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How to play the shame game

During the second world war, American strategists desperate to understand their Japanese foes found an unlikely inspiration: social anthropology. In particular, Ruth Benedict’s book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword proposed that Japan should be understood as a “shame” culture: one whose members are terrified of public humiliation and ready to take extreme measures to salvage their honour.

The opposite of this is a “guilt” culture, in which conscience rather than public face is king: individuals feel guilt for wrongdoing whether or not their actions have been witnessed. Benedict may not have described Japan accurately, but the merits of her thesis…

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