"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Monday, March 30, 2009

"A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down." - Robert Benchley

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"It is commonly thought that exploitation is unjust; some think it is part of the very meaning of the word ‘exploitation’ that it is unjust. Those who think this will suppose that the just society has to be one in which people do not exploit one another, at least on a large scale. I will argue that exploitation is not unjust by definition, and that a society (such as our own) might be fundamentally just while nevertheless being pervasively exploitative. I do think that exploitation is nearly always a bad thing... its badness does not always consist in its being unjust...

Moral and nonmoral concepts. Most philosophers of exploitation tend to follow the practice of dictionaries, distinguishing a “nonmoral” sense of ‘exploitation’ from a “moral” sense, and taking the latter sense to involve the idea of making use of someone or something unjustly or unethically. Since they suppose that it is only the latter, “pejorative” meaning of the term which interests social critics, they provide what I will call a “moralized” account of exploitation. That is, they suppose that the term ‘exploitation’ (in the “pejorative” sense) already has wrongfulness or moral badness built into its very meaning...

Innocent and noninnocent exploitation. There clearly do seem to be cases of exploitation which we regard as innocent or even admirable. Nobody thinks it is wrong or unethical for a chess player to exploit her opponent’s inattention in order to win the game. We may even compliment a lawyer for exploiting the weaknesses in her adversary’s case in order to win a just verdict, or congratulate a resourceful person for exploiting her opportunities to the full. Realizing this, philosophers think that in such cases ‘exploit’ is being used in a neutral, innocent, or positive sense, quite distinct from the pejorative sense which interests us in cases of “wrongful exploitation.”

But why should we suppose that ‘exploitation’ has a special meaning when applied to cases of injustice or wrongdoing? Terms like ‘appropriation’, ‘transaction’, ‘seizure’, or ‘agreement’ apply sometimes to acts which are wrongful and sometimes to acts which are not, but we do not suppose that the word ‘transaction’ has a different meaning in the case of wrongful or unethical transactions from the one it has in the case of rightful and proper transactions...

Wrong because exploitative. Another problem with moralized accounts of exploitation is that they make it more difficult to understand many arguments in which the concept of exploitation is used. Some people argue that commodified surrogacy is wrongful or bad because it is exploitative... The statement cannot be understood as providing a substantive argument for considering the act wrongful, which might convince someone not antecedently persuaded of its wrongfulness — just as saying that an act is “wrong because it is murder” (where ‘murder’ is understood to mean ‘wrongful homicide’) cannot provide anyone with a new reason for thinking the act is wrong, but can at most serve to categorize the wrong (as a case of ‘murder’, i.e., ‘wrongful homicide’) or rhetorically drive home its wrongfulness through the use of the vivid term of condemnation (whose appropriateness would be accepted only by someone already persuaded that the act is wrong)...

Expoitation as use... The exploiter must do something, involving a degree of planning and manipulation, to take advantage of the fortunate circumstance, bringing it into the exploiter’s control or within the purview of the exploiter’s plans or machinations. When some unpredictable event suddenly drops success into my lap, I make use of the good luck, but I do not exploit it...

Exploiting things about people: advantage-exploitation and benefit-exploitation. There are many things about human beings that can be exploited: their talents, traits, habits, capacities, activities, desires, and circumstances. We exploit people’s strengths and their weaknesses, but usually not in quite the same sense. We exploit some attribute of the person from which we derive benefit or use to achieve our end. Let us call this “benefit- exploitation” or, for short, “b-exploitation.” It is in a different sense that we exploit someone’s weakness or vulnerability, which gives us a hold or advantage over the person and puts at our disposal the attribute which we b-exploit. I shall call our exploitative relation to this weakness or vulnerability “advantage-exploitation” or “a-exploitation.” The charming spy enchants a governmental official, playing on the victim’s need for affection in order to obtain a state secret. Here the spy a-exploits the victim’s need for affection (regarded as a vulnerability) and b-exploits the victim’s official position or access to state secrets (regarded as an attribute from which the spy may reap some benefit).

