"It is not power that corrupts but fear."
As I noted in my earlier post, David Neiwert has a very nice post about Frank Church and why Church is one of his heroes. I agree that Frank Church was a genuine American hero.
FDL started this discussion off by asking people to identify their heroes, because it is important for us on the left to clarify what we believe in and we can do this by talking about who are our heroes. This is a subject that I've thought about a lot as I aspire to be more like my heroes. (Although, I know I don't always meet the standards set by my heroes - but then I've been fortunate enough to not have to reach their standards of courage.)
One remarkable person who I admire is Aung San Suu Kyi. She demonstrates what real courage and real strength is and inspires others to show courage and strength. One speech that she gave connects fear and corruption intimately. As she says, corruption is a logical outcome of giving into fear.
It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption. Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.
She also shows how the rule of law is so essential in creating an environment that helps dispel fear and corruption.
The effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meting out impartial punishment to offenders. They also help to create a society in which people can fulfil the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices. Where there are no such laws, the burden of upholding the principles of justice and common decency falls on the ordinary people. It is the cumulative effect on their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote man's desire for harmony and justice while restraining the less desirable destructive traits in his nature.
As a nation, we've been seduced and consumed with fear since 9/11. It behooves us to find a way to stop being afraid and to live our lives with the quiet courage that Aung San Suu Kyi and her very brave followers demonstrate every day. This means recognizing our ethical responsibilities to others.
The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of peffection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man's vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.
This is our challenge - to be courageous and sane humans despite the fear and anger.
Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest today.