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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 30-Oct-16


Sunday 30-October-16

Control, Corruption or Culture, a Common Political Choice

Before 2001, Kabul in Afghanistan was run by the Taliban using a system of strong control, with religious police enforcing a strict zero tolerance policy. Women in particular had a raw deal, held in a subservient, uneducated, covered-up role. Yet everyone was equal in their poverty and crime was low.

After the Western liberation, the Taliban fled and a local government wad set up with as much support for true democracy as possible. And yet corruption set in, big time, even in hopefully uncorrupt organizations such as the army. For example, there are many 'ghost' soldiers who do not exist, yet their salaries are still drawn (and kept by those in the chain of command).

Corruption is an uneven system, leading to a few very rich and many poor and fearful people. Corruption begets corruption. Its methods include bribery, blackmail and violence. It sucks you in and never lets you leave.

It is the same in many other countries, where the choice seems to be either a strict system of control or unfettered corruption. Even in those places we call free are not perfect, with a mostly uncorrupt legislature and moderate levels of corruption.

Perhaps it is an indictment of the human condition. Unfettered, our deceptive skills come to the fore as we major on selfish mores and protecting our gene pool. Yet suppressed, we are so much less than we could be. Is there no hope for us?

Building a balanced nation is a difficult task, as other post-liberation experiences have shown. You can't just set up elections and hope for the best. We need uncorruptible governmental bodies, or at least ones where corruption is low enough to sustain sufficiently fair control. One way this happens is with separation of powers, for example between law-making and law-bringing bodies. No one person, nor a small elite, can have ultimate power which ultimately corrupts.

A powerful force for moderation is a culture that mandates fairness, in which the unfairness of corruption or absolute rule would lead to outcry and popular revolt. Culture is rooted in belief and is hard to shift, which is one reason why regime change is so fraught. You can change leaders quickly, but widespread belief in how the world works and what is right is much harder.

Culture is the third way. It is a major determinant of how we behave. It shapes whether we are corrupt or not and can override selfish tendencies. It transfers control from government to society as the system of social approval and punishment acts as a powerful distributed control system.

Culture is spread through actions, symbols and everyday talk. It can be seen in the stories we tell, about others and ourselves. It embodies trust and what this means to people. It is the most powerful and yet least understood force for political change.

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