The shadow ‘institution’.

Influenced by the laws, regulation and institutional visions and missions we, the people and labour, are the shadow ‘institutions’. Without laws, people’s behaviour will run amok; without regulations, people’s actions will be nonchalant; without the institutional visions and missions, the labour will be directionless. In the same way that these laws, regulations, vision and missions had illuminated lives, every one of us becomes its ‘shadows’ when we adopt the values and meanings of them without actually being the institutions. We are indirectly part of the institutions when we observed the values and meanings and are aware of them. We carried out these values and meanings when we are directly working in these institutions that carry out their duties as best as we can in the values and meanings of these observances. We are the ‘shadows’ because as long as they shine, we are affected by their illuminations. We are the shadow ‘institutions’ because the values and meanings will outlive us and had existed before us.

We are the shadow ‘institution’ only when the institutions in society perform their functions with dignity and integrity. When they no longer do so with dignity and integrity, the shadow ‘institution’ may take another form and then becoming it materially, if not changing those that failed in doing so. For the free-spirited, they may be influenced by another set of ideals that they deem fit but when it comes to the rule of law, they would probably agree that taking lives or belongings that do not own are not in line with their set of ideals. For others who are benighted, all they need to do is to make some effort to get acquainted with the rules and laws (perhaps also visions and missions) so that they can at least protect themselves or advice others. The craven when they know of any mis-doings can always try the route of whistle blowing if they feel that their lives are more important than innocent ones. The craven would be innocent themselves but if any wrong-doings happened to them, their inhibitions might stop them from finding a fair solution but their ‘blindness’ will reach a point – either they have a mental break-down or they gather enough courage to fight for themselves. Oppression can be a double-edge sword but ignorance is totally stupid.

Yesterday I had my ‘payback’ when I visited MOM for my appeal for reinstatement to my previous employment. I did not get re-instated but I got my notice salary after I presented my case to MOM. The matter was partly resolved as far as my knowledge goes – under the illumination of the Employment Act, I can only get a consolation prize from the contractual agreement between me and my employer. I was not able to get re-instated, much to my disappointment. The company I worked for has good potential to be what I considered as ethical employer. It is the management that has biased cultural inclination and inhibitions that I wish the end user will not be subjected and succumbed to. Furthermore, the contract agreement between my employer and I  limits my fight for reinstatement. The complication lies in the contractual agreement between my employer and my employer’s client as well as my employer’s client client. However, under the illuminations of the institution (in this case, MOM) the prospective employers on my case had their warnings – for better or worse. In the cultural landscape that is Singapore, it is better because things are kept under wraps in order to be manageable by the illumination of the PAP government. It can be bad, or become worse, when such ‘wraps’ are not being educated to the public and employers get bolder and nastier to get away with anything that they do. If faith is needed in any spiritual discipline, faith is also needed in the institutional system that builds a flourishing nation and people. Apart from faith, we still need the trust, convictions and work to follow through the challenges ahead of all these institutions for the welfare and betterment of the country.

In any modern society of the 21st century, there are always the different social classes. These social classes are not the same as the ancient Romans. We are not separated by the law in the social landscape. Our social classes are defined by the salary we earned. The laws and jurisdictions are defined by the democratic process. If some upper classes decided that they are above the law, they certainly can do whatever they want. However they are not the law because they cannot write the laws and passed down to the people for them to abide. They can be above the law as long as people remain ignorant, foolish and cowardice but they certainly are NOT the law. With regard to this, my appeal for reinstatement to my previous employment was a disappointment because it was not granted – the fight was fought on a separate ground and arena. That was how my faith comes into the governing system that is Singapore and I have my reservations about it.

Let’s take the gladiator fights of ancient Rome as an analogy to the labour market. The labour market is a free market. Some get hired and fired while others resigned and moved on for greener pastures. We offer our services in exchange for a salary. The competition for jobs is akin to the fights of the gladiators. The gladiator arena is the labour market and the audiences are the employers. The emperor will be the government because the government also competes with the employers for talents to run the efficient judiciary system. After we are employed, some unethical employers treat their employees like slaves when slavery has been abolished and made illegal in the present day. Of course there are willing ‘slaves’ in that they would rather subject themselves to the same ‘ethics’ that their employers have. Who is to blame them when the present day is so advanced that without wealth, one is perceived to be a ‘slave’ too?

