March 30, 2007

Immoral Geographies

In her provocative paper "A Pornography of Birth: Crossing the Moral Boundaries", New Zealand geography professor Robyn Longhurst asserts that "The moral boundary between what is considered ‘normal’ and what is
considered ‘perverse’ is constantly struggled over and is temporally and spatially specific. [U]nderstanding sexualized acts and spaces is multifaceted and contradictory since (hetero)sexuality does not stand alone but is entangled with gender, race, ethnicity, social class, age and so on." I am intrigued by philosophy and geography intersecting in a converation about the role of space in our epistemologies, and the impact that very understanding may have on our moral claims and subsequent (un)ethical behaviour.

We often talk about "Other" as a conceptual term, but it appears that we really see "Other" as a physicality as well. I think this helps explain how it is that our control of our behaviour in our day-to-day spaces becomes affected when we are in Other-space, such as a "red light" district. I do not have any statistics but I wonder how many adulterous affairs occur in hotel rooms, those anonymous spaces outside of our typical lived-space. Similarly, I wonder if it is the case that the men charged with sexual exploitation of children in foreign countries probably do not engage in such illicit and illegal behaviour in their home countries.

What it is about Other-space that affects our moral behaviour? What is it that allows us to give ourselves permission to act in either immoral, illegal, or exessive ways? Even the supposedly benign Spring Break culture of places like Tijuana and Daytona Beach illustrate this phenomenon. Surely the thousands of teenagers descending upon these places would not typically engage in such behaviours on the same scale back in their home-space. Perhaps the "Break" should correctly be seen as a verb; as a departure from moral norms.

There is indeed a sense that we cross into "immoral" space and place upon the inhabitants of these spaces the mark associated with that immorality. Once we cross into this space we also absolve ourselves of our ethical parameters. Thus the respectable businessman cruises for trade in the spaces of his city he knows to be so-sullied. He travels to Thailand where, apparently, children do not have the same inherent value as children in Canada. And so we are drawn to the away-spaces where we peel off our moral fabric and swim in deliberate delusions.

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