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Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

“Up” in the Air with Nail Houses

After a beautiful life and marriage cut short by his wife’s premature passing, Up (2009) depicts an elderly gentleman’s quest to fulfill his childhood “cross-my-heart” sweetheart promise to move to Paradise Falls in South America. Enter Russell: a young boy who is one “Be kind to the elderly” act away from earning his final badge toward becoming a Wilderness Explorer. Karl Frederickson has to continually choose between fulfilling personal desires and including Russell on his quest. Frederickson winds up discovering that the adventure doesn’t lie in the destination but in the journey. Frederickson’s nail house, which was so important to him at the beginning of the movie primarily because of its memories, gets appropriately left behind in his finding that life is never too late for new experiences. The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution generally protects private property from governmental seizure without “just compensation.” However, eminent domain (compulsory seizure for civil use, public safety, or economic development) allows the transfer of private property for the public interest in exchange for fair market value. Eminent domain represents a skirmish between individual property rights, public property, the common good, and private economic development.

The Constitution has traditionally been quite clear about public use, just compensation, and due process as prerequisites for eminent domain. But during contemporary times, Costco is a “public use”; just compensation is getting pennies on the dollar., and cities have offered owners nothing for their land, doing them “favors” to take it off their hands. So this is the world that we have come to. And how just did we get UP there?

Elysium: Immigration and the Ethics of Inequality

In the 22nd century, the privileged few live on a luxurious, disease-free, space habitat called Elysium (2013) while the masses reside within a planet Earth rampant with socioeconomic inequality.  At the same time, an alliance between big business (military-weapons supplier Armadyne)  and totalitarian government fosters exploitative workplace conditions.

Should everyone have access to the benefits/privileges of Elysium?  The film advances a populist ideal that everyone ought to have the freedom and right to live in Elysium (inside a world devoid of death, disease, or war, without borders nor boundaries). But is this position correct? Illegal immigration is obviously against the law but perhaps we need to look toward ethics to give us reasons why it is wrong. Making a distinction between universal human rights and the privileges/ responsibilities of citizenship (that belong with membership in particular groups, territories, and countries) might help, – e.g., consider the American right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness that goes along with the obligation to follow U.S. law.

Your Employer Will Be Watching

The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen ‘chooses’ to fight in a mandatory made-for-reality battle of have nots. In the real-world, government agencies ask for social network passwords from prospective applicants with little to no resistance. Farces of freedom pervade both arenas of financial inequality.

The young movie heroine notes that even ‘the 99%’ have their pecking order and that weaknesses come with the privileges of money and status: “That the Careers [tributes] have been better fed growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they don’t know how to be hungry.”

Yet well-off citizens in the two Capitols (with readily available consumer goods) maintain a competitive advantage to resist forms of their respective oppression. Panem children put their names a few extra times in the death lottery to feed their families; applicants on the lower end of the reality spectrum understand what it takes to survive but ‘willingly’ give up privacy rights in the process hoping for benefited positions. These modern human resource games (cf. the Roman Colosseum) illustrate the consequences of socioeconomic inequality in societies with too much time on their hands.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the authoritarian measures taken on FaceBook to protect national security and the corporate ethos. Freedom of privacy was temporarily restored by the stopgap of a collectively outraged public. Can anyone stop the consequences of economic disparity found in the Hunger Games and our real world? Does society . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . have time . . . 3 . . . 2 . . .for a sequel? . . . 1

 

Racial Slurs are a Matter of Ethical Context

ESPN’s use of the headline “Chink in the Armor” (describing the New York Knicks’ first loss with Asian-American, NBA point guard Jeremy Lin in the starting lineup) illustrates that ethics, while not relative, is certainly contextual. The cliché technically means weakness or flaw, but the term “Chink” is also a racial slur for Chinese-Americans (cf. using a “niggardly” reference for a selfish African-American basketball player). In the wake of “Linsanity,” puns were proliferating without regulation until a moral mishap forced corporate backpedaling and new industry standards. Former network sports editor Anthony Federico appeared to lack malicious intent with this Medieval phrase. However, the context of his oversight and implicit association of his “incite” shows that bad etymological choices can result in unemployment. The bottom line is that Federico was not fired for racism, but for making a poor editorial decision that potentially cost huge amounts of goodwill with key audiences in the United States and Asia for ESPN and parent company Walt Disney .

