An ethics dilemma

Let’s assume an Indian young man. He originally comes from a village where young boys and girls are betrothed to each other at age around 6 or 7 and get married when older, all arranged by their families. Before the wedding occurs, the young man goes to the university in a big city. He interacts with other Indian cultures as well as the western culture. When he comes back to the village, he proclaims that he doesn’t want to get married by arrangement, he wants to meet someone on his own. He has a fight with his parents about the shame he brings to the family, and he takes off and never comes back — although he occasionally calls his mother in secret.

Through her, he learns that the girl he was supposed to marry, never got married. Young men are already married in the surrounding villages, and the only people who show interest are very old men whose previous wives are dead. The young woman only has basic education so she doesn’t have the luxury to also take off to a big city and find a good or respectable job. She was brought up to be a wife.

So, what the young man should do? Should he just go on with his life and just do what he believes in and ignore the trouble his decision brought on both families, should he show mercy and marry her, or is there another, middle solution? Like, trying to take her away from the village, pay for her education and feed her until she can stand on her own feet? What if her parents don’t like this idea and he has to take drastic measures (like, taking her away regardless) that can cause legal action against him?

What would you do?


Luis wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 4:36 PM PST:

Learning lessons is tough, and here we have two families having to learn a lesson. The ball is on their side, not on the guy’s side.

Sure, the guy might feel sorry for the girl and if try to help the girl in any way he can (though we don’t know what the girl wants, anyway), but that’s it. He can’t do anything else to solve a situation created by others.

So the question is not what would you do if you were the guy. The question is what would you do if you were either family.

If I was the guy’s family, I would learn the lesson, ask my son to forgive my mistake and offer to help repair any damage caused to anyone.

If I was the girl’s family, I would ask my daughter to forgive me and offer her all the love and help I can so that she can have the best life possible.

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Eugenia wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 4:48 PM PST:

I am afraid this is not an option because this is not a rational utopia we live in. These are old people who have lived all their life in this kind of environment and have learned to embrace it and respect it. Old people don’t change their minds easily. Traditions are strong with them because they are afraid of what “others might say” about them.

The ball is on the young guy I am afraid. And he knows it, otherwise he wouldn’t have fled.

Luis wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 6:13 PM PST:

Sure I wasn’t talking about what is more likely to happen. I was talking about how the situation should be solved in an ideal world.

If the families don’t want to learn the lesson, then there’s not much the guy can do. Just if life goes well enough for him he could try to help the girl in a reasonable way (and if she wants this help, anyway).

What he definitely should not do is marry the girl, have kids and then agree to marry them to the kids from another family when they’re 7 y.o. That would be repeating the whole mistake again. And life is about learning and moving forward, not about doing what others did to us.

Elijah White wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 9:09 PM PST:

Depending upon your point of view, humans are not eligible for the status of property. If you don’t consider humans as property then there is no legitimate authority parents have to barter the productivity of their offspring. As such the male bears no responsibility for the girl’s welfare as he is not culpable for the agreement made by the adults involved.

If she cannot marry and cannot support herself, and her society feels no obligation to provide for her, then she will eventually die. Such is the danger of trying to barter your children’s self-determination away, isn’t it?

The responsibility for her plight lies foremost with her family for putting their child in such a position of peril, and then her government for providing her no means of escaping such dire a situation. It’s fairly bizarre to blame an individual for desiring to choose its own mate. I would call it barbaric, in fact.

If he wants to support this woman then that’s fine. If he doesn’t, then that is also fine.

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Eugenia wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 9:24 PM PST:

You are making the same mistake as Luis did. You reply in a way of “what should have happened”. Well, nothing is happening as it’s supposed to happen in this world. Governments don’t provide for us, and the society is cruel no matter in what country you are in.

This is why I called this blog post an “ethics dilemma”. Because the young man KNOWS how shitty the world is and KNOWS that this woman has no way out. It’s about HIM. It’s about what HE can do to have his conscious clear. Because let’s face it, no matter if he has every right to marry whoever he chooses, that *decision* of his is also the cause of great distress. He can’t have a good night sleep knowing he destroyed the life of a human being, no matter if it was directly his fault or not. Cause if he does have a good night sleep, he is a monster and she’s better off without him anyway.

