An ethical debate for two issues: International sex traffic and terminating employees who smoke at home.

Spring 2008

The question of traditional ethics being possible in policy making in a post-modern society is much discussed today among policy makers. Ethics are defined as rules, whether written or culturally in existence that are supposed to guide human actions. Ethics is necessary to study because it helps to understand controversial issues such as sex trafficking and smoking rights- comprehending ethics helps to make consistent decisions and improve policy analyses. Here the discussion of these two ethical dilemmas- international sex traffic and banning smokers from the office- will take place.

It is estimated that there are 600,000 to 800,000 sex slaves worldwide, mostly women, and almost half being minors. In the United States alone there are almost 50,000 sex slaves. As the show titled Sex Slaves by Frontline presents, these thousands of women are kidnapped and sent to Europe, the Middle East, the U.S. and other parts of the globe, and in the process  they may be drugged, terrorized, sold to pimps, locked away in brothels, and raped repeatedly. International sex traffic is one of the most difficult issues to tackle because it involves various parties, ethical dilemmas, and a basic lack of information. Corruption and international protections are some of the many issues that make catching participants like pimps, middlemen, and traffickers who illegally buy and sell women difficult. We question, how can the government allow the global sex trade to continue when they know that it is going on?

Global sex trade raises many related issues like sexual abuse, domestic violence, black market criminal activities, health disparities, corruption, cultural barriers, poverty, and weak international organizations. These are obstacles that vary in degree from place to place but are all related when it comes to international sex trafficking which deals with some of the most helpless members of society. As Sex Slaves presents, in sex trade, women are commodities and are in desperate need of the financial “support” that comes with it, as flawed and minute as it may be. It is definitely a matter that illustrates ethical and economies realities of helpless victims and their families.

It is difficult to control this issue mainly because it is an international problem. For example, there is a general indifference towards women not in our cultural frame when we have “our own” to think about. It is also linked to poor border control and immigration policies which in itself is an entirely different and difficult public policy issue in the United States. Also, the general view of prostitution and sex a taboo one where we know it exists but are also not as informed about the degree of its problem, and therefore, not discused. Further, global sex trade is part of the underground world, and most people do not meet sex slaves and therefore are not directly affected. With all of these problems and rebuttals in mind, international sex trade is a serious ethical dilemma that forces policy makers to look beyond the human exploitation factor.

Another example of an ethical dilemma is the issue of terminating employees who smoke outside of the workplace. While one may not smoke, he or she can still be subject to second hand smoking when around smokers, and this has been proven to cause health hazards, such as heart disease and respiratory ailments. The workplace can be an area where one can be exposed to second hand smoke; this is especially common in restaurants, bars, and other hospitality venues. A common action taken by business and the state to limit this is to prohibit smoking inside or near these areas like restaurants, schools, etc., creating smoke-free zones. These actions have taken place in 27 states today. Another more radical step has been to actually ban smokers from work, even if it is on their own time, like at home. Union Pacific Corp. is once such company that now rejects smoker’s applications in various states that they are based on, including Texas, Arizona, and Kansas; the public affairs director John Bromley stated that this move will save the company a lot of costs annually for each position filled by a nonsmoker (Michigan Daily, February 3, 2005). These completely smoke-free working areas are supposed to protect workers and create an environment that also encourages smokers to quit, as well as save companies funds.

The opposing view of this move is the argument that smoking is a private matter, and thus creating such laws invade personal rights. These moves taken by various companies today have raised alarm among privacy and worker’s rights advocates. There are twenty states today that have no laws preventing employers from firing workers who smoke even when they are not at work. While it is clear that smoking is unhealthy, it is still a choice, and the question of ethics comes into play. Civil liberty organizations inquiry this behavior, and raise the question of what other personal choices could be banned next. They ague that unless workers are engaging in behavior outside of work that interferes with work, employers have no right to limit their behavior outside of the workplace. And smoking, as well as other choices like alcohol is not illegal in the United States, so while it does have unhealthy consequences, they are still personal choices that should not prevent users from employment. It is argued that this is a controlling behavior that once installed, it will allow employers to go even further into personal choices and rights in the future.

In conclusion, the issue of completely smoke free zone creates confusion between its moral and legal arguments. This type of ban plays on political ethics, or policy making judgments about people’s lives, and making decisions for them that they may never meet. It is a clear example of an ethical dilemma in which policy makers are forced to look at what may be for the general good but may interfere with personal liberty and rights.

Ethical quandaries are difficult to address in policy making today, in a post-modern society. We are forced to look at our ethical responsibilities, and the boundaries between something that is both a moral and a legal issue. Symbolic actions, like not allowing smokers employment are symbolic actions with political and moral consequences. Ethical dilemmas also raise the question of who can decide for the public what norms are, especially for future generations. What is the ultimate good, and what are the boundaries of ethics today, and how do we justify something like sex traffic that is seen as necessary in other cultures- these are some of the many crucial questions that makes policy making difficult for issues that are both private and carry public consequences.

Ethnic Conflicts and State Building

Spring 2008

Albert Somit and Steven Peterson’s Human Nature and Public Policy suggests that public policy should conform to human nature. The following answer is based on Chapter 13, titled “Ethnic Conflict and State Building” by Bradely Thayer, in Human Nature and Public Policy.

