The present atmosphere encourages corruption in a big way and no amount of stringent laws and policing will make people follow ethics and avoid corruption. The lasting solution to these problems is to teach value based education to the next generation
“I don’t give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.” Harry S Truman.
Corruption, evil, deceit, trickery and dishonesty have been prevalent in this world at all times. In Plato's "The Republic", Thrasymachus argues with Socrates to prove his point that injustice is as good as justice and the unjust are better off than the just in society. Although Socrates wins the argument, refuting this line of thinking, the fact still remains that in the conventional monetary economy, it is the unjust that apparently stand to gain. How I wish, the younger generation reads this message - future leaders - who probably need this message most of all. While corruption is ubiquitous, one must be able to live like the lotus in the sea of corruption without getting wet. I am going to prove that it is not only possible but also profitable in the long run to be just.
Corruption has been there with mankind ever since the dawn of monetary economy. In the sustenance economy that most of us had before the dawn of the present monetary economy, people lived and died happily, sharing and caring as they went along. Many scientific studies have shown this to be so. One of the most elaborate studies has been the study of the Innus-an aboriginal race off the coast of Saskatchewan in Canada. Their recorded documents showed the Innus to be a tranquil race, living as hunter-gatherers without any significant disease burden at all. Their society changed dramatically but slowly after 1732AD when, for the first time, The William's Company came to Innu land to open an outlet for barter trade with the Innus. While the company gave away soaps, biscuits, and other toiletries, they in return took the hide etc that the Innus had. Then came the Church and, consequent God-dependence.
Today every Innu is a Canadian citizen and has all the facilities that the native mainland Canadian has, including all the diseases ranging from common cold to cancer, about a decade earlier than the mainland Canadian! This goes to show that it is the introduction of monetary economy that changed the Innus' life for ever. Interestingly, many of the present day scientific studies have shown that the leading risk factors for most of the killer diseases like heart attacks, cancer and stroke, are the negative feelings of greed, jealousy, hatred and anger in addition to frustration resulting in depression. All the above negative thoughts are money related! In fact, it is not what one eats that kills, but what eats one that kills. Eric Blaire, better known as George Orwell, traces how man or animal, sooner than later, acquires greed as the dominant instinct, leading to corruption as the be all and end all of life, in his celebrated book The Animal Farm.
"Man", said Shakespeare, "whether in the castle or in the cottage; palace or pad, is governed by the same emotions and passions". Man is not born with these instincts at all. The negative thoughts like anger, jealousy, pride, hatred, greed are all inculcated into the human mind during the school and college years, what with all the competition and ranking, making them inhuman at the end rather than feeding them with altruism and universal compassion.
Unfortunately, our westernised educational system does not really deliver the goods to transform man and tame his animal instincts to give the student the true liberal education. On the contrary, the present system makes students more self-centred and egoistic to be "successful" in the western concept. Naturally concern for others and the need to uphold moral values take a back seat. With that background we have been brought up to succeed, come what may, resulting in cut-throat competition. Living and letting others live with the basic idea of sharing and caring is forgotten in this business of trying to be one-up on others.
Monetary and material corruption starts right there, to which moral corruption gets tagged on as they go along the golden path of success and wealth. It is worth quoting here the words of a great teacher, Allan Bloom, who wrote in his excellent book The Closing of the American Mind, about the sorry state of American higher education today. "There is no need to prove the importance of education; but it should be remarked that for modern nations, which have founded themselves on reason in its various uses……………., a crisis in the University, the home of reason, is perhaps the profoundest crisis they face." I could not agree more!
"Satyam, ….brihad ritam ugram…
This world can go on smoothly only if all of us were to follow those two basic rules of existence. Truth and ethics of the highest order applied strictly in all our dealings. Unfortunately, when we look at today's world, untruth and corruption are palpably felt, while truth and ethics, practiced by the silent majority, are non-palpable. Be that as it may, it is only the goodness of the just people that keeps this world going. Despite the vocal and palpable minority of corrupt people seem to think that they run the world, in every field of human activity the outwardly show does not represent the hidden agenda. Most of what we see and hear is only empty claptrap.
