Targeted Readership: All
I see a fundamental shift in cultural ethics taking place in western society, and it seems that many people are not very well aware of what is happening. So in response to this need, this post will kick off a series of articles discussing ethical systems and some relevant intricacies of ethical considerations and applications.
This essay is comprised of four parts.
- Common Faith is the Foundation of a Culture
- The Three Basic Systems of Cultural Ethics
- An Abridged History of Chivalry
Common Faith is the Foundation of a Culture
All cultures, whether national, regional, or social, in the general sense, are built on a common faith in a shared ideal. The individuals within a culture share the faith in the presumed ideological system, and this is what creates a culture.
From a comprehensive view, a culture can be characterized through the following social conventions, upon which its members hold faith.
The Social Organization: Matriarchy, Patriarchy, and Egalitarianism – Does the culture cater to the dictates of the masculine, or does it appease the whims of the feminine?
The Predominant Religious Influences: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, et al. – Religious values and teachings become engrained into the culture over time.
The System of Cultural Ethics – Three basic systems which will be discussed in the following section.
Other Characteristic Features: Chivalry, Filial Piety, Caste Systems, Apartheid, etc.
It should be noted that since all these features of a culture are taken on faith by their constituents, the intricacies and dynamics of each one often escape the conscious awareness of a typical person within a respective culture. As a result, it is difficult to discuss these topics, except in the abstract. Those who are well traveled will have a better perspicacity of the differences among cultures.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~ Samuel L. Clemens, AKA Mark Twain
The Three Basic Systems of Cultural Ethics
Cultural anthropology has proposed three different variations of ethical standards observed by cultures around the world. The cultural and ethical theories surrounding these three archetypes have been largely adopted by world political strategists, diplomats, and evangelical missionaries, for the purpose of understanding and analyzing human behavior within societies, and communicating with individuals in foreign cultures.
These three systems are briefly described as follows, according to the noteworthy defining characteristics of each.
The Innocence/Righteousness vs. Guilt Culture (RvG), also referred to as a ‘law and order’ society, is an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ society in which control is maintained by creating societal rules, e.g. laws, regulations, standards, permits, etc., and continually reinforcing feelings of guilt and the expectation of punishment, either now, or in the afterlife, for certain condemned actions or behaviors. Ethics are imposed by the injunction, “You did something wrong (or bad)!”
The Honor vs. Shame Culture (HvS), also called a ‘shame culture’, ‘feudal state’, or ‘revenge social dynamics’, is a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ society in which the primary device for gaining control over children and maintaining social order is the inculcation of shame and the complementary threat of ostracism or rejection. Ethics are imposed by the implication of “There is something wrong (or bad) about you!”
The Power vs. Fear Culture (PvF), also known as ‘martial law’, ‘dictatorships’, ‘climate of fear’, ‘fear mongering’, ‘bullying’, and strangely, but not surprisingly, ‘toxic branding’, is an ‘innocent if worthy’ society in which brute force, structured authority, taboos, and superstition are used to incite fear and emotional bias. Control is maintained through the fear of loss, retribution or physical harm. Ethics are imposed through the motivations related to rewards and punishments.
[Eds. note: The concept of honour, as it is understood in the RvG system, pertains to an internal sense of honour, whereas, in the HvS system, it refers to an external appearance of honor. To dispel any confusion over the terminology, I will adopt the British spelling of honour for the former, and the American, honor, for the latter.]
The demographics for the proliferation of each system within several geographic regions is covered by Honor Shame: The Data on Global Culture Types (January 21, 2015). Please click on the link for some graphical illustrations showing the distribution of ethical systems around the world.
It should be noted that most cultures have a complex combination of the three types, but one type is usually more dominant than the others. To offer some examples, Muslims come from a very strong HvS patriarchal culture, and Africans from a very strong PvF matriarchal culture. Far east Asians have been the most diligent about preserving all three ethical systems within their patriarchal cultures.
[Eds. note: I disagree somewhat with the demographics reported on east Asians, and I suspect that the subjects in the study were Americans of east Asian descent. By my rough estimation (after having lived in Chinese culture for 13 years), east Asian culture is comprised of about 40% PvF, 30% HvS, 20% RvG, and 10% ‘individual personality’. Furthermore, the relative dominance of each system is compartmentalized along different venues of life. For example, the PvF structure is dominant in business and politics, the HvS structure is dominant in education, family and social life, and the RvG system is important for one’s sense of self-worth. The ‘individual personality’ is the moderating influence that each person must employ to adapt to, and ‘juggle’ the juxtaposition of the other three systems within one’s life. Perhaps this information might help readers demystify the xenotypical stereotype of east Asian culture.]
Another point of interest is that different sub-societal groups may employ different ethical systems. For example, RvG societies, such as the United States, wisely employ structures of authority and power (PvF) within their militaries, because the motivating factors of the PvF system, especially destruction and death, are of greater, raw influence compared to the motivating factors of honor, social acceptance, innocence, reason, law and order, within the larger cultural infrastructure. Street gangs employ the PvF structure, and many criminals have the PvF mindset. Organized crime syndicates utilize the PvF structure, and add elements of the HvS system.
Hollywood movies depicting a mafia (e.g. The Godfather) emphasize the HvS structure for the sake of dramatic effect. In fact, within western movie repertoires, the ‘good guys’ are commonly identified by their adherence to the RvG structure, while the ‘bad guys’ are obviously indicated through their conformism to one or both of the other two systems.
