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SpookyKitty

Is Dignity a Right?

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Posted (edited)

10 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Imagine the following scenario.

 

You are employed by the world's first asteroid mining company. Since it is the first, it has no competitors and won't for at least another twenty years. In addition to that, once you are out in the asteroid belt, you cannot return to Earth in any way except by paying the company a small fee.

Now when you sign up, the pay is very good, working conditions are safe and awesome, and you have a good time. However, at some point, the company introduces a new policy. In order to boost falling morale among management, they allow managers to give arbitrary and degrading orders to the people working under them.

For instance, some managers make employees strip off their clothes, defecate, and then smear themselves with their own feces before they can pick up their pay-check.

And to keep people from leaving they also keep raising the price for the trip back to Earth to the point that nobody can afford to leave. That is, unless you offer your body to the person in charge of transportation. He does not accept money, but he will take both men and women.

(I could go on with disgusting kafkaesque scenarios like this, but let's just get to the point)

----------------

According to Objectivist ethics, has the company committed any sort of wrong against its employees in the above scenarios? As far as I can see, they have not, since they have used neither force nor fraud in their activities here.

However, it is undeniable that this type of scenario is a nightmare and not only would I not to live it but I also would not want anyone else to live it either. It is a human created horror and this seems to be enough to require that people's right to dignity be respected.

In terms of ethics, the company has violated the right to self-ownership "unless you offer your body to the person in charge of transportation" and "managers make employers strip off their clothes, defecate, and then smear themselves with their own feces before they can pick up their pay-check". However, in terms of actual power relations- I wouldn't know how to actually defend those rights without exercising a right to self-defence against the employers/management. 

edit: the best comparison for the early stages of space exploration is the European voyages of discovery, when people set off to draw the map and navigate the unknown in the hope of finding riches on the other side of the ocean. There were considerable risks (and I think a large portion of the crews were forced to join) but this is not "unknown" in human history. Its going to be on a much larger scale in terms of distance and that they will be relying entirely on their own resources (including oxygen, plants, animals, etc. ) to keep moving and to colonise moons and planets. the situation and technologies involved may be somewhat different but the "human" factor and potential for abuse remains largely the same. 

Edited by Laika

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Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

I am talking about my hypothetical world, obviously.

EDIT: And yes, even in the real world, they can do that, they only need to give you notice, but that's it.

An idea that comes up in science fiction is that in space the "air" is privately owned and so people have to "pay to breathe". the idea was used in Total Recall but I remembered it as it came up in a recent episode of Doctor Who (ep. 5 series 12. "Oxygen"). In so far as the air becomes something that has to be produced to create a habitable environment and then regulated within capitalist property relations as a commodity, this is possible. Moreover, the nature of space travel means this is more likely to produce local monopolies with a particular ship running on a particular air supplier. So it would be difficult to have competition in the air supply.

Edited by Laika

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Posted (edited)

15 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Imagine the following scenario.

 

You are employed by the world's first asteroid mining company. Since it is the first, it has no competitors and won't for at least another twenty years. In addition to that, once you are out in the asteroid belt, you cannot return to Earth in any way except by paying the company a small fee.

Now when you sign up, the pay is very good, working conditions are safe and awesome, and you have a good time. However, at some point, the company introduces a new policy. In order to boost falling morale among management, they allow managers to give arbitrary and degrading orders to the people working under them.

For instance, some managers make employees strip off their clothes, defecate, and then smear themselves with their own feces before they can pick up their pay-check.

And to keep people from leaving they also keep raising the price for the trip back to Earth to the point that nobody can afford to leave. That is, unless you offer your body to the person in charge of transportation. He does not accept money, but he will take both men and women.

(I could go on with disgusting kafkaesque scenarios like this, but let's just get to the point)

----------------

According to Objectivist ethics, has the company committed any sort of wrong against its employees in the above scenarios? As far as I can see, they have not, since they have used neither force nor fraud in their activities here.

However, it is undeniable that this type of scenario is a nightmare and not only would I not to live it but I also would not want anyone else to live it either. It is a human created horror and this seems to be enough to require that people's right to dignity be respected.

According to Objectivism the right to life cannot be contracted away.  You cannot sign a contract to literally become a slave, nor will a sneaky attempt at smuggling in a clause which amounts to carte blanche for one side to arbitrarily commit crime be upheld in a rational court of law. 

Any clause stating that one party can unilaterally change a contract does not validly encompass (by any stretch) the class of clauses which entail violation of the rights of a person, including being imprisoned, threatened with starvation or death, even though the person purportedly agreed to be exposed to such (heretofore) unknown and unstated clauses.