There are different types of fights in the gladiator arena. After getting a job we also fought for our rice bowl. It is a life and death matter because without a job, we are not able to live and play. It is similar to the gladiators when they fight themselves to death in the Roman Colosseum. With jobs, when the fight isn’t fair, we are able to make our claims against our employers. That was what I did with my previous employer. These days, the fights are almost like a war game, there are generals (managers) and different squadrons of soldiers (infantry, armour, jet fighters, navy, etc) in a company (human resource department, operations department, IT department, finance departments, etc). As a lone soldier, I can only fight for my own rights without the backings of any allies because this ‘war’ of mine has a complicated background dating back to 2010, or even before. Therefore, I am only a  grain of sand in this world and can only do so much for myself as well as to share with others about my life journey. One thing I always keep in mind is that any soldier or gladiator who fought with dignity, pride and courage will always have his honour or reward. I did not win the war against the big giants (employer) but I fought for my life (job) and got a little loot (reward) from it.

I am contented and hence is sharing the story of being the shadow ‘institution’. Moving forward I don’t think being a shadow warrior has much to gain in the long run and perhaps I would slowly, and surely, trained myself to be a soldier of love.

Life’s challenges are aplenty; there are always battles for us to overcome (winning or losing) but as long as we learn from them and keep going, the ‘war’ that is life itself is always for us to take – to live, to work and to play.


Part 1: Attributing the Virtue of Patience to the Virtue of Willpower: In praise of patience | Edmund Wong –


Part 1: Attributing the Virtue of Patience to the Virtue of Willpower: In praise of patience | Edmund Wong –

Patience is a good trait to have for good things come to those who wait.


To be or not to be…corrupt.


Corruption has always been a disease plaguing humanity and it is more so today, as can be seen in the related articles at the bottom of this blog. In a poll of public opinion done by Transparency International (TI), more than one in two people think corruption has worsened over the last two years. TI’s annual Global Corruption Barometer found 27% of respondents said they had paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions in the last year.


In the ancient past, in the Greek story of 300, it was Ephialtes of Trachis and his corrupted mind that made him pledged his services to King Xerxes of Persia. In the process, he betrayed Leonidas, King of Sparta, in exchange for land, wealth, women and a uniform – a Persian uniform for that matter. In exposing to King Xerxes the hidden goat path behind Leonidas’ brave warriors, he allowed Xerxes’ immortals to outnumbered Leonidas and his men in the battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas and all of the 300 brave Spartan warriors fought to their last breath in the name of Spartan honour and courage.

Corruption is a disease. Corruption hinders justice. Corruption seems timeless. Corruption is prevalent indeed.

Is corruption a function of human nature or a function of systems of ideologies, in particular, a function of institutional system (political, corporations or religious)? I shall examine corruption in this manner of functional institutional systems.

Suppose a function is defined as f(x). A function f(x) receives an input and produces an output, y.

In the case of Ephialtes of Trachis, a certain input (i.e. land, wealth, women and a uniform) produces an output (his pledge of allegiance to King Xerxes of Persia). We have just defined Ephialtes of Trachis to be a function, f(x), with an output that is clearly known as corruption. Relatively speaking, the input of land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform by Xerxes produces a desired output, to crush Leonidas’ army and conquer the city of Sparta, Ephialtes being the function f(x), and x being land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform to produce the desired output of y (y being corruption). As we know, Ephialtes was a Greek (a human) and had out of his own free will, pledge allegiance to King Xerxes. This function can be seen in the following expression,

f(x) = Ephialtes (land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform) = y = corruption.

Next, if we now expressed the function g(x) to be a nation, and x as the political party, or forms of government (autocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny and communism), what do we get?

If g(x) is a nation, what will be the value of x to produce an output of y, where y = corruption?

If is a political party, then g(Political party A) = y = corruption.

If x is a form of government, then g(autocracy) = y = corruption; and similarly,

g(timocracy) = y = corruption;

g(oligarchy) = y = corruption;

g(democracy) = y = corruption;

g(tyranny) = y = corruption;

g(communism) = y = corruption.

From the above, it does not seem to suggest that forms of government or political parties are conditions for corruption to happen though one can argue that it facilitates corruption. Let’s examine closer in each system. Suppose now k(x) is the forms of government or political parties, and x is now the people managing or governing these systems.

In the case of autocracy,

k(Mr. Autocrat) = y = corruption.

In the case of a political party of any forms of government,

k(Mr. Vice President of Political Party G) = y = corruption.

In the case of female in a communist state,

k(Ms. Secretary of communism) = y = corruption.

In the case of a CFO in a banking corporation of any nation,

k(Mr. CFO of Bank $$$) = y = corruption.

In the case of a Buddhist abbot of a monastery,

k(Venerable Abbott of Monastery Chanting) = y = corruption.

Finally, referring back to Ephialtes of Trachis from Greece,

k(Ephialtes of Trachis) = y = corruption.