>and her society feels no obligation to provide for her…

The young man is part of the society and he is closer to her than the rest. Which is why I feel that he has a moral obligation to do something about it.

Elijah White wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 11:17 PM PST:

“You are making the same mistake as Luis did.”

In that I bothered to respond, yes. A compounded error in replying further. Such is the futility of discussing subjective matters.

“Well, nothing is happening as it’s supposed to happen in this world.”

I, in fact, did not state anything about “what is supposed to happen.” I established the terms under which the male is not responsible for his parents’ deals, described the likely ramifications of the events under various conditions, and scolded her family and society for ruining her life.

If I were to pontificate on the what-should-have-happened, both of them should have been provided educational opportunities that enabled them to choose their own mates like the rest of the civilized, and even much of the undeveloped, world around them.

“He can’t have a good night sleep knowing he destroyed the life of a human being”

He didn’t destroy anyone’s life. Her family did, by raising her to be a cow, and her society did by letting them. I’m sorry, but what are you doing to better this woman’s life, tucked away in suburbia, hauling around your cameras and debating what high-definition television you should purchase, that you feel obligated to tell someone that he destroyed someone else’s life by deciding he could choose his own mate? I am in an even better position than he is to fund this woman’s life, so why is it not I that destroys her life by not importing her like a bit of cheese and providing for her?

“The young man is part of the society and he is closer to her than the rest.”

You are not closer to someone simply because another has sold you to their parents or vice-versa. It may be that they are quite close or it may not.

“Which is why I feel that he has moral obligation to do something about it.”

Depending upon the axioms under consideration, he has a responsibility for the general social welfare of his society. Under any that I would accept he does not have any particular responsibility to marry or personally fund a woman whose parents were incompetent. He should provide for the general welfare according to his ability to do so. Claiming that he has even that much responsibility is being generous by the standards of the classical liberals that roam the Internet praying to Ron Paul…

I certainly won’t tell a man that he is a slave because another’s parents gambled her life on the terms of a barbaric tradition that didn’t pan out. It denies him either the ability to choose his mate, either because he has to marry someone he doesn’t want to, or because his meager successes are spent toward educating someone trained to be a cow.

It seems that you would because you are not willing to accept an outcome where the woman marries an older man, makes her own way despite her disadvantages, or dies. That’s your prerogative, but I certainly find such insistence dubious.

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Eugenia wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 11:39 PM PST:

>Such is the futility of discussing subjective matters.

That’s why I posted this blog post. Because it would have a good dialog. If you don’t want to respond, don’t.

Our difference is the fact that you see the whole problem from very high level, from far away. You approach the issue as “it’s their problem, they were stupid, and now they pay for it”. But this is not the way I see it, because you can’t just throw away a thousand year old tradition that the society around you is expecting from you. As a father, you LIVE with these people around you and you can’t afford to be the new kid on the block because that’s not how these societies where everyone knows everyone in the village work. You don’t live with the Americans who would find such a tradition laughable and they will back you up, you live with neighbors who expect from you to behave like everyone else around you.

I am coming from a village too, and my father is an old-fashioned man. And yet, my father is a man who loves the American culture. And yet, he will enforce tradition in the house, not because he always liked it, but because his job and everyone else around him EXPECTS him to. When I told my father that I wanted to date when I was 16, he told me “No. Either no, or if you do, make sure I don’t learn about it. I can’t afford to lose my status in the village, not because I don’t want you have a good time, but because our family’s welfare depends on it. When you leave the village, do whatever the damn you want“. And guess what, he was not far out. I fully understood his position and I respected it. My first boyfriend was at my 18, when I had left.

Maybe the problem is that you never lived in a small society, but I have. And this is why I ask what the young man should do, not what the girl’s family should HAVE done. He is the only one who can help out in this situation, even if you don’t feel that this is the case.

For you, it’s acceptable to say “the woman can die”, like she’s part of an evolution scheme or something, but for me it’s not. I have a heart. And I expect the young man to have one too. Not to become a slave as you said, I never suggested that he should marry her, but maybe he should be responsible for her “rehabilitation” to the real world. I believe that it’s morally right, given the fact that the young man KNOWS and UNDERSTANDS himself that if HE won’t act, the girl is done. This young man has LIVED in that society and he knows that both families had no other way of understanding the world around them. This knowledge itself creates responsibility, because he is the only person who has both lived in the small society and knows that there is no way out, and at the same time he is the enlightened one.

