Corruption: when maintaining integrity and character is too hard for someone

April 6, 2023 by Joshua
in Freedom, Leadership

I tend to think of people becoming corrupt under the influence of someone intentionally corrupting them. I tend to think of the corrupter as a mustache-twirling, self-interested person offering bribes or using other tools.

I also often talk about how sustainability advocates undermine themselves by depending so much on polluting, depleting activities like flying, ordering takeout, and so on. I point out that it’s hard to impossible to lead people without integrity, character, trust, and living by your values. If you depend on polluting, depleting activities, you’ll feel internal conflict in trying to end pollution and depletion. In short:

You can’t end the global heroin trade if you’re worried about your own supply.

I see a lot of people who say they want to increase sustainability worried about their own supply undermining their stated goals.

It shows you don’t need another person to corrupt you. You can be corrupted by your desires for things you want for yourself that conflict with society’s interests, such as clean air, land, water, and food. Here are a couple definitions of corruption followed by an example.


1 a: to change from good to bad in morals, manners, or actions

Officials were corrupted by greed.

was accused of corrupting the youth

1 b: to degrade with unsound principles or moral values

Some fear the merger will corrupt the competitive marketplace.


Corruption is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offense which is undertaken by a person or an organization which is entrusted in a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s personal gain.

[EDIT: A mustache-twirling example

The morning after posting this post and using the Willow Project as an example, I found Propublica’s story, Clarence Thomas Secretly Accepted Luxury Trips From GOP Donor. That story begins:

In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Sadly, there’s plenty of corruption around. Now back to the post as I wrote it before finding the Clarence Thomas story.]

An example: the Willow Project

I didn’t start writing this post to talk about the Willow Project, but it looks like it fits the bill. It feels like Biden is acting against values he probably to some extent genuinely believes in. I don’t mean for this example and its scale to distract from corruption permeating sustainability—corruption not by mustache-twirling people with ill intent but emerging in people sacrificing their integrity and character in the face of craving and self-interest.

I don’t know how someone who values and campaigned on promising to maintain Earth’s ability to sustain life could have approved the Willow Project. It looks like corruption.

Read this and weep:

The drilling project would take place inside the petroleum reserve, which is located about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The reserve, which has no roads, is the country’s largest single expanse of pristine land.

The restrictions, however, are unlikely to offset concerns that the $8 billion Willow project, led by oil giant ConocoPhillips, will have the potential to produce more than 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years.

Burning all that oil could release nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Looks and smells like corruption.

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1 response to “Corruption: when maintaining integrity and character is too hard for someone

  1. Pingback: This week’s selected media: May 7, 2023 » Joshua Spodek

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