Two very different shame/honor cultures

Years ago, I read in an Efraim Karsh book something to the effect that the Arab honor culture is actually a shame culture.  That is, in America, honor is a personal standard, one by which we measure ourselves.  Arab honor, however, is a public face one presents to the world.  If something goes wrong, shame kicks in, and it is that shame that leads to so-called “honor killings.”

Japan is also a shame/honor culture, one in which a loss of honor is manifested by public shame, rather than private embarrassment.

What’s interesting is the way in which the two different cultures react to what the Japanese so elegantly call a “loss of face.”  The Japanese person whose honor has been lost to a public shaming dispatches himself.  He quits his job or, if he’s a hidebound (or masochistic) traditionalist, he commits seppuku (aka hara kiri).  In any event, he expunges the shameful loss of honor by expunging himself.

In the Arab culture, however, the Arab person whose honor has been lost to a public shaming dispatches the one who destroyed his honor.  That is, he expunges the shameful loss of honor by expunging someone else, be it his wife, his daughter, his daughter’s boyfriend, a corporation, or a country.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw from this.  It’s just something I was thinking about when I was discussing the two cultures with a friend.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Ever wonder why I picked the Japanese history and persons of skill such as Miyamoto Musashi to model my behavior after, and not the Arabs? yeah.

  • Ymarsakar

    Historically, America’s honor was much akin to a hybrid between Japan and Arabia. Meaning, when America was still composed of tribes, it made sense that people would still try to solve problems using tribal methods.

    Except in America, the rule of law was still around, so the rule of law even applied to dueling. Called the Code Duello. Can’t just kill whoever you like. No, you need to challenge and there needs to be a second for each party of the dispute and there needs to be maybe stop at first blood, honor is satisfied, and if everyone agrees to that, great. So the Japanese had duels as well, but some things were too shameful that the only way they could recover their honor was to demonstrate personal fortitude in the face of death. The point was not so much the dying, as there were easier ways to kill a person, but the point was to have the person kill himself without making a sound, in a most painful fashion. The second would then cut off the head of the person doing hara kiri, when the pain becomes too great, to prevent the person from proving themselves base and cowardly by uttering a sound.

    In the tradition of dueling, of fighting and showing one’s seriousness when it comes to the field of honor, Japan and America both had a curious amalgamation of internal integrity, civilization, and reckless disregard for life. This is a good thing, it is what makes great nations like Rome.

     However, there are other societies that are way more tribal than civilized. Those cultures, like the Comanche indians and Islam itself in Arabia and Persia, believe in “raiding” for honor. Meaning, their honor is improved by taking slaves, sexual captives, and other things from other tribes and people.

    In America, it was perfectly logical to duel and kill a person your wife was having an affair with. In historical Japan, it was often expected, though not demanded, that one divorce one’s wife if she is caught cheating or even execute her with one’s katana. This was seen as a mercy and grace.

    So you see, “honor” is a very complicated thing in human affairs. And there’s no way “civilized” “ivory tower” intellectuals can ever understand it. Because to understand it, requires that you first feel it.



    I don’t think it’s ‘honor’ with the muslims in spite of using/abusing the word. It’s the total absence of guilt and no conscience. Totally lacking awareness of “self” – everything is given over to their lawyer, mohammed.

       Islam: Making a True Difference in the World – One Body at a Time

  • Libby

    This is also seen in the way that Arab culture deals with vice. Where we see it as a personal struggle to resist vices – we must exert strength over our baser urges, the Arab culture instead chooses to exert control over the source of their urges, such as with burkas, alcohol bans, segregation by sex, etc. The men aren’t expected to control themselves; the entire environment must be altered so as not to tempt them. So they choose not to be challenged – where’s the honor or inner strength in that?

  • Peter

    The Code Duello wasn’t practiced much in the US. Most gunfights (and knifefights) happened in bars by drunks. There were a heck of a lot of gunfights in the “old west” that ended up with neither participant killed or wounded. The gunfight was over when both drunks had empty guns. They sometimes let it be after that, they sometimes went to the knife. Often the gunfight ended and then, later, a shot from a rifle in the back ended it.

    Code Duello was for wealthy , mostly southern types. Westerners were more practical when it came to killing. And westerner is a relative term. The Hatfields and McCoys were westerners when that feud began, the frontier moved but they kept that mindset.

    Americans place no honor in killing.Nor do we in suicide. We kill when we must in a way that makes the target at risk while we are as safe as possible. Note that in WW2 our pilots wore parachutes, Japanese pilots didn’t.

    I’ll take that back. During the Southeast Asian War Games we of the rifle companies used to argue over who killed the most in a fight. A good killer was held in high esteem. Meanwhile the guys in the Artillery killed far more of the Little People than even the best Rifleman. And we Riflemen held the Cannon Cockers as a lower level. Until we really needed those shells in close, then we prayed for their aim.

    Then, after the SE Asian War Games many of us ended up barely hanging on. Some of us couldn’t.

    No, if an American decides you have to go there’ll be no honor. That’s not our culture. We live by an efficiency culture. The Hellfire Missile from a Drone is American. And John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back of the head. So were Wild Bill and Jesse James.

    Our Efficiency Culture is why we beat the Germans and Japanese. It’s why we beat the Russians. And it’s what the little toads of the left are trying to destroy.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Code Duello was practiced in civilized lands. In the West, the only law was the sheriff or marshall, thus clan loyalties overrode everything else. But the West was sparsely populated compared to New England and by the time it was settled and the indian security problem taken care of, it had either crossed over beyond the point where duels were allowed or duels were legalized and banned.

    The Roots of America in such things as Jacksonianism is what determines a country’s founding moral doctrine. Not the post-modern or modern times when people have become decadent or have forgotten their roots.