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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » The West vs. Islam: Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture

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Author Topic: The West vs. Islam: Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture
Daruma28
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This is why I love blogs...I come across in depth analysis and insight like this:

From Dr. Sanity

quote:
...shame-- in limited quantities and small doses--has facilitated civilized conduct and made both individuals and cultures behave more appropriately. But healthy shame, on the other hand, keeps us in touch with reality, and reminds us of our limitations, faults, and humanity. When experiencing healthy shame an individual may not be very happy to have embarrassing weaknesses and defects made obvious, but this awareness is insightful and humbling. As long as an individual is capable of self-doubt and self-reflection about his behavior; he is able to remain open-minded and willing to search for a better understanding of himself and others.

Excessive or inappropriate shame is another thing altogether, communicating forcibly to the individual that he or she is worthless. Shame can be an exceedingly devastating and painful experience

Children who live with constant hostility and criticism learn to defend against the bad feelings and shame within; and to externalize blame onto others. Projection and paranoia, which are both external assignments of blame, are psychological defenses against shame.

Often this excessive shame is dealt with by humiliating someone perceived as weaker or more worthless than the shamed person (e.g., the family pet, women, Gays, or outside groups serve this function for both individuals and cultures).

In contrast, guilt is an emotion that rises after a transgression of one's own or cultural values. Guilt is about actions or behavior; while shame is about the self. There is an important psychological difference in saying to someone that their behavior is bad; as contrasted with saying that they are bad. The former leads to guilt; the latter to shame.

The purpose of guilt is to stop behavior that violates a self, family or societal standard. Guilt manages the excesses or deficits of behavior deemed undesirable; and is usually expressed as regret and remorse.

Eventually for the shame-avoidant person, reality itself must be distorted in order to further protect the self from poor self-esteem. Blaming other individuals or groups for one's own behavior becomes second nature, and this transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.

Most psychological theorists (Erikson, Freud, Kohut) see shame as a more “primitive” emotion (since it impacts one’s basic sense of self) compared to guilt, which is developed later in the maturation of the self. It should be noted that without the development of guilt there is no development of a real social conscience.

Islam has absorbed the dominant features of a "shame culture" from its Arab and tribal roots; while the West has become a "guilt culture".

I think this insight is perfectly demonstrated by the widely reported Arab/Muslim practice of "honor killings" where a female family member or spouse who has been raped is murdered by her own spouse or family member to "restore honor."

quote:
SHAME MUST BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS. Everything else is secondary. Contradictions are irrelevant; logic and reason unimportant. HONOR MUST BE RESTORED, and this can only be done at the expense of those who originated the "insult".

Meanwhile, in our guilt culture, we obsess about how we might have hurt their feelings and some of us (not me) actually desire to make amends and apologize. This is laudable and very sensitive. It underscores the sense of tolerance that has evolved within Western culture. However well-meaning, IT WILL NOT WORK , particularly in the long-run. Making an apology for having "shamed" someone in such a culture is merely a sign of weakness from their perspective (since you are shaming yourself by admitting guilt), and hence only escalates the self-righteousness and demands that follow; and it does not ameliorate the next insult when it inevitably (and usually unintentionally) comes.

For most shame societies, even the mildest insult must be avenged with death, because now everyone knows that you have been insulted, and without the death (or blood) to wipe it out, honor cannot be restored.

When a culture determines that the avoidance of shame is necessary no matter what the cost, the result is a culture of fanaticism, bizarre behavior in the name of "honor"; and simultaneously within the culture, the oppression, subjugation, and humiliation of women and others perceived as "weak" (and therefore "shameful") is a high priority. Additionally, the shame culture will always perceive the guilt culture as "weak" and inferior.

Shame cultures inevitably project their own unacceptable behavior and shameful feelings onto outside groups.

The last such culture the West dealt with was Japan during WWII. Interestingly, they also had their suicide bombers (kamikaze) and their ritual killings for honor and vengeance related to shame avoidance.

The conundrum facing the West in dealing with Islam is that if Islam backs down from its demands, the resulting humiliation only increases the entire culture's sense of shame (which has been high for some centuries now) and brings it closer to the reality of a ticking time bomb that can blow up the rest of the world.

