Lazy Luddite Log

4.1.08

Nepotism, Naturally

World events have been sporadically impinging on the warm hazy time I have been having lately. We see many parts of the world in which there is a tense vassilation between democracy and dictatorship. Corruption is rife. Concepts like multi-party states or rule-of-law seem disturbingly fragile. And one gets frustrated at the lack of progress in addressing all these issues. I think a big part of the problem is that the kinds of things we desire more of run contrary to much of human nature and experience.

Nepotism is a form of corruption in which one uses ones position of power to benefit ones own family and friends. And nothing is more natural or more well-regarded in human conduct than nurturing ones family and enhancing the lives of ones friends. We all do it. We get instant satisfaction from such behaviour. It is something we had done for as long as we have been human. And yet it is this loving caring behaviour that helps to keep developing nations poor and conflict-ridden.

We in developed nations are advantaged by having generations of practice in selectively curbing the natural tendency to help those close to us. All manner of protocols and practices are in force to make it difficult for public servants and politicians from serving only themselves and those they love. This includes instilling in them a self-image of propriety. It also involves paying them a generous salary to curb temptation. Much of this is artificial and bureaucratic. It runs contrary to the oldest emotional responses in us. And it must constantly be revised and renewed. One of the things that I hope the new Rudd Government (for instance) will do is make good on its promise to return to the practice of independence for civil servants inherant in the Commonwealth tradition. The last government dismantled much of that tradition and yet we still have one of the strongest cultures of impartiality in the world.

What of other parts of the world in which such institutions and practices are only a few generations old and are only respected or understood by a few? It is a very difficult thing to construct and preserve. Who can be blamed for doing what comes naturally? We cannot just expect them to do what we have been practicing for over a century in one form or another. In calling for an end to corruption we are in a sense asking for everyone with a share of power to extend the care and consideration they feel for loved ones to all of humanity. That is a significant shift in human thinking and feeling.

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