Second, once a company unilaterally acts on the assumption its rights violating clauses are valid, the company is committing a wrong which constitutes the initiation of force and fraud.  An employee is imprisoned, and threatened with death.  A proper Objectivist government would step in to apprehend the criminals and save their prisoners to the extent physically possible.  In one scenario, rescue does not occur until decades later, the perpetrators are jailed, and the damages from the companies coffers are awarded to the victims.

 

As for "dignity", it is a state of consciousness.  Like happiness, laughter, peace, such states of mind are reached by persons in the course of their lives and although these are in part a consequence of the acts of others they are not directly created by anyone else, with consent of the "experiencer" or not.  As such there is no direct right to any of these.  Freedom and the right to life enable a person to pursue them.  The right to life makes dignity possible.

There is no right as such to "dignity".  

 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Eiuol likes this

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9 hours ago, Laika said:

n terms of ethics, the company has violated the right to self-ownership "unless you offer your body to the person in charge of transportation"

Well, SK already clarified that the question is about the law here, not ethics.

It has been easily established so far that dignity itself is not relevant to legality. The next issue is what to do about it as an individual who wants to leave. What matters is being free to do what one wishes to lead their own life.

Still, self-ownership isn't a principle for Objectivist ethics. We ought to respect people in general as potential traders, while disrespect ignores that potential a lot of the time. Self-ownership is not fundamental anyway - you can't merely "offer your body", as the law ought to only protect and enforce initiation of force. "Offering" yourself is not enforceable, the means to defend that is initiation of force.

The reason this asteroid problem may seem tricky is that the company seems to be within legal bounds - people agreed to the contract and agreed to potential sudden changes. But there's no way out without finishing the job and more humiliation! They'd be trapped.

But being trapped is the whole issue. SK chose an asteroid exactly because it's extreme entrapment. So it's not wild or weird to answer assuming that the company has entrapped employees. They'd be legally obligated to offer a way out (just as locking people in a factory by saying "lol contract change" would be illegal).

DonAthos likes this

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@Eiuol

 

Consider the equivalent scenario, except now you're on a one-way trip to Mars and there is no possibility of return whatsoever.

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24 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

@Eiuol

 

Consider the equivalent scenario, except now you're on a one-way trip to Mars and there is no possibility of return whatsoever.

@Eiuol

The fact that the victims of kidnapping cannot help or free themselves does not change the ethics of the matter nor the remedy/response of a proper government once they catch up with the kidnappers.

 

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

@Eiuol

 

Consider the equivalent scenario, except now you're on a one-way trip to Mars and there is no possibility of return whatsoever.

Well that's like asking what if one of the captains forcibly locks you in your room, or another case is a slave ship crossing the Atlantic. You'd revolt, try to take over the ship, and then do what you can to survive on your new home planet. There is no ethical dilemma to fight back.

The movie Sunshine is pretty similar to this new question:

Evil requires a response - there is no infallible way to prevent evil, except to prevent all action altogether.

This is also the risk of long-term travel. How do you know that your captain won't become a serial killer a year later? To make the risk worthwhile, you'd want things like upfront pay, for example. You'd avoid the whole original scenario by securing certain rewards right now. Also psych evaluations of all crew members are important.

Edited by Eiuol

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You haven't been dragged off to Mars against your will. There's just simply no way of going back at any time during your lifetime.

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I know. The similarity is the inability to get back in one's lifetime, and the entrapment. How you get into the situation is different, but the situation is similar (being trapped by someone else without recourse). The company is morally wrong here, and also obligated to permit a way out of a location. Your new situation was only asking about what to do as an individual. I don't know about if you're obligated to be rescued. Actually, that could be the court ruling - the company must fund a rescue crew.

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22 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

Luckily one employee smuggled a copy of Rands works. He inspires the others. They rise up, kill all their managers, and create the first Capitalist country in the universe.

Dude, you beat me to it. After warning them of the consequences of such barbarism, no choice but to meet this kind of situation with what terms the managers insist on bringing on themselves.

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On 6/29/2017 at 5:17 PM, SpookyKitty said:

Imagine the following scenario.

It was both fraud and force.  Fraud in the bait-and-switch and then force or the threat of force in the comply-or-else-die aspect.  I find fault with your understanding of fraud, contract and force.

Changing the subject, dignity is too subjective of an evaluation to define in objective law.  Individual elements that may be components of a concept of dignity can be objectively defined as for example to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures of one's person and personal effects, but to just use the term 'dignity' in a written law without establishing context is a legislative disaster and legal nightmare.  Dignity like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

StrictlyLogical likes this

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