As their names are meant to imply, a-exploitation and b-exploitation. constitute a complementary pair, and a-exploitation is the foundation of b-exploitation... People and their abilities, activities, and so on may be non-exploitatively at our disposal, as through generosity or a mutual exchange of services where neither side is taking advantage of the other. The use of another through generosity or exchange may also be exploitative, but only when there is some element of vulnerability...

Clearly needs and desires can sometimes constitute vulnerabilities. An addict’s need or desire for drugs, for example, is clearly a vulnerability which pushers may a-exploit. The emotional needs of lovers obviously make them vulnerable to those they love, and hence create opportunities for a-exploitation by the latter. Many human needs and desires can be viewed as vulnerabilities, and accordingly many dealings between human beings can be put in an exploitative light. As we become more sensitive to this unattractive side of human social life generally, we may very well begin to perceive a great deal more exploitation in it than we thought there was. I think that such a change in sensitivity might very well be a positive result of becoming clearer about what exploitation is and about its importance in human life...

Surely it would be implausible to the point of absurdity if someone were to suggest that any need or desire constitutes a vulnerability. To suppose this would be to make exploitation virtually ubiquitous in human social life and as much a factor in quite a number of innocent human relations as it is in many very nasty ones... if someone claimed that every market exchange is exploitative simply on the ground that in such exchanges people use the needs of others to achieve their ends, then I think that claim would have exactly as much plausibility as the claim that every need or desire motivating market behavior is a vulnerability open to exploitation...

Exploiting people themselves... If in the course of a casual conversation I ask you for a couple of small favors, slyly insinuating that if you refuse I may divulge some nasty secrets about your sexual or financial indiscretions, then I am a-exploiting your indiscretions and b-exploiting your ability to do the favors, but I do not seem to be exploiting you yourself. On the other hand, if I begin to use the same information to blackmail you out of considerable sums of money, then we might very well say that I am exploiting you; but this could depend on how regular and how large the payments turned out to be.

It seems to me there is no sharp dividing line here...

What is wrong with exploitation?

Not the distribution of benefits and harms. Many people seem to think that exploitation (at least in the “pejorative” sense) has to be unfair or unjust, and that the injustice consists in a redistribution of harms and benefits; with benefits flowing from the exploited to the exploiter...

The drift of these remarks, however, seems to me in an important sense exactly wrong. Moreover, some of the writers on this topic appear to be aware of this. Gorr is struck by the fact that an exploitative offer typically expands the offeree’s freedom of choice and that accepting it will normally net the offeree an increase in utility.

Nor involuntariness, since exploitation is often voluntary. Feinberg too... realizes that exploitation may benefit the exploited, and may occur “with the exploitee’s fully voluntary consent”; exploitation may also be mutual, with each party acting in turn as exploiter and exploited, both benefiting from the arrangement.’ Wertheimer, showing that he knows better as well, even realizes that exploited parties typically benefit more from an exploitative arrangement than exploiters do, and rightly points out that this should not surprise us. “It is precisely because the exploitee stands to gain so much from the transaction (relative to the exploiter) that his bargaining position is comparatively weak.” This also explains why exploitation should often be voluntary on the part of the exploitee, since it is only to be expected that you will voluntarily consent to an arrangement by which you benefit...

People may often be in dire need of the benefits in question, they can often be eager to be exploited... Someone who is propertyless and starving has a lot to gain by striking a deal with an employer who is willing to offer bare subsistence in exchange for long, hard labor under dangerous conditions — and a lot to lose (namely, life itself) if no such exploitative bargain is in the offing. We can make the same point with a less controversial example. A gambler who owes a large amount of money to ruthless and violent characters will be in desperate need of the loan shark who offers the needed funds at a usurious rate of interest; such a person wifi be more than wffling under these conditions. to consent to virtually any terms of payment.

