Saturday, September 24, 2011

Operationalizing corruption: Hypocrisies and paradoxes in the Indian landscape

In preparing for my talk in Denmark this coming week, I have been contempating on the corporate practices under neoliberal governance that epitomize corruption. These forms of corruption range from lying about specific actions and practices, to stealing the property of indigenous peoples and then patenting them, to stealing the lands of the poor under the name of development and urbanization, to using a wide variety of legal methods to silence the voices of the poor from policy and justice platforms. However, the beauty and effectiveness of neoliberalism lies precisely in its capacity of utilizing a variety of public relations tools to put forth a variety of labels and naming devices to hide the fundamentally corrupt and unethical nature of these practices.

In a piece titled "Public Relations as Knowledge Production under Neoliberalism," I put forth the argument that producing knowledge that is fundamentally untrue lies at the heart of this large-scale exercise of corruption. So when the seeds of the poor are stolen by pharmaceutical corporations and then patented under patent laws, the facade of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) serves as the face for the straight forward act of stealing.

TRIPS under neolioberalism therefore exists to steal, and even further, after the act of stealing, to fundamentally deny the poor in the global South their right to these indigenous forms of knowledge. Furthermore, the corporatization of the act of stealing under TRIPS makes it perimssible to do so, also removing the act from interrogations of the legal or ethical ramifications of stealing.

But corporations are not simply entities that exist outside of the people that inhabit them, develop policies, and carry out these policies. Corporate practices are products of strategies and tactics carried out by individuals who work in these corporations. Therefore, by extension, I argue that the people (the army of corporate executives, lawyers, scientists, ethnographers etc.) who are employed by these corporations and are responsible for carrying out these practices ought to be litigable. The consequences for the crookish acts of stealing ought not to only pertain to some invisible corporate body, but also ought to be extrapolated to the men and women who carry out these acts.

By that extension then, any discussion of corruption ought to move beyond the practice of pointing fingers at seemingly corrupt and uneducated politicians (which seems to be the majority of the thrust of this Lokpal movement; notice here too the elitist thrust) to fundamentally interrogating the corrupt corporate practices that have become rampant amidst middle class and upper middle class Indians. We need to interrogate the fundamentally corrupt nature of the many of the jobs we are employed in, and the very corruption of these jobs. Much of the money we make come through corrupt means.

We need to ask serious questions of ethics about the ramifications of the jobs we do, and the consequences of our corporatized decisions on the poor. Here, corruption is not simply the act of giving or taking bribes, it is much much more than that. It is the act of re-naming stealing under patenting, re-naming manipulation under corporate social responsibility (CSR), stealing people's money in the name of investment banking to pay our heavy bonuses and fat salaries, and so on and so forth. So, for my middle class Indian friends who are ever so animated about the Lokpal bill, you have to begin by thinking about the ways in which you lie, steal, and falsify as an everyday practice in your job. You have to begin by thinking about where does your big fat paycheck that affords you your comfortable lifestyle come from?

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