And sadly; the reverse situation--if the West, out of guilt and a sense of justice and fair play, backs down and permits Islam to restore its honor over the Danish cartoon issue at the expense of the West's cultural values; Islam will perceive such appeasement as the ultimate weakness and will be encouraged in thinking that it is the superior culture that will conquer and dominate the world. Hence even that scenario offers no relief for the world from the ticking time bomb that is Islam.

In other words, there appears to be no way to avoid a final confrontation.

I agree with this blogger's assessment. The truth is I do see the clash of cultures will reach a breaking point. WWIV indeed.
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Daruma28
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Here's another bloggers response (Instapunk) who sees a little bit different answer to the problems of the clash of the guilt culture versus the shame culture...

quote:
After this, she proceeds to a grim prognosis about Islam versus the west that represents her final word on the subject. You should go read it. She's smart and knows what she's talking about. But here I'm going to drift backward to the passing mention of Japan.

She's right. That is the kind of Japanese culture we confronted in World War II. Women subjugated, a concept of honor defined by group opinion rather than individual conscience, an exaggerated sensitivity to humiliation (real and imagined), an authority structure obsessed with aggression, superiority, and -- ironically -- petty rules of rank and conduct.

The interesting additional observation I will make is that Japanese culture has changed. Defeat in war by the United States and subsequent events really did effect major shifts in the culture of shame that precipitated WWII. Yes, one can still wade through any number of books that emphasize the persistence of traditional Japanese ideas in their approach to government, jurisprudence, business, and social affairs. Shame-related suicide is probably still a fact of life there. Women are still subsidiary to men despite MacArthur's imposed constitution declaring universal suffrage. But if you get away from the academic tomes and look at contemporary popular culture, you will observe a startling phenomenon that did not exist prior to the Occupation: the Japanese have learned to laugh. More than that, they have learned to laugh at themselves, as individuals, which is the real stake in the heart of a shame culture.

Today and every day on Japanese television, one can watch game shows in which men and women subject themselves to what (to western eyes) appear to be cruel humiliations, for virtually no reward. Their delight in participation seems almost inexplicable; perhaps the explanation lies in its subversiveness of the shame culture. The ability to laugh through an artificially created and voluntarily accepted public humiliation is, perhaps, a powerfully satisfying assertion of individual identity, a redefining of the concept of honor as a personal, interior choice that cannot be stolen by critical external eyes.

And if this is the kind of subterranean transformation it seems, how was it accomplished? Certainly not by force of arms alone, or the indignities of extended American occupation. It would have been hindered rather than promoted by official deference to Japanese traditions such as the divinity of the emperor. The agent of change is most likely to have been the introduction of popular American culture.

I'll propose a particular stereotype as having iconic importance in this context: the irreverent, slang-talking half-native, half-Americanized Japanese boy who always seems to become the American hero's sidekick in Japanese monster movies. He wears a baseball cap, he uses a distinctively outdated and sometimes incorrect vocabulary of American colloquialisms, and he is both mischievous and grinning. He is also immediately charming and attractive because he can be loyal, brave, resourceful, and honorable without taking himself too seriously. At some level, he senses that he may appear slightly ridiculous to others, but he can handle it because he is carving out a unique identity for himself. And he likes jokes.

To boil it all down to simplest terms, I'm suggesting that Japan has been able to retain vast parts of its traditional culture while coexisting with hugely different western cultures because its people acquired, finally, a sense of humor.

As with Dr. Sanity's perspective on shame culture, we are looking now at something that appears incidental or secondary but really isn't. A sense of humor is the great bridge between the prison of immature egotism and belonging in the greater world of humanity. Its possessor simultaneously views himself more humbly (and charitably) and others with greater wonder, appreciation, and pleasure. The ability to make a joke that causes others to laugh is one of the most direct sensory experiences of individual identity there is, and the ability to see that humor arises from the unexpected juxtapositions of great and small things is not to have learned a trick, but to have perceived a deep truth about life itself.

Dr. Sanity did not specify the fact that what she calls guilt cultures routinely exhibit a sense of humor about even their most sacred ideas. Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and rabbis have been telling jokes about Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and rabbis since, well, how about the end of the Inquisition? The differences between faiths do involve massive juxtapositions at every scale, and humor is the vehicle for accommodating them all under the same firmament. Those faiths which survive over the long haul do so by permitting and even institutionalizing a certain irreverence for what they hold most dear. Carnival, mardi-gras, and other apparent celebrations of "sin" were originated by Catholics who knew that any discipline without an occasional safety valve becomes a breeding ground for violence and destruction.

