The disclaimer having been gone through, it seems more appropriate let the pontifications begin.
Not knowing much of something has seldom stopped me from opining about the same something. So, let me extend my speculative genius to Sociology.
The recent visit to the third world (home) has opened my eyes wide. I viewed India with a more critical eye this time: having lived in a more prosperous society for a couple of years. The same critical eye that has been viewing the U.S with for the aforementioned couple of years.
The following analysis is based on my experiences with India and the U.S - but from what people tell me - and plain common sense - I am sure this applies to any third world society contrasted with any rich society. And here I go.
In performing this analyisis, I will use two tools in plain argumentative form: thermodynamics and genetic algorithms. The former to define an equillibrium, and the latter to analyze how to get there.
Let me define a social equilibrium now. (And just like all the Ideas I've had before in my life, it's all been done before by some other nut.) Let me quote wikipedia here.
In sociology, a system is said to be social equilibrium when there is a dynamic working balance among its interdependent parts (Davis & Newstrom, 1985). Each subsystem will adjust to any change in the other subsystems and will continue to do so until an equilibrium is retained. The process of achieving equilibrium will only work if the changes happen slowly, but for rapid changes it would throw the social system into chaos, unless and until a new equilibrium can be reached.
I contend that contemporary Indian society is in a corrupt quasi-equillibrium here; a culture brought about by 45 years of Xenophobic protectionism (not to mention extreme economic exploitation prior to that). Here are some thought-allegories to help digest the point I am trying to make:
Firstly, let us consider an Idealistic police officer. Let's call him Ram. Ram turns down bribes when he catches people jumping traffic signals. He follows an American model of doing business: he writes the errant motorist chalans (Indian tickets ). Every other traffic cop accepts a crisp Rs. 50 note (I hear inflation has made it a crisp Rs 500 note) and lets the motorist go. Ram feels happier about himself. God is probably smiling at him.
He keeps up this outstanding behaviour. One fine day, his colleague calls him home. And when he goes to his colleague's home, he sees a couple of little spheres with eyes walking around the house, jumping on beds, fighting with each other - or behaving like typical children. Ram feels flabbergasted. His own kids are skinny to the core. Their ribs show. He soon finds out why.
His colleague's chidren eat a lot. A lot of fatty, expensive food. Food that Ram cannot afford himself.
Ram realizes that in order to feed his family like other people do (who are in the same position as he is) he must indulge in practices construed unethical by his God. Ram does not want to indulge in bribery of any sort: but his conscience will not allow him not to bribe. He is rational, after all. How can he watch his children starve, when a little compromise on his morals can make them live happier lives? Why should he be so selfish as to gratify himself by being moral?
And the invisible hand of the market (another of the millions of names for the second law) sees to it that he starts trading Rs 500 notes for pride and "morality". His children gradually grow more spherical. Ram will initially be miserable about his embracement of corruption. But gradually he will have begun to accept this as a part of life. He will have became bitter, cynical and, ironically, happier.
Morality, after all, is a luxury meant for the rich. The high horse that the rich ride on to "look down" upon the soul-less animals that they deem the poor to be.
Ram's story might contain elements of exaggeration: the rotund-ness of the little ones, for one. But I assure you, this dilemma is extremely common in poor India - and perhaps is only tempered by blind religious faith. (Here's another instance where I frown upon Dawkins' bellicosity toward all things religious: liberal values, like religion, seem to be a luxury only the rich can afford). Common sense would extrapolate this to any other region of the planet where penury is the predominant way of life: Africa comes to mind.
Now let's move on to Sarkar, a Bengali farmer. He farms rice in the sweltering 40 degree heat and infinite humidity. He is initially ethical, refuses to accompany the Basmati with little stones that lie about here and there. And then he sees his neigbour's fat children standing beside his skinny ones. Enough has been said.
Let's call this invisible-hand-emotional-blackmail the "thin children effect" (T.C.E) - and let this depict other implicit coercive effects that force people to compromise morality (such as the "let-me-steal-to-eat" effect, for one) too. Corruption is imperative because everyone else is doing it. With corruption the demand for higher legitimate wages goes down - there is no incentive to bargain for more pay when lots of the green stuff makes it to your pocket through the back-door.
Now let us try to construct a genetic algorithm that starts out away from equillibrium - and ends up in equillibirum. This, again is a thought experiment - inspired by the likes of Einstien et.al.
Start out with lots of rational average "honest" agents (people) - put them in large corrupt society. A corrupt society would penalize ethical behaviour (the T.C.E) and would reward corrupt behaviour more often than the legal forces would penalize corrupt behaviour. (And often corruption would get so institutionalized that the enforcement mechanisms would lose integrity too). If the people are rational (i.e. they realize that feeding their children is more important than the "luxury" of being ethical), then it can be seen that the "honest" agents will be forced into corruption. It can happen vice-versa only if the number of agents is much larger - perhaps of the order of the dishonest agents. Sleaziness and corruption shall prevail. You don't need a computer to tell you this. Just common sense.
On the other hand, take a handful of "corrupt" agents and put them in a large "honest" society. A honest society, I am convinced, can only be well to do. (More on this in shortly). Since enforcement is much better in an honest society, it is quite easy to see that the dishonest will be penalized - and rationality will convert them into honest citizens.
In my opinion, the developed world is more of an "honest" society - where dishonesty and petty corruption is more of a mutation than mainstream. And the poorer countries are "corrupt". But hold on! There's more to it than meets the eye. Since social hierarchies are quite difficult to breach, it is possible for many equilibria to coexist in the same society. While the lower middle class in India probably is in a corrupt equilibrium, the upper middle class is probably in an honest equilibrium.
Suppose, in the aforementioned GA, you don't introduce people into a large society, but you consider a large poor society instead, living in an "honest" equilibrium. Suppose, by some mutation, one "corrupt" person comes about. His children grow fat. Subsequently, he converts his neighbour to corruptionism (sic) so to speak. And so on, ad infinitum. An honest poor society is therefore unstable.
A dishonest rich society, on the other hand need not be deemed unstable - for there is greed in everyone. But, an overtly religious or "liberal" society will spontaneously become an honest one - because for such a society, dishonesty isn't even an equilibrium.
Futher, I expect rich societies to be much more susceptible to the luxury of patriotic blind faith - as is abundantly demonstrated by the U.S. The evidence of a growing Jingoism in India could perhaps be interpreted as a sign of the country's shifting economic fortunes? Of course, one must bear in mind that an overwhelming number of Indians are poor beyond imagination.
How does one break the corrupt Indian quasi-equillibrium? More on that soon.