Olympics, Oxfam, SpaceX: what do they have in common?

In order to grasp the ethical relationship between the on-going PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Oxfam, an international partnership of charitable organizations fighting poverty, and the recent launching of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, now the world’ most powerful privately-developed space launch vehicle, it is important to have some background, as follows:

Russian athletes banned in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

Beset by continued allegations that their athletes are taking performance-enhancing drugs, Russia is enduring unfounded allegations (remember the photo that spread in social media pitting top world tennis players Serena Williams, who’s obviously well-muscled, against the demure and slim Maria Sharapova back in 2016) of prohibited drug use for its participants in the PyeongChang Olympics games. Also note that this unsuccessful but damaging wholesale ban of Russian athletes was first seen in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Aid agency Oxfam employees hired sex workers in Haiti

One of the world’s most prestigious anti-poverty organizations, Oxfam has been caught in a major sex scandal involving employees hiring and even exploiting sex workers in Haiti during the organization’s relief efforts after a major earthquake struck and killed 220,000 people in 2010. Now there are talks that the non-profit organization, which raked-in some $44 million in government funds and donations last fiscal year, might lose such funding if this outrage is not rectified.

Private space launch company SpaceX successfully tests world’s most powerful rocket

What should have been a triumph for humanity, SpaceX’s spectacular and history-in-the-making test of the world’s most powerful rocket at the moment has had its share of envy-driven criticism from the mainstream media. In an article published in The Guardian, Harvard professor, writer, and accomplished author Nathan Robinson argued that the immense effort and financial commitment to put the rocket, and Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster to space en route to Mars, should have been spent fighting Earthly problems (pun intended) such as ending the war in Syria, or fighting disease. He wrote the piece like it is the visionary billionaire who caused the world problems in the first place.

Now what connects these three bits of news?

The word ‘double standard’ is described in the dictionary as “a set of standards that applies differently and usually more harshly to one group of people or circumstances than to another”, while ‘envy’ is defined as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”

For the Olympics, what should have been a sporting event to celebrate human physiological achievements has turned into the latest battle ground the West is asserting against its enemies, particularly Russia. Here are some examples of Western double standards: Lance Armstrong, the legendary American professional road racing cyclist who have won numerous world championships including the esteemed Tour de France, and the Olympics, have confessed to engaging in long-term doping offenses in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013; American comedian Jimmy Kemmel’s prank-turned-into-serious-news-by-US-mainstream-media wolf in Sochi, Russia incident where a wolf was seen casually walking in a hotel in Sochi but was actually in an ABC News studio in California; Russian athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics having been forced to represent neutral in the sporting event, which means participants “competing as neutrals without a national team means that athletes will not take part in the opening ceremony, and their country’s anthem will not be played if they win any medals”, and that the Russian Olympic Committee, alleged by the International Olympic Committee to have allowed “state-sponsored” doping of the athletes must pay $15 million that would “cover the costs of the investigations” while forgetting that its most prominent athletes such as Venus and Serena Williams have been “specially allowed” to use drug enhancements that are “within the limits of the Olympic rules.”

For its part, sex allegations against Oxfam continue to pile up against not only its employees stationed abroad but also its management. The relief organization now has to face investigation after The Times reported that aid workers, and then country director Roland van Hauwermeiren brought in underage sex workers to an Oxfam office which it converted to a makeshift brothel. This complete betrayal of trust spanks in the face of those who are donating, the government included, to combat poverty and respond to calamities in other countries. In their website, Oxfam’s purpose include challenging structural causes of injustice, but with news that the organization has been aware of the wrong-doings back then and secretly gave its country director a dignified exit is a form of injustice.

In his article about the historic launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to space, Harvard commentator Nathan Robinson articulated that there is “no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system.” He added that “a mission to Mars does indeed sound exciting, but it’s important to have our priorities straight. First, perhaps we could make it so that a child no longer dies of malaria every two minutes. Or we could try to address the level of poverty in Alabama…perhaps once violence, poverty and disease are solved, then we can head for the stars.”

Such depiction of a remarkable science achievement is indeed depressing. The author clearly missed the root causes of inequality in the first place, when Western empires consumed entire countries and continents for slave labor during the Industrial Revolution, or when black Americans were not treated equal status as human beings before the human rights movement of the 1960s, or when the 2007-2008 financial crisis (which itself was caused by brutal financial speculation among America’s elite) hurt ordinary people around the world. Having expressed his article as if Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, Tesla, founder of PayPal, and business magnate, is the sole billionaire who has intentionally overlooked the problems of the world, and that his space projects should be considered as a form of petty ego-trip undertakings.

He has failed mention that such endeavors as Tesla cars helping alleviate climate change by going electric, and helping explore other worlds that humans might migrate to in the future be worthy endeavors that transcend politics of the world today. On the contrary such existential matters as global warming and space exploration will probably be the problems that future generations will have to contend with if we fail to at least take small steps to tackle them today. Indeed the politics of today will eventually come to pass, but our continued survival will be a nagging issue for generations to come.