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East Asians have low crime rates in cases where the crime is publicly witnessed. If the crime is not witnessed (other than by the person or persons committing the crime), the crime rate is much higher. This is the case with private crimes that we refer to as “corruption.”|
In general, East Asians have a strong capacity for shame but a relatively weak capacity for guilt. Shame is effective only against publicly witnessed wrongdoing. Guilt deters both public and private wrongdoing.
Mental traits vary within human populations just as they vary between them. The capacity for empathic guilt is no exception.
Psychopaths seem to have intact cognitive empathy but impaired affective empathy. In other words, a psychopath has a keen understanding of how another person feels, but he doesn’t experience that person’s feelings, at least not the negative aspects. Is psychopathy less common among East Asians than among Europeans? It’s difficult to answer that question because the cultural constraints are different. East Asian societies are very effective at restraining psychopathic behavior through family and community monitoring. The problems arise when an East Asian enters an atomized Western environment where this kind of monitoring is largely absent.
Research on Chinese subjects suggests that affective empathy does not differentiate from cognitive empathy to the same degree during adolescence, but more research is needed.
There seems to be a big misunderstanding over the nature of guilt (and also empathy, which is closely related). Guilt is something you feel when you break a social rule even though no one else has seen you break it. Guilt is a “virtual witness.” To differing degrees, people seem to have an innate tendency to identify social rules in their society and then feel guilty if they break them. But the rules themselves are arbitrary.
If you live in a society where “racism” is the worst sin, you will feel profoundly guilty if you commit racism, even though this word did not exist a century ago. In general, a social rule functions by convincing people that (a) it is accepted by everyone in moral authority and (b) people who break it are morally worthless.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. These societies are able to deliver the goods: a high level of material well being. They do so, however, by maintaining a level of community surveillance and family discipline that would be unacceptable in Western societies.
This is the crux of my argument. If East Asian societies undergo the sort of social atomization that we accept as normal, the results will be much more catastrophic for them than for us.