Not coercion either. Perhaps it will be said that people in such desperate straits are forced or coerced into making such deals. Certainly it is often said by Marxists that exploited workers are forced or coerced. This is often true in the sense that the exploited have no acceptable alternative to the arrangement under which they are exploited. But it does not follow that the exploiters themselves are coercing the exploited. (This is true only if the exploiters themselves are the ones who put the exploited in their vulnerable situation; Marx portrays things in this light when he represents the capitalist class as a whole as dispossessing the working class as a whole.)

Yet even if an exploitee has other acceptable alternatives to a given exploitative arrangement, and thus is not forced to accept the arrangement even in that sense, these alternatives may be either equally exploitative or far less desirable...

The real reason. I suggest that the moral belief that makes exploitation objectionable is the following: Proper respect for others is violated when we treat their vulnerabiities as opportunities to advance our own interests or projects. It is degrading to have your weaknesses taken advantage of, and dishonorable to use the weaknesses of others for your ends. This moral belief, I submit, is widely shared, and it is why the term ‘exploitation’ seems to us to refer to something bad, unfair, or unethical. This has nothing to do with the meaning of the word itself, but reflects a positive moral conviction which most of us hold...

Some instances of exploitation (exploiting the weaknesses of one’s opponent in a game) can be regarded as innocent. One would not enter into the game with good sportsmanship if one did not expect (or even want) one’s opponent to use one’s weaknesses wherever possible, and competitive play remains morally innocent only as long as this sort of exploitation does not take a form which degrades the competitors. Sometimes (e.g., the lawyer exploiting weaknesses in her opponent’s case) we think people’s vulnerabiities ought to be taken advantage of (for the sake of a just outcome)...

Some disputed cases... We may think that exploitation is good (or morally acceptable, or at, least satisfying on the whole), as when a person receives poetic justice through the a-exploitation of some morally bad quality — especially, as Feinberg points out, when the exploitee is “hoist with his own petard” — that is, a-exploited on the basis of a quality associated with a propensity to be an exploiter...

Another kind of case mentioned by Feinberg is that in which someone “cashes in” on the weaknesses of others precisely by helping them — as a business does when it supplies householders with protective devices during a crime wave, or as doctors do when they treat patients. Because Feinberg holds that exploitation requires that there be some sort of wrongness, unfairness, or unethical conduct on the part of the exploiter, he thinks that we cannot speak of exploitation at all in these cases unless those who help charge unfair prices for their services or gain disproportionately in comparison to those they help. I disagree. Those who help people in a position of weakness typically exploit them as well, and they do so whether they make just profits, unjust profits, or even no profits at all, as long as they also use the vulnerabffity of the recipients to further some end of their own other than the helping itself. This they typically do, even if the end is an entirely innocent and noble one, such as developing or exercising their own moral virtues. No doubt in such a case we are disclined to dwell on the exploitative aspect of the situation, not least because the helpers’ further end may be in itself perfectly legitimate or even laudable, and because they are, after all, providing help to those who need it.

It is essential to keep in mind here, however, that when people are vulnerable and in need of help, it is not only the helping itself which they need. If one accepts the moral belief I have ascribed to most of us, then they are also beings with dignity, with whom not all is well as long as they lack the conditions under which a human being can be respected. Those who fulfifi all their “obligations to help,” or even display supererogatory virtue in helping, may (just by helping, and thereby exhibiting the terrible vulnerability of those they help) bring mercilessly to light the absence of these conditions.

Helping those in need therefore often has a profound moral ambivalence about it, making solidarity with them a far more vital achievement than any positive contribution to their welfare... For this reason, it seems to me extremely important for would- be benefactors of the weak and vulnerable to be fully (and even painfully) aware of the inevitably exploitative side of their beneficence. This is needed both to preserve the dignity of those they help and to protect the helpers themselves from a certain blind arrogance which sometimes afflicts those who have been fortunate enough to parlay the doing of good into a successful career or life-defining activity.

