There is nothing inherently noble or respectable about institutions. Institutions become what their political masters want them to be.
All institutions all over the world and across all spectrum are vulnerable to political interference. This political interference can influence their overall direction and day-to-day functioning.
Respect for government is at an all-time low. A Gallup poll shows that majority don’t trust their institutions. Supreme Court(40% trust it ‘Great deal/Quite a lot’); US Congress(13%); Public schools(40%); Police(48%); Criminal Justice System(24%);
If institutions are perceived as benevolent to a certain section of the people, then they will support it. Those who perceive it as malevolent will want to tear it down.
Benevolent or malevolent
Institutions can become benevolent or malevolent overnight.
As an example, the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) “regulation scaled back the types of wastewater treatment technologies that utilities must install to protect rivers and other waterways. It also pushed back compliance dates and exempted some power plants from taking any action at all.”
There is nothing inherently noble or respectable about institutions like the EPA. They do noble and respectable work if they are allowed to. They can also be used to legitimize destruction of our environment. Those people, especially the minorities, who are disproportionately affected by pollution and environmental degradation don’t see anything inherently noble or respectable in the EPA.
It is a global issue. “The draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 proposed by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change dilutes further the current EIA Notification 2006. Proposed changes in the name of “Ease of doing business” relax further and totally overhaul the environmental clearance system to benefit large corporations and mining MNCs”: Dr. Soma Marla, Diluted Indian Environmental laws on platter for Corporates.
There is nothing inherently evil about institutions either. Other institutions and government bodies such as NASA in USA and DRDO in India have been allowed to do their work. They continue to deserve respect and support of everyone.
Political interference and funding
Institutions are unable to resist political interference as the organization structure of most institutions leaves them open to political interference. Institutions tend to over-state their achievements, over-spend their budgets, and get addicted to increasing public funding. This reliance on ever-increasing public funds makes institutions suspectable to political interference.
Institutions like to create perception of independence and autonomy(dejure), but they may not be independent in practice(defacto).
Institutions are also liable to become corrupted over time. “After considerable experience with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds. A permanent fund carries in itself the seed of the moral fall of the institution. A public institution means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds, of the public.”
“Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it” – Mahatma Gandhi, Autobiography, My Experiments with Truth.
People want noble and benevolent institutions. Most people don’t have the time or mindset or training or inclination to deeply explore complex issues that institutions deal with. Division of labor is the basis of organized society. We rely on each other. We want to trust each other to do good.
Differential treatment of minorities by the police has created a Social Justice crisis in USA. “Distrust of police – especially after publicized incidents of police brutality – often leads to minority communities refusing to call police for help, further endangering those neighborhoods.”
This is how different people can have completely different views of institutions.
Call to action
Ensuring genuine autonomy and freedom from political interference in institutions is a necessary first step. It is also a double-edged sword as institutions can go rogue.
Any model for institutions will only be as good as the people running it. We need virtuous people in positions of power instead of fossilized self-serving bureaucrats that run most institutions. This is the key to just and effective institutions.
There is nothing inherently noble or respectable about institutions. We should not have blind faith in them even if they seem to benefit us instead of benefiting all. Tides change fast and someone else could be beneficiary instead of us.
We should also not expect respect for institutions from those who have been wronged by them.
Avneet Singh, Founder, Voice of Mankind
Voice of Mankind helps people Make Sense of this Changing World.