Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cheating and Corruption

Exam / test / practical : everyone should get exactly the same results.

If you set that expectation then it is a completely logical, intelligent outcome to refer the results of a trusted source. ie, to copy over from your friend who's done the work. ie, to cheat. From the point of view of the student, cheating is a common-sensical tactic to maximize efficiency and get the work done, not an immoral act. The only way the student would think of it as immoral is if it's been drilled in all the way that cheating is immoral. Meaning, you need an external reinforcement to establish cheating as bad. Inherently, there are no problems. From the inside, there's no judgement on cheating.
Is it any wonder then why kids are so confused? In such a stressful part of their lives, there is a complete disconnect between the inside and the outside. It's only natural to cheat on a test or in a practical, if you are anyways expecting the same results out of everyone.

Now for the leap of inference:
Just as cheating is a natural outcome of the factory schooling education system, I would like to assert that corruption too, is a natural outcome of the broader socio-economic system we have established. If there are a set of rules that make normal living difficult, then corruption is a life-saver. Whose point of view are we looking at corruption from? Are we seeing only the tiny minority vying for multi-lakh tenders and contracts awarded by the govt, or are we also looking at the much larger segment of the population "indulging" in corruption, that just needs to get by?

The small shop owner who needs to get that licence or permission so he can earn a living

The daily commuter who has known how to drive since age 12 but whose town's RTO has made it very difficult to have a license made?

The displaced rural family whose land got acquired for a SEZ who haven't yet seen the compensation promised or the alternative land where they can settle?

The tribal community who have to prove, beyond their capability, to some babus in the state capital that they have ancestral rights over the forest land they inhabit? Many of these don't use money in their day to day activities (note: they're not poor; they just don't need money so why bother?) so don't even have any for the transport and food and lodging costs when they go to the city to prove their case.

The daily wage labourer waiting in line at the govt hospital to get his chronic-condition mother's lungs examined?

To all of these people, when you talk so much about "we should not indulge in corruption" as if it's like taking narcotics, are you even bothering to address their ground reality or the systems (funded by your taxes) that are throttling them? Remember, if you've taken any moral high ground of not paying any bribe, then you have done so only because you are privileged enough to be able to do it.

Who gave you the right to judge these people? You can't even begin to understand their reality.

As for the delusion that you can make "better laws" to wipe out corruption...
In cheating, the "professional" cheaters will innovate and make arrangements to get their way no matter what grand safeguards are created. In many places they even co-opt the examiners. It's the first-timers, the people acting out of desperation, the people who don't have the means, those who are in dire straits, who get snared and who are thrown into jeopardy.

And the same thing happens in every measure you install in public administration to check corruption. The people you like to brand as truly "corrupt" have a few legs inside this system; they will quickly figure out ways to deal with it. The people really engaging in criminal acts will never drive around the streets without proper papers, license, PUC etc. It's only the innocent, the ones without malicious intent, that get caught.

The people who want to use a business as a front for dubious purposes, will make sure they have generated all the proper papers and permissions and licences done and set. It's the small trader trying to make a living, who gets screwed because he didn't do the necessary paperwork, or something got left behind.

All these systems only catch and punish the innocent; and they only serve to make corruption adapt to be more  efficient, ubiquitous, unavoidable. And they make the bad guys even more entrenched, even more difficult to tackle. Making a better lock in a corridor that is used by everyone, only gets you two things : a lock picker and more inconvenience for all the people who are trying to use that corridor for the right purposes.

Just like no amount of rules to punish cheating can tackle the actual problem (making someone's future depend on something as arbitrary, unreliable and biased as a timed exam), no amount of legislation to punish corruption will ever tackle the root causes of why corruption is happening. It is a fool's dream and if you've bought it then you've been hoodwinked.

So how do you fix this problem? Well, the system we're using isn't broken; it's designed to bring us to ruin and it's doing the job excellently. Change the system! Remove the obsession to catch and control : it was never really under your control in the first place. And of course it's not easy; but neither is the presently espoused way of putting more and more legislation.

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