and external consistency in belief, behavior, and action with regard to one’s Honor and ethical code, especially in the face of adversity. While one’s beliefs may change over time, and it is in fact worrisome if they do not evolve as one gains experience, they should not do so on a whim.
As humans are by nature fallible creatures, perfect integrity is impossible. All people will at some point in their lives, probably at many, fail to provide consistent adherence to their honor and ethical code at the time, either in their beliefs, behavior, or action. At that time, a reasonable judge of integrity is the frequency with which such inconsistencies occur, the severity of them, and the steps (or lack thereof) the person in question takes to amend said breach and to avoid a repeated breach. In fact, one’s actions in response to a breach of integrity are a better judge of one’s integrity than behavior in more normal times.
“The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.”
There are, of course, many possible definitions of “Right” and “Wrong”, which often conflict. Gorean honor specifically is that which is derived from the books, but again that is not prescriptive and can only be derived implicitly.
Core to the Gorean sense of honor is accountability. That is, accepting responsibility for one’s actions (or lack thereof), whether the result is good or bad. That could be as mundane as apologizing for stepping on someone’s foot to accepting genuine blame for a large failure at work. It also means, however, not assisting others in avoiding accountability. It means being true to one’s word (even if doing so is otherwise detrimental). A Gorean is accountable to himself, and to those around him.
“Flee,” she said. “I am of the Warriors,” I said. “But you may die,” she said. “That is acknowledged in the codes,” I said. “What are the codes?” she asked. “They are nothing, and everything,” I said. “They are a bit of noise, and the steel of the heart. They are meaningless, and all significant. They are the difference. Without the codes men would be Kurii.” “Kurii?” she asked. “Beasts, such as ice beasts, and worse,” I said. “Beasts such as the face you saw in the sky.” “You need not keep the codes,” she said. “I once betrayed my codes,” I said. “It is not my intention to do so again.” I looked at her.
“One does not know, truly, what it is to stand, until one has fallen. Once one has fallen, then one knows, you see, what it is to stand.” “None would know if you betrayed the codes,” she said. “I would know,” I said, “and I am of the Warriors.”
Beasts of Gor, Page 340
Another key aspect of Gorean honor is strength, and striving to increase it. Not strength in the physical sense, but strength of character and will. In this regard it draws heavily from Nietzsche’s concept of Master-slave morality, which embraces the inherent inequality of the world.
Gorean philosophy does not claim that all are equal. Quite the opposite. Gorean philosophy asserts that inequality is the natural state of humanity, as not all are equal in skill, in intellect, in will, or capacity in a myriad of ways.
However, contrary to the inequality espoused by racists and bigots, that inequality is not static. That inequality is taken not as a way to hold another down, but as a challenge to lift yourself, and your fellows, higher. There is always higher to climb, another challenge to meet, another lesson to learn. Gorean honor calls on Goreans to always seek to climb and better themselves.
The morality of slaves says, “You are equal to me; we are both the same”; the morality of masters says, “We are not equal; we are not the same; become equal to me; then we will be the same.”
Marauders of Gor, Page 9
On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.
We also hold that, if one shares a kinship with another (through family, caste, or Home Stone) then one is obligated to, as appropriate, help that other person to climb. “Here is my hand, now come up to my level.”
Curiously, while the above “Right and Wrong” definition of honor is common amongst lay-people in the US today, that is not how sociologists and anthropologists use the term. In sociological terms, an honor-based culture is one that uses an implicit set of rules of behavior (an honor code) rather than an explicit one (a legal code), and places the responsibility of enforcement on all individuals personally.
That is, in a law-based society if someone wrongs you, it is the responsibility of an established and accepted structure to penalize the offender (government, legal system, police, judges, etc.), and the consistency of punishment acts as a deterrent of such behavior. In an honor-based society, in contrast, it would be your personal duty to seek vengeance upon the offender (possibly with help, possibly not, depending on the circumstances) as a way to dissuade others from wronging you in the future. Such honor-based systems are far more common where a law-based system is impossible, due to limited resources, high temptation to wrong someone else (the reward often outweighs the risk), and institutions to enforce an explicit code are ineffective or non-existent.
While such a “do it yourself” approach to law and order is romantic and appealing, historically it frequently lead to a lot of dead people and repeated cycles of violence through escalation, revenge killings, blood feuds, gang wars, and such. That is why most cultures have switched from implicit to explicit systems as soon as the resources and institutions for a law-based system were available.
We do see, however, that “vengeance” approach to honor in the Gor books as well. Even in cases where it is arguably to his detriment, Tarl will attack or dress-down another person for a social slight.
