̈Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth. ̈ —Archimedes A pre–proposal.
It is a pre–proposal because I assume that before it becomes a proposal (if it does) a number of people will review it, reformulate it, add to it and subtract from it
Objectives entre nous
—to secure funding for dialogue research and action that should be done anyway,
taking advantage of the salience of corruption as a public issue, especially in South
Africa and Mexico
—to advance the necessary new economy, in ways that are broadly supported and unlikely to raise strong opposition
—to demonstrate that it is possible to raise the level of moral reasoning and
conduct on a massive scale
—to shift the hegemonic ethic away from excessive individualism and toward
more realist, feminist, caring, and communitarian ethics (mostly already found in
existing counter–cultures, and favoured by the hard–wiring of the human body)
—contribute to the structural liberation of humanity, by which I mean liberation
from the physical necessity of living under the constraints of one regime of accumulation or another
—contribute to resolving the fiscal crisis of the state, most obviously by reducing
losses due to corruption, less obviously by midwifing the birth of ethics that prescribe sharing the surplus, social ownership of natural and intellectual resources, and indeed reconsidering hegemonic (Roman) concepts of what “ownership” means
—contribute to moving restitution (justice), dignity (non–humiliation) and human
rights from ideals to realities
—contribute to synthesizing the best of modern western ethics (e.g. the best of
Kant) and the best of traditional ethics (e.g. the best of ubuntu) while diminishing
stereotypes that denigrate both partisans of modernity and partisans of traditional
—to do all of the above (and also, as it may turn out, to fail regarding some or all
of the above) in a ways that are well documented, assessed, measured and connected
intellectually to current science and philosophy
—others may add or subtract. The general idea is that “corruption” is a point of entry for facilitating many necessary conversations. All of this is entre nous because other discourses may be required to be understood and accepted by other interlocutors. Given these enormous objectives, it might be reasonable to pursue a pilot project that makes a significant contribution to some of them and/or evaluate some projects
other people are already doing. In any case, having enormous objectives is called for
because if humanity does not solve its principal problems, any number of small wins will go down with the sinking ship, so to speak, or, to vary the metaphor copying Jared Diamond, disappear in a general collapse.
As a general rule, the theoretical perspectives will be those of the people doing the
project, and to some extent those of others outside it whose views influence those doing it.
Sharlene ́s theory of social change. When people see the right thing they tend to
do the right thing.
Simone Weil made a similar point, or perhaps the same point in different words.
In The Iliad or the Poem of Force she wrote that the warriors ̈acted to prove they
were who they said they were. ̈ I would generalize that when people take the risk
of revealing something about themselves when discussing moral issues with
reasonably cohesive groups, they tend to present a good image of themselves,
which later they tend to act up to.
Gavin’s Organization Workshop methodology. I have been asking myself, ̈In all
of these conversations where does the action come in? Where is the self–
organizing large group? Where is the common pool of resources?
My suggested answer is that the conversations not be ready–made with a set
format. Instead there might be invitations to groups in different settings to
organize their own Corruption Dialogues, perhaps with a video showing how
someone else did it, and the availability of resources they can use to do it. I
remember that de Morais first got the idea for the OW from a self–organizing
group that had to run the details of a clandestine seminar on labour law in
northeast Brazil in the 1960s. In other words, the dialogues themselves could
be an occasion for action to form thinking. Also, some of the dialogues could be
in work settings where people have practical issues to talk about. Judging by
Moral Eyes and other evidence, it is not hard to get people to talk about
corruption, but it may be hard to overcome people ́s discouragement, their
feeling that there is nothing they can do.
One approach might be to define the dialogues as action–oriented. The
conversations should conclude with action–steps. Remember that ̈corruption ̈ is
not functioning here as a word naming a single narrowly defined issue, but as a
point of entry for many necessary conversations.
A model could be the Cuban conversations about the economy. The
government of Cuba organized conversations in every neighbourhood in every
corner of the island asking for citizen suggestions on how to improve the
Anye and I will be keeping issues of epistemology and ontology on the agenda.
I will also be repeating my three prong simple formula for moral education:
perspective–taking, participation and empathy, and when I feel I can suggesting
prayers and ceremonies.
I do not dare try to say something in a few words about the thinking of other
people likely to be involved. I have probably misrepresented somebody already.
