Corruption is the X-Factor

Corruption

While watching a YouTube video on South Africa, discussing how it’s on the cusp of a civil war due to its geography and demographics throughout history, I looked at the YouTube comments and related Reddit thread. I saw how the South African viewers didn’t like how the video avoided the elephant in the room, which was corruption. I then saw that it’s the common theme in the comments of that video series in that channel. While many countries seem to have all the geographical and historical odds stacked against them, what really holds them back is persistent corruption in their governments and societies.

When you think you have the answers, it’s likely that you didn’t ask the right questions. That’s exactly how that YouTuber may have missed the mark with those videos. I’m not saying that his videos are bad, but they’re meant to discuss those countries’ prospects based primarily on their geography and history, two things that go hand in hand. While the lay of the land and the differences between its people are important, the most important thing is still the current situation they have to deal with every single day.

Of course, that can only be truly known by having first-hand experience of living in those countries. Despite everything, it’s what people have to live with that truly directs the decisions they end up making. If their current situation is that of perseverance and progress, there wouldn’t be any room for civil war or strife. I then thought about other countries, including the Philippines, and realize that no matter how much a place is destined to be fucked with its geography and history, corruption is truly the X-factor.

NOTE: I’m neither a professional historian, political scientist, nor philosopher. I’m just a dweeb with a blog, too much time on his hands, and a deep interest in history and political philosophy.

Also, this was not published solely in response to current events as I started the draft back in mid-February. I only got this out now because I’m lazy. This blog post is basically a 2,000 word rant that likely doesn’t say anything people don’t already know. Reader discretion is advised.

Corruption as Societal Indicator

Prevalence of corruption is an indicator of a nation’s prospects for leadership. If most of the population, especially the younger demographic — the pool for potential future leaders — engage in or are influenced by corruption, either out of necessity or greed, then it’s no wonder why the government itself is corrupt as well. It’s entirely give-and-take as the government makes the nation corrupt and the nation makes the government corrupt, and it’s even worse when the socio-economic conditions in that country force people to fall for it just to subsist.

If the first thing that comes out of the mouth of a person with even a little bit of public influence is “Do you know who I am?” when confronted with a slight inconvenience, then they cannot be trusted once they have the weight of a whole nation on their shoulders. Unfortunately, it’s exactly what most people would do in developing countries like the Philippines. Having a wealth gap as wide as the Grand Canyon and societal problems as deep as the Marianas Trench can do that to any nation, no matter how educated or structured its society is.

Even more so, the public support for leaders who are proven to be corrupt makes that rot even more indelible as it pervades throughout generations. What the Philippines is facing right now as of this writing is a prime example of that deep-seated rot that has been there even after the revolution 36 years ago that supposedly uprooted that rot in the first place. It turns out that the other weeds weren’t taken out with it as well.

When you miss taking out every single weed from that patch of soil, it’ll eventually grow back. When you leave the sac in after draining the pus, that boil will once again swell and inflame. Corruption is a disease that festers and infects everything it touches.

Corruption Throughout History

Those weed and disease analogies are deliberate because corruption is a pandemic that has plagued the world throughout history. From the Roman Senate to the Confucian halls of dynastic China and Korea, you can read about tales of corruption from days of yore. The political game has been played with the rules of corruption (or lack thereof) in place, and the great names in the annals of history were adept at taking advantage of that chaos.

For instance, Justinian used bribery to diffuse revolt and survive a potentially empire-ending predicament. If you’re a fan of great man history, you’d cheer for that. But if you’re more of a Marxist history sort of person, you feel for those who had to suffer and die during the Nika riots. It’s perhaps the 

It’s said that corruption has existed since Ancient Egypt. The word itself comes from the Latin word corruptus, the past participle form of corrumpere, which means “to mar, bribe, and/or destroy.” While this may give you pause and convince you that it’s as inevitable as death and that it should merely be seen as an additional tax, there’s a reason why it has to be described as “corruption” in all its intensity and insidiousness.

How Corruption Results in Brain Drain and Collective Misery

I just wanted to talk about this because it’s relevant to our daily lives here in the Philippines. This is basically a rant related to current events, so please skip straight to the conclusion if you don’t want to deal with this baggage.

