Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is all exploitation "bad?"

The question has been bugging me for a while. This was aggravated the other day when I was listening to a PETA rep on Maxim radio on my Sirius radio. The DJs had contacted her because of the comments they have made regarding Crocodile Steve Irwin.

They charge him with the exploitation of animals. An odd charge, given that he was a herpetologist who produced fantastic amounts of video which preached the saving and respecting of animals.

Are they wrong? Not on this first charge. He did make money from the display and handling of animals outside of the animal's natural environment. I suppose that this is a sort of exploitation. The Merriam-Webster gives two definitions of "exploit." The first is "to make productive use of." He certainly does this. In many senses of the word.

The question, then, is whether exploitation is a bad thing. This is where I think that they are off base.

Even if we agree that the animals are being exploited by Crocodile Steve it is odd to say that they are being harmed. He removes them from a bad situation (a literal State of Nature) and cares for the animals in a facility that is much like their own environment save for the absence of violent death and the presence of abundant and regular food. Our captive critters are not being harmed in a recognizable way. Their place in life seems to have been greatly improved via their exploitation.

It seems appropriate to juxtapose this case with that of some factory workers in 3rd world nations. The charge of exploitation is often leveled at the corporations which contract with the factories due to the fact that they do not pay the same wages in their country as they would get in the US. All the same, they are making (in many cases, but surely not all) fantastic wages in comparison to others in their society. By some reports they take these jobs because they are the best ones available.

Does the charge of exploitation pan out in either case? Do these cases show that exploitation is not always a bad thing? Do we need two new words in light of these realizations?


  1. This one's easy. Consequentialism is true, therefore not all exploitation is bad.

  2. I don't know that it's that simple, Arthur.

    Are we to say that the best consequences involve exploitation of many people? That seems like a hard sell of the type that consequentialism is generally accused of. I'm not saying that I disagree, but it's an interesting bulett to bite.