Whatever their point of view is, it will become part of the project (if there is to be a
project, or several projects) if they join it.
I am suggesting taking a look at Evelin Linder’s inside–outside theory. On her
view and other similar views, the challenge of our times is to bring the hard–wired
loyalty to kin up to the level of universal human rights. We need methodologies
to meet that challenge.
Kohlberg found that discussing moral dilemmas, associating with people half a
stage higher and (toward the end of his life) the moral atmospheres of
institutions, and a few other things could bring up the level of moral reasoning.
Not quickly: he did not expect measurable results in less than a year and a half.
His highest level subjects attained an ethic of universal human rights. However,
that does not help us much because few subjects reached his highest level (and
those who did were accused by Carol Gilligan of having an ethic with a male
I find a notion of how to go about promoting an ethic of universal rights on a large
scale in Mikhail Bakhtin (an author referenced by Adam). No doubt many others
have had similar thoughts. I draw a general principle from passages like the
following. The general principle is that people who come to feel acknowledged
and appreciated as persons (there’s that word again—a central one for Sharlene
among others) may be more open to think everyone else is a person too, in a
strong sense of that word.
“What does an affirmed context of values mean? It means the totality of values
which are valuable not for one or another individual and in one or another
historical period, but for all historical mankind. But I, the unique I, must assume a
particular emotional–volitional attitude toward all historical mankind. I must affirm
it as really valuable for me, and when I do so everything valued by historical
mankind will be valuable for me as well. What does it mean to assert that
historical mankind recognizes in its history or in its culture certain things as
values? It is an assertion of an empty possibility of content. No more. Or what
concern is it to me that there is an a Being for whom b is valuable? It is an
entirely different thing when I participate uniquely in once–occurent being in an
emotional–volitional affirmed manner. Insofar as I affirm my own unique place in
the unitary Being of historical mankind, insofar as I am its non–alibi, i.e. stand in
an emotional–volitional relationship to it, I assume an emotional–volitional position
with respect to the values it recognizes….they are brought into correlation with a
unique participant and begin to glow with the light of actual value. ̈1
This is perhaps a way to imply what many others say: people need to be
affirmed, etc. The I has to be an I–in–emotionally–affirming–human–relationships –
ideally an the level of childhood memories but at least in some way at the level of
the generalized other— to be the kind of I who can get passionate about the rights
of prisoners being tortured in prisons somewhere on another continent.
The question whether buying into universal human rights means we have to give
up our identity is sure to spark a lot of discussion –but that is what we want, to
So action–oriented corruption dialogues would turn out to be what Linda Hartling
calls dignilogues, designed to affirm each participant.
Gert is somebody who knows all about this stuff. He is a certified specialist in
the field ̈ of conversation studies. He knows about Evelin and Linda ́s work, and about
Indigenous Knowledge Systems (Catherine) and about quantitative research methods.
I think our research should be mainly qualitative, but partly quantitative, and in the latter
category mainly descriptive but partly inferential.
Affirming each participant implies that moral education like evangelization is a
labour–intensive line of work. It requires loving attention to each individual. That is
needed –according to my interpretation of Bakhtin et al— to build a culture where the
rights of all people are important for all other people. Or, to be slightly less ambitious, a
culture where caring reaches a critical mass so that accumulating ceases to be
hegemonic. But that is what we want too –more employment and volunteer
opportunities in a world where jobs are disappearing.
Which brings us back to the fiscal crisis of the state. We need more ways to pay
for more employment. It brings us back more generally to the principle of funding the
1 Mikhael Bakhtin (written in the 1920s, posthumously publish in Russian, English edition 1993) Toward a
Philosophy of the Act. Austin: University of Texas Press. P. 47 see also p. 53, p. 60.
post–work world by sharing the surplus. The solutions also include opportunities for
volunteering where people have an income but lack a meaningful way to spend their
Another group of thinkers who need to be included are the people already
working as anti–corruption specialists. Many of them (like me) are lawyers. Many are
accountants. Many work in civil society organizations. (I note that such organizations,
like Transparency International, often use a broad definition of corruption that include
calls for major structural economic reform –like defining as corruption tax evasion by
hiding money offshore, or by using bogus transfer prices where multinationals buy and
sell among their own subsidiaries at prices calculated to minimize taxes, or by keeping
money in sophisticated private trusts so that there is no public record of who owns it.)
