PCP: Against

Cameron Soltys -
Posted on: October 7, 2016

Countries all over the world have a diversity of laws and legal systems, yet there can be a large amount of similarity between these structures. For instance, a cursory look at Wikipedia shows that there are dozens of counties with drunk driving laws, most of the form “illegal above a certain limit.” There are also many laws that vary greatly from country to country; Singapore famously has a ban on chewing gum, which is evidently at odds with Canada’s body of regulations. While that may be a whimsical example, there are other more serious disparities between the laws of different regions. This gives individuals and groups the ability to perform activities in foreign jurisdictions that are illegal in their local jurisdiction. However, it is immoral to perform such “border-hopping”, skirting one’s local laws by temporarily changing one’s jurisdiction. The local regulations are created for some purpose, deciding what is and is not acceptable behaviour. By going abroad, one may no longer be breaking the law, but is performing the undesired actions and causing the consequences that their local society has deemed unacceptable.

To start this argument, it is important to clearly define what should be considered ethically wrong border-hopping. There are many oppressive regimes all over the world with oppressive and unjust laws. To argue that it is ethically good for travellers from such countries to maintain such laws on their vacation is untenable. However, that is because those laws themselves cannot be seen as moral, by virtue of their oppressiveness and unjustness. This argument centers instead on the group of morally ambiguous legal questions, where a diversity of contradictory laws could be created, each one arguably moral or amoral. For instance, one country could have very expansive privacy laws, preventing non-consensual voice recordings, while another has less expansive laws that allowing such recordings in public spaces. Individuals may have opinions on the better of these two laws, but both laws can be reasonably defended, and thus are of interest to this debate.

Secondly, it is not the act of following a foreign law in the foreign jurisdiction that is at odds with the local law that is ethically wrong. Rather, it is the act of changing jurisdictions for the purpose of performing a locally-prohibited action that is immoral. For instance, it is not morally wrong for a Singaporean on vacation in Canada to chew a stick of gum. It is, however, morally wrong for a private investigator in the expansive-privacy-law nation to invite the subject of their investigation on a cross-boarder trip with the intention of starting a secret recording of when they get to the more privacy-liberal nation. The distinction is the active bypassing of the local laws, deciding to perform an action that the local community sees as unacceptable while attempting to remain otherwise a member of the local community.

This argument relies heavily on the concept of a social morality, and furthermore seems to postulate that the social morality is supreme to one’s own morality. This is not the case. Instead, social morality is seen as the set of values, as defined by the local laws, that members of the local jurisdiction agree to follow by being members of that jurisdiction. Should an individual disagree with the local laws, they can take action to attempt to have the laws repealed or changed through the available means (if no legitimate means for changing the laws are available, the system is most likely oppressive and unjust which, as discussed above, is outside of the realm of this debate). Should that individual be unable to change the laws, but feels sufficiently strongly about the issue, they can choose to permanently relocate to the jurisdiction that assents to their opinion, supporting and partaking in that community instead. While both of these options are difficult, demanding self-sacrifice on the part of the individual, there should be no expectation that ethically good actions are always easily performed.

In considering this argument, it is important to reflect on why laws about amoral or morally ambiguous activities are made. When a regulation is made, the local society makes a value-judgement on the action covered by the law and decided that the consequences are so substantial that the action is worth mandating or prohibiting. For instance, a law could be passed regarding the sale of a high-sugar “Red Drink”. If a law is passed prohibiting its sale, it is a value-judgement that society does not find the enjoyment that people derive from drinking Red Drink to be more important than the medical costs that will be paid by the state from resulting health issues. In this case, a person who crossed the border to buy Red Drink is subverting the community’s judgement, forcing the state to pay for future medical expenses that the population has deemed are unreasonable to pay. The boarder-hopper acts in an ethically wrong way by performing an activity that his community has forbidden, and then having the community pay for the consequences of that activity through tax dollars.

The medical treatments involving genetic techniques are a common example of disparate regulations between states. In some places, revolutionary but controversial therapies are permitted. In others, only research—not clinical trials—are permitted. One of the controversies of genetic medicine (among many) is the concern of an embedded two-tier structure of humanity developing; the sufficiently rich can take advantage of genetic enhancements to become almost super-human, while the poor languish from being genetically unaltered. In countries with more-restrictive regulations, a decision has been made that the medical advantages of the therapies are not worth the risk of genetic stratification. Getting the therapy in another jurisdiction may not have any economic or practical costs to the local society, but it negatively affects the society by supporting the possible future that has been deemed unacceptable by the society. It is ethically wrong to make the choice that one’s local regulations deem morally wrong, even if no law is broken due to the border-hopping.

The act of going to a foreign jurisdiction with the intention of performing actions in the jurisdiction that are illegal in the local jurisdiction is ethically wrong. While this denotation is restricted to situations where the relative morality of one or the other is unclear, within this restriction the immorality is evident. The existence of a local law is evidence that the local society does not consider the societal consequences to be worth the individual liberties, and it is immoral to unilaterally subvert the judgment of the society that one otherwise benefits from and participates in. As discussed, this article does not make the social judgement a moral pinnacle; rather, it suggests that the morally right way of performing the forbidden actions is to change the social judgement—and therefore legality—of the activity, or to forgo the benefits and participation in all aspects of the society by changing one’s jurisdiction.