#15. LONG VIEW: Does Culture Explain Covid Infections?
Read Time: 5 min
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Culture Types: Guilt-Shame-Fear Typology
Culture Types vs Covid Infections
Some Commentary (Opinions)
Does culture explain Covid infections?
1. Culture Types: Guilt-Shame-Fear Typology
Here’s a world map with countries colour coded by their cultural typology: guilt (blue), shame (red), or fear (green). These are the values / emotions that guide behaviour.
The United States is a guilt-based culture where private introspection (guilt) and individualism are seen as the primary guides of right behavior. Japan is the most oft-cited example of a modern shame-based culture where public dishonor (shame) and collectivism are seen as the primary guides of right behavior. (Source: via here).
Culture is a fuzzy term. Countries have different cultures, as do companies. It’s hard to pin down but “we know it when we see it”. It’s sort of the underlying OS on top of which we build the more conscious structures of our existence. In human terms, culture is a set of values that then guides choices made. Value judgements are non-negotiable, they cannot be changed through logic or argument. Arguably, that’s why political debates are always so heated and never get anywhere. Somewhere underneath the rhetoric are deeply seated values that are largely immutable (more on personality and political views here). At the individual level, this can be called a world view. At the company or nation level, it’s called culture.
It’s telling that missionary work has identified shame based cultures as needing a different approach in terms of successfully spreading Christianity (e.g. here). Guilt based cultures (largely Western) are big on personal responsibility and individuality. These are arguably values already encapsulated in the Bible, whether we like to admit it or not. But apparently transferring the Gospel to shame based cultures is a whole different ball game. The Gospel may be harder to spread in such contexts because there’s simply a clash of underlying values, irrespective of the religious garment worn.
2. Culture Types vs Covid Infections
Here’s a chart plotting total Covid cases (per million) versus culture type.
It’s striking that in a region (Asia) where population densities are much higher than in the Western world, infections as a proportion of population are much lower.
3. Some Commentary (Opinions)
There’s maybe a point to be made here that individualism in guilt based cultures may mean there are more Covid cases and less adherence to “directives”. In the West, we’ve never had the morphing of a father figure (God) with the notion of government as in Confucian cultures. Arguably, government is simply a collection of individuals that you can oppose.
Conversely, in the case of China, a Confucian culture, the father figure that builds the walled garden is literally the state. As such, the government is viewed expectantly to provide guidance, delineate the permissible, and take care of people. Mandates or directives are not viewed as something to fight against, they are for the common good. Such a world view is a value judgement. (See our previous post on why China is pursuing “Common Prosperity” for more on this).
But to leave our readers with some food for thought, it’s also the Western spirit of individualism that took European seafarers to explore the New World, East Indies, Macao/Hong Kong while the Ming emperor simply banned all long seafaring expeditions and literally burnt or let rot their whole fleet in 1433. Why?
For one thing, in the fifteenth century, all the world coveted Chinese silks and porcelain; China had no need to seek out customers — China's customers came to them. For another, in the Confucian world order, merchants were considered to be among the lowliest members of society. Confucius saw merchants and other middlemen as parasites, profiting on the work of the farmers and artisans who actually produced trade goods. An imperial fleet would not sully itself with such a lowly matter as trade. (Source here).
Again, a value judgement.
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China Charts Team