Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Blood Oil" and the Real-World Implications of Moral Philosophy

339 days until I am sitting in my first class.

I am down to eight (8) Philosophy Bites podcast.

One of the recent set of podcasts that I listened to, Leif Wenar on Trade and Tyranny discussed changing international law to prohibit the purchasing of raw material from sources where the resource was not controlled by the people.

Wenar identified four criteria for determining if the people controlled the resource.

(1) Were the people able to discover what is happening with the resource?
(2) Were the people able to talk freely among themselves about what is happening with the resource?
(3) Were the people able to petition those who controlled the resource to change what is happening?
(4) When the people petitioned those who controlled the resource for change, were those wishes carried out?

Wenar's proposal was that, where these conditions were not met, trade with that entity would be prohibited.

He compared this to the project of ending the slave trade and ending colonization. In both of these cases, entrenched instances were up to their neck in an activity that was determined to be immoral and unjust. A difficult political struggle resulted. However, the result of that struggle was finally to change international law and to end the immoral activity.

He gave a specific example in which this was actually done concerning blood diamonds. Blood diamonds were diamonds from mines that criminal warlords controlled in Africa. Their purchase was being used to finance these criminal overlords. Through public pressure, companies that market diamonds developed a system for registering diamonds and to restrict their purchase from places that these criminal organizations controlled. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has been criticized for its failure to guarantee that diamonds do not come from a prohibited source, but it does increase the costs and difficulties of selling those resources.

Wenar wants to apply the same system to "blood oil". "Blood oil" refers to oil resources controlled by warlords or terrorist organizations, as well as by tyrannical governments. Each oil well has a unique chemical fingerprint that can be used to determine the source of oil, allowing us to set up barriers to the sale of oil by organizations such as ISIS, which are using it to fund violent and oppressive regimes. Wenar would also include the government of Saudi Arabia in his list of sources of "blood oil", since it fails to satisfy the four crtieria for a legitimate source of oil outlined above.

Interviewer Nigel Warburton asked about how this is a philosophical topic. Wenar answered by identifying many political philosophers in history who took on important political institutions of their time; Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau. He could have added Socrates and Aristotle - both of whom antagonized the government of Athens to the point that they had reason to fear for their lives. Socrates was executed. Aristotle fled Athens to avoid the same fate several years later.

That part of the interview has made me wonder about the degree to which I have applied my political philosophy to the issues of the day - and what it would look like if I took on a more activist role.

I have used it to criticize the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both campaigns were built on a foundation of hate-mongering bigotry, identifying a social group as "them" who are the source of "all of our problems" and, thus, legitimately made the object of hatred. Trump targeted Muslims and immigrants, while Sanders targeted billionaires, but the logic of their arguments was identical.

I have also spoken repeatedly against the derogatory overgeneralizations of atheists who fail to distinguish between "criticizing an idea" versus "promoting hatred of a people". These are atheists whose tribal instincts are such that it blinds them to the difference, so that they convince even themselves that their instances of promoting hatred of a people is actually criticism of an idea.

If I were to identify an issue that I think I should devote more time and effort to, it would be the issue of intellectual recklessness. It is a meta-issue that has implications to everything from climate change to the shooting of unarmed black men because they are "perceived" to be dangerous. We live in a society that allows Republican nominee Donald Trump to lie repeatedly with impunity while unfounded accusations against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are embraced with the flimsiest of evidence. It supports "alternative medicine" and other forms of pseudo-science that do more harm than good, and is the foundation for the types of derogatory overgeneralizations that I mentioned above.

Intellectual recklessness, of course, is not, "You disagree with me; therefore, you are guilty of intellectual recklessness." It is an evaluation of whether the conclusion actually follows from the given premises. Donald Trump lied when he said that the Clinton campaign was responsible for the Birther movement. It was a false claim, and Donald Trump had to have known that it false because he, in fact, made his reputation as the spearhead of the Birther movement. This actually goes beyond intellectual recklessness - this is intentional wrongdoing.

Yet, it does not draw near the condemnation it deserves.

If we can build up some degree of intellectual responsibility in our communities, we may be able to get a better handle on some of the other issues that we confront.

No comments: