28 February 2008

Think a Moment Before You Turn on Your iPod

The professor for my Intro to the Modern Middle East class today asked us the question:

To what extent do countries, governments, or national & multinational corporations have the right to the resources of other sovereign nations?

and asked for us to discuss it.

The discussion was quite revealing of the huge conundrums you run into when you look at the practical application of the answer to that question. The answer of course, is no. A sovereign nation alone has rights to its own resources. This, unfortunately, is not the way it is. We here in the United States certainly have our own ideas on this matter. It reminds me of a bumper sticker a friend of my father has on his car which reads What is our oil doing under your sand?

I contemplated the subject a little longer on my walk home and the following little thought experiment sort of conjured itself up in my mind. I was listening to my iPod, and I started thinking about how much oil it took for that music to reach my ear through that iPod. It takes oil to manufacture the electronics. It takes oil to ship the electronics from the factory. It takes oil to ship the iPod to the store. When I turn it on, it takes electricity to make the music play in my ear. This electricity comes from a wall outlet, where I plug it in to to charge it up. The electricity from this outlet comes from a power plant, which most likely uses oil or coal, in which case the coal requires the use of oil to transport it to the station.

I go through this tedious list simply to point out how just how much oil it takes to listen to 15 minutes of music on my way home from class. Now, undoubtedly, we can assume that at least some sizable portion of that oil came from conflicted regions in the middle east. Essentially, someone died because of that oil. Hypothetically, if it were possible to know the figures, we could figure out how many gallons of oil it took for me to be able to listen to those 15 minutes of music. We could also figure out how many lives were lost over those particular gallons of oil and compute specifically the number of deaths I am complicit in simply for turning my iPod on for 15 minutes. Now think about all the things in your life every day that require oil. The numbers explode when you take everything in the whole day into account. Now think about a week, a month...a whole year? It quickly becomes rather horrifying. The number of murders I am associated with is simply boggling.

But next time I want to listen to my iPod, I'll likely take it out of my pocket, pause only a moment while thinking about some distant soul who lost there life senselessly so I could listen to John Paul George and Ringo, put the earbuds in and head on home to write a blog post about the senseless killing in the middle east.


Anonymous said...

"To what extent do countries, governments, or national & multinational corporations have the right to the resources of other sovereign nations?

... The answer of course, is no."

That question isn't a yes-or-no question. And if you're going to say "countries, governments, and (multi)national corporations have no right to the resources of other sovereign nations," then what about in trade? Surely a sovereign nation which is allowed to own resources is also allowed to obtain profit from those resources through selling them to the highