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It has been noted that much of the difference between Western and Eastern cultural stems from their ethical philosophies. Societies founded on Judeo-Christian principles use Guilt to keep people working towards the common good. Most other societies (the most advanced examples currently being Eastern) instead use Shame. In other words, most citizens in Western cultures are at Stage 4 of Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development while most citizens in Eastern cultures are at Stage 3.

Consider a (non-psychopathic) citizen who is considering theft, they are normally discouraged by one of two thought processes:

  • Shame: if I steal and am caught, people will dislike me.
  • Guilt: if I steal, I will dislike myself.

Both of these ethical philosophies are obviously imperfect. In Shame Cultures, being perceived as having done some wrong is all that matters, not whether the wrong was actually committed. In Guilt Cultures, the citizen must rely on eir internal moral compass, which may be over or under zealous. Neither being ostracized by one's community nor stewing in Guilt leads to rehabilitation.

Catholicism effectively transmutes from Guilt to Shame through confessions whereby actually committed acts (and thoughtcrimes) are measured against the moral compass of an expert. In general, the context of an omniscient god makes Guilt simply more abstract: Shame in the eyes of a superior rather than peers. Redemption also provides a way out of unending Shame or Guilt and into rehabilitation. The secularization of many Western cultures has cast off this hybrid philosophy just as people of both cultures are mixed by globalization.

It seems likely that Kohlberg put the stages in that order not because of some inherint inferiority of Shame Culture, but because he was raised in a Guilt Culture. Guilt Cultures are particularly more likely to denigrate Shame Cultures due to the fact that Guilt tended to be the ethical philosophy of colonizers and Shame of the colonized. On the other hand, it must be noted that the majority of existing Guilt Cultures are theologically and technologically advanced while Shame Cultures exist at all levels of development.

Stages 0 through 2 of Kohlberg's scale could also be seen to have corresponding ethical cultures corresponding to anarchies, totalitarian states (Fear Culture?), and pure capitalisms (Greed Culture?), respectively. Utopian science fiction doubtlessly has examples of cultures corresponding to stages 5 and 6.

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