When we talk about loose words because our educational system is so different now than it was when our Great Founding Documents were written it brings to mind Alan Dershowitz. He is often referred to as professor torture for his advocacy of torture. The description is one that you’d expect to find of one in a James Bond novel and not of one on a Harvard campus.
Dershowitz wrote about people who facilitated “massive corruption” – “the Dukakises, Whites, McCormacks, Cardinal Laws, O’Sullivans, Welds, Moakleys and Silbers.” Dershowitz had no trouble stomping on the reputations of and denigrating all those people from Massachusetts and ones like them by using the plural after their names: Congressmen, governors, mayors, college presidents, U.S. attorneys, attorney generals, Catholic clergymen, and prosecutors. He sordidly implied that they enabled this evil thing to exist among us.
But when Dershowitz says “massive corruption” and links so many people to it do you have any idea what that means. Or perhaps he is impugning of all these people in an attempt at self-grandiosity suggesting he thinks of himself as our present day Diogenes walking the yards of Harvard in the daytime with his iPhone flashlight turned on looking under bushes for someone like himself.
The word corrupt is one word that spreads itself over an enormous canvas. It can be directed at entirely different situations. It can sink the truth and enable despots or thought manipulators into taking a benign situation and making it into something evil. With a word like corruption, the true meaning of the word cannot be understood without knowing the purpose of the speaker in making the utterance.
What are the motives and intent of a person in uttering such a word? Take Dershowitz, his animosity toward Billy Bulger is so well-known that even the young writers at Harvard Crimson noted it before letting him write one of his anti-Billy diatribes. When he paints with such a broad black brush in his feverish mind anyone who associated with Billy had to be corrupt. His type of thinking is carried on to this day by his disciples.
Take for instance Jeff Jacoby who was once accused of and suspended for “serious journalistic misconduct” by the Boston Globe who last year called upon people to shun Billy because his brother was Whitey. Imagine a guy accused of misconduct and sentenced calling for the shunning of someone who has never been accused of misconduct.
I went back to my old dictionary to get a definition of corrupt. I have a Webster Dictionary, Pictorial Edition, published in “Springfield, MA 1859” as a revision to the original dictionary published in 1828.
The word corrupt is defined as coming from the Latin word corruptus “to break” or “Literally, to break, separate or dissolve. 1. To change from a sound to a putrid or putrescent state ; to separate the component parts of a body, as by a natural process, which is accompanied by a fetid smell. 2. To vitiate or deprave ; to change from good to bad. Evil communications corrupt good manners 1 Cor. XV 3. To waste, spoil or consume . Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt. Matt. vi. 4. To defile or pollute. 5. To entice from good and allure to evil. 6. To pervert ; to break ; disobey, or make void. 7. To pervert ; or vitiate integrity ; to bribe ; as to corrupt a judge 8 To debase or render impure, by alterations or innovations. 9. To pervert, or falsify ; or infect with errors ; as to corrupt the sacred text. ”
Corruption is defined, for our purposes, as “4. Depravity ; wickedness ; perversion or deterioration of moral principles ; loss of purity or integrity. . . . 5. Debasement ; taint ; or tendency to a worse state. . . . 6. Impurity ; depravation ; debasement ; as, a corruption of the language. 7. Bribery. He obtained his suit by corruption.”
As you can see the words when defined covers a multitude of sins but carry the idea of something moving from a good state to one that is less so. Vague words produce different ideas in people based on their experiences. How then in writing or speaking does one use a word such as corrupt and expect a common understanding to result. When is a person or group of persons or an entity corrupt?