Maybe you can be an asshole and live with it and ignore the whole situation, but I could have never lived with this knowledge. You see, in the whole equation is very important for me to be a “good person”.

l3v1 wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 12:05 AM PST:

“The ball is on the young guy I am afraid. And he knows it, otherwise he wouldn’t have fled.”

Interesting view. I can’t really appreciate it, still I find it interesting. Things are never so black and white, whether he should have any responsibility for someone who really has no connection with besides what the community thinks he has, can be a matter of very long debates, and no blog post induced discussion can be enough to discover all issues behind such a topic.

Hundreds of years old traditions are never easy to change. And if change needs to happen can be a matter of debate in its own. Whether a person stays in this cultural and traditional habitat for a lifetime is not something I’d accept to be the sole decision of the community, or the parents. They can show the directions, present the traditional ethical and social guidelines, but anything else should be the right of the person to decide.

Yes, that can sound too far fetched from the point of view of a traditional Indian perspective. But unless they built their community to act like a prison, some freedoms shall be present, like the one allowing the guy to “flee” as you put it.

My problem even starts with the “flee”ing. I don’t see leaving from such a situation as feeling. No single person can change hundreds of years of traditional behavior, and since the lifespan of a human being is only this much, sometimes your only choice is to find your place which can make your lifespan bearable at least.

As to whether this guy should feel responsible for the woman he was supposed to marry… well, I feel that to be not a hard, but more a tricky kind of question, you know one of those ones you can’t give an asnwer that would be taken as being right. Demanding such high “ethical” and “moral” behavior – since it seems you think taking care of the woman is such – is the same as when you say “see the whole problem from very high level, from far away”. I don’t think you or we could or should make such judgements (i.e. being unethical and immoral) about someone who’s coming from such a background. It seems you’d put his whole community’s traditional “deficiencies”‘ weight on his shoulders.

I’d think if he’d take care of her, that would be something many of us would see as a generous deed. But if he didn’t, I’d honestly understand the guy. If more such prearranged marriages would “break”, maybe after a while even the community would start to rethink some of its ways. But that’s a very bold “maybe” to state there. I know how hard old habits and traditions can be to break/change.

Also when you say “rehabilitation”… that’s also a totally subjective issue, and highly dependent from the point of view. Rehabilitation from where, to where, from which moral/ethical/legal context to whichever else ? “Rehabilitation” on what grounds, ’cause an outsider from another cultural background thinks his one is the one other people should be rehabilitated into ?

As a last sentence, I’d say he’d have no responsibility to do anything for the woman he doesn’t know, didn’t ask for, and doesn’t love. If you’d demand he did something, why don’t ou demand he’d do something for every and each other person in that community, they’d probably also need to be “rahabilitated”.

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Eugenia wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 12:16 AM PST:

> if he’d take care of her, that would be something many of us would see as a generous deed.

To me, it would seem like the default. Being a caring person for people close to you and people where you were assigned responsibility (even if you never wanted it), shows good character.

> why don’t you demand he’d do something for every and each other person in that community

Because you can’t change the whole world around you, you start from where you can and from where you feel somewhat responsible. It’s about being a good person. Read again above about how this person has knowledge of the overall situation and this knowledge should keep any good person awake at night.

I am surprised that more people don’t endorse this point of view but they instead endorse the “me, myself and I” selfish point of view. I guess 2000 years of Christianity in the western world didn’t change us that much from the days we were on the trees after all.

Honestly, I am disappointed. (Intelligent) people are worse than I thought. And then some talk about “their society is wrong, needs fixing”. Hah! Maybe they have everything figured out and we are the chimps in jeans instead.

If we don’t have a heart, we have NOTHING.

Brendan wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 2:05 AM PST:

It’s a me, me, me world.


The talk of News Year’s resolutions is now popping up in conversations and the main thing that strikes me about them is that they are all about what one can do to improve your own life. They are rarely about what one can do you improve anothers life.

The guy in your text could return to his village, marry the girl, take her away from that life and see how things go. At least then they both have a chance. If he ignores her then he will never forget it and she is doomed.