As an example take the medical world. In the year 2000, doctors went on strike in Israel for three months. Many years ago similar strike had paralyzed the medical system in the state of Saskatchewan, where doctors had gone on strike for more than three months. More recently, doctors had gone on strike in Los Angeles County for a short while. You would be surprised to know that on all those occasions when doctors struck work, death rate and disability indices in society seemed to have gone down significantly. The common man's perception is that the medical world is there to do good for him and save him even from the jaws of death. The reality, though, is otherwise.
Further, studies have shown that most of the modern drugs and innovative medical technology help the manufacturers more than society. To cite, one small example of very modern technological interventions, it is bypass surgery. Researchers looked at the audit of two identical populations in Philadelphia and Ontario, having identical populations and facilities. Whereas the rate of bypass operations was 10:1 in favour of Philadelphia, at the end of a year, almost equal number of people in the above cohorts was still alive in both the places! Ten times more intervention must have led to ten times more deaths! The accompanying editorial by a leading cardiologist at the Yale University, Prof Krumholz, bares the secret. If one were to look the gift horse in the mouth closely, one quickly realises the unholy nexus between drug and technology lords and the star performers in the medical field.
Before we look into other specific areas, let us look at ethics in a simple way. Business ethics should not be divorced from human ethics-do unto others, as you would be done unto you. Ethics and morals cannot be separated easily. However, morals are not for all times. While morals keep changing, ethics do not. This is a subtle difference between the two. To quote an example from the Mahabharata, let us take Abhimanyu telling Duryodhana that, it is unethical for a King to play the game of dice to acquire kingdom or property, but it is quite ethical for businessmen to do so! What is ethical is always legal, but what is legal may not be ethical at all times. That may be the reason why King Ferdinand of France, when he was preparing to send his people to the Indies after the discovery of the New World, made an important rule that any one who has studied jurisprudence shall not be included in the group. He felt that when there are fewer laws justice prevails. Where there are surfeit of lawyers, people would become miserable. More lawyers would lead to less justice! That was his idea in formulating those laws.
If my memory does not fail me, I do not recollect any Indian politician having ever been punished for corruption, but everyone knows that most of them, if not all of them, have been corrupt. In the adversarial system of justice, the judge could, at best, be an umpire. The final judgement depends on the evidence. A powerful politician, who is corrupt, knows all about how to falsify evidence. Poor judges are left high and dry. Only a handful of really pro-active judges have tried to do something but without much success. Even if the judge succeeds, the politician wins in the people's court, a concept that is nauseating, to say the least, as all of us know how elections are fought and won! One has only to read George Orwell's celebrated book The Animal Farm to remind oneself of the politician's wily ways. Many politicians in India come from economically lower strata but, all of them become very affluent at the end. They amass as much wealth as is sufficient for many generations to come. Although they know that they can not take the money with them when they go they still want to hoard. For a mind that has not evolved properly money seems to give a sense of security.
What is ethics in business?
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of England, was the daughter of a grocer. When once she was asked by a reporter as to what she had learnt from her father's business, she is supposed to have said: "When I was a little kid, I used to sit in my father's shop. I learnt one important thing there, which I have been practicing for all my life. When my father sold good vegetables customers used to come back. When the vegetables were bad, vegetables came back and the customers went to the next shop". The picture Iron Lady won many awards for the leading lady! This is simply business ethics. That is exactly what ethics is all about. Do unto others as you would be done by. In any situation, where another human being's interest is involved, one should put oneself in the position of the other man and think before taking a decision. This shall be the best ethical policy in business.
What is Corruption?
Nobody needs to define corruption in India. We are all experts in the field. To turn from the sound to unsound, anything to make the pure to impure and to seduce, are all signs of corruption. Interestingly, many of us indulge in it by giving bribe thinking that it would make our life easier. This perpetuates the system. The giver is as guilty as the taker of the bribe. When one knows that it is immoral to get involved in any form of corruption giving money to get things done is as unethical as it is to accept the same for illegal gratification. Corruption can never be eradicated by enacting more stringent laws. As pointed out by the great French philosopher, Michael Montainge, when there are more laws in any society, there will be less justice. In the adversarial system of justice that we have inherited from the British, truth usually is the casualty.
