Since living in China, I’ve observed extreme differences between what I consider to be Eastern and Western standards when it comes to cheating or stretching the truth. In my own mind, I’ve attributed that to a cultural difference in basically amounts to how far duty to on "other" is considered to extend. In the West, we have the parable of the Good Samaritan to drive thoughts toward a more expansive view of "Who is My Neighbor." When a Stranger is in fact one’s neighbor, that person is brought within the circle of "others" to whom one owes a duty of some sort, including the duty not to cheat them.
Yet, there are some problems with this view attributing basic moral compunctions exclusively to the inculcation of the Good Samaritan parable into Western thought.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan could explain the value system of every Westerner, even non Chrisitans, because of the pervasive influence of the church over 20 centuries. Yet, there are those who hold similar ideas about duty to others who come from outside the Christian religious tradition. I refuse to excuse mere "post Christian" Europeans from the "Good Samaritan" category, because I think most of them fail to realize the extent to which their own "philosophical" views about right and wrong are influenced by 20 Centuries of Christianity. But my theory fails to account for those who come from traditions which have never accepted Christianity but which have other foundations for values, such as Judaism and Islam. Second, it fails to explain the countervailing value systems of some of my Eastern friends who hold Confucian or Buddhist values and who also would care for the stranger.
I view fundamental lack of concern for the stranger as corrosive to the society in which I am living. It is part of a greater package that also includes lack of concern for the truth. It’s as if there is no ballast in the ship, no keel, that weighs the boat properly. A friend told me just the other day of his first experience doing business in China. He was the investing partner in machinery and a factory in one city, and had a warehouse in another city with a manager. He thought he could live abroad and come in to check on things. The warehouse manager stole the entire inventory, and the non-investing partner locked him out of his own factory. Unfortunately, there are many similar stories about the pervasive culture of dishonesty (which incidentally is enabled by a judicial system that has no moral authority of its own; even when people get a judgment it is likely to be unenforceable). But I cite this example merely as one example of a value system which enables the manager or the working partner, somehow in their own mind, to treat another fellow human this way. I know it happens in Western societies all the time too, but it would be an accurate generalization to say that when this happens in the West we are surprised, but when it happens in the East we are not. There is a fundamental difference in values which one can count on. My question is, WHY? (Hence the reason I posted my previous blog entry, requesting comments from people outside the Christian values tradition.)
Well, I ran across an interesting thread in the news media which may shed an alternate light. To post it here would make this post too long, so I’ll post it in the next . . . .