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Eugenia wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 2:10 AM PST:

Well said Brendan.

Apotheosis wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 4:37 AM PST:

In my opinion, an ethical stance is closer to an intelligent (as in, well thought off) decision rather to a response guided by emotions. It leans more on philosophy rather than spiritualism. Hence why I agree with the viewpoints of Elijah and l3v1, which are guided by the principles of responsibility, free will, society structures etc.

Being “a good person” is as vague and subjective as “the axis of evil” and similar quotes. Also, having “a clear councious” can be stretched to as many angles and viewpoints as there are individuals with opinions. Why would the young man “be an asshole” if he chose that he could not cope with the responsibility of a person he does not even know or wish to associate with, simply because of the actions of others more than a decade before? Is it not simillary selfish (according to that way of thinking) if the young man is forced (by his familly, his “conscience”, or anything else) to take on something he simply does not want to or cannot deal with? Where are his individual rights and where is the empathy from others towards him? Why continue down the ‘victimising’ route?

>> To me, it would seem like the default. Being a caring person for people close to you and people where you were assigned responsibility (even if you never wanted it), shows good character.

Why is that girl ‘close to’ the young guy? Also, if I tell you (or anyone for the matter) that I feel betrayed by your views on software and I feel you are “responsible” for my losing faith in my own proffession (software engineer) because of your actions, is that “assignment of responsibility” something you would accept?

>> It’s a me, me, me world.

It can be, yes, very much so. But, and this is only my personal view from my experience of life so far, I usually hear that comment mostly from needy people, or people who feel they have a right on someone else, who assign obligations because of their own self-involved view of the world.

To sum up my views, I understand the angle Eugenia is coming from and I sincerely do not think it is a wrong angle. I simply disagree with the insistence that your view is the “better” view, or at least the one “with heart”. There is no empathy in that. People should be allowed their own choices, I am a great believer in individual freedom. And also, my freedom stops when your freedom is breached, and vice versa.

Apotheosis wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 6:26 AM PST:

Oh, I also wanted to add one more thing.

Brendan, usually people who are actually active and willing to help others do so without discussing about it. It is in their nature, it comes from inside. Most people who talk about changing society, doing good to your fellow humans etc, usually end up doing only that. Talk.
(the comment is not aimed at you, by the way, just on the subject of talking about good deeds and all)

Richard wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 7:46 AM PST:

While I have not much of an opinion about what other people “should” do, I do have an opinion about what I would do.

For me this looks like he has certain ties to another person that he did not choose on his own. Actually I have certain ties to people that I did not choose, and this is my family, my brothers and sister. And I would do whatever is neccesary to help me people when they need me, no matter how high the price that I would pay. And I guess that if had a wife that I did not choose on my own, I would at least treat her like a sister and help her out in any way possible.

memsom wrote on December 7th, 2007 at 2:48 AM PST:

The scarry thing is that this actually happens outside of “the village”. This kind of thing happens in the UK still amoungst the Asian community (you say “Indian” and I assume you mean “native of India”.) I think though, the problem is not confined to India necessarily. Pakistan and Bangladesh also practice the custom, and it is fairly wide spread amoungst the general Indian sub continent in general. What you have to understand about India is that it is not a single poeple or culture in many respects, but it does have a fairly rigid traditional cast system and extremely strong traditions.

In this country, it is not unheard of young men and women being sent back “home” to Pakistan to marry. Whether against their will or volentarily.

I doubt the boy would have had the chance to escape from India. If it was in a country outside of India, maybe. There is an extremely powerful tradition in honour killings within the Indian sub-continent. We get them still here too. Only recently a man brutally murdered his wife and 3 young children because they dishonoured him. He stabbed his wife to death and smouthered and stamped on the heads of his children and then fled to Thailand.

What I get from this is – you don’t really understand the culture, I don’t think he would have gotten away with it – his family or the girls family would have had him killed. Even if he fled the country. If he stayed in one of the major metropolitan areas of India, for example, like Delhi or Mumbai (Bombay’s new name), he would certainly not be alive for very long.

Then again – I don’t claim to be an expert past reading papers, media news and knowing quite a few Asians from varios regions and faiths.

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