The reader may be fascinated to discover that in other areas of the world, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys conform to the opposite ethical systems. For example, in China, the ‘good guys’ are characterized by wealth, attractiveness, social popularity, and dignity to the point of arrogance (PvF), while the bad guys are guilt-ridden over their selfish wrongdoings, and obsessed with what are considered useless, abstract thoughts of religious superstitions (RvG). The Confucian ethic of Filial Piety focuses on bringing honor to one’s family, and especially one’s father (HvS), whereas any efforts made towards the ethic of maintaining one’s own, individual righteousness (RvG) are seen to be merely self-centered, posture posing, if it does not bring honor to the family as well.
There is also an inherent hierarchy of these three structures with respect to societal goals. In terms of building a civilization, advancing economic growth, and improving the quality of life (i.e. civilized qualities), the RvG structure is the most conducive, while the PvF structure is the least.
In terms of sheer domination and control, preserving current status, caste systems, societal order, and wealth (or lack of the latter), the PvF structure is the most effective, while the RvG structure is virtually powerless.
The only power that the RvG system can exert over the PvF system is in resorting to the HvS tactic of dismissing it as uncultured and uncivilized, and rejecting it as destructive and inhuman. However, this can be quite effective.
The HvS structure is noteworthy for having the most influence over the social conduct of the individual, in which personal liberties and ambitions are either harnessed or sacrificed for the sake of obtaining solidarity and order within the family or larger social group.
An Abridged History of Chivalry
Elements of chivalry predated the Greeks and Romans of antiquity, and was heavily adopted and spread by the Romans, hence the term, ‘romance’. However, Chivalry in modern times has come to be a social expression unique to western, RvG culture. I was curious to know how this came about.
It is believed that the early Catholic church stole chivalry from Teutonic tribes (???), and appropriated chivalry to create a class distinction, in order to consolidate power.
In Medieval times, the formal tenets of Chivalry originally espoused allegiance to the (Catholic) church, and over time, a modicum of several Biblical teachings were adopted under the purported aim of ‘pleasing God’.
It is also believed that chivalry received considerable inspiration from Arabic culture, partly from northern Africa through Spain, and partly from European involvement in the Crusades.
The influences of the Catholic church, as well as the exposure to the HvS Arabic culture, presumably added the aspects of distinctive honor, glorified honour, and the sense of one’s duty to community. It might be argued that the Catholic church employed PvF tactics to establish this social structure.
The dynamics of this development are not well known, since value systems tend to lie beneath the conscious awareness of human beings, and are thus omitted from reference in history. Historians must therefore study the context of writings to obtain clues about the ethical values of people living at that time.
However, it should be noted that the Christian faith, and the Christian church, existed independently of Chivalry for a few hundred years. Therefore, Christianity is not dependent on the Chivalry of its members, although I feel that both the Church and society are much better off when they include certain aspects of Chivalry, if only as a form of tradition. (If any of my readers can offer evidence to the contrary, please leave a comment with a sufficient explanation.)
In my own opinion, I have observed that in general, human beings have a natural appetite for excellence and magnificence. People within all three ethical structures, naturally aspire to the dignity, social esteem, wealth, luxuries and conveniences of the upper class, and even the bottom economic social classes have found a semblance of dignity in modeling ‘high class’ social etiquette. Thus, it is easy (for me) to conjecture how, over time, other ethical systems were denigrated as distinctions of the lower classes, and eventually eliminated from public consciousness (in the west) over a longer time frame.
I also believe this was easy to do within the patriarchal structure of the past. The GvR system naturally appeals to the individual man’s sense of personal honour, and his need for respect. It appeals to a man’s sense of honour because it puts the qualifications for a man’s honour within his own sphere of control through his daily civil conduct, as opposed to the relatively difficult task of gaining honor within the HvS system by its dependency on a man’s status, wealth, power, and on others in his family and community.
In addition, today’s society poses fewer violent threats to life, limb, and property, than the common man faced in the past. In other words, it’s super easy for a western man to be an hono(u)rable member of society. All he has to do is… nothing bad.
- Cultures are built on a shared faith in a common ideology, which takes the form of social conventions.
- Since cultures are built on faith, individual members of a culture often have little cognitive awareness of the common ideologies that their culture believes in.
- Cultures around the world display unique combinations of different social conventions, all having their own set of strengths and weaknesses.
- When different ethical systems are set against one another in a conflict, it is comparable to a ‘paper, scissors, rock’ game, depending on the issues involved.
- Historically, those cultures which have been built on the Righteousness vs. Guilt system have had a significantly greater advancements and achievements than those which have been founded on either of the other two systems.
- Chivalry predates antiquity.
- Chivalry is not necessarily or uniquely a Christian phenomenon.
- The Roman Catholic church was instrumental towards the integration of Patriarchy, Christianity, and Chivalry, within the RvG cultures in the west.
Future posts will discuss some important values, such as honour, as well as culturally relevant considerations from the viewpoints of these three ethical systems and their impact, as they appear in Feminism, the SMP, Immigration, and maybe others.
For more information on each of the three ethical systems introduced in this post, please see the related information below.
- Steven Dutch: The World’s Most Toxic Value System (November 19, 2001)
- Islam Watch (feat. David Weir): Honour and Shame (September 17, 2007)
- Power to Change: Guilt, Shame and Power Worldviews and the Gospel (PDF) (February, 2015)
- Tim Challies: Shame, Fear, Guilt (May 18, 2016)