Conversely, the faiths and belief systems which see humor as a blasphemy against their brand of truth grow ever more rigid, cultish, brutal, and deadening to their followers: the Soviet Union, Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution, contemporary extreme fundamentalist Christian sects, ultra-politically correct leftists and feminists, Islamists. Each of these subcultures becomes suffocating to the extent that it cannot tolerate laughter about its own pretensions and peccadilloes.

The important truth is that Iran cannot win a cartoon war with the west, despite the fact that even western ranks are debilitated by humorless fanatics on the extreme left and right. We have a couple-thousand year head start, and they have no sense of humor. There will be nothing funny about Iran's cartoons of the holocaust. They lack the introspection and wide awareness required to detect what is humorous in any situation. They are very like a teenage girl so consumed by her appearance in the eyes of her preferred clique that she is unable to detect the absurdity of her own affectations.

But we can help Iran and the other Islamists the same way we'd go about helping that teenage girl mature: proceed to make jokes at her expense until she learns to laugh instead of bursting into tears. Because here's the other secret: it isn't humor that teaches youngsters to laugh; it is laughter itself -- and the glorious liberating feeling it provides -- that teaches youngsters to see and prize humor. On the day she finally dares to experience the relief of laughing genuinely, at herself, she will pass a threshold that brings her into the adult community. She will have discovered the one best escape from the prison of shame, which cannot be locked from outside without the active connivance of the victim. She will, through the experience of laughter, become conscious at last in the sense of understanding that she is only one center among billions, tiny yet potent. What a relief. What an empowering insight. Welcome to humanity.

The world must stop coddling the Islamists and their shame culture. The best thing we can do for them is laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, at both them and ourselves. Eventually, they will, like the Japanese, start to get the joke, and we'll all be able to breathe easier.


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Richard Dey
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Shame

Richard Wilbur

It is a cramped little state with no foreign policy,
Save to be thought inoffensive. The grammar of the language
Has never been fathomed, owing to the national habit
Of allowing each sentence to trail off in confusion.
Those who have visited Scusi, the capital city,
Report that the railway-route from Schuldig passes
Through country best described as unrelieved.
Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
"I'm afraid you won't find much of interest here."
Census-reports which give the population
As zero are, of course, not to be trusted,
Save as reflecting the natives' flustered insistence
That they do not count, as well as their modest horror
Of letting one's sex be known in so many words.
The uniform grey of the nondescript buildings, the absence
Of churches or comfort-stations, have given observers
An odd impression of ostentatious meanness,
And it must be said of the citizens (muttering by
In their ratty sheepskins, shying at cracks in the sidewalk)
That they lack the peace of mind of the truly humble.
The tenor of life is careful, even in the stiff
Unsmiling carelessness of the border-guards
And douaniers, who admit, whenever they can,
Not merely the usual carloads of deodorant
But gypsies, g-strings, hasheesh, and contraband pigments.
Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

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witless chum
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That was interesting.

Now, the West used to be made up of people as much into shame as any of that, how'd we change? Christianity? the Age of Reason? The money economy?

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Daruma28
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Perhaps Instapunk pinpointed it here...

quote:
Dr. Sanity did not specify the fact that what she calls guilt cultures routinely exhibit a sense of humor about even their most sacred ideas. Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and rabbis have been telling jokes about Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and rabbis since, well, how about the end of the Inquisition? The differences between faiths do involve massive juxtapositions at every scale, and humor is the vehicle for accommodating them all under the same firmament. Those faiths which survive over the long haul do so by permitting and even institutionalizing a certain irreverence for what they hold most dear. Carnival, mardi-gras, and other apparent celebrations of "sin" were originated by Catholics who knew that any discipline without an occasional safety valve becomes a breeding ground for violence and destruction.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

Now, the West used to be made up of people as much into shame as any of that, how'd we change?

The erosion of the sacred. It is impossible to laugh at something you truly hold sacred, but it is essential to laugh if you're going to be a healthy society.

Sacred = unhealthy.

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Daruma28
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Oh c'mon Tom, I think you're too stuck on your anti-religious mindset on this one.

There are things you obviously hold sacred - after all, you argue vehemently and relentlessly on this board about the issues you care about most.

No, I think the equation is more like

Unable to Laugh at yourself and what you hold sacred = Unhealthy.

