People Are Corruptible

by Dr. Bruce Arnold

It’s a fact: people are corruptible. Everyone. The more principled a person you are, the less likely you are to fall into corruption. No one is immune.

I’m defining corruption fairly widely, perhaps, so I better explain what I mean.  There are many forms that corruption can take. The most obvious is taking money to do something you shouldn’t, or to refrain from doing something you should do. This is the sense we use the word when we talk about the corruption of public officials: exchanging favors for material benefits.

Similarly, they might exchange favors for something intangible, like sex, influence or power. Most of us don’t have these temptations,  or maybe not so magnificently.

But maybe we do it in little ways,  like when we look the other way at some office shenanigans for the sake of remaining on friendly terms with the shenaniganistas. Maybe we cut corners on our taxes. Maybe that harmless flirting is more of a thrill than we let on. And so forth.

I’m not saying we should or could be  better than this.  I’m saying, let’s just admit it. Let’s not pretend that things are going to get a whole lot better. We could see the dawn of a completely non-racist,  non-sexist, non-homophobic, non-violent society,  and there would still be ways in which people would be corruptible. And I’m not expecting to see that so-much-more-perfect society in my lifetime, anyway.

Well, then why bring it up? Here’s why: politics. Now, I promised myself I wasn’t going to get into politics on this blog. First thing you know,  my only readers would be people who have the same political outlook – and even if there were some, which there aren’t, how boring would that be? For me, I mean.

So I’m keeping that promise. No politics. So why am I bringing it up? Not to raise a political opinion,  that’s for sure. I want to talk about the process of political discourse. Meta-politics, if you please.

Next, I’m not taking about political discourse between politicians. I expect them to be crass, short-sighted,  self-centered,  and fundamentally dishonest. I’m talking about you and me.

Conservatives,  for instance, put a lot of faith in the free market. It will regulate itself,  because of self-interest. People will stop doing business with crooks and incompetents, and they will fade away. As if. How does that explain Enron or the sub-prime mortgage fiasco? Sure,  those idiots were eventually caught,  but millions suffered – are suffering – as a result. That’s not okay. And since people are corruptible, it will happen again, and again,  ad infinitum.

My liberal friends think the solutions all lie in government. They think there is some kind of virtue in the state that will eventually,  if we just do it harder next time,  lead us to the promised land. Somehow, we will install a class of politicians and bureaucrats who have only the public’s best interest at heart,  who really know what that interest is, and know exactly how to accomplish it. Wow. Does that fly in the face of observed behavior! I know devout Christians with less faith than this.

Here in America, the presidential campaign is in full swing. We’re going to hear a lot of gabble from the candidates. They are all going to promise us the Sun, Moon and stars.  They are all going to pretend to be principled, dispassionate tribunes of the people’s welfare, however their particular version of that utopia may run. We don’t have to take them seriously.

Support who you like. Vote for the best vision you are offered, even if you know it can’t be fulfilled. Let’s just not pretend that our guys are all good, while theirs are all evil. C’mon. We are all corruptible, and the greater the temptation, the more will fall. After all, they have to get re-elected, don’t they?