The Rule of Cynicism

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on June 23, 2009

Today's New York Times has a story about a tragedy at a day care center in the northern border state of Sonora that has shaken the entire country. The Times reports that in the weeks since a fire killed 47 children in Hermosillo, "evidence has piled up suggesting a chain of negligence that may have abetted the tragedy. The revelations have led to outrage and, in this culture of widespread corruption and legal impunity, resignation."

The story notes evidence that governmental officials turned a blind eye to a series of safety hazards at the day care center, whose owners are politically well connected. It quotes a political analyst who finds in the tragedy the outlines of a much broader failure in Mexico. It is a systemic failure rooted in a cynical view of the role of law and regulatory authority.

"In this country, we have a whole package of justifications not to follow the law," says Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a law professor at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute. "There is an idea that the law is an imposition from outside. By going outside the law, we find a kind of fraternity."

Herzog first made that charge a week ago, in a powerful and angry column in the Mexico City daily, Reforma. It appeared under the headline, "Nation of fakery." Any American who is aware not only of the hiring practices of low-wage employers but also of the serial refusal of Congress to establish a credible system of worker verification and worksite enforcement can note similar reasons for frustration on this side of the border. Writes Silva-Herzog:

I am talking of a society of falsification…The law, inspection, regulation are seen as foreign entities, arbitrary impositions that put obstacles in the way of everything…. So the inspector who doesn't strictly apply the regulation becomes the benevolent savior in the face of the impossible law that no one really considers obligatory. The list of rules is made to be published, not to be observed…. Mocking the law as a form of collective cleverness.