“It was so tiny a thing,” she asked, “a point of propriety, of precedence?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “You risked so much for a mere point of honor?” she asked. “There are no mere points of honor,” I told her.
Vagabonds of Gor, Page 63
As virtually all industrialized nations today are, primarily, law-based societies and discourage personal vengeance as a social enforcement mechanism, what then of honor? Can this form of honor be compatible in a modern society?
We hold that yes, it can, as it does not require vengeance and violence to exist but simply correction. If wronged, a Gorean has a responsibility not of revenge, but of correction. Severe matters are indeed better left to law enforcement, but honor in this sense is the flip-side of accountability: Holding others accountable for their behavior, especially if one is the aggrieved party. That does not require personally punishing someone, simply seeing to it that they are held accountable.
That is, not only is it dishonorable to cheat, lie, or steal it is dishonorable to knowingly allow another to cheat, lie, or steal, and especially so if the cheating, lying, or stealing is committed against you.
While Gor is generally a strong supporter of the individual, and Norman himself decidedly libertarian in his views, Gor nonetheless places great significance on community, and on community responsibility.
In the books, this is shown in two ways.
Most of the regions of Gor we see in the books have a caste-based culture. These castes are not akin to the Indian caste system (which most Americans first think of when they hear “caste”) but more like the professional guilds of Medieval and Early Modern Europe. One is generally born into a caste, learns the skills of the caste from its senior members, teaches those skills to its younger members, and owes a debt of responsibility to all of its members.
“Goreans do not generally favor begging, and some regard it as an insult that there should be such, an insult to them and their city. When charity is in order, as when a man cannot work or a woman is alone, usually such is arranged through the caste organization.”
Assassins of Gor, page 12
The welfare of the caste, typically, takes priority in the Gorean mind over the ambitions of specific individuals.”
Fighting Slave of Gor, page 210
Similarly, sharing knowledge with fellow caste members is, naturally, a duty. How can the caste be strong if many of its members are kept ignorant for the aggrandizement of a single member?
Although not all practicing Goreans claim a caste, and there is of course no “caste organization” to speak of, the concept of responsibility and duty to those with whom shares a professional bond is poignant and consistent.
Greater than caste, however, is Home Stone. The books make the point repeatedly that one cannot understand the significance of a Home Stone without having a Home Stone. For our purposes, however, it suffices to demonstrate the value of communal bonds.
A Home Stone is a rock. It is often simple, and minimally decorated if at all. It has no intrinsic value, except that is taken as symbolic of the heart and soul of the community that pledges itself to it and is thus invaluable. As a literary tool, it serves to exemplify the dual importance of personal sovereignty and community loyalty.
An individual or house may have a personal Home Stone, but a city will also have a Home Stone. A man in the presence of his Home Stone is absolute ruler and sovereign. “A man’s home is his castle” is a concept that Goreans take very seriously, and to challenge another’s rule of his house is a serious affront.
At the same time, the shared Home Stone of a city unites its members. Without a Home Stone, they are simply a group of people in the same place. With a Home Stone, they are a community.
“Commonality of Home Stone extends beyond concepts with which you are familiar, such as shared citizenship, for example. It is more like brotherhood, but not so much in the attenuated, cheap, abstract sense in which those of Earth commonly speak glibly, so loosely, of brotherhood. It is more analogous to brotherhood in the sense of jealously guarded membership in a proud, ancient family, one that has endured through centuries, a family bound together by fidelity, honor, history and tradition.”
Prize of Gor, Pages 117 - 118
The sharing of a Home Stone is a serious matter, and one owes a great deal to those with whom one shares one. Protection, aid, fidelity, and so forth are expected from a community to its members and vice versa.
In Ar, as in many Gorean cities, citizenship is confirmed in a ceremony of this sort. Nonperformance of this ceremony, upon reaching intellectual majority, can be a cause for expulsion from the city. The rationale seems to be that the community has a right to expect allegiance from its members.
Vagabonds of Gor, Page 303
So while Gorean philosophy may strongly value the individual and personal achievement, it values equally, if not more so, the shared community and its achievement as well.
Less often referenced, but also relevant to this discussion, is that the word “Gor” literally translates as “Home Stone”. That is, the name of the planet in the books is literally “Home Stone”. Our world is our Home Stone, to which we owe ultimate allegiance, and to those with whom we share that ultimate Home Stone.
Are we not all of the same world?
Love of nature
While it is perhaps a stretch to say that one must be an environmentalist in order to be Gorean, it would not be a great stretch. As noted, the name of the Gorean homeworld is “Home Stone”, a reference to that which is the beating heart of a Gorean’s life.
