Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Condoning, Accepting, Legitimizing and Institutionalizing

I was talking to someone recently about these terms and I thought I need to put it in writing for myself (and few others out there). I believe these are different stages in our behaviors when it comes to rationalizing certain ills of our society:

Condoning it: When we condone certain ills and wrongs in isolated incidents, we face the danger of eventually accepting it and then legitimizing it on broader context. I will explain this using one such evil in contemporary India- corruption. Most times we start by condoning the acts of corruption. We hear that it happened between party X and party Y, completely unrelated to us. We are apathetic to such incidents and do not take necessary action because it does not concern us. By being nonchalant about it or apathetic about it, we start condoning it. When the culprit is not punished or warned, he goes about doing it again and soon it starts spreading, and before we realize, that evil is at your doorstep knocking on your door. Recently, I was standing in a line at a cinema hall, and one burly guy just skipped the line and went to the ticket booth to buy tickets. No one protested. I was the only one who asked the guy to stand in line. He did not heed my words. After he bought the tickets, he started calling me names- very strong abuses. Later, it dawned upon me why no one else seem to be bothered with this. Why did they just accept it? And also, why didn't anyone come forward to defend me or support me when that guy was calling out names? I am quite sure each of them was not comfortable with the whole proceedings, but I guess, they didn't want to intervene or get involved in other's affairs. Though we feel guilty, we prefer not to act. The same applies to all of us when we see petty crimes, traffic law infringements, bad treatment of other people by bullies, small acts of bribery, etc. We think it does not involve us and hence we do not have to intervene. By not protesting such incidents and by not supporting the victims of such small violations, we condone such actions.

Accepting it: When many acts of such condoning add up, we start accepting the ills and evils without qualms or remorse. First, we hear about it- that party X paid bribe to party Y. We give a small rationale as to why party X might have paid that bribe. We reason that it is OK in some cases. Now, we start accepting it is as the 'way of life'. If I need to put my kid to a school, and I had to bribe my way through, I reason it was quite OK, since it was for the greater and grander cause of 'doing it for my kid's future'. If I bribed my way through a traffic law infringement, I reason, that it was quite OK since I saved lot of time, or explain away that the cops don't get paid much. When many such acts of condoning happen, that same evil which was out there eventually knocks your door, and you open the door to invite it into your home. By now, you have toyed with the idea too long, and have seen it in action too long to no longer find it unfamiliar. You have now started to accept it as a way of life. Though there is a sense of little guilt once in a while, you still think this is the only way to go about it- you reason have learnt the pragmatic and a practical way to solve things.

Legitimizing it: This the next stage. We not only accept it in our lives, we actually legitimize it by showering words of praise to those who actually committ those acts. A father of a daughter chooses a son-in-law though he is corrupt because he earns more. The father goes onto tell people proudly that his son-in-law is 'accomplished and successful'. When a rich and corrupt officer gets his home raided by IT department, the people around him envy him for his riches. That person becomes popular and gets invited into the elite circles. When a corrupt officer get promoted by bribing the politicians, we think he is 'highly successful' officer. When a rich industrialist does arm-twisting and bribing tactics to change policy of the country in his favor, we say that he is very 'aggressive, ambitious and very successful' industrialist. For those who could not resort to such tactics, 'too bad' for them. We legitimize these actions as 'survival of the fittest'. The ones who bribe, bully, violate, criminalize, etc, are survivors. Those who didn't learn these tools and skills will therefore be weeded out as a consequence of 'natural selection'. By using such words of acceptance, such sentences of praise, such rational and reason, we legitimize these acts. Now, there is no sense of guilt. If there is any feeling it is the feeling of inferiority in those who could not equip themselves with these 'survival skills' and the feeling of superiority in those who could weild these skills at the appropriate time and manner overcoming many legitimate obstacles. A rich father who could bribe his son into a job or academic institution is proud to know that he 'contributed' towards his kid's bright future by lending a helping hand using his accomplishments, which include money and influence. Those who couldn't, 'too bad' for them that they didn't become rich to bribe or could not influence.

Institutionalizing it: This the grand and final stage. When we legitimize such acts locally, over a period of time, it becomes all-pervading; it seeps into all our institutions, our psyche, to dominate our lives, our day-to-day living, our politics, our academic and professional lives, our society and its basic amenities. That's when we start producing kids who becomes corrupt judges and lawyers, corrupt officers and bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and leaders, corrupt businessmen and industrialists, corrupt teachers and professors, corrupt workers and labor, etc. That's when the whole society completely acknowledges that world is corrupt, and that it is stupid, unnatural, and completely unrealistic for one to be non-corrupt. Though we hear of politicans taking bribes, we don't go out on streets to protest. This is when law-breakers, such as those shop keepers in New Delhi now, go on to protest to fight for 'what they consider as their right', when in fact they are defending an illegal act. Wwe bribe the terrorists to secure our daughters and bribe our way to Indian cricket team. This is when we openly discuss the price for the positions of Vice-Chancellor of a university, MRO in a district, a gazetted officer in a town, and even a berth in Indian Olympic team. Everyone and everything has a price. Anything, including integrity can be bought. The society decides the allowable bribe amount as 'market price'. When someone pays the 'market price', nobody feels quesy or guilty about it. But if someone asks for more than this agreed 'market price', then you feel that other person has cheated you or extorted you of more money. This is when getting a driver's license has a 'fee', getting passport has a 'fee', and every 'file-moving' has a 'fee'. These figures are not published anywhere, but everyone knows about it. It has now become institutionalized.

The examples I gave are for corruption, but these stages of condoning, accepting, legitimizing and institutionalizing are applicable to any other force or system. It can be applied to acts of violence against certain sections of people, acts of terrorism used for fighting for freedoms, degeneration in an organization and its behavior, degrading primary and school education, etc.

I guess we are all contributing towards this by first condoning certain illegal and unethical actions that we see in our daily life, and then by accepting them and practising them to get out of personal tough situations, and then by legitimizing it as a success-stories, and then institutionalizing it to make it a part of our culture, tradition, government and our way of life. I recently met an elderly man heading a company in Bangalore who said that is the duty of the miniscule young generation to uphold the ethical and legal values. If this minority doesn't stand up and fight every action, then our future is at peril.


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