Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ten Ancient Mistakes II

Continuing with our examination of the ancient versions of ten mistakes we look at:

#2 Corrupt Culture

In the modern form, it is summarized this way:
Organizations that mistreat employees and abuse customers are ripe for failure. Firms that base their philosophies on "win-lose" thinking, seeking to take advantage of relationships, can neither survive nor prosper. Such an approach generally begins with leadership that is arrogant and greedy. They in turn hire and promote mangers of the same attitude and behavior.
Two examples of this come to mind.

First, the annona was a Roman welfare institution. Taxes in the form of food were collected across the empire and distributed to the citizens of Rome. Roman citizens were entitled to a living provided by Roman subjects, but always found it insufficient for their wants. An immense amount of wealth was redistributed because of the annona. While Augustus initially hesitated to entrust such wealth to a single corruptible individual, he later did so by establishing the praefectus annonae. Under Tiberius, the praefectus annonae manipulated grain supplies and prices, almost completely ruining the grain merchants in Rome.

Apuleius (Metamorphoses 1.24-25) makes fun of the local curator of the annona, who runs into a friend in the marketplace, sees that he has a basket of fish, and immediately determines that his friend has been ripped off. He drags his friend, who was satisfied with the fish and the exchange, back to the merchant, berates the merchant and has the fish dumped out on the pavement and tramples them to pieces. So in the name of getting his friend better food, destroys the food that his friend has. The friend loses his fish and money in the bargain. The scene is played for ironic comedy but the corruption of the annona was well-known.

Second, over a millennium earlier (about 1500-1350 BC), in the town of Nuzi, just before its destruction, a series of indictments against the former mayor, Kushshiharpe, show just how corrupt the towns culture was. Graft was a way of life. Bribes were expected. One historian describes it this way:
Misappropriation of public funds, acceptance of bribes, aggravated acceptance of bribes ("aggravated" because the quid pro quo was never tendered), extortion, theft, aggravated theft (i.e., breaking and entering), kidnapping, abduction to rape, rape---all the usual crimes we associate with political corruption---are attested in these texts. (Maynard Paul Maidman, Nuzi Texts and Their Uses as Historical Evidence [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010], 7).
Of course, Kushshiharpe denied all the accusations. Lying was a way of life for a corrupt politician. Most intriguing is that this corruption was rife just before Nuzi was destroyed.