Consider Saturday Night Live’s sublime parody on our nation’s double standard on race and political correctness and the Daily Show’s satire on a “Lingrown toenail . . . during Black History Month.” While both sketches contained jokes and insults against Asian-Americans throughout their segments, purer purposes and comedic context provided the needed justified protection for administering racial smears.

Granted many find it unjust when minorities freely use these pejorative terms among members of their own race. Is there a double standard when a Caucasian cannot mention the word Nigga(er) and/or Chink when so many African-Americans do in greetings and in popular music, or when a younger Jeremy Lin identifies himself as ChiNkBaLLa88 on his Xanga account? It isn’t that ethics is relative (right for one group but wrong for another), but rather contextual. Minorities use these monikers with a mutual understanding that the words are not historically loaded or racially charged but accepted with affection and respect as opposed to their original meanings. For some, the co-opting of these derogatory words and phrases represent a way to master what was formerly enslaved. For others, it represents a way to deal with past pain. Whatever the solution, ethical context matters.

Say it isn’t, Joe.

Ten years after the Enron Corporation was exposed for its massively systemic and cleverly-planned ongoing accounting fraud, the moral structure of college football is being shaken to its core at Penn State University.

Prospective institutional cover-up for act(s) of sexual abuse allegedly committed by head football coach Joe Paterno’s former defensive coordinator and charges of multiple subsequent infractions have already brought down Penn’s State organizational leadership and storied football program. Will the Nittany Lion’s devotion to a winning culture and Paterno’s subscription to resilience and ‘enduring adversity’ eventually parallel Enron’s obsession with profit at any cost and adherence to their former CEO’s ‘survival of the fittest’ principles?

The developing scandal emits conflicting emotions: I am torn by the outpouring of support for an 84-year-old legend who has earnestly dedicated himself to building a long tradition of winning with integrity without the infamous scandals often associated with a major college program. I am sad for these young, innocent boys who would not have experienced further horrors if someone in power had pushed the issue. Properly evaluating a rapidly developing news story is difficult; determining the relevant ethical considerations may represent the best next step i.e., the distinction between law and ethics, and the connection of responsibility to leadership.

Corporations like Enron were familiar with the law; they knew how to exploit and profit from it. University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno met all legal requirements and will not be tried in a criminal court. The ethical question is whether they failed to meet their moral duties and obligations as human persons. Even more so—in their de facto roles as leaders, figureheads, and guardians in their community—greater responsibility is often associated with greater privilege. What personal responsibilities do individuals have beyond their specific job descriptions? Is an act of omission as heinous as the sin of commission?

The university has decided in the best interest of ‘business’ to relieve Spanier and Paterno of their responsibilities. Further clarity is needed before passing judgment on whether Penn State shares a similar aura of hubris with Enron. Even without the pride, their indecision produces greater consequences than even the dissolution of a major corporation.

In the business of uncovering the truth in the digital age, this game will have no winners. Prayers, comfort, and support to the victims and their families.

Human Sex Trafficking is Wrong

The proposition, “Torturing babies for fun is wrong” is often used in ethics courses to illustrate obvious examples of evil. Human sex trafficking should be added to this list as neither ethical expertise nor extended discussion is needed in passing judgment.

Human Sex Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, or harboring of persons by threat, fraud, or abuse of power to achieve control over another for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is no longer a crime just against the poor and marginalized. It has no respect for age, gender, race, class, or geographic boundary. In light of commercial exploitation, the victim’s consent is irrelevant.

