July 6, 2004 00:07 | Confession / Culture / Political

Corruption, culture and democracy

"I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if it is well administered; and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupt as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other..."

"Benjamin Franklin to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, prior to the final vote

v. cor·rupt·ed, cor·rupt·ing, cor·rupts
v. tr.
  1. To destroy or subvert the honesty or integrity of.
  2. To ruin morally; pervert.
  3. To taint; contaminate.
  4. To cause to become rotten; spoil.
  5. To change the original form of (a text, for example).

I like to think that what Franklin meant by "when the people shall become so corrupt" is not, by our modern usage of the word "corrupt", that everyone is "on the take", but rather that the very fabric of society, culture, is undermined, weakened.


  1. Possessing, displaying, or based on reliable information: informed sources; an informed opinion.
  2. Knowledgeable; educated: the informed consumer.

    1. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
    2. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
    3. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
    4. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
  1. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.
    1. Development of the intellect through training or education.
    2. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.
  2. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training.
  3. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors.
  4. The cultivation of soil; tillage.
  5. The breeding of animals or growing of plants, especially to produce improved stock.
  6. Biology.
    1. The growing of microorganisms, tissue cells, or other living matter in a specially prepared nutrient medium.
    2. Such a growth or colony, as of bacteria.

An "informed culture" is a strong culture; aware of it's history, building on it's ancestors' knowledge and experience, with no room or time to entertain the frivolities of superficiality and repetition. A weakened, un- or under-informed culture is prone to disease; corruption. The uninformed, bewildered, follow any trend or seeming novelty the wind blows their way. And what happens when one has such a situation, where there are a few informed and many uninformed? You guessed it: the informed have control of the uninformed.

How does one weaken a culture? As with so many things in history, we cannot point the finger to any one player. Rather, a long chain of developments - technological, economic, political - have brought us here. A good starting point is the arrival of mass-production... and plastics. Without wanting to recount the wonderful explanations of the threads of events that James Burke gave us in his books, articles and BBC Television series, "Connections", suffice it to say that with mass production, we get mass consumerism: in the extreme, the annihilation of the individual.

So begins the corruption of the people. With a view to fiscal growth, and with the power to mass produce any desire at the snap of a finger, one creates a marketing machine which, combined with policy changes which, amongst many other things, slash education funding and restrict rights on knowledge (ahem, intellectual property), the stage is set. The culture is weakened, and progress slowed.

Is this not what we are witnessing today? Mass marketing culture, the frightening stance of the domestic and foreign policies of "America", the aberration that is copyright? These are intricately related, woven together so finely, with a myriad other threads and patterns, as to be almost imperceptible.

In this weakened culture, one cannot help but to find ourselves in a bewildering vortex of confusion, unsure of anything, questioning and counter-questioning any number of trivialities simply because the majority can see only the superficialities fed to them.

Myself included, then, with my limited and superficial knowledge and views, find precious few moments where I can even begin to believe I see something in the haze. My eyes are straining... and what they do see makes me uneasy.