I am told that ethical business takes a long time for people to really prosper. It might be one of the reasons why more and more people want to be corrupt to quicken their pace of hoarding money and wealth. This seems to be a rule rather than exception. That said, I must hasten to add that there are honest ethical businessmen in every society, who probably give respectability to business. No country seems to be an exception to this rule. Man has an important obligation to the society. It is society that gives one, an opportunity to come up and be recognized. In return, we have to remain grateful to society. This gratitude is better shown as our obligation to do most good to most people most of the time.
Can ethical practices and corruption co-exist?
Certainly not. They are mutually exclusive. If one is ethical, one can not be corrupt? But if one is corrupt he can't be ethical also. Unfortunately, people use a different yardstick. Whenever they are caught, they try to extricate themselves of the blame using the benefit of doubt theory in the adversarial system of justice. One could be corrupt and still appear to be within legal boundaries. To be ethical is always legal. But to be legally correct need not always be ethical.
It is right that business must make profit. Otherwise it has no meaning. How to profit? A reasonable percentage of profit is very ethical and should be built in to the system. We Indians are supposed to be genetically very good businessmen. If one could buy from the Jew and sell to a Scott and still make 10% profit, he/ she could only be an Indian. It is only when you go for an unusually huge profit, business becomes unethical. I will give you an example.
The small mettle stent that we use in the heart blood vessels, costs just $10 to manufacture. However, the recipient of the stent, the hapless patient, has to pay $2,000 per stent. What is the profit range here? For a stent costing $10, the profit is $1,990! This unethical profit has many beneficiaries other than the manufacturers. Advertisers, middlemen, palm-greasing costs, and, more than them all the greedy doctors get a lion's share of the profit, nearly $500 per stent. Many unscrupulous doctors live on the largesse provided by such benevolent drug and/or instrument manufacturers. The story goes on and on.
As a matter of fact, there is awareness all over the world of this kind of unholy nexus between the medical profession and the manufacturers. The noble profession of medicine has gone to the market place, resulting in consumerism coming into medicine in a big way. Today, patients have become buyers and the doctors, sellers of drugs and technology. This is the highest point of corruption. If one is looking for ethical profit this would be in the interest of all concerned. Of course, one can always make big money by unethical means. One could employ people without letting them have any rights, without giving them any benefits and without looking after their interests.
Many Indian business houses have been successfully carrying on ethical business. They have stood the test of time and have withstood the market forces at the best of time and the worst of time. Many others who followed unethical means have also done well. But I am sure they will come to grief sooner than later. Newspapers keep telling us about how much money every government in the world spends to look after cigarette smokers' health. Recent reports showed that the Government of India spends nearly, Rs13.2 crores. However, it is the tobacco barons that make money by fair means or fowl.
Society Respects Money
Unfortunately, today society respects money and never bothers to find out how one acquires money. Many of our boot-leggers get honoured in our country. Corrupt politicians with tons of money could easily buy their votes. This happens even in the advanced West. One could buy most positions or awards with money. Most awards, if not all awards, could be bought these days. While, Yasser Arafat and Kofi Annan got Nobel Peace Prize, Mahatma Gandhi is not even nominated! Is this the ethical world we live in? In 1927 AD, the Nobel Peace Prize in medicine went to Wagner Juregg, who was known to have faked his research findings. Paul Brunton, the former chief of British American Tobacco Company, got the Pulitzer Award for the best manager. His citation read: "Despite hefty fine of $369 billion as compensation for cancer victims, British American Tobacco Company, under the able stewardship of Paul Brunton, bought over CAM in South America for $120 billion.” This is why he gets the Pulitzer. The tobacco grown there with genetic modification would eventually kill millions of young men and women in the third world countries.
Corruption, which seems to be engulfing the whole of the world, could only be contained in the long run by changing man's mind. The only one right that man has got in this world is his right to do his duty. Each one of us has the right to help our fellowmen and not harm them. This philosophy could be understood and passed on to others by changing the mindset of the future generation of mankind.
What is the remedy for this?
