The original, in Romanian and by Mircea Popescu, can be found here.i Update : you can also see a few improvements to my primitive translations in the comments section, and by the original author no less !
Let’s say you’re at the Post Office or some other office of the far-too-large state, waiting in line like you would at any other such office. Now, into the room enters a rather old man desperately leaning on his crutches, so you decide to be a compassionate sort of fellow by giving him your spot in line.
It is. It’s an act of corruption by the law that controls the situation in which you find yourself in while standing in line, and by the method used to solve the problem in turn. That’s it. You’ve circumvented the law, and committed an act of corruption.
Starting from there, we go next to the car. You notice a car driving along the road too closely to the parked cars when the moving car hits the mirror of one of the parked cars, shattering the passenger-side mirror of the unoccupied vehicle at the side of the road. Did you take down the license plate number of the offending vehicle and drop off a note on the window of the damaged vehicle, including your contact info for convenience ? No ?ii
It is. The failure of the communists to denounce this incriminating act was the basis of a purely Hegelian legal philosophy (making it fascist ?) and such toleration of a crime is quite clearly an immoral act that calls into question the edifice of order itself. And, by the way, this would be a crime of concealment even today. For example, what happens if you loan a colleague a cool smartphone that happens to be stolen and will implicate them in its theft ? Guess ?
Corruption is, in short, a fundamental human behaviour, and it’s also currently the smallest and most organic structure of public order. Corruption is when you don’t go to the bathroom because you don’t want disturb other viewers in passing before the end of the movie. Corruption is when you’re sad alone at home alone month after month. Corruption is all you ever do whenever you’re with people. As this is after all the fundamental essence of humanity : the ability to change laws according to the circumstances.
Ah, you say, but the old man is an invalid, imprudent driver, and my own laziness or sexual compulsion will not pay me for helping him. Of course not, which means of course yes. I mean, the payment does not have to involve the exchange of money, “pay” means the exchange of something of value, it can involve bags of gold or bags of potatoes or cans of gasoline, it’s hardly required that the transaction be conducted in cash. From the moment you make it clear that you’ll help him, you derive some advantage, whatever hypocrisy you invest into a doomed attempt that was destined to fail from the beginning to present the whole thing as a conflict between the law and your sense of duty, sense of style, or other senses.
Ah, you say, but not as along as the offense if not paid with money. Such fetishism leads to the immediate adaptation of corruption : corruption in the American sense of the term, in the Greco-Roman period, meant pecunia non olet.iii Americans have their own meaning of corruption : the University will hire a teacher and Mr. Jones will support the University with funds to pay for the teacher, and the little Joneses kids receive the appropriate grades. He, alas, will not just start smoking out and persecuting the little Joneses, for the GreatGalacticMegaDirectorRectorDean wants to know how he plans to try to balance the budget that is not otherwise 100% sorted out. They… haven’t received any money from the Joneses, nor from the friends of the Joneses. Since you arrived at the University. Problem ?
Yes, but honest prostitution doesn’t make you shabby, with time, you’ll be a hypocritical and generous prostitute with a five-year plan. Then the divorce comes, the assets are divided, the poor man is working for hard cash in November and is now a member of the working poor just trying to remain in his house. Ah, “They’re not looking for guys with money, just don’t go to the shopping mall…”,
Yes, it’s true that corruption is universal and perpetual. Yes, it’s true that each one of us chooses his own dividing lines on that continuum. But still : no one will ever be able to draw lines on a continuum other than this one.iv Convention can receive a wider or a narrow social acceptance, possibly even becoming encoded in law. Convention that can manifest some historical stability, such as everyone in all time and all places agreeing that the trial judge who puts himself up for auction has crossed the line.
Convention is that which is and remains a convention, and so we’ll never be able to remove corruption, it’s a reality. There’s no other way.
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- You may also be interested in my two previous attempts at translating Romanian are : How to become a good poker player and Jooz and stereotypes. I’ll let my betters decide if I’m improving in this endeavour.↩
- There are, of course, many other examples that I can readily come up with. Did your friend take you out for dinner, enjoy three or four cocktails with your meal, and then drive you home ? I hate to break it to you, but they’re blowing over 0.05 or 0.08 or whatever the legal blood alcohol concentration for operating a motor vehicle is where you live. Unless, I suppose, it just so happens that your friend is 240 lbs+ and those cocktails were all singles. Then… maybe. But more likely than not…CORRUPTION !↩
- Ascribed to Roman emperor Vespasian (reigned 69 – 79 AD), the latin saying means “money doesn’t stink.”↩
- In much the same way that you find Mengele’s medical experiments on twins to be “unethical,” his work is still on the spectrum of ethical medical behaviour. It couldn’t be otherwise. No matter how distasteful you or I may find it today, convention determines what’s acceptable at the time. The convention of other times and other places gives contrast, but cannot provide context.↩