Modern day trafficking−which includes forced labor, slavery, the removal of organs, and the sex trade−is big business. Cash for exploitation is the second largest illegitimate international activity with estimated total revenue between $5-$9 billion dollars (falling second only behind illegal drug distribution) and represents the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Business exploitation is often expressed through a sense of injustice in economic transactions, here exhibited by the systematic oppression found against helpless young women and innocent children and market-driven transactions of exploitation for cash. Profiteers from the sex trade and patronizers who fuel this exploitative industry represent the two halves of this problem. Supply side conditions will not significantly shift without a corresponding decrease in sexual demand.

Ultimately, while human sex trafficking masks itself as an economic transaction, it involves a deep violation and lack of respect for the dignity of the human spirit.

Film recommendation: Taken (2009)Trade (2007)

Postscript: Over $15,000 was raised July 24th, 2010 as ~ 150 North Orange / South L.A County residents participated on a 5K run/walk to build a sex trafficking refuge house in the Philippines. Support a safe haven.

The Defenders rode from Portland to Salem, OR on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 to let legislators know that Oregonians care about protecting kids.

Exploitation in District 9

In District 9 (2009), the stated public objective for the Multi-National United (MNU) Corporation is transferring 1.8 million aliens to District 10−a relocation camp 240 km outside Johannesburg. The unstated private goal for this weapons manufacturer is discovering how to use the aliens’ inaccessible, technologically-advanced firepower.

Although paralleling Avatar (2010) in form by featuring a corporate-backed paramilitary brigade and a human who becomes “one of them,” the protagonist is pitiful and flawed. Unlike James Cameron’s pièce de résistance, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is neither black, white, nor blue. Allusions to apartheid from the South African locale and references toward racism through speciesist language permeate the film.

When MNU discovers that Wikus Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis allows him to wield alien weapons, upper management immediately decides to use this valuable, personal, business artifact against his will. Business exploitation (see Jeremy Snyder’s work on sweatshop labor) is either expressed through a sense of unfairness per economic transactions (as exhibited by the systematic oppression found in the 24 hour eviction notices or market-driven cat food scams) or a lack of respect/dignity as in Van De Merwe’s metamorphosis case. MNU’s anti-Kantian treatment of the project manager as a means only to harvest his organs and replicate his powers repulses the audience. However, If the fate of civilization were dependent on using employee body parts for the greater good instead of an end-profit motive, would a utilitarian argument justifying exploitation be ethical?

In light of corporate exploitation, are employees only inherently valuable by what they can extend or offer an organization? Do they have any personal rights on the clock, or are they completely at the mercy of their employer’s will while paid for their services? It is interesting to note that at the point of Van De Merwe’s highest value to his company, he also found himself most exploitable.

Avatar CSR

Critics who tirelessly pan Avatar’s (2010) message as a recycled, retrospective Dance with Wolves-like’ (1990) analysis of the white man’s treatment of indigenous peoples miss the point. James Cameron is not simply creating a descriptive message of corporate social responsibility (CSR) but prescribes a call toward action to stop repeating the tactics from our collective past. He does not seek to hide the brutal treatment of the Na’vi at the hands of a commercially backed paramilitary brigade devoted ad nauseum to the profit motive. Parker Selfridge, the passive-aggressive head administrator of the Resources Development Administration (RDA) reveals Pandora’s bottom line:

This is why we’re here−unobtainium−because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo. This pays for the whole party.

Jake Sully, the self-reflective ex-marine, resigns himself to his role among the Na’vi: a warrior dreaming he could bring peace. Sooner or later though, he has to “wake up.” Jake openly embraces the connection that the Na’vi have with their Pandora home and the contradictions between his own values and actions.

Giant transnational corporations (see Shell Petroleum and the Ogoni) who use the very same tactics portrayed in Avatar to placate their Boards and shareholders continue to threaten and harass indigenous peoples. Usually there is some nuanced benefit derived from the corporation and descriptive ‘diplomatic’ solutions do not wind up solely as public relations window dressing. However, Cameron’s not-so hidden, ought-not prescriptive message in Avatar is straightforward: the treatment of indigenous peoples for sake of the profit motive is unethical and needs to stop.