Sleeze and corruption have been in the news a lot recently, both in stories from the UK and around the world. Then again, it might be hard to pin point a time when there wasn’t some sort of scandal engulfing the world of politics or business. Wherever there are positions of power and influence, temptation inevitably follows – yet perhaps some are better at concealing their lapses than others.
Of course, individual corruption is often indicative of a wider institutional issue. A lack of transparency and winner-take-all mentality create the conditions for individuals to act in their own best interests outside of accepted standards, with the implicit assumption that closing ranks and turning a blind eye to similar infractions by peers will shield those involved from the worst. Sadly this often seems to be the case; ineffectual inquiries or toothless select committees can be slow to catch up to practices that might have gone unchecked for years, later introducing new regulations that will inevitably contain gaps and elisions ready to be exploited.
On the bright side this at least demonstrates the tenacious capacity of humans to find a way around anything! However, the most deleterious effects are inevitably felt by those on the other side, the normal people who have to live with the consequences of corruption in their systems. The company funds that have gone missing, the public sector contracts given away in opaque circumstances; these all contribute to a lack of faith in the wider system, a deepening sense that injustice is inescapably inscribed into the fabric of society.
It’s a sad fact that those who stand to benefit will very rarely face consequences for their actions – one need look no further than the 2008 financial crisis for a significant example. In our own lives and careers, we may find ourselves in situations where it would be immediately beneficial to look the other way, or even to participate in something we know to be wrong. There might be the promise of financial reward or career progression, or we might just get swept up in the social pressure to conform. In such circumstances it’s easy to minimise our own importance when it suits us: ‘I’m only one person, everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?’ When and if these situations arise, the only person who can ultimately make the moral judgement is ourselves. Only we can decide who the person is that we want to be, to try and assert our humanity in a world that desensitises us to the broader consequences of systemic misconduct.