Exploitation, Choice, and Sacrifice

Written by Marc Neilsen on November 18th, 2009

Like a few other Koch scholars, I too have a problem with the question itself. It seemed to me that despite the incredible pressure experienced by the children, there still existed a choice to be “exploited” for the greater good. To me, exploitation, no matter how distasteful, still requires a certain level of compliance from the exploited; without the consent of the individual, exploitation becomes sacrifice or slavery. For example, many today condemn the living conditions of the urban poor during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the United States as products of “exploitation.” This claim often incorporates a view that the individuals who labored in the newly created markets of industry were somehow coerced or enslaved by greedy industrialists, as if the choice had never been made by the laborer. The repudiation of this time period has much to do with the confusion between exploitation and sacrifice. When someone is “sacrificed” for the greater good, coercion replaces the ability of the individual to choose and becomes something entirely different than exploitation.

The notion of whether or not an individual has a “right to childhood” certainly sparked my interest, as well. This is a problematic debate mainly because it is so hard to define “childhood” or related terms like “innocence.” While I can easily condemn crimes such as child pornography and statutory rape for stealing a child’s innocence, I still can’t clearly define “childhood” as something requiring protection. How should society codify such protections, if necessary?

Going back to the example of the Industrial Revolution, many children worked in sweat shops and weren’t able to obtain an education, was their childhood stolen away? Was this “exploitation” or something more hideous such as “enslavement?”

I wish I could present a well constructed argument either for or against this notion, nevertheless, I continue to be undecided.


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