ARE WE BORN CORRUPT OR BECOME CORRUPT WHEN WE ACQUIRE POWER

Corruption is one of our major problems. We can no longer afford to be indifferent towards the issue of corruption. To fight corruption, more than structural and legal reforms, moral renovation of the self is necessary. We need to reinvent our moral codes. We need to develop innate values to keep us moral even in the most amoral situations. We need to elevate consciousness and revive spiritual awareness in us. We need to refurbish ourselves with the lessons of trustworthiness, compassion, forbearance, generosity, humility, and courage.

Corruption is generally associated with our moral decadence. Its modus operandi is infinite. It can take the form of misplaced justice, misuse of authority, manipulation of public money, use of unfair means, fabrication of evidence, plagiarism and manipulation of data, use of or provision of banned substances to enhance performance, among others. Motivations for corruption may include economic gain, status, power, sexual gratification. A measure of corruption is highly subjective and depends on a person’s ethical, moral, cultural, and religious beliefs. Depending on the observer’s ethical and moral background, an action is labeled as corrupt. Even though people’s perceptions and the extent of corruption vary greatly across the world, the general agreement is that corruption damages society, democracy, and economic progress.

Are we born corrupt, or become corrupt when we acquire power?

A corrupt person wants to win at any cost and is willing to make any compromise. Their overconfidence in their abilities leads them to take unjust, immoral, and faulty steps. A corrupt person becomes impulsive, and his thinking is prejudiced by greed. Francis Bacon said people have a natural inclination to accept, believe and even prove what they would prefer to be true. Our prejudices and beliefs are dependent on our family background, childhood experiences, education, social class, and the marketplace. A corrupt mind misuses the fertility of the mind. And as they say, a fertile and a vulnerable mind with no values is the most disastrous combination. The cortical region in the frontal lobe in our brain is involved to plan, control and coordinate our behaviour. The cortical region of the corrupt mind does the same but in its crooked way.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov in his studies on dogs observed that they start salivating when they see food, and salivation happens even in the absence of food when there is some stimulant. The stimulant for the dogs was the lab coat of a person who served the food. Seeing the lab coat the dogs thought that food was on its way. Pavlov received a similar response with ringing bells; the dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. Pavlov’s concept of ‘conditioned learning’ says that events that previously had no relation to a given reflex (such as a bell sound) could, through experience, trigger a reflex (salivation). Pavlov’s work suggests that positive reinforcement causes repetition of the behaviour pattern, and also repetition causes the reactions to become more developed over time. Another important offshoot of ‘conditioned learning’, called ‘extinction’, is that an established conditioned response (salivating in the case of the dogs) decreases in intensity if the conditioned stimulus (bell) is repeatedly presented without the unconditioned stimulus (food). Something similar must be happening in the minds of the corrupt.

The corruption becomes bolder with repeated stimulus. After tasting and liking the ‘blood’, and if he is not caught, a corrupt person becomes doubly aggressive the next time. He can do anything (like lying, bribing, killing) to fulfill his desire. If not stopped, he becomes a bloodsucker. The problem is that the stimulus-response behaviour is so spontaneous and subconscious that it escapes the thought process of the corrupt.

Pavlov’s dogs tell us that if positive reinforcement works, so do the negative enforcements. One of the positive reinforcements for the corrupt is the power to prevail over others. To offset the positive reinforcement one would need negative reinforcement. Disqualification from holding a public office is one of the desirable negative reinforcements. In the prevailing ‘corrupt space’, there is still a need and hope for fairness. People will abuse power if we let them do so. We need to remind ourselves of our social responsibility. The least we can do is to identify, isolate, and avoid the corrupt.