No amount of stringent laws and policing will make people follow ethics and avoid corruption. All the vigilance officers put together will have no effect. The present atmosphere encourages corruption in a big way. Our whole life style has been corrupted. The only remedy seems to be to train a whole new generation of our children in the age-old Indian system of education. Even in the west, in the hoary past, people had better quality of education. In the west a well-educated man/woman would have read Plato’s The Republic and the other classics both in philosophy and literature in the past. How well does Socrates convince his friend Thrasymachus that “injustice can never be more profitable than justice.” Today, even in the west, it is just information-loaded knowledge building exercise that is called education. The present education, both in the west and east, is bereft of any value addition and is badly corrupted. Even the seats of great learning like the Universities, view education as a moneymaking business. Wholesale extrapolating western models to India has done the greatest damage. There is a gulf of difference between the east and the west.
Take for example our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and compare them with the Greek epic, Homer’s Iliad. All the three great battles in the three epics-War in Lanka, the Kurukshetra War and the Trojan War were fought for the sake of women. Whereas at the end of the war, their husbands enjoin the two women in our epics, Helen runs away with the enemy. This is the subtle ethical difference between them and us. Similarly, the contrast in ethics of the heroes is no less glaring. While Karna, the great hero of the Mahabharata War, fights till death for his friend, as he had promised to do so because of his sense of gratitude to his mentor and his moral obligation to do so, Agamemnon, the Commander-in-Chief of the legendary Greek warrior Achilles, quarrels with Achilles over the possession of the lovely maid Briseis; the glorious reminder of the Mycenaean age. We have never made the younger generation realize the greatness of our scriptures while every one in the west swears by the Iliad.
The lasting solution to the problems of corruption is to raise the next generation in the time tested Indian methods of value based education. Education in the true sense is just that. It is the taming of the animal instincts in man and transforming him/her into a social being with societal obligations. Indian education aims at making man humble, the sublime goal of education-to make one act “justly, skillfully, and magnanimously at all times of peace and war”. This effort would bring forth a generation with their minds evolved to a higher level of consciousness where unethical thoughts get filtered out in preference to the ethical and moral ones. How does one go about it? Where, in fact, is the mind? Science has been swimming in this uncharted sea recently and has come up with newer facts that tally with the ancient wisdom of the all-pervading human consciousness, which is a part of the universal consciousness.
Mind, unlike other parts of the human body, could not conceivably be an organ-based structure. This settles the debate if mind is in the heart or the brain. It is everywhere in every single human body cell, of which there are one hundred thousand billion in all. Mind is at the quantum level-the subatomic world-of quarks and superstrings. Conceptually it could have four levels of evolution. The latter is assisted by right type of education during the formative years of one’s life.
The crude mind is the manas. It could be compared to a dark room with a small window. The manas could, at best, recognize anything that the window shows as such. Let us take the example of a man passing by the window. The manas would just be able to recognize him as a man. Higher than the manas is the buddhi. The latter has a watchman guarding the inlet-the intelligence-based on empirical experience. Buddhi would be able to say who that man is. Still higher is the Chitta with the watchman ego. All problems for mankind, including corruption, emanate at this level of mental evolution. When the ego, ahamkaara, comes in mind starts either hating or liking the man passing by. Both could lead to sorrow! Proper education could raise the mind to a still higher level- the purusha, where the watchman-viveka tells the mind that one need not worry about others unnecessarily. The man passing by could be anybody and it should not bother the observer at all. Eliminating the “I” concept at this stage could ease the difficulty a bit.
Real happiness and bliss, however, come when one could elevate one’s mind to the highest level of Ishihara (one who is one with the surrounding) unperturbed at all times. In that state of the mind one is goaded to go out of the line of one’s duty to see that the man passing by the window is being cared for and made to feel at home under all circumstances. If our education could take us to that height where “the mind is free" as Guru had said, all negative thoughts get replaced by positive ones, making one truly altruistic. Corruption gets eradicated permanently.
Education, of the true variety, should aim at this goal. We should teach our children the most important aspect of spirituality. The latter has very little to do with religion. The theology of all religions preaches the same spirituality of universal compassion. Spirituality is simply sharing and caring-living and letting others live.
“Our ingress into this world was naked and bare,
Our progress in this world is trouble and care,
Our egress from this world would be nobody knows where,
If we do well here, we will do well there.”
- DH Lawrence.
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London.