When speaking of corruption in terms of how it affects the system, it’s like an inefficiency tax. The more corruption there is, the more money gets spent in every project or initiative as more and more people skim off the top. There’s no avoiding this inefficiency since people who work in government need money and can’t be expected to prosper with a government salary. They can subsist with it, but the worsening economy and real estate market compels them to earn more however they can. That’s not just an excuse; that’s the truth.

Even developed countries are bound to be corrupt in some way, but not all corruption is equal. If we’re talking about corruption in developing countries like Brazil, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, just to name a few, then they’re like those hip-deep poison swamps in games by FromSoftware — you can’t help but sink into it and slowly let it drain the life out of you. The only way to escape them is to find a way to leave the country and immigrate to a more developed country.

The Filipino dream is to leave the Philippines.

As we’ve seen during the migrant crisis in Europe and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, escaping one’s own place of origin to find one’s fortunes in a more prosperous (and less corrupt) land is incredibly difficult. The desire to leave one’s birthplace which is beset by poverty and corruption then contributes to more poverty and corruption as less and less of future generations wish to stick around and help that country.

The stereotype here in the Philippines is the four main ways people are able to find a way out of the country — study nursing (no longer that viable), pursue a maritime career (for men), become a domestic helper (for women), or marry a middle-aged caucasian guy (again, for women).

Plenty of other professions like engineering, medicine, and other technical fields see Filipinos moving to other countries in droves. Whoever are left with those who are seen as “not good enough to be hired out of the country,” effectively relegating them to reject status. It hangs over their heads like the Sword of Damocles for the rest of their lives.

Whenever they have financial difficulties of any kind, the people around them and their own conscience would tell them, “It’s because you weren’t good enough to work abroad.”

They would then blame themselves at every turn. They didn’t study hard enough, didn’t work hard enough, weren’t born smart or talented enough, and weren’t lucky enough to be born in more fortunate circumstances. Personally, I do think of the first two, while I’m fortunate enough to not have to think about the latter two. But that’s still enough regret to fuel misery.

Imagine having the majority of your country’s entire working population composed of people with that regret persisting in their daily lives. Looking down on other people for their career prospects and being insecure about one’s own prospects is practically a part of modern Filipino culture. It’s hard to prosper when you’re constantly made miserable by the weight of doubt from both yourself and everyone else around you.

You have miserable people working in your own country while the really good ones end up leaving the country due to a desire to advance and frustration with their own country’s inadequacies. Meanwhile, countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand are practically next door, and they seem to be doing way better than us.

They have corruption as well, like Malaysia with their 1MDB scandal, but at least the culprits of that mess were made to pay for their crimes. Meanwhile, we have the PhilHealth scandal that saw ₱15 billion disappear, and practically no one has yet been made to answer for it.

Conclusion

I’m not an expert in corruption and its full effects on a nation, so I can only talk about what I see around me. This topic is worth studying more as it truly is the X-factor when it comes to understanding the ills of modern society and governance. If we want to come up with a system within the next century or two that can truly defeat it and help people prosper, we can’t rely on what we already have.

Capitalism will not since we’ve been at this since the Industrial Revolution. Communism will not since it takes way too much to implement it in its “purest” form. If you want a mix of both, you might as well move to Canada or Sweden since it’ll take at least 50 more years to see a developing country try to do something similar, and there’s no way you can make people earning minimum wage in such countries pay even more taxes.

This blog post is a preview of what I’ve been playing around with for the past two years or so. While the world had to live with the threat of COVID-19, I saw the lingering rot of corruption as a primary reason for the slow response and incompetence in the face of the pandemic. A societal disease paved the way to the danger of a physical disease, and it does not stop there.

Even though we’ve learned to live with COVID-19, we have yet to learn how to surpass the debilitating effects of corruption. I’ve come to the conclusion that even if we somehow come up with a system that is purportedly corruption-proof, that will take way too long to innovate and way too much effort to implement without drastic regime change. We have to effectively uproot human civilization itself to put in place such a system.

We may even have to eliminate the human element altogether. That’s exactly where I’m going with what I have in mind. I think our destiny as a civilization lies with what science fiction has taught us to fear — a machine takeover.

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