While the continuing coverage of the world football (soccer) authority, FIFA, facing allegations of systemic corruption, the resignation of 17-year president Sepp Blatter and the postponement of the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup hardly counts as news (since it seems to have been going on since the dawn of time), corruption in general is an interesting concept for us to turn to when building our fictional world.
Corruption, generally speaking, is an abuse of power for personal benefit – and since the worlds that we create, with their advanced technologies or the influence of the occult, can have must more impressive “power” to abuse, considering the ways it might be used to deepen the way our world works is an interesting idea.
While a corrupt leader can make a powerful antagonist for a story, I’m going to focus primarily on pettier corruptions that might pepper and inform your world and the way the characters react to it.
Example: The Royal College of Mages accepts only the best and brightest as students. Over the centuries, bright children have been trained as powerful and respected mages, regardless of their background. In recent centuries, however, the College has been admitting a higher percentage of the children of the most wealthy and powerful families, and many believe the admissions tests have been deliberately written to keep out the poor.
So in the above example, how might this kind of corruption affect the quality of the mages the College produces, if some of the bright children are excluded, and yet some of the less able, yet wealthier children are accepted? It seems likely that in this situation, the mages will start to be viewed as the children of privilege rather than a sign of wisdom and learning.
Naturally, this is assuming that the public either know or suspect that this is the case. Of course, they may not do, and still treat the mages with respect which their wisdom may not deserve. If the people put their trust in mages who may not be as skilled and able as expected, what problems might this cause?
But it’s not necessarily the case that an entire body is “corrupt” – it may simply be one member of it;
Example: TransStellar has a shipment of farming equipment to sell, but has been repeatedly denied permits to transport them out of the solar system on the grounds that they repeatedly fail quality control tests. Luckily, the CEO of TransStellar owns a large number of shares in Medicorp, and knows that one of the inspectors has a very sick daughter…
Here we can see both how corruption need not necessarily be the fault of the person “taking a bribe” (since in this example the inspector may be desperate to secure medical care for his sickly daughter by any means), but also how a little bit of background knowledge might be used by the unscrupulous to secure their own advantage.
In this example, it’s quite easy to imagine what the effects might be of faulty, low quality equipment being delivered to desperate colony worlds might be. What other repercussions might this have, both for TransStellar, and for the Earth Regulatory Authority?
How might similar issues of corruption affect your world? Are there perhaps bodies or companies being twisted for someone’s benefit? Are there people who are the weak point in an otherwise well-designed system? And how might these corruptions warp and change the way your world works?