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Posts Tagged ‘Exploitation’

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.

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.