Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Corruption Culture, No One's Corrupt

In Brazil, there is an overwhelming mindset that corruption is rampant and ingrained in society all the way from the lowest government offices to include the DETRAN (DMV) up to the president. (And, uh, if you're not paying attention, Brazil's president is currently involved in an impeachment trial.) But - no one here is corrupt. It's everyone else, but it's not me. Brazilians often stupefy me with this "it's not me/my problem" attitude. And another blogger's post about issues in Brazil has me itching to get some things off my chest. I shared this story with Brazusa:
"Here’s a small story about Brazil that is a great example of “the Brazil problem.” My city paid some million reais to renovate the local lake. They dredged it, cleaned all the garbage, installed a new paved walking path and biking lane, new LED lampposts, re-stocked it with fish, new workout area, trash cans every 50 feet. Within a week of its reopening it was trashed again. The fish are gone – picked off by fishermen with 10 poles at a time (no exaggeration). Trashcans were burned and are now useless. Swings were stolen from the small playground. Garbage is absolutely everywhere. In the water, on the ground, everywhere. For a few weeks I would take my kids to walk around the lake with grocery store bags and pick up garbage. (Trying to set an example because the litter mentality is one of my biggest issues with Brazilians….) The reaction was always the same, “Wow, that’s really great that you’re taking care of the lake and helping to keep it nice. More people should do that.” Spoken in the same moment that the person throws a picole wrapper on the ground. “One, they may actually agree with your [criticism of Brazil as a foreigner], or two, they won’t give a flying fuck and continue with their life as scheduled.” Unfortunately my experience has been that life continues as normal whether they agree or disagree. It’s infuriating."
I'm not actually going to go into the long and engulfing discussion of corruption in Brazil. I want to talk instead about the attitude behind it with the analogy of the litter culture. The litter everywhere is a terrible eyesore and is a major factor in mosquito breeding, but it's not my responsibility to throw my garbage in a trash can. Hell, we have government workers who will sweep up the streets every couple of months, right? Now, I'm sure my high-and-mighty American education that included relentless chants of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!" plays a part in my abhorrence of watching garbage casually thrown on the ground, but I want to reach out and shake someone when I see this spectacle. I want to yell at them, "Don't you understand? You're a part of the problem! You can't depend on someone else cleaning your mess." It's not even a difficult problem to solve. 

But this attitude is so ingrained, innate, fixed into Brazilian culture, that it would take a massive elementary level educational movement to change. Brazil is incredibly beautiful. I mean it's ethereal and divine on levels you can't imagine. I have literally been moved to tears by its beauty. Brazil has the natural resources, population, scenery, and physical institutions* to become a powerhouse. But the corruption - and more importantly, as I'm hammering about, is the complacent "someone else" attitude. Corruption means the profits and taxes which should be reintroduced to the country to strengthen infrastructure, e.i. those physical institutions including schools and clinics but also the police force and transportation systems, are never reintroduced. Or at least, they are reintroduced at such a reduced rate that it's harmful (because as "1st world" countries continuously improve these systems, not improving is the same as falling behind). 

So when I become so infuriated at this attitude about littering, it's not merely because it's disgusting and unhealthy. It's because this nonchalant attitude about a simple, solvable issue illustrates how difficult it is to overturn the widespread Brazilian corruption. Brazilians can't be bothered to throw a candy wrapper in the garbage. How can they be bothered to unweave the corruption that keeps them poor and uneducated?

*By physical institutions, I mean that schools and clinics - at least in my city - are abundant in each neighborhood. But physical presence means little without the people and resources to effectively operate them.

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