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witless chum
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Looks like Tom and Dr. Sanity are on the same track, though. Ending the inquistion = eroding the sacred.

Inability to laugh at yourself and what you hold sacred = not much of a life.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

There are things you obviously hold sacred - after all, you argue vehemently and relentlessly on this board about the issues you care about most.

Passion is not reverence. There's actually a huge difference.

Insisting that something be respected is not the same thing as recognizing that something is important. Confusing the two creates a cancer.

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RickyB
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What made us (the west) different is that we had large scale mutual slaughter within our culture over religion. Enlightenment began not long after the end of the 30 year war.
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witless chum
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Well, should we then tell the Sunnis and Shi'a to get at it, then? Something tugs at my mind a bit about that solution.

Didn't Reza Aslan or someone like that said they needed an Islamic Reformation?

Edit:
Typed the old word for Shi'a and had the nanny system think I was cursing. Apologies to any Shi'a out there who might have thought I was calling them excrementites.

[ February 07, 2006, 10:11 PM: Message edited by: witless chum ]

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WarrsawPact
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Bahahaha!

QandO: Best Unintentionally Hilarious Quote

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RickyB
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Huge! [Big Grin]

[ February 07, 2006, 10:56 PM: Message edited by: RickyB ]

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Daruma28
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Holy crap! Life imitates Photoshopped art! [Big Grin]
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Lady Starkiller
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quote:
It is impossible to laugh at something you truly hold sacred, but it is essential to laugh if you're going to be a healthy society.
I disagree. My own personal faith considers genuine laughter to be a form of worship.

The question, I suppose, is whether you see humor as always demeaning its object. I don't, and therefore I think it is possible to laugh at, or about, things I revere.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I suppose, is whether you see humor as always demeaning its object. I don't, and therefore I think it is possible to laugh at, or about, things I revere.
There are people on this very site who would disagree with you. Ask Mormons why they don't let non-worshippers into services.
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javelin
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I agree with you Lady Starkiller.

Don't you hate it when you phrase something as an absolute, and suddenly half a dozen people speak up and prove you wrong immediately? Darn those absolutes! [Wink]

[ February 08, 2006, 10:17 AM: Message edited by: javelin ]

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Lady Starkiller
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quote:
There are people on this very site who would disagree with you.
Did I say everyone agreed with me? My sense of humor is probably the single biggest reason my neighbors think I'm insane.

Well, that and the whole talking to myself in public thing.

As for your point, there are reasons why I don't attend many church services anymore, but that doesn't make me less right in my opinion.

[ February 08, 2006, 10:26 AM: Message edited by: Lady Starkiller ]

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Kit
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Whoa there Tom,

non-Mormons are most definatly allowed into services. It is only the temples that require you to be a member in good standing.

While laughing at something does not automatically mean disrespect, it usually leans that way.

I was talking with my Dad the other day and he mentioned that he was glad all his kids respected thier parents and each other. While I agreed that we did, I asked how that fit with the massive amounts of teasing in our family. He replied that we knew when to stop. We did not tease with the intention of hurting the other person, and if we did go too far we stopped when we realized it.

I don't think most of us are comfortable with laughing at things we truly consider sacred because, whether it is truly disrespectful of not, it usually feels disrespectful. And that diminshes their sacredness.

But we can laugh at important things without impacting their importance.

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Adjudicator
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quote:
There are people on this very site who would disagree with you. Ask Mormons why they don't let non-worshippers into services.
Umm... Mormons DO let non-worshippers into services. They just don't let non-mormons into temples, which is a very different thing. For that matter, they also don't let some Mormons into the temples.

And as far as this relates to the articles- Mormons aren't very likely to laugh if you mock things that they hold sacred.

For that matter, I think that there are things which each one of us holds "sacred" which, when mocked, will elicit a stony-faced response at best. Maybe its your mother. Maybe its your wife or your sex life or your accent. Whatever it is, there are some things which any given individual will not laugh at and indeed should not laught at. Culturally this list includes things like racially denigrating jokes.

I would suggest that the ability to laugh at oneself is not linked to the idea that nothing is off-limits.

