Everything old is new again. Cyrano’s extreme sensitivity to any hint of insult works well enough in literature, but it isn’t so pleasant to meet it on the street. Once again, reputation is everything on the street. This time around, instead of "honor and the duel" we have the drive-by shooting (another one yesterday). Although I wonder how different it really is: how often did the prickly dandies of old resort to surprise in the alley? Risking your skin for your honor can be a little costly, unless you’re up against a hapless civilian. Maybe part of the mechanical brutality we see is a function of the organization into gangs; but that can’t be the whole reason for the difference since the duelists of centuries past were often members of deadly groups too.
I don’t yearn for the days of duels. A well-trained tough guy could throw his weight around secure that the ordinary Joe would just have to bite his tongue: just like gangsters do today. And the excuse of duels could mask a lot of ordinary murder. But I wonder if duels helped buffer a deadly focus on reputation by requiring that the offendee meet the offender on terms of a kind of equality. There’s probably no way to tell, though.