Yesterday’s post on Tacitus got me to thinking more about the topic of corruption!
Etymologically, our word corruption (from the Latin stem corruption- ) contains the same root as the word rupture. That root (rup-) has a primary sense of ‘break’. The prefix cor- < com- (by assimilation of the prefix’s final ‘m’ to the root’s initial ‘r’) << Latin cum intensifies the sense of the root to which it is affixed. Thus, a primitive sense of corruption is simply something like ‘utter breakdown’.
Semantically, the word has been coöpted by secular modernity from an earlier (medieval) ecclesiastical sense of some kind of spiritual or religious breakdown of, or deviation from, traditional beliefs and behaviors as defined by the Christian church. Today the term corruption, pretty much cut loose from its ecclesiastical anchoring, rather more expansively addresses any kind of breakdown of, or deviation from, normative behavioral patterns – whether religiously or legally or societally colored in their specific manifestations.
We may speak, for example, of “an elite riddled with corruption and nepotism” that controls and governs China (Hannah Beech “Murder, Lies, Abuse Of Power And Other Crimes Of The Chinese Century” TIME Magazine 14 May 2012); or of official in New Mexico and Texas: ‘”This was just out-and-out corruption,” [Luna County Sheriff Raymond] Cobos said’ (Richard A. Serrano “Corruption flows freely along U.S.-Mexico border force along the Mexican border” Los Angeles Times 13 May 2012) of those supposedly interdicting – not facilitating! — international traffic of various sorts; or – coming full circle from Agamemnon [see below] — of the situation in a currently imploding Greece where so many of its citizens “are indignant that so few high-level politicians have faced punishment for corruption scandals” (Rachel Donadio and Niki Kitsantonis “Corruption Case Hits Hard in a Tough Time for Greece” The New York Times 3 May 2012); or of pedophile priests, … .
Well, just Google corruption and you get something like “About 175,000,000 results (0.14 seconds)”. Thus, the facts in the matter are, it would seem, categorically beyond dispute.
Corruption as a phenomenon interests me.
Like human deceit and deception, it is older than time.
Agamemnon was deep into it in Homer’s Iliad over three millennia ago and, indeed, his ugly behavior was the immediate motivation for an epic of a good 15,000 lines of beautiful dactylic hexameters. The serpent in the Garden was a skilled practitioner, seducing Eve, who seduced Adam – and we are, on one theory, all their descendants. Is it any wonder then that in that first transplant operation — of Adam’s rib into Eve – the anaesthetized (Genesis 2.21: ‘God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam’) donor’s corrupt DNA secured immortality in all of us ever since and has made us into the corrupt and “crooked timber of humanity” (Immanuel Kant [1724-1804]: Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden [‘From such crooked timber as that from which humans are made nothing straight can be carpentered together’] that we have become – and perhaps already were from the very beginning!
How many forms of corruption are there, exactly?
Let me count the ways …