However, maturity means that even when something "off-limits" is mocked by another, your response is related to the offense. Answer words with words, but do not answer words by burning down their house.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
non-Mormons are most definatly allowed into services. It is only the temples that require you to be a member in good standing.
Yes. I was simplifying. [Smile] The fact, however, that you consider the distinction relevant helps me make my point. *grin*

quote:
Answer words with words, but do not answer words by burning down their house.
And yet legislation ultimately meets words with force. Should philsophies never be written into legislation?
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Mormegil
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There aren't that many people who don't hold *something* sacred, not to be joked about. For instance, when someone has had a child die from being hit by a car, this exchange:

"Did you see the car that hit him?"
"Y-yes."
"Too bad he didn't!"

Wouldn't go over well, no matter how much the person saying it didn't *mean* to offend.

Some things aren't funny to people, and I don't see that as a failing. On the contrary, it's the people who consider it a failing that I pity, but like I said, there aren't *really* too many of those.

Another thing to consider is *who* may joke about certain things. If a subject is touchy, it may only be funny if the person making jokes about it cannot possibly be meaning to offend. A fat person telling another person fat jokes will succeed better than a skinny person. Perhaps the skinny person will not be being judgmental about the fat person, but the fat person cannot know that for *sure* and it will sour the appreciation of the joke. With two fat people, they will have a bond of shared suffering and will be more likely to know the other does not mean to offend.

Maturity is knowing when to be serious and when to be whimsical. Those who think everything is a subject of whimsy are immature, in my opinion, as are those who think that nothing is.

I do see a valid point in the opening post; a person's inability to see their own absurdity *in any way* is very unhealthy.

As for Mormons, some may have no senses of humour, others may about most things but not about some, and some may tolerate jokes from people "in the club" but not outside it. I don't have any problem with this.

I'm not Mormon, but they are used to getting dumped on a lot, and they likely don't view "jokes" as jokes, but as mocking. And no one likes others to mock what they hold dear.

When someone feels very strongly about something, they feel a connection with that, and to attack that is to attack them.

If someone says something hurtful about a stranger, you might think them a jerk, but you wouldn't be personally offended. If they say it about your wife, now you feel like *you've* been attacked... and you have.

I don't know how much I agree that words can only be answered with words though. After all, slander and libel are punishable by fines; we don't tell the injured party to just make a counter-statement. In the above mocking-child-death example, if someone intentionally said that, it would be injurious to the extreme. I don't see why that wouldn't call for a swift punch to the nose; the physical pain felt by the one wouldn't even be at the same magnitude of emotional pain felt by the other.

Burning down houses, of course, is right out. But I don't think much of people who say any hurtful thing they like and cry foul when people respond in a physical way. That's like punching someone and crying foul when they kick you. Since when does the unprovoked attacker get to choose the method of counter-attack? Often the person simply isn't capable of saying words to inflict an equal amount of emotional damage on the other (likely because the attacker probably has little conscience in the first place, hence the attack).

Okay, I'm just rambling here and I don't necessarily fully believe this stuff.

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javelin
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I see what you are saying about the swift punch response, but understand that happened, it's likely the person assaulted could win a case against the person punching them, and claim damages. It's unlikely that the person being told the "joke" about their dead child could do the same. And I'm not sure they should be able to.
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Mormegil
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I actually think it would improve society if there were consequences for behavior most of us consider utterly reprehensible. With a punch to the snoot, what is to be done with such horrible people?
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Adjudicator
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quote:
And yet legislation ultimately meets words with force. Should philsophies never be written into legislation?
You bring up the very biggest challenge facing a multicultural society. Sooner or later someone is going to have their morality win out. When essentially everyone agrees on that morality, well and good. But when a significant minority begs to differ, what do you do? The options are either to pass laws over their loud protests or else do away with the law entirely, and of course this is problematic as well since the law is presumably introduced to address some failing.

I think that our current government model is not designed to deal with this issue very well, especially as society becomes very permissive relative to a given minority's moral views. Things like changing the age of consent, for example, can have profound effects on society, and such a move would automatically set up a fight to the death between, for example, moral conservatives who don't think it is OK for their teenagers to be legally seduced and those who would love a crack at seducing teenagers.

This is a thorny issue, and I think that one potential way of dealing with it would be to give greater control over laws to smaller communities- states or counties, for example, so that moral conservatives can congregate in one geographical area and farristas can have their own non-stop decadent parties elsewhere. Of course, that approach has problems as well.

In the current society I would say that each group has no choice but to do their best lobbying and try to enforce their views on everyone else.

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Pelegius
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The distinction between shame and guilt cultures was made Ruth Benedict sometime before 1948.
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