Exploitation and Justice

Can exploitation be just? It is often thought that exploitation is bad because the exploiter takes unfair advantage of the exploitee. But if I am right about the source of our objection to exploitation, then we have reason to consider exploitation bad even when it involves no unfairness or injustice. For if the badness of exploitation lies in the fact that it is base and dishonorable of the exploiter, and insulting and degrading to the exploited, for the former to make use of the latter’s vulnerability, then this badness seems to be present even where the exploitation involves no unfairness, injustice, or violation of rights...

[In] protecting people against exploitation. Either society could make it more difficult for the powerful to use their power to exploit the vulnerable, or it could redistribute power so that people are less vulnerable to use by others, and hence less susceptible to exploitation. Let us call the first way of protecting people “interference” and the second way “redistribution.” Exploitation is unjust, then, whenever the weakness exploited is one which society should either prevent others from taking advantage of (by means of interference) or else prevent from occurring altogether (by means of redistribution)...

Capitalist exploitation... Marx was right: capital virtually always exploits wage labor. At least this is self-evident if it is granted that those who own the means of production enjoy a decisive bargaining advantage over those who own little besides their capacity to labor, and that this fundamental vulnerability on the part of labor decisively influences the terms of wage contracts...

It is another question whether capital’s pervasive exploitation of labor is just or unjust. Using his own highly reductive account of justice (according to which the justice of a transaction is no defense of it), Marx thought that capitalist exploitation was generally just...

Surrogacy and exploitation... The economic vulnerability typical of surrogate mothers is not generally regarded as avoidable within a modern market economy, and the psychological vulnerabiities involved here do not seem preventable by any means within society’s power. But there is always a dilemma when we must consider interference alone as a remedy for exploitation. As we have noted, an exploitative arrangement may benefit both parties, and is even likely to benefit the exploitee more than it benefits the exploiter. By interfering with exploitative arrangements, we may prevent one person from taking advantage of another’s weakness, but we thereby also risk consigning the vulnerable person to an even worse fate than being exploited. If we decide that interference is too cruel to those in a position of weakness, we may decide that the exploitation, however bad it may be in various respects, violates no one’s rights and has to be considered just. Radical remedies for exploitation, where they exist, are therefore always redistributive.

Can exploitation be abolished? People are encumbered with weaknesses or vulnerabilities of many kinds—physical, psychological, emotional, economic, political. They are also mutually dependent and competitively motivated, so that they have strong incentives to exploit the weaknesses of others. Exploitation is therefore a pervasive fact of the social life of human beings, and yet (for those who share the moral belief I have ascribed to most of us) it is also a profound evil which tends to infect nearly all their relationships with one another. Those who see the extent of exploitation cannot realistically hope that it will ever be wholly abolished, yet they ought to hope (as Marx did) that the largest and most systematic forms of it can someday be abolished.

Radical remedies for exploitation are always redistributive... inevitably difficult, costly, and potentially explosive in their social effects, and they always face prospects of success which are uncertain at best. This entails that there will always be strong arguments in favor of saying that society either cannot or should not be expected to do what is necessary to protect people against exploitation...

Exploitation is something we must learn to live with... capitalism is the freest, most just, and most productive economic order the world has ever known, that it is the social order which best accords with what we know of human nature, that no one has found a better or more workable system, or that every attempt to refound society on a radically less exploitative basis has not only been unsuccessful but had an utterly disastrous outcome...

[Yet] since under capitalism there are vast differences in economic power and ample opportunity in the market system for the strong to use these differences to their advantage, capitalism is also a highly exploitative social order, perhaps the most exploitative the world has ever known...

You should be ready to acknowledge that despite capitalism’s long list of alleged virtues, we have strong grounds not to show any great loyalty to it. You should be willing to admit that even if we have yet to find a social system better than capitalism, we nevertheless have good and sufficient reasons to keep on looking for one, and reason too to put some of the cherished advantages of capitalism at risk in trying to achieve a better form of society."

--- Exploitation / Allen Wood
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