Monday, April 16, 2018

Cultural Maturation: Shame, Fear, Guilt

In his published work, scholar Jayson Georges identifies three categories into which various cultures can fall: guilt, shame, and fear. He gives a brief explanation of them as follows:

[In a] Guilt [culture] people feel guilty internally and seek justice.
[In a] Shame [culture] people desire honor and avoid shame.
[In a] Fear [culture] people seek spiritual power over [the] unseen world.

While Georges does not assign any temporal or logical priority to these various categories, it may be that there is a chronological and developmental ordering of them.

A shame culture may correspond to an early phase of societal development, a non-religious phase. Honor or shame can be attributed without reference to any deity or divinity. These attributes are merely a subjective attitude of humans toward each other.

A fear culture may represent an advancement beyond the shame phase into a pre-religious phase. A fear culture operates on the bases of myth and magic - on the bases of attempting, respectively, to explain and to manipulate various aspects of nature. Such a culture falls short of a religious phase because there is not yet a direct relationship with the deity, but rather merely an attempt to manipulate or explain the deity. This may be called an external culture.

A guilt culture represents a stage in which civilization has explored rational knowledge, and determined its limits. Such a civilization, instead of composing myths as explanatory vehicles, is content to mark off what is knowable and what is unknowable. Likewise, it discriminates which aspects of the natural world are controllable and which are not. This may be called an internal culture, and now works to relate to the deity rather than to explain or manipulate the deity.

A further hypothesis might be made to the effect that a post-civilized phase, after some catastrophic cultural decline, would return to the non-religious shame phase.

It is perhaps in some way counterintuitive that the shame phase precedes the fear phase. One might assume that the fear phase would come first, imagining a technologically primitive society which was at the mercy of nature - storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.

It may well be, however, that technological development and societal development are not closely correlated.

A transition from a shame society to a fear society would represent a civilization’s maturation in the sense that it is escaping a purely subjective standpoint, in which it deals only with those concepts which have been projected by consciousness, and advancing to a standpoint which has some awareness of a reality which exists independently of consciousness.