In Human Nature and Public Policy, Albert Somit and Steven Peterson argues that it is important to understand human behavior in order to dictate policies. They note that every policy has a reaction and causes and effects, and these are largely due to human behavior. With a few exceptions, policies usually reflect the views of the human nature, as they inevitably deal with social, political, and economic issues that consider our reactions and motives on a daily basis. The particular focus of this essay will be on Chapter 13 titled Ethnic Conflict and State Building, by Bradley Thayer. Peterson and Somit basically conclude on this topic that policies designed to stop or limit war and violence between people or nations should be based on the fact that these behaviors “have characterized human affairs since the beginning of recorded history and have given no indication of diminution, all palliative efforts notwithstanding” (13). Thayer argues that ethnic conflicts have evolutionary roots, and therefore it is particularly difficult to make policies because so much of ethnic conflict is about human nature. Nevertheless, evolutionary theory does not “offer proximate explanations of ethnic conflict” but assists in the causes and triggers (238).

Since the end of the Cold War, ethnic conflict has been widespread, such as from Sri Lanka, Bosnia, to Liberia. They are important to study because ethnic conflicts often lead to much abuse in human rights and disasters. Ethnic conflicts also influences U.S. policy making- for example, it affects how much of a presence the U.S. will have in Europe if the conflict tin Kosovo should affect Albanian minority in Macedonia. An ethnic conflict also has political implications for the region, as well as economic implication for the area and its partners as well (especially when sanctions are common during such conflicts).  We seek to understand the roots of these conflicts so that we may make effective policies, and evolutionary models assist us in this process.

Thayer discusses evolutionary theory to illustrate the difficulties of creating policies that would not only limit or terminate ethnic conflicts but also conform to human nature. He uses examples of xenophobia and ethnocentrism to explain the contribution of human evolution on this issue. Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners, or those unknown to us. Ethnocentrism is when one believes in the superiority of their ethnicity. It is a collection of traits that would predispose the individual to show discriminatory preferences for groups with the closest identities to themselves. Both of these traits have existed since the beginning of time in humans and other animals- such as with cats and dogs, as Thayer points as an example. Some argue that competition for territory and other scarce resources caused these traits to appear in human nature; since we live in groups, we compete with other groups, and create wars to get the most resources. Fear of strangers escalated as technology advanced and we were able to make more specialized weapons to threaten one another and defend ourselves. Ethnocentrism proves why individuals generally support their own community more than others. For example, given the human nature, you would not normally sacrifice for strangers. This also explains why people identify with a nation, and communities similar to them in conflict. Nationalism has definitely played large parts in ethnic conflict, as being part of a group only strengthens the “causes” being fought for or defended.

Given these points by Thayer, it confirms the difficulty of conforming to human nature in making policies, especially when the international community is considering involvement. When we learn about these ethnic conflicts, it is in our human nature to sympathize, and most of us who are especially disconnected from the region feel this way. However, that does not mean that the United States will go and use its recourses to end the conflict in Yugoslavia or in Darfur, Sudan. It is very hard to conform to human nature in this sense because while we see the humanitarian abuse, policies must take many other factors into consideration, such as the economic interests, safety of its own citizens, and how it will affect political alliances or monetary relations with other involved parties. Policies must judge on these multiple levels because an ethnic conflict has so many implications for the home nation as well as the conflicted region’s interests, ranging from political, fiscal, to social and historical.

Thayer suggests that we need to change the concept of the national identity as a way of combating ethnic conflicts, and make it be one that includes everyone in a region no matter the race, religion, or background. He suggests that we do this through education as well as media to promote ethnic integration. However, this is a possible, but a difficult process because the very nature of humans has created these ethnical differences in the first place, and some of the prejudices have existed for so long that often becomes part of the culture in many regions of the conflict.  It is difficult to attain complete unity in nations where it is particularly multiethnic. Thayer points that many countries like the United Kingdom, India, France, and the United States have “successfully” used education to promote ethnic integration. Indeed in the United States, racial toleration and acceptance is emphasized through education in schools, and yet racially segregated schools still exist throughout the country. In India, division between castes in schools and in the community still widely exist and accepted because this classification system has existed for so long in society that it is part of the very culture of India. In France, many Muslim families face the problem of having to limit possible schools that their daughter can attend because it is against he law to wear the headscarf inside educational institutions. Combating evolutionary traits such as xenophobia and ethnocentrisms is often too idealistic in international politics. But the recognition that such feelings exist is important in beginning changes, as slowly as it may be. This is why ethnic conflicts take so long to terminate, as changes must be brought in time and must be sensitive to the people and the parties involved.

The evolutionary model used by Thayer assists us in seeing how ethnic conflicts are often inevitable because so much of it is evolutionary, such as xenophobia and ethnocentrisms. It is imperative to realize that ethnic conflicts have evolutionary origins and so cannot be simply eliminated. Rather, they can be controlled and limited. Thayer asserts that the international community must work together to suppress ethnic conflicts. However, this is not always possible because many members of the community that have the means to limit ethnic conflict have other interests to respect as well, especially when ethnic conflicts have so many triggers, from cultural, historical, to economic, and political. Ethnic conflicts are indeed multifaceted, and have very complex origins, and they continue to be a danger for many parts of the world today. What policy makers can do is understand the causes to help scholars “better predict the circumstances in which ethnic conflicts may occur”, and then suggest certain courses of actions. Because so much of human nature is evolutionary, policies wil continue to be suggested and considered, and ethnic conflict will probably remain, like a “social phenomenon”, and continue to be part of the fabric of international politics.