Western ethics = guilt

Ethics are a very important aspect of cultures and they strongly influence our way of living together. Every culture has its own ethic and today these ethics are clashing increasingly in a turbulent and chaotic manner.

Western ethics is essentially based on the relation to good and evil which leads us straight to guilt. It is man who chooses good and evil. The free will that is given to him comes with the responsibility of making the right choice. On the other hand, if he makes the wrong choice, that is if he is guilty, he will be judged by God or His representatives, ultimately condemned and stripped of his freedom.

Western ethics is absolute and the opinion of others does not count. If you know that you act rightly, you needn’t bother about what people say. At their negative extreme, Western ethics sows the seeds of egoism and individualism

Asian ethics = face

On the contrary, Eastern ethics is about saving face: what do others think of my actions? Good or bad, being very relative and complementary, are born from each other and complete each other harmoniously. I also know what is appropriate for me to do by observing and respecting the rules of my group. What I do should be acceptable to it. If it is not acceptable, then I lose face. In a situation where there is a serious loss of face, I am not stripped of my freedom; on the contrary, I get back my freedom and I am banned, excluded from the group. At its negative extreme, Eastern ethics, especially Confucian, sows the seeds for a collectivism that crushes the individual.

The limits of guilt and face in a chaotic world

Today the dual Western vision of good and evil has reached its limits in a world that has grown complex and is constantly changing ever faster. Likewise, the absolute priority given to saving face and to acceeding the collectivity in Asia has reached its limits in a world that has grown at once globalized and is moving towards the universal. The human collective, in order to succeed or simply to survive in a complex chaotic world, has an absolute need to ensure that every individual can fully express his otherness and uniqueness. In a chaotic world, diversity is no more a choice but the very basis of survival. Likewise, in a chaotic mode, unity is no more a choice but a necessity of survival. Unity and diversity must therefore complement each other harmoniously.

The collectivity and the individual, the permanent and the transient come together and complete each other in a sublime poetic fractal image.

New ethics for a new being in a new world

The question is no longer guilt or innocence with regard to a law that is presumed universal. The question is no longer loss of or saving face with regard to the group. The question is about conscience. Are my choices in life, my daily acts, mere automatisms, fruits of conditioning; do they follow a law that is presumed to be universal or the rules of my group? Or are they made ‘in awareness’ and therefore perfectly in tune with my values and those of my group and with the complexity of the moment? This ‘awareness’ and the need to act ‘in awareness’ is found at the root of all great religions or philosophies. It is only men and time that have replaced them with simplified versions such as guilt and saving face. It is now indispensable to return to the roots and adapt them to the complexity of our fast-changing world.

In this fast-changing world of breakthrough and transformation, it is the individual, the ‘I’ freed in his otherness, in his multiple identities, who must become an indispensable member of the collectivity, a member that no more emerges merely at the level of a family, a group or a nation but at the level of the human species which is both diverse and unique.

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One comment

  • Eric 09/04/2014   Reply →

    This is an excellent article. The author accurately described the different bases of ethics between the West and East. This different helps us to understand and accept different behavior patterns in our daily life. However, there is a transformation taking place in the East in terms of ethics, personal values and world views. The “Me” generation is booming in China is a good example, especially for those who were born on the 1990s, they are very much “me” oriental, they are less constrained by social norms and conventions. It will be very interesting to have a discussion about the impact of this increasing diversity in China.

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