Corruption

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Corruption permeates much of life. Indeed, don’t we call the decay that comes after life by the same name? We know what it is: decay. Of the physical body in the case of death and of the moral spirit in the case of the day to day corruption that seems to threaten every human endeavour.

We usually know corrupt behavior when we see it in others, though are often blind when it appears in those we support or in ourselves. It is perhaps as natural as sunshine and running water. A force of nature we can only guard against but never completely eliminate.

Corruption generally means breaking the rules and acting in a way that unfairly benefits us and ours at the expense of those who we were meant to serve. It does not simply arise from self-interest but rather when a line is crossed, when an oath is broken, when trust is betrayed.

Often corruption begins when someone does something because they can rather than because they should. Reading Flash Boys — an account of the way in which major players on Wall Street effectively cheated their customers not by breaking the law but rather by finding loopholes that allowed them to behave unethically without actually behaving illegally. They wound up unjustly rich but safe from any punishment but the approbation of society. Like any of those sociopaths give a damn about that.

Corruption can sneak up on you. Much of what occurred on Wall Street came about because engineers and computer scientists were willing to do what they were asked to do without ever asking the question: why do you want this done? They insulated themselves from consequence (and got handsomely paid for it) by refusing to ask any moral questions. They were smart guys – and knew enough to keep their moral compasses in their pockets.

Corruption seems to appear wherever power and money accumulate. Like seawater eating away at shore lines or rusting bridges or electrical grids, power and money eat away at the foundations of ethical behavior. Not everyone is equally affected. Some people have stronger moral fiber – perhaps constructed of titanium or Teflon rather than mere iron. Many do not.

As an Ottawa observer – hardly an insider – I see the impacts of power and privilege all the time. For some, especially those who have become frustrated by being close to power without wielding it, they subside into a kind of moral lethargy. They may not like what they see but they are too absorbed with their privilege to actually do much about it. Others – granted power in greater or lesser amounts – begin to do things that they can justify to themselves, despite what it looks like to others.

I sometimes wonder what the people who first elected the Reform Party think now. All the old idealism – admirable even to lefties who thought its energy was misdirected – seems to have withered away in the desire to retain and wield power. Where do they go now – now that their leaders can no longer be distinguished from the old Ottawa elites they once claimed to hate?

But that’s ten minutes.

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