Ideas that add up #113

It was [Ruth Benedict] who taught the distinction between shame cultures, like ancient Greece, and guilt cultures like Judaism and Christianity.

They both teach people how they ought to behave, but they have very different approaches to wrongdoing. In shame cultures what matters is what other people think of you: the embarrassment, the ignominy, the loss of face. Whereas in guilt cultures it’s what the inner voice of conscience tells you. In shame cultures we’re actors playing our part on the public stage. In guilt cultures we’re engaged in inner conversation with the better angels of our nature. 

…In shame cultures, if you’ve done wrong, the first rule is, don’t be found out. If you are, then bluff your way through. Only admit when every other alternative has failed, because you’ll be disgraced for a very long time indeed. 

Rabbi Lord Sacks, BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, November 4th, 2014

I’ve got some foggy reservations about this. It can’t be that simple. Shame exists in “guilt cultures” too. It seems to be a powerful albeit repressive force for social stability. Close cousin to “honour” and “respect” — especially strong among parasite cliques: gangbangers, aristocrats, religious and political elites.

Sacks, or maybe Benedict, isn’t being entirely impartial in lumping most of the peoples of non-Judeo-Christian cultures, i.e. all that other lot, into the “shame culture” camp, deaf to any better angels that might rescue them from their benighted condition.

On the other hand, he’s right in my experience about what often happens in places where “face” is the number one fetish: “…if you’ve done wrong, the first rule is, don’t be found out. If you are, then bluff your way through…”

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