19 December 2010

On Corruption

I really don’t get the ongoing hullabaloo over corruption. Agreed, scams and scandals of the sort are pretty unpleasant and don’t exactly reflect well on our integrity and honesty as a people, but then that’s it: they’re a loss to the exchequer and a disgrace to the people, but that’s just it. Certainly not worth the fuss that’s been made of them.

Seriously! I mean, just look at it, look at the way everybody’s reacting to it – and this time it’s not just the media – the so-called media properly, news channels for the most – but the people, the common, middle class citizenry as a whole. Everybody’s shaking their head, muttering prophecies of common, universal doom on this decadent age. The country, the people, they’re all irredeemably down in the pot, so much so that to some not even dictatorship, by large an abiding middle class dream, will save us from the throes of narrow selfishness and despair. The dog days, people say, have finally dawned upon us…

Dear oh dear, the dog days. We’ve all been mickeyed, yes, and fraudulence in public life plutoed beyond compare, but still, it’s just that. Not end of the world, not even end of the world as we know it.

Yes, yes, I know I have that tendency, that habit of smoothening rough ends, mitigating general ills and creating continuums of occurrences, happenstances and coincidences. I know I take it overboard at times and doing so dismiss the gravity of the present for the weighty balance of the past. I know all that, but regardless, I’ll still say that all these present instances of scam and corruption are, well, just instances of so, nothing as out of the ordinary as we’ve been making them out as.

I know the sort of objections most would have to this. The first would be money, that though much has been swindled before, such huge sums were never involved. This is almost like saying our swindlers are better cheats and we perhaps much more gullible than our great grandfathers, an argument to which I can only say that, all due respect to those gone by, perhaps the reason why such huge sums weren’t involved earlier would be that they just weren’t in currency. Think about it, the value of money has steadily increased over the decades so that what was much then is so pitiably small now. Really, the sums themselves have little to do with it: Shree 420 rolled in lakhs, but had he been on Lavasa’s board today he would just as well have played in a few thousands of them.

Now, I can see how this denies conscience and takes quite the dint out of morality. If a cheat’s a cheat and all that’s stopping him/her is only pure luck, then not only would quite a few frauds not have been detected but also the power of precept to guide would be but nil. In that case, the moral and ethical worth of humanity all through would be just the same, the variations being only compounds of the material circumstances of particular ages. The idea of moral and ethical degradation then becomes more or less redundant.

More or less. Like most of my ilk, I choose to believe there’s more to matter than mere materiality. If not degradation, then evolution at the very least: change, changes effected by the dynamics of materiality against certain inherent, passed notions.

Which, in other words, is saying that while the world seems so very much in the gutter now, it’s just more probable that it has always been there and that it just seems filthier because we ourselves have made it so.

Nothing, I say, nothing out of the ordinary.

These things keep happening. The past almost always seems noble and ever so virtuous; quite frankly it’s uber convenient to have it so too – a convenient, if somewhat inaccurate, sepia tinted benchmark against the follies and shortcomings of the present are easy to evaluate. Yet, in doing so we mustn’t loose perspective, that what seems is exactly what it is, an imposition, projection, and beyond that rife with tensions not too dissimilar to our own. When, therefore, we shake our head in disappointment and mutter at the corruption in public morals in our own degenerate dog days, then we may be just as sure that our great grandfathers’ fathers would’ve been doing the same. Corruption, moral bankruptcy, unethical behaviour – every age and generation is witness to deviances from the norm.

But that, that alone, is not my contention here. It’s a bit obvious and to say just that is to be just as much. My point here is that there’s really no need to make such a fuss about the whole affair not just because it’s been done in the past and so there’s nothing new about it, but because – which is more important – to take the matter thus is to further a hollow and redundant belief system which denies the humanity of human beings.

Big words, yes; yet, not without merit I hope. When we talk of the corrupting influence of a particular work, act or event, when we condemn a fraudster, a corrupt public servant or an unscrupulous business tycoon, then do we not take righteousness beyond its rightful bounds? Indulging thus, do we not reaffirm binaries, entrench them all the more rigorously, forcefully in consciousnesses both public and private – this even as we farther claim the unsaid private right to keep them distinct and separate? Isn’t being zealously moral and preachy ultimately a disservice to the very aims of morality and, well, preaching?

When we focus our gaze on a particular figure for laxity or corruption and thus condemn him/her, there is hidden in that condemnation the unsaid, unacknowledged awareness of our own weakness, the awareness of our being human. We’re all fallible, all of us human; saying this is not as much as condoning corruption or laxity in public or private duty as a natural, inevitable fallout of human nature as advocating an approach to or an understanding of duty and discrepancy as potentialities within all of us. If a certain minister manipulated contracts and regulations to siphon crores of public money in his own pocket, then are all those who so vigorously condemn the act completely sure of their own incorruptibility, of their ability to stand indomitable in face of similar temptations?

It’s an old idea, but essentially pertinent to the way we understand society and relate to each other. Being aware of one’s weaknesses and ready to grant others the same doesn’t, again, necessarily mean condoning those weaknesses when they take a form injurious to other beings; nor, indeed, does it mean disregarding the demands of justice as and when they arise in such cases. What I would have it taken as, instead, would be as an empowering consciousness, as inculcating an awareness which takes humanity and human nature as such, as ever prone to transgressions, and does not make a cathartic fetish of those over the top or too injurious to the public good. These deserve to be punished, unreservedly they deserve to be punished; yet, in carrying this out, in pressing for justice and even retribution, before we ourselves go overboard with righteousness, we, and particularly those who aren’t directly victims of the act(s), should remember that all of us are prone to the same.

Of course this is a bit problematic. Saying this, one cannot escape the implication that justice, retribution, equality, all of these dissolve and become ambiguous, arbitrary. But again, more or less: these are constructs, but they have the weight of history and common practice and cannot be wished away. Indeed, it’d be in our best interests, our interests as so-called civilised, civilising society, to keep them in some form or manner. The best thing, of course, is to realise these as such, as constructs, and work towards making them relevant overall in a manner beneficial to all beings.

Which, said otherwise, is saying all of us, particularly our elected representatives, would be better occupied in orienting ourselves thus than appeasing the lust for blood too much by creating a ruckus about corruption and degeneracy as we are now.

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