At what point is someone else's business my business?

This thread is based somewhat on this pit thread about a Saudi woman who was (claims to have been?) gang raped, and was then sentenced to be whipped for having had sex.

The argument in the pit seems to be bouncing back and forth between, “it sucks, but she should have known not to put herself in that position,” and, “don’t blame her, it’s not her fault and this is fucked up!”
I think people pretty quickly got to be talking past each other, but the reason, as I see it, is that there’s a fundamental issue underlying that debate that not everyone has faced yet, and that is this:

There is some point at which the things other people are doing is their business. That point may be based on a number of things such as:

[li]How many other people are doing that thing[/li][li]How much that thing offends my moral sense[/li][li]How visible that thing is[/li][li]How far away those people are[/li][li]How effective our interference would be[/li][li]. . . and many others as well[/li][/ul]

My assertions here are first that this point does indeed exist, though it’s precise point is different for each of us.

Second, that some form of, “well, that’s too bad, but he/she should have known better,” is a legitimate response to something that is “someone else’s business,” and does not indicate that the speaker is blaming the victim of evil acts in any way.

Because if it is my business, then I should go do something about it. If we as a world felt like the issue brought up in the pit thread, then we should go in and liberate all the women. Certainly if that happened in America or many other places in the world the woman (assuming her story checks out) would be vindicated and her attackers punished. When it happens in someone else’s country, in someone else’s house, our relationship to the events becomes more strained. Should we go in and liberate all the women in Saudi Arabia? Would they all even desire that? And, if we did, wouldn’t that be inviting other peoples to enact judgment upon us?

Our business is our business, and the business of others is theirs. This is the attitude that keeps us safe from any random person who feels like they need to dictate the terms of my life, or my family, or my freedom.

As I said, where that line is between my business and your business is certainly debatable. But, just because I say that a woman in Saudi Arabia should have known better than to take a ride in a car from a stranger doesn’t mean that I think she is deserving of mistreatment in some absolute sense. I think it’s sad and disgusting what happened. I just don’t think that it’s very much of my business.

well the use of force to change peoples ideals/beliefs has historically been less than successful. but I get your point.

my guess is that it lies someplace along the line where their business might actually affect yours.

an example being street racers, the only people who think street racing is cool are other street racers. everyone else thinks they are jackasses. The reason being that everyone else knows that these morons are putting themselves and more importantly us and our friends/families at risk. meanwhile no one gives a rip about people who climb mount Everest, why? because their dangerous behavior only affects them (and possibly the other people they are on the mountain with) 2 activities, one generates a lot of anger and the other generates a lot of meh. but both groups do it for essentially the same reasons.

When they’re doing it on your lawn.

I used to agre with the general board “Not my problem? Not my business” ethic. but I no longer can. As a Christian, I have to be concerned with my brother as well as myself in that same way and to the same degree.

As a Muslim I have to be concerned that you’ve become a Christian, I still don’t see how that makes it my business.

Smiling Bandit, that’s a great outlook and can be wonderful where there is something you can do about it.
However, there are around a billion Muslims and many if not most agree with sharia law to some extent. There is no way you can change that with any amount of non-violent action/discussion. They don’t care what you think any more than you would change your Christian ideals based on their displeasure.
Of course violence is 1) worse than useless and 2) would lead to a world where 'might makes right". We can beat you up so you have to do what we say.
Violence and non-violence don’t work, that doesn’t leave anything.
My answer to the OP is basically, it’s your business/problem when you can do something about it. If you can’t, sure you can register your displeasure but though it might make you feel better, it’s not going to change anything.

It all depends on the situation. Sometimes intervention is required, sometimes it’s not. As an atheist, I care about my fellow man as much as I care about myself.

wow, I came here to say when you own more than 50% of it (the business). But what the actual OP is concerned, everyone has the right to complain about the Saudi thing, write to their congressman etc. But one has to understand - or at least will have an easier life - that it will have little effect, especially when these things are happening in undemocratic countries.

I don’t like what is happening in Saudi Arabia; I don’t like underage criminals being judged as adults in the US; I don’t like that a dutch MP is denied entry into the UK; and I don’t like the dutch police imprisoning teenagers for making death threats over the phone. Since I am dutch, the only thing I can influence is the last, so I can voice my opinion and pay attention to which politicians make similar claims (and take that into consideration when I go vote).

You left out one criterion: whether there’s an actual injustice involved; whether anyone’s rights are being violated. When a woman is raped, it’s pretty much a no-brainer . . . whether or not she “should have known better.” Rape is rape.

But on the other hand, thought it’s ethical to condemn this behavior, it’s not realistic for one person to travel the globe looking for injustices. There are simply too many. Do what you can, within the context of your life and your ability to change the situation. If you are a consistent advocate for reason, justice and human rights, you may accomplish much more than targeting a single event.

Really, the debate as such would be between those who believe that empathy is or should be universal (and thus moral duties are also universal), and those who believe that empathy is or should be graded based on connections with the people involved.

The problem is easily put: several above have said that they “care about their fellow” as much as they care about themselves. A believer in universal empathy would, in theory at least, care about someone in Somalia they have never met as much as their next-door neighbour - after all, both are human, fully entitled to the same rights, etc.

A believer in graded obligations will care about their neigbour more than someone they have never met - the former is someone s/he has a connection with, and therefore, more duties towards.

Western religion and philosophy has tended towards the universalist position as an ideal (if not in practice). The Chinese Confucian tradition has tended towards graded obligations. Both have their points.

I certainly think that when victims are involved and those victims are victims because of lack of ability or opportunity to defend themselves, it becomes the business of other people to step in. It’s what makes us human, hopefully… Our humanity. Jesus, I just saw a video of a dog rescuing another dog who’d been hit by a car… He pulled him off the road! We’re at least as humane as dogs!

