Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maybe Spiderman Can Free the Slaves

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Pretty much everyone knows that this line comes from the movie Spiderman, but virtually no one practices it (at least it seems that way). Being American, we have a lot of power, even as individuals. We are part of the most successful, influential, and dominate country in the world. So, we have a lot of responsibility that we need to strive to uphold. But how far should we be responsible for something, especially if we are not directly linked to the problem.

For example, we buy products that are made by slaves in third world countries. Should only the business that makes the products be held responsible for supporting slavery or should the consumer be held responsible as well? Did the consumer technically do anything wrong even if they knew that the product was probably made by slaves? Does even ignorance exempt the consumer from being blamed, since slavery is such a major and terrible problem?

If consumers were held responsible for buying such products, pretty much everyone would be incriminated. Take a look around your room. Probably half of the things you own are somehow made by slaves in another country. Unfortunately, the alternative option to that slave-made product is probably a much more expensive kind that you might not be able to afford (since you now have to buy a lot of expensive products that are not made by slaves).

So what should people do? Not buy things that they need, because they feel responsible to help stop slavery or ignore the problem and buy these products, because they did not directly enslave people to make the product? And should people feel guilty when buying these products? Or should they take the attitude that they didn’t start the process of enslaving people who made the product, so they shouldn’t have to feel bad?


Cal said...

This post seems like an existential nightmare. Despite what may be floating around that is accepted as truth, existentialism have a large focus on the responsibility of the individual. I am speculating that most people have read Waiting for Godot or some other absurd-ist literature and told it was existential in the past. Regardless, responsibility of the individual is one of the only certain things that we have as a an individual, so I would place a large amount of liability to everyone to be more informed of the products that they are buying. This can also be assessed in terms of guilt an cost-benefit analysis: do you feel justified spending less money on a product to ensure the ongoing cycle of slavery? How much is another human's basic rights to you? Should guilt rationally guide your economic decisions? In this case, I would answer yes to the last question, in light of the horrible things described in Kevin Bales book.

Ryan Carroll said...

For me, the question becomes what we actually "need" that these slaves are producing. The basic human needs are food, air, water, purpose, and security (according to Maslow), but none of these are really supplied by slaves (unless your purpose is either to abolish or capture slaves). Until slavery becomes more expensive than payed labor, the cycle will continue. Rugmark is an example of this. The rugs produced by slave labor were worthless without the mark, forcing them to gain acceptance by the committee. Yes, at first, there was probably a shortage of rugs in the world, but in the end, millions of dollars were earned for child labor relief and thousands of enslaved rugmakers were freed. A rugless world is a small cost for such a large stride.