In all of the above, a closer examination of various functional institutional systems (political, corporation or religious), it suggests that it is the people in each system that causes corruption to happen. We have shown that human beings are prone to corruption rather than systems (political, corporation or religious) or ideologies.

What about humans that made us prone to corruption? Is it because of poverty? Is it because of nationality? Is it because of gender? Is it because of ignorance? Is it because of political systems (forms of government)? Is it because of human nature?

Transparency International Corruption Perception Indexed showed that corruption happens globally (in particular, countries that are in conflict and poverty.) Countries that scored 0 are considered highly corrupt and countries that scored a 10 are very clean. No country scored a perfect ten.  Suggesting that corruption is a problem in every country. Majority of the countries scored poorly, indicating that corruption is a serious problem. Corruption in countries plagued by conflict and poverty does not fuel the problem but makes conflict and poverty difficult to stop – suggesting that poverty highly facilitates corruption. TI’s goals include helping the citizens to demand accountability from their leaders and also teaching them to stop corruption. The report of the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 can be found here.

People who are corrupted make decisions that affect our lives, instead of benefiting the public; corruption caused people to receive benefits for private gain. Greed makes people corrupt regardless of nationality or educational level, because it is for private gain. Selfishness makes people corrupt regardless of nationality or educational level, because it is for private gain. Education makes people less corrupt, because with education and knowledge people understand the ills of corruption and consciously stop themselves from being greedy, selfish and ignorant. At the same time, some highly educated people can also be corrupted, suggesting that corruption is more than being educated. Transparency and accountability make people less corrupt because they show to the public that their actions are for the good of the public rather than for private gain. When monetary affairs and decision-making are transparent and accountable, fewer people would do ills since they know they will not get away with their ill doings. Thus it is virtuous people who will encourage others to not be corrupted because virtues beget virtues. It is with virtues that educate others about the ills of being corrupted. It is with virtues that allow ignorance, greed and selfishness to die. It is with virtues that transparency and accountability are able to illuminate to the public that no one is corrupted. It is also in human nature that Aristotle says that virtues can be taught by pointing to people who are virtuous and ethical.

Different forms of corruption happen around the world. In Singapore, in the sex-for-contract cases of Peter Lim and Ng Boon Gay, sex was the input for Lim and Ng to offer contracts (corruption) to the respective agencies. Lim was convicted of corruption while Ng proved his innocence and was acquitted. In Ng’s case, the judge shows that no corrupt intend was presence (Ng was found not guilty of corruption and prosecution not appealing when he issued the contract for Cecilia Sue, who offered oral sex to further the business interest of her then employers Hitachi Data System and Oracle Corporation Singapore.) Lim was convicted for corruption and sentenced to six months’ jail. Ng was fortunate that he was found innocence but nonetheless there is a hint of Ng being bias considering the fact that government contracts are in the spirit of open tender. In addition, adultery was present though it is not the jurisdiction’s duty to police marriage vows.

Regardless of the forms of government, types of organizations, types of corporations, rich or poor nations, corruption has always plague humanity and everyone is prone to it. It is only with conscious, virtuous and ethical living that we are able to fight and deter corruption from happening. No matter how tempting the situation may be, corruption will affect our lives, in greater or lesser degrees. We can only be vigilant about others and ourselves so that corruption become a question of to be or not to be corrupt (emphasis mine). In the battle of Thermopylae, both King Xerxes and Ephialtes are guilty of corruption since there are mutual benefits between their agreement – luxury and honour in exchange for the defeat of Leonidas and his men in the battle of Thermopylae.

To conclude, if we take a human as the function z(x), where x is the ethical values (Aristotelian ethics to be precise), transparency, accountability and a reasonably competent person, then y would be,

z(ethics, competency, transparency and accountability) = y = zero corruption.

If our convictions are strong and firm in the above function z(x), no amount of temptations in whatever form (land, wealth, women and citizenship for another country) will influence our beliefs. Our preference will not be corruption regardless of our affluence (as with my Affluence-Influence-Preference theory). Therefore I conclude that corruption is a function of human nature and only with ethics and virtues are we then able to fight and deter corruption, for the benefit of the greater good in the social milieu.

Corruption is a disease. Corruption is prevalent. Corruption is a killer. Corruption has to be stopped.

P.S: To be fair to Ephialtes, he did offer his services to Leonidas but was rejected because Leonidas told him that he will be more of a liability than an asset in the battle of Themopylae due to his impaired physique. Due to this Ephialtes was not able to fulfil his dream of being an honourable warrior and thus decided to betray Leonidas. In ancient Greece, particularly Sparta, only by becoming a good warrior can one acquire prestige.

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