[Air-l] universal ethics?

Paula pmg at gmx.co.uk
Mon Mar 28 06:02:02 PST 2005

My reply got horribly long, so I blogged it instead: 
http://bastubis.blogspot.com/ Monday


Radhika Gajjala wrote:

> I knew you'd take that on;-)
> r
>> Hi all,
>> Radhika wrote in response to Peter T.
>> PT >> If there are universal ethics we can prove these on the Internet.
>> >
>> >
>> RG> whose ethics will be universalised do you suppose? and what kinds of
>> > intolerances might that validate/legitimize?
>> >
>> Exactly the right questions - thank you, Radhika!
>> And I would gently reply: I think we can propose an ethics that 
>> begins in part with the universal value implicit in the suggestion 
>> here that "universal" claims have all too often in the past served as 
>> excuses for colonialism, imperialism, and other forms of oppression 
>> and violence - namely, that tolerance for Others (those whose 
>> identities, views, and practices may differ radically from our own) 
>> and affiliated presumptions of human equality should be endorsed 
>> exactly as the bases for criticizing claims to universality that 
>> instead led to colonialism, etc.
>> I would add: this tolerance is not unlimited. Rather, I think it's 
>> quite possible to endorse tolerance as a universal value - but not 
>> thereby be committed to tolerating, say, fascist regimes and violent 
>> repression of women and minorities. On the contrary, by proposing 
>> that rights to integrity, autonomy, cultural identity, and so forth 
>> are, at the very least, strong candidates for universal rights (and 
>> their attendant obligations) - such universal rights and values 
>> provide precisely the grounds for criticizing earlier "universal" 
>> claims affiliated with colonialism, etc., as well as for criticizing 
>> contemporary expressions of violence and intolerance of "the Other".
>> My (admittedly characteristic mid-Western [North American]) optimism 
>> on this point is fueled in part precisely by the success of the AoIR 
>> ethical guidelines. Admittedly, while our ethics working committee 
>> included members from Malaysia and Thailand, the background for the 
>> guidelines were largely derived from "Western" countries such as the 
>> U.S., the E.U., Scandinavia, and the U.K. Nonetheless, the guidelines 
>> are reported to us as being used in apparently effective ways in an 
>> increasing range of cultural venues.
>> Moreover, my more recent work (with the help, I must hasten to add, 
>> of many, many colleagues in these domains) on Information Ethics and 
>> Internet Research Ethics in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, 
>> and Korea also offer grounds for optimism. For example, two recent 
>> examples of Internet research in Japan demonstrate more or less 
>> perfect consonance with the AoIR guidelines recommendations regarding 
>> informed consent, protection of confidentiality, anonymity, and 
>> personal data, etc.
>> Indeed, emerging conceptions of privacy and data privacy protection 
>> law in these countries - while clearly retaining distinctive cultural 
>> “shape” in their conception and application - are nonetheless 
>> recognizable cousins of "Western" conceptions and laws. This suggests 
>> that even across the considerable cultural differences, say, between 
>> the U.S. and Germany, on the one hand, and China, Japan, Thailand, 
>> Korea, and Hong Kong, on the other - there may be agreement on basic 
>> (universal?) values such as privacy, while at the same time 
>> recognizing the validity of clearly different implementations and 
>> understandings of what data privacy protection means in practice in 
>> each country, as shaped by very different cultural backgrounds, 
>> histories, and traditions.
>> This is not to say that all cultural differences and resulting 
>> conflicts can be deftly side-stepped through such pluralism (I have 
>> examples of these as well). But I do think that universal values may 
>> be discerned - in part, through an on-going dialogue that works to 
>> critically assess any such putative values, precisely with a critical 
>> eye towards how any such values might in fact work in oppressive 
>> rather than liberating ways. Indeed, I think we make more progress 
>> towards some sort of shared, humane value system_s_ and ethics 
>> through such dialogues, rather than giving up the effort, however 
>> much previous failures and disasters might tempt us to do so.
>> I _don’t_ take Radhika’s point to encourage such temptation – but 
>> wanted to offer these comments.
>> Hope this helps in some way. All the best in the meantime,
>> Charles Ess
>> Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
>> Drury University
>> 900 N. Benton Ave.
>> Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
>> voice: (1) 417-873-7230
>> fax: (1) 417-873-7435
>> homepage: www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
>> "The world can provide for everyone's needs - but not for everyone's 
>> greed." - Gandhi
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