A society is not neutral; it is the result of traditions, beliefs, particular developments and the choices of those who have dominated it.
You may have realized that some countries emphasize one value over another. Let’s look at four values that shape four very different societies: mana, philotemo, culture and money.
Mana: the first principle of Polynesian societies
Mana corresponds to prestige, spiritual or magical strength, vigour, bravery. It is a set of things that cannot be translated into other languages without the meaning being somewhat corrupted. It has been the leaven of societies in the South Pacific for millennia. These societies often went to war. There were many ways to increase mana: war, human sacrifice and sex. This explains why sexuality is not as taboo in Polynesia as it is in other regions, despite Christianization.
At the top of the social pyramid were the priests, then came the warriors and the rest of the population according to their link – through their profession – with the possible acquisition of mana. This structure is very similar to the one prevailing in Europe before the so-called modern era. The fundamental difference is that there is a kind of social elevator for those who are able to demonstrate their bravery by, for example, knocking down a warrior. That said, slavery was practised there and it is rare for a slave to be able to claim the rank of warrior, since very often they are former enemy warriors taken prisoner, so they have been deprived of their mana and are dehumanized.
Philotemo is a term that has no equivalent in other languages. It literally means “the love of honour”, but this is an inaccurate translation because the word “honour” has different meanings in different languages and countries. Philotemo is selfless love, it is the highest love according to the Greek conception. Someone who has philotemo means that he is willing, for example, to sacrifice himself for his community, without expecting anything in return. It corresponds to loving-kindness, it is a kind of Christian love mixed with the flamboyant love of the Greek warriors of yesteryear. There is panache in the philotemo. Greece is often criticised for not meeting European budgetary requirements. This is partly due to the fact that its society still places the philotemo above all else.
Erudition and culture has always been the prerogative of idle, let alone dominant, human groups. In order to read, write or learn, one has to be relieved of laborious constraints such as working the land. This explains why, in France for example, the fact of possessing literary knowledge is still a sign – unfairly – of belonging to the upper echelons of society. Culture was the most refined and immediate social filter: by discussing for a few moments with someone you can validate or not their knowledge of references specific to the ruling class. Culture is a strong elitist marker in France even today, you can’t erase 1500 years of a three-year system. That said, culture as an aristocratic marker has appeared quite recently if you look at the history of France. It appears at the moment when there is a massive passage from a nobility of sword (warrior) to a nobility of dress (and salon). There comes a time when nobles are no longer assigned mostly to military functions, they have to convert into administrative staff in which the king takes more and more local power away from them. The centralisation of power in France had the effect of turning the nobles into courtiers for part of the time, and the sword became the pen.
Some companies put money at the heart of their logic. The example of this phenomenon is the United States where it seems that everything can be bought (except for those who put God before money of course). How to explain such a phenomenon? Money is the “great equalizer”. In a cosmopolitan society whose members have different original values, one must find a fundamental value on which all people can easily identify. In homogenous societies, there is a stronger understanding of concepts that may seem opaque or subtle and cannot be quantified (for example: philotemo, mana or cultural references). – A society is like a game, it is easier to teach the rules to strangers through a point system -. On the contrary, in a heterogeneous society, it is necessary to create a possibility to quantify in order to know easily where one is and how one can progress. Money is the accounting element par excellence.
Add to that the labour values of the first Protestant settlers and you get a society based on a system of work, exchange and money, commonly known as capitalism. However, we must not forget that capitalism allows for nepotism because of the monopolies or oligopolies it necessarily creates. Thus, you can claim an equality of surface based on work in a system that has privileged a certain part of the population for centuries. As a result, you get a country that lives somewhat on a myth that anything is possible although some groups have retained their economic and political power because of nepotism (communal or racial) made possible by the fact that they initially own the capital (financial and symbolic). As such, being white in the United States is still, alas, an outward sign of status. Thus, in the United States there are two value systems, one based on money (official) and one based on race (unofficial). Perhaps the second one will disappear in time, the future will tell.
Of course all these considerations should not make us forget that the great equalizer – “money” – is the work, under the combined effect of globalization. It is not surprising to see the Anglo-Saxonization of the world and the disappearance of traditional values.