Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moral Workers in Corrupt Institutions

Some part of me has never gotten away from asking the kind of philosophical questions that used to keep groups of us up late at night in college, dissecting and analyzing.

Having deep conversations--how I miss it.

Lately, my favorite question has been:  Can a moral person work in a corrupt institution and remain moral?  More lately it's been:  How long can a moral person work in a corrupt institution and remain moral?  A few days ago, I saw a study about new legislators who arrive in Washington, D.C.  Most members of the House and Senate come to Congress for the right reasons.  Very few come looking to abuse the system.  Yet, in time, they find themselves changing due to the inexorable, corrupting pressure of the institution.

When I ask most people this question about moral workers in corrupt institutions, they stare at me blankly and try to change the subject.  When I asked a friend the first question, she said, "Well, that's very hard."

I said, "What if it's not hard?  What if we say it's hard because we don't want to wrestle with the implications of the question and the answer?  Because I suspect the answer is no, the moral person can't work in an immoral environment and remain moral."

She snapped something along the lines of needing her health insurance, and we moved to other topics.

Luckily, in the wisdom of my youth, I married a Philosophy major.  When I asked my spouse that question, he didn't hesitate.  We talked about working for change from the inside and remaining resistant to corruption.  It was a great conversation, the kind I so rarely have anymore.

He mention Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics.  I've been meaning to read that book.  Maybe now is the time. 

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