If a person belongs to a discriminated and oppressed social and economical group and conducts seemingly unethical behavior in order to ease his condition is that a truly unethical behavior?

For example, if an illegal immigrant steals flowers from industrial flowers fields to sell them in order for him to have at least some money to survive, is that unethical?

Or if an under-fed slave steals food from his master in order to obtain enough nutrition?

Or if a person coming from an authoritarian oppressive and discriminating state (like Russia) is forging some documents for him to easily pass through a senseless, artificial and over-complicated bureaucratic procedure?

Or if a person in poverty takes a bus without having a ticket, since he does not have money?

To be honest, I am, as a person coming from the former Soviet Union, is the most concerned with people's from the EU reactions to some of the shady habits Eastern European people have. Being used to the fact that social institutions are not just and legal system is firstly idiotic and secondly basically not functioning, we find our more efficient workarounds, without considering them like something bad at all. However, in most of the cases this shocks in a negative way my EU friends and that makes me angry.

  • Isn't this dependant on the specific term of oppression that is used? Would you mind clarifing?
    – CaZaNOx
    Jan 13 '18 at 12:30
  • If you accept Rousseau's "social contract", we obey laws to protect others because those laws also protect us. When those laws fail to protect us, we are relieved of our contractual obligation to follow those laws. Having said that, I'd have different answers for your various scenarios.
    – user935
    Jan 16 '18 at 16:03

Your question inspires another question: What kind of fallacy is it where an oppressed individual who breaks the rules is automatically condemned as unethical, with virtually no scrutiny of the people who make and enforce the rules?

There is an assumption that the people who make the rules (the oppressors) are ethical and live up to the rules.

In fact, that very frequently isn't the case at all. In "Corporate America," for example, the rules are typically drawn up by corporate attorneys and politicians. The people whose lives are governed by the rules typically have little or no real representation.

On top of that, the government, corporations, etc. often break their own rules.

To put it in perspective, consider a card game. If a person you're playing with is cheating (breaking the rules), then it doesn't make much sense to continue playing, especially if you're playing for money. So a smart person would just walk away.

But in "the real world," people can't just walk away. We have to work in order to acquire the money we need to survive. We have to follow local and national laws. We have to follow company rules.

But if the people who make and enforce those rules aren't playing fair, ordinary people may have little choice but break the rules themselves.

The stakes are even higher if an oppressed individual has a family to care for. Do you follow unfair rules if doing so means your children will go hungry or receive a poor education?

Looking at it another way, instead of asking if it's ethical for an oppressed individual to break the rules, let's ask if it's ethical for a politician or corporate tycoon (insert the name of your favorite capitalist titan here) to break the rules?


I should add that there is a big gray area here, too. If the oppressor isn't playing by the rules, does that make it OK for the oppressed to break ALL the rules? Taken to an extreme, that mentality could lead to anarchy. So the oppressed are forced to walk a tightrope, attempting to figure out which rules can or should be broken, when, by whom, etc.

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