“Ethos” is a Greek word that can help us to comprehend that collective, profound and paradigmatic image that drives human actions in a certain direction. It’s like an essence that manifests itself in social behaviour without us being aware of it. Ethos is hidden in the most evident parts of a culture. It’s so evident that we discount it, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if things or relationships that it gives order to simply have to be that way. The influence of this paradigm is so much stronger the less present it is and when it is most evoked without question. In the case of corruption, as one of its most pernicious behavioural effects, we can’t see it acting until the hypocrisy of the system is broken by public condemnation or by media scandal.
It’s as if this basic belief were the sun, and ideas – institutions and behaviours – were its satellites. There is within it an enormous force of gravity. Everything ends up being done or decided by it. If it were to disappear, the usual, familiar, common and accepted way of life would disappear. Like in the ancestral myths, night, darkness and chaos would descend. It doesn’t matter what black hole of the galaxy this star is leading us to, what matters is that it’s leading us there and we don’t have to do the work, not just of questioning it, but also of substituting it. In fact, who would ever think to change “the natural course of things and the predetermined destiny of the stars”?
If corruption appears (when it appears) everywhere it will be because something profound in the system sustains, justifies and promotes it. Corruption is always a means, never an end. If the capitalist system doesn’t allow one to legitimately achieve what it preaches as the image of happiness, then individuals will look for a way of appropriating it even if it is through delinquent, perverse or criminal means. What the system isn’t capable of giving in a good way, the population takes in a bad way. There is what we could call a forced redistribution of wealth, and if the system is closed to social change, if it stops monitoring and if capital concentrates more and more, corruption appears as a quick and efficient and, generally speaking, unpunished alternative. Cases of corruption are more and more abundant and the problem appears like a cancer that corrodes people and institutions. Isn’t the mission of the State corrupted by making it dependent on economic power? If social and political references give way to the corporate lobbies or drug-traffickers, why shouldn’t the rest of the population also do so?
The most efficient way of destroying an idol is to unmask it, bring it to people’s attention and shine a light on it. The current Ethos of the capitalist system can be better visualised if we caricaturise it through an allegory. In this sense, we could represent it as a cartoon character, something that has a computer for a brain and a bank vault as a heart. The left arm down and extended in an open, offering and generous hand in the palm of which is written “Formal Democracy and Free Market”. On the other side, the right arm is raised threateningly, ending in a fist of the most sophisticated nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons. Along its bare arm is a tremendous tattoo in which is written “National Interest = Commercial Interest”
Through the gigantic jaws of its mouth, the monster ingests all sorts of consumer goods, from junk food to the most extravagant and luxurious cars, passing through the most aggressive films at the cinema and on TV. Its dinosaur feet end in enormous claws that are seen squashing and drowning, skeletal and desperate, children, men and women of all races who try to save themselves by grabbing onto the bare branches of a drought-stricken forest. The monster, in its paranoia, threatens the entire subjected diversity of humanity that, in its heart, hates it. While it shoots its rays, bombs and rockets through its eyes, the fingers of its hands, its navel and genitals, the crazed being defecates constantly into a tank of fresh, clean and pure water in which golden and colourful fish swim representing all the ideals that have forever fed human hope.
If, leaving behind the figurative language, we would have to define the monster ideologically, we could baptise it with a hyphenated name of: Capitalism-Machiavelian-Hobbesian-Darwinian-Pragmatic-Sensual-Success-driven-Neoliberal-Totalitarian-Nihilist-Globalised. In fact, corruption in these times is connected directly with this anti-humanist ethos as follows: 1. Money corrupts as it is the means to satisfy all desires and to achieve success; 2. Money is the end that justifies the opportunistic use of illegitimate and illegal means, in other words, Machiavellian; 3. We are all at war or competing to increase economic power and that’s why the National Interest is at the service of Commercial Interest, above social welfare; 4. With money, not only can we have success, power and prestige, but we can also satisfy this consumerist and obsessive sensualism generated through corporate, massive, manipulating and daily publicity that invades the intimacy of homes and influences ones consciousness.
On accepting a state of war, competition and survival-of-the-fittest as a definition of relationships between nations and individuals, and in the absence of a truly democratic world and national order in politics, a leviathan is enthroned, a global para-state that is established by force and legalised through international organisms, formal democracies or regimes without true social representation and effective public monitoring. By massively projecting this individualist-selfish paradigm that promises much more than it delivers, social consciousness remains impregnated with the spiritual smog of corruption. And that is the human landscape that we can see in this historical moment in which the process of social atomisation, environmental imbalance, political misrule and cultural disintegration are accentuating.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising then that in the frame of a profoundly unhinged era in which the social and moral capital of the masses is in a critical situation that the motley, polymorphic and astute face of corruption gains ground around the world. Fortunately we increasingly see the face of the monster and that will be the historical start of its banishment and its final end.