, June 16, 2024

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Trusting the Politician

  •   4 min reads
Trusting the Politician
Situated in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church is the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Veritá), a marble sculpture from the first century A.D. Legend has it that the mask is a lie detector. It bites the fingers off the hands of those who lie. /Photo by John Hughes from FreeImages

The politician is born with original sin, branded corrupt from day one.

Antemano guilty.

Anyone who desires to run for public office has to contend with the perception that a government post is tainted intrinsically. He can expect that his reputation will corrode and tarnish.

The culprit is government's Original Sin.

Governments (or governors), by default, have perceptions to fix. Administrations are born with original sin, branded corrupt from day one. Sociologists call it Implicit Prejudice, or bias that emerges from unconscious beliefs.

Call it unfair, yes, but accept it. It is the sum total of Generational Sins of previous public administrators. We accept the corruption because we pay them a pittance, (well, a pittance compared to what they make in private enterprise). We know corruption is prevalent even in first world countries. The assumption is cemented in the country’s archives every time a politician is caught with his hand in the till, which we know to be frequent, thanks to scandals like Janet Napoles’s lists, which some describe as a veritable roll call of public servants; and to the pronouncements of the COA; and when politicians admit so, (though they are no longer as unabashed as that senate president who complained about being investigated, saying, in exasperation, “what are we in power for?”)

Then: “An LP stalwart, Senate President Jose Avelino was infamously quoted as saying What are we in power for? The whole statement being: Why did you have to order an investigation Honorable Mr. President? If you cannot permit abuses, you must at least tolerate them. What are we in power for? We are not hypocrites. Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us.” Wikipedia
Now: Janet Lim-Napoles is believed to have masterminded the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) Scam. Her list of recipients include many notable names in politics. She was convicted of plunder.

“Most fair-minded people strive to judge others according to their merits, but our research shows how often people instead judge according to unconscious stereotypes and attitudes, or implicit prejudice. What makes implicit prejudice so common and persistent is that it is rooted in the fundamental mechanics of thought. Early on, we learn to associate things that commonly go together and expect them to inevitably coexist: thunder and rain, for instance, or gray hair and old age.”                              Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman, Dolly Chugh Harvard Business Review

Thunder and Rain, Politicians and Corruption

“But, of course, our associations only reflect approximations of the truth; they are rarely applicable to every encounter. Rain doesn’t always accompany thunder, and the young can also go gray. Nonetheless, because we automatically make such associations to help us organize our world, we grow to trust them, and they can blind us to those instances in which the associations are not accurate—when they don’t align with our expectations”.

In the same manner, there are "incorruptible politicians".

If the last line struck the reader as a laughable oxymoron, then the point is indeed made: implicit prejudice is stronger than one's ability to allow the existence of an incorruptible public servant.

Banaji, Bazerman and Chugh explain: "Because implicit prejudice arises from the ordinary and unconscious tendency to make associations, it is distinct from conscious forms of prejudice, such as overt racism or sexism. This distinction explains why people who are free from conscious prejudice may still harbor biases and act accordingly. Exposed to images that juxtapose black men and violence, portray women as sex objects, imply that the physically disabled are mentally weak and the poor are lazy, even the most consciously unbiased person is bound to make biased associations.”

How then is implicit prejudice eliminated?

How can public servants recover the stature and respect that they once enjoyed? Short of asking politicians to thrust their hands into a real 'Mouth of Truth', we could wait for the high-principled and the incorruptible and a thousand Vico Sottos and generations to repair and refurbish the reputation of public office. I suspect though that it can be done in less time.  After all, if the battlefield is in the mind, it is a war we can win.

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