The books also state, repeatedly, that Goreans love their world. Its “clean and untainted” air is oft contrasted with the “polluted” air of Earth. There is perhaps little to add to this particular line:
“Goreans care for their world. They love the sky, the plains, the sea, the rain in the summer, the snow in the winter. They will sometimes stand and watch clouds. The movement of grass in the wind is very beautiful to them. More than one Gorean poet has sung of the leaf of a Tur tree. I have known warriors who cared for the beauty of small flowers.”
Hunters of Gor, Page 119
A healthy respect for nature and its beauty, and an inclination to protect and preserve it, is a very Gorean trait.
The most externally obvious, and thus controversial, aspect of Gorean philosophy is the concept of Natural Order. It is, for better or worse, what Goreans are known for, if they are known. It is also perhaps the most misunderstood, even by those professing to be Gorean.
Natural Order has two aspects. The first is a somewhat incindiary term for the application of Evolutionary Psychology to gender and sexual relationships. In short, Evolutionary Psychology is the application of the principles of natural selection to human psychology, that is, looking at the evolutionary pressures on humans over their history and how they would have impacted our psychological as well as physiological development.
The general consensus in the scientific community on the “nature vs. nurture” question is “both, and it’s complicated.” Many aspects of our behavior are biological in origin, with a thick layer of social and cultural conditioning on top of them (which have their own highly complicated evolutionary pressures). Those biological behaviors have been shaped by millions of years of evolution, and have shaped (both psychologically and physically) males and females in different ways because a division of labor aided in the survival of the species.
These differences are by no means absolute, but show a clear gender-biased trend. Specifically, they show a bias toward dominant, protective, tenacious males and submissive, nurturing, multi-tasking females. Displays of those behaviors by one gender tend to trigger a sympathetic mirror response in the other. That such trends sound eerily like the “traditional gender roles” oft derided in Western culture today is a sign not that they are antiquated but that there is some validity to them; if such gender differentiation was so common throughout most of human history, perhaps there is something more to it than an oppressive conspiracy.
The scientific basis for that claim is present, but not conclusive. For instance, one study conducted in Canada on D/s and S/M interests showed a surprisingly high degree of interest across genders in activities that suggest an unequal power dynamic. While both genders reported interest in all activities in large numbers, there was a very clear bias toward men expressing dominant/aggressive interests and women expressing submissive interests.
Similarly, many studies have shown that what is most attractive to men, on the whole, is signs of fertility and high estrogen, which generally express themselves in what are usually considered “feminine” attributes. Conversely, women are attracted to signs of successful provision; the cues for that may vary between cultures but the theme is the same. The exception is while they are ovulating, when their attraction shifts to signs of fertility in the form of high testosterone, which also generally express themselves in traditionally “masculine” appearance and behavior.
Historically, societies in which life was more fraught and death closer to hand tended to be more strongly male-dominant, while those that had more abundant and secure resources tend to have a more equal status for men and women. The same pattern can be seen today amongst many primates. Humans evolved, of course, in very unstable conditions in which our wits were our only meaningful defense mechanism (as we lacked claws, saberteeth, thick hides, or other natural weapons). That undoubtedly impacted the evolution of the human psyche.
To be sure, a handful of studies do not a scientific consensus make and any generalization of human behavior is fraught with risk. The science at this point can best be summed up as “inconclusive, but there’s definitely something to it.”
The other, related aspect of natural order, as Goreans understand it, is that of hierarchy. Dominance and leadership hierarchies are natural and normal among most mammals, especially primates. Most groups, left to their own devices, inevitably develop hierarchies, even if informal ones. Those hierarchies are not always formed along the most practical lines, but they will form. (The essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” explains this dynamic in more detail.)
Goreans embrace and accept the nature of hierarchy, and that some will lead and others follow. Following is not disgraceful if it is natural and appropriate in context; not everyone can, or should, lead. Without both followers and leaders the chances of anything getting done is close to none.
Combining these two concepts, Gorean culture is, openly and unabashedly, male-dominant. Male-dominant, however, does not imply misogynistic. There are many women involved in the Gorean community who are well-respected, but understand that Gor is patriarchal without shame.
In the books, this clear dominant/submissive dichotomy is taken to a hyperbolic extreme, up to and including legalized, chattel slavery. In the books, perhaps 2% of the female population is said to be slaves, most of them happily so, and an even smaller percentage of the male population are slaves, mostly POWs and criminals who resent their status. Despite that, the overwhelming majority of the female characters seen in the books are slaves, and happily so (at least by the end of the book). They are simply more fun to read about.
The extremes, of course, are of more interest to those unsatisfied with the state of their environment. As a result, it is estimated that somewhere around 2/3rd of women involved in the Gorean community consider themselves slaves. Unlike the books, of course, this is consensual slavery with their full and enthusiastic consent.