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“Bushwhacked, I examine my hands. Same hands. Rings still there but no longer valid” (Finnamore, 2008). In her book Split: A Memoir of Divorce, Suzanne Finnamore writes down this line. This may be a good insight as to how people feel when they find out that their spouses have been untrue to their vows. Ashley Madison was big news back in 2015, as hackers released the names of people who were registered on the website. Why was there such a fuss over its data breach? The nitty-gritty truth that the site served as the breeding ground for married people to find others that they can have affairs with is what bothered people, and still does today.
Ethics would dictate that infidelity is both immoral and unethical, but there are still people who think of the contrary.
The names of government officials, students, and other people among the high ranks of their companies were released by the hackers pushing for the closing of the website.
The site itself does not break any type of law, but people are clamoring that the site pursues the wrong kind of thinking. When there is no applicable law but people have been plagued with the thought that something is wrong, ethics comes in (Jennings, 2011, p. 6). Ethical dilemmas arise every day, but with varying degrees of severity. Looking back at the “case” of Ashley Madison, though it technically does not violate any laws, we are worried about how it is a representation of something that threatens the sanctity of marriage.
The website stands as a symbol of infidelity becoming a norm, something that most people still go against.
Would you, if you were married, accept it if your spouse was cheating? What governs our way of thinking when there is no law being violated but your principles and morals are put at stake? Ethical standards are what bind us; though these are not used as standards of law, they are the standards by which people base their conduct (Jennings, 2011, p. 7). A healthy and growing relationship thrives on trust and open communication, among other things. Infidelity or cheating is the complete antithesis of the institution of marriage: it breaks trust, confidence, respect, and a lot more. It is an act that hurts both parties and is a complete disregard for the other partner’s well-being (Neithercutt & Kamelian, 2018). Cheating is tantamount to an ethical breach as there are unwritten rules that govern us and stand for the values of honesty, justice, and fairness (Jennings, 2011, p. 8). There is nothing honest about cheating as it usually goes on behind the back of one’s partner, and there is nothing just and fair about inflicting pain to the other person.
Connecting the act of infidelity to religion, the Divine Command Theory comes into play. Tenets of religion are the basis on how to deal with ethical dilemmas, such as the Ten Commandments. In some parts of the world, these tenets even dictate the law (Jennings, 2011, p. 8). In terms of deontology, ethical decisions are made not because of consequences or outcomes; rather, decisions are based on people’s principles, duties, and rights. In the eyes of a deontologist, cheating is considered wrong because it breaks the promises made to one’s partner and disrespects him/her (White, 2010). When relating to feminism, infidelity is a problem not because it is considered immoral; it is a problem because it impedes equality. Feminism does not aim to condemn practices that are private in nature and are against personal values, but it condemns practices that challenge equality (Rosewame, 2009, p. 26). There will be a power struggle between the one who cheated and his/her partner.
Other consequences that may arise from the site’s operations and for the people running and using it include a skewed sense of morality, and desensitization to the feelings of others. An example is Brandon Wade, the founder of a website similar to Ashley Madison, who defends his actions of looking for someone else through what he calls as “ethical cheating”. This entails telling one’s spouse about his/her plans to be unfaithful. He says that the traditional idea of monogamy is not working, so being honest about infidelity is considered okay (Rosman, 2015). Many of them may employ the ethics of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism gives some leeway for some people to be hurt, as long as others benefit by a much greater amount (White, 2010). It is still rare for people to label infidelity as something that can be allowed. Family and friends of an affected couple may have strong opinions regarding acts of unfaithfulness (Hurd, 2015). The site’s operations and staff are also guilty of condoning unethical actions. Allowing such actions to continue (and even urging the continuation), brings about more harm to a greater number of people (Jennings, 2011, p. 18).
Looking at Kant’s Categorical Imperative, his theory says that, when explained in the simplest terms, people cannot use others in a way that will only give them one-sided benefits. Kant did not operate by focusing on self-interest; he was a firm believer that universal principles are to be adopted with a pure heart and a sense of goodwill (Jennings, 2011, p. 10). In a sense, infidelity goes against his beliefs. The rationalization that because a lot of people do it does not make it okay or right. A shift in the norm does not mean that people should become accepting and complacent of the shift. The “everybody does it” mentality is a trap that people who have intact ethical standards should shy away from (Jennings, 2011, p. 20).
Though there are many opposing viewpoints on whether it is ethical to practice infidelity, the majority of ethical theories still stand firm that it is unethical. Deontological theories condone the act as it breaks the promises made during the marriage. Feminists see it as a direct challenge to equality- something that they have been fighting hard for. Kant’s Categorical Imperative also says that cheating only gives one-sided benefits to the one who is cheating. In short, infidelity is unethical and immoral because it hurts more people.
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