Rosa Terlazzo, “Do we have a duty to resist oppression that benefits us?”
Abstract: In this paper, I argue both that acting in accordance with oppression can be in the genuine long-term interests of victims, and that victims can have a duty to resist oppression even in such cases. Other accounts of duties to resist oppression rightly recognize either the importance of victims’ own well-being or the importance of victims’ duties not to contribute to oppressive norms that harm others, but fail to give appropriate weight to both considerations at once. In order to balance these competing interests, I propose a duty to resist oppression which is a) other-regarding rather than self-regarding, and b) a duty to benefit others rather than a duty not to harm them. The duty must be other-regarding because self-regarding duties let victims genuinely benefited by acting in accordance with oppressive practices off the hook too easily. They allow individual victims to act in accordance with oppression even when doing so contributes to oppressive norms that harm their fellow victims. Accordingly, other-regarding duties are better able to demand social change that will benefit victims of oppression as a group. However, I also grant that it may be in the genuine long-term interest of some victims of oppression to live in ways that accord with oppression, and recognize the importance of the well-being of individual victims of oppression who fall into this category. For this reason, the duty I propose is a duty to benefit others by exposing them to a variety of live options from which to choose a way of life, rather than a duty to stop harming them by ceasing to reinforce oppressive norms. Duties not to harm others are extremely stringent, and may require victims to entirely ignore their own well-being in order to stop harming others. Duties to benefit others, however, may be relaxed when the cost to the individual of acting is too high. Individuals whose well-being is only served by acting in accordance with oppression, then, are excused from resisting oppression. Individuals whose well-being may be served either by acting in accordance with oppression or by acting in an alternate way, however, have an obligation to take on some costs to act in the alternate way, in order to provide others with a set of live options that includes more members that challenge and ultimately may collectively transform oppressive norms. I give reasons to think that many victims will fall into the latter group.