It bugs me when I hear the criticism of politicians: “They’re all corrupt.” Not just because it isn’t true. Politicians are no more corrupt than the general population. They are arguably less corrupt, given all the public scrutiny they face.
“They’re all corrupt” is an easy simplification. Generalizations are wrong because there are always exceptions. Even if most politicians were corrupt, one exception would make the statement false.
“They’re all corrupt” is a blanket condemnation of an entire group. “All Indians are lazy” would not be acceptable because a whole group of people are tarred with one brush.
And more subtly, “They’re all corrupt,” pretends to criticize what the speaker actually excuses. Rebecca Solnit puts it this way: “The dismissive ‘it’s all corrupt’ line of reasoning pretends to excoriate what it ultimately excuses (Harper’s, May 2016).”
If we say that all politicians are corrupt, then gives them an excuse to be corrupt. It may even encourage corruption because they want to fit into the norm. If “boys will be boys,” then it’s perfectly normal for them to pummel their little sisters and torture animals.
One generalization I try to resist is: “Corporations are evil.” While corporations are primarily concerned with their own interests, as are we all, they are not necessarily evil. A corporation is defined as “a company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law.” Corporations, such as the CBC, can both perform a public good and serve their own interests.
If politicians are corrupt and corporations are evil, we become powerless in the face of widespread corruption and evil. “If corruption is evenly distributed and ubiquitous, then there is no adequate response –or, rather no response is required,” says Solnit.
Bill McKibben wrote about revelations that Exxon knew about climate change as early as the 1970’s. “A few observers, especially on the professionally jaded left, have treated the story as old news –as something that even if we didn’t know, we knew. ‘Of course they lied,’ someone told me. That cynicism, however, serves as the most effective cover for Exxon.”
“GMOs are toxic” is a generalization I’ve written about before in my column “Is Monsanto Evil? (May 27, 2015).” Genetically modified organisms are scientific products, like electricity, that have no intentions. People can use science for good or evil but products are just inanimate things. They only way to find out whether inanimate things are good or evil is on a case-by-case basis. If we assume that all GMOs are toxic, then development of drought-resistant crops will not occur and millions could starve to death as climate change expands desertification.
At the risk of committing my own sin of generalization: cynicism is paralyzing. If politicians are corrupt, corporations are evil, and GMOs are toxic, then vast resources become a wasteland and we are powerless.