These may affect how likely one is to empathize with a victim of injustice, but they do not affect the inherent morality of an action for those of us who do believe in some of absolute morality (which, of course, we all do at some level - as even just making the statement “It is wrong to interfere in the business of other people” is in fact a morally absolute statement).
By your criteria, one could argue that slavery was “nobody else’s business” back when a lot of Southerners used to think it was a great idea (after all, a lot of people were doing it!), and that child abuse is “nobody else’s business” as long as it happens behind closed doors (after all, then it’s not “visible” to others). Most of us would reject such ideas outright, though.

Sure, the fact that an injustice may occur in a far away country and that we aren’t exactly sure how to stop it may impact how practical it is to take action, but it shouldn’t stop a moral person from being concerned about the matter and making efforts to do what is practical try to stop it (for example, even if you can’t currently “liberate” women in Saudia Arabia, you can raise awareness of the problem in the hope that, incrementally, social or political changes may come about that help the women later on).

If someone is being exploited or victimized, it is the business of anyone who cares about fairness and justice. Maybe some people will be more empathetic about it than others, and some may have better means to actually do something about it than others, but we should all be concerned. After all, the more we tolerate other people’s rights being violated, the more we put ourselves at risk that no one will speak up for us when our own rights are violated.

I think when other people’s rights are violated, it’s my business. Because it might be me next. No, national borders don’t keep the crazy out.

I’m not advocating war or aggression (though in my mind I’d love to lay a glass parking lot out in the desert in this instance), but everyone with a voice who sees oppression and injustice in the world should speak out. Because it IS your business. It may not make a difference in the short run, but in the long run, we want our morality to prevail, and not Saudi Arabia’s.

Now, harmless things people do in private, on the other hand, are nobody’s damn business at all.

Au contraire. I can do something about. It may be a small something. It may be that no one else will notice it. But if anyone, even the weakest man in the world, dedicates himself to hauling rocks, even the smalest of pebbles, and piles them up for a long time, even at one every day, then one day he will build a mountain to reach the sky.

You say it is dificult, that there are thousands and millions around the world. Well, I don’t dispute that. I will just have to keep working where I can, and do what I can, and keep on doing it every day. People said the same as yourself before every great change and advance of mankind, and for what it’s worth they’re right. But the changes and the advances happened anyway.

I’ve seen that. That dog puts a lot of humans to shame. I’ve definitely seen clips of humans showing less care for their fellow species members.

No no! Perhaps I didn’t make my point well enough.

What I’m saying is that enough people felt that slavery was their business and they did something about it. That’s great, I’m not trying to draw a line in the sand and say that I ought to ignore everything on the other side. What I am saying is that I don’t hold in contempt every single person who didn’t stand up and do something. A farmer in New York who just looked at it and said, “well, that’s too bad and all, but I’ve got a family I need to care for,” I don’t blame him. How about a Belgian who was reading about American slavery in a news paper. Do I demand that he take action? No. If he feels so moved, then wonderful, but I don’t think that he bears responsibility.

You mention child abuse, and I think that it’s actually a good example. A regular argument on the boards is whether or not spanking is child abuse. A very valid opinion on the issue (not claiming that it is mine) might be, “well, I would never do it because I think it’s awful. But, I recognize that some people do, and I will be content frowning upon their behavior but not intervening because I know that’s their choice as parents.” But if you saw that kid walking around with bruises you might decide that it goes beyond what you are willing to ignore in someone else’s behavior, and call the police (and in fact, as a society we’ve decided that spanking and mild corporal punishment from parents is not all of our business, but more severe physical abuse is).

This is not about lack of compassion. A person can perform selfless and compassionate acts on a regular basis and still come to different conclusions about things like this. I don’t think it makes that person hypocritical or uncaring, it’s just that he or she operates within his or her sphere of influence, and the scope of that sphere is chosen by the individual.

I would say, in the state of nature, this is a silly question. At what point is the zebra the lion’s business? Whenever the lion wants. At what point is the lion the zebra’s business? Whenever the lion’s coming.

We are free to impose ourselves on others as much as we can stand, & complaining that it’s, “not our business,” is a feeble attempt at gaining control.

Not necessarily. For example, I think empathy should be universal, but whether or not a moral duty exists depends on how much good can come of our intervention. In the case of Saudi women, my country can do very little, and **I **can do virtually nothing, so I’m probably better off (morally) doing other things with my time, even if those things are mundane.

Not necessarily. For example, I might make that very statement, but it would just be shorthand for other, more complicated ideas. Short of adopting E-Prime, there’s really no way to talk about morality without seemingly making absolute statements, even if you believe that your preferred ethics are only *subjectively *better than others’.

I agree, but I would point out that, if you understand “practical” to refer to that which best prevents misery and contributes to happiness, then morality and pragmatism are one in the same.

Just a side note:

In the interest of historical accuracy, please keep in mind that most Northern states had slavery for many years before the South. New York, for example, had slavery for two hundred years. Slavery was not just a Southern institution.[/side note]

I remember Americans being very concerned about Apartheid in South Africa. Didn’t our government take official steps in protesting? We have just as much reason to protest the actions in Saudi Arabia.

I remember when the Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan and made many activities that had been previously legal, illegal. Women were not allowed to work outside the home, except as healtcare providers, and only because male healthcare providers were not allowed to treat women. Women who did not have a close male relative were left with no means to survive. The oppression was mind boggling and I very much wanted us to try to do something then, and not permit this state of affairs to stand.

I was told that we can’t go being the world’s police and that it was none of our business.

When I learned that terrorists had trained in camps there, it very much seemed like maybe we should have made it our business.