They would have to be convinced that a moral education approach might usefully
complement what they are already doing.
Corruption as a door–opening concept
I have been treating corruption as important in itself, because whatever else one
tries to achieve it is quite likely to be frustrated by corruption. I have also been treating
it as a gateway concept that leads to almost every other issue.
The question arises whether, when using corruption to open a conversation,
̈corruption ̈ ̈ should be defined. Considering that the aim is to strengthen people’s
characters by encouraging them to identify with a normative discourse in front of a
reference group, and not to tell them what we think about corruption, one might begin
by asking people what they understand by corruption.
An experiment in point, and one that might help sell our participatory approach, is
a famous study by Alex Bavelas done in the 1940s. The object was to persuade
housewives to use odd cuts of meat like kidneys in view of the meat shortage during
World War II. One group got lectures and pictures explaining why they should cook odd
meats. Another group got a discussion exercise where they figured out the problem
and the solution among themselves. At the end of their respective sessions almost all
the housewives pledged to try novel substitutes for meat. Among the first group only
2% actually did, while among the second group 35% actually did. This sort of thing has
Another approach would be to start with a simple definition to avoid initial
confusion, but then not to use it to limit the conversation. We might define corruption as
̈Using public assets for private gain, ̈ and then later if somebody says pornography is
corruption, not object that pornography does not fit the definition.
I have been suggesting corruption as a good umbrella concept that can be taken
as an entry point to get conversations going (and therefore, normally, get conscience
strengthened) regarding any number of overlapping concerns. Now I would like to
illustrate this point with some quotations from Moral Eyes:
“The topic of corruption was raised by many participants, usually as a reason for
̈It is this corruption that has now affected almost every sector of the economy. It
has caused laziness in the ministry and every parastatal organization…. ̈ ̈ 53
“Most of the students linked ethno–political discrimination to widespread
Corruption is cited by some as an excuse to not do restitution. P. 103
Corruption is linked to tribalism. 38
But in the document attached (see attached) corruption is linked to neoliberalism.
Corruption is attributed to simple greed. 29 52
Corruption is blamed on colonial rule 49
Western education is said to have produced a corrupt elite 43–44
Successive military coups were associated with corrupt enrichment. 44
However, the blinding power of privilege 94 and blaming the government can be
seen not as corruption but rather as using other people ́s corruption as an excuse for
one ́s own irresponsibility.
Corruption, and bad citizenship generally, also tend in Moral Eyes to be
associated with selfishness and lack of concern with the common good. This tends to
confirm the view that the natural tendency of human beings is to associate ethics with a
pro–social caring attitude; more than with an ultra–liberal ethic like that of Robert Nozick
or common readings of Kant where the emphasis is on moral duties of respect for other
people ́s freedom and property.
A still different approach is taken the African Union – Economic Commission for
Africa report on Illicit Financial Flows out of Africa (easily found on Internet), written by a
commission chaired Thabo Mbkeki. There it is argued that the greatest corruption in
Africa is found not among Africans but among foreign firms that exploit Africa. Part of
the reason for saying this is that the amount of money stolen by transfer pricing is very
Corruption is a topic that easily lends itself to conversation, and it is one related to
many other issues, some of which may well be more important even though less salient.
Conclusion and Confession
My general conclusion is that it seems quite likely that if we could get
conversations going –generically similar to conversations about Kohlberg ́s moral
dilemmas in that they get people thinking collectively about normative issues over a
longish period of time— and especially if they were tied to practical actions, we could,
metaphorically speaking, move mountains. Further, corruption seems like a topic likely
both to attract funding and to get people talking.
My confession is that I do not have any really good ideas about how to persuade
busy people to take time regularly for conversations –not even if they are fun and
meaningful, and not even if they are sources of self–esteem and friendship. The best I
can think of now is to persuade organizations to make corruption conversations (or
some other moral ed conversations) compulsory for their members, and then make
them so rewarding that even though the participants would not come regularly if it were
strictly voluntary, they are glad to have them as an assignment. An exception would be
prisoners in jails, who in my experience are usually so bored that they will show up for
whatever is offered. I can imagine a number of other alternatives, but none I have
imagined so far seem sure–fire to me.