Our dwindling reserve of human kindness and compassion, diluted and poisoned by nearly constant assault from the corroding force of cruelty, still becomes inflamed by the fuel of outrage when we receive reports of foul play, endemic unfairness, and rank injustice motivated by the eternal and constant tug of noxious human greed. We blanch at oil companies happily accepting — and strenuously lobbying for — $4billion in taxpayer subsidies. We mutter disconsolate platitudes when we learn of Police Chiefs, City Administrators, and Heads of This and That behaving like common thieves. We tsk-tsk at psychopathic dictators treating their oppressed subjects like so many indentured servants. We fret over athletes injecting themselves with chemicals that helps them be more perfect gladiators in our televised circuses. We get upset at those who refuse to play fair.
Yet every day most of us wake up wondering not how we can be of genuine service to someone other than ourselves but how we can get ahead of everyone else scrambling for the last seat on the lifeboat.
What’s lost in our outrage and disappointment is that the hooligans, bullies, and swine who control the world’s power, money, and property are playing by another set of rules, an unspoken but widely understood code of ethics. Our society, our species, is organized in a way that encourages and rewards those who exploit others. At that particular game the bribe-able government officials, lying corporate executives, and violent henchmen who prop them up on their esteemed pedestals are particularly accomplished. They’ve figured out how one wins while still keeping up appearances of propriety.
So long as we deify those who hoard (billionaires, multi-national corporations, most “royal” families) at the expense of virtually everyone else, masking the rotten stench of greed and megalomania with encomiums in praise of “family values” and “civic virtue,” we tacitly encourage a system that is inherently corrupt.
Not only have we gotten from “free-market” capitalism what we deserve, we’ve gotten what we secretly want. Perish the day when all people, no matter where they were born or from whose loins they emerged, get a “proper education,” or affordable health care, or nutritious food. For when that day comes, our fantasy of being rich, of having those below us on the hierarchy do all the actual work, will have been vanquished by the unpleasant downside to equality: there’s no one left to exploit, except the planet’s other species and the planet itself. (We’re pretty good at that, too.)
If the idea is to profit from the labor of others, to maximize whatever advantages one enjoys over the next guy, what we commonly call “corruption” is just an unsanitized form of business as usual. We take great offense at the malefactors because they had the audacity to bypass all the niceities we Good and Decent folk rely on to exscuse our own willingness to use our fellow humans for personal gain. Shame on them!
Shame on us, too. We participate in a system that is corrupt at its toxic core. We’re the henchmen who allow the pigs to wallow. When they shit upon our shiny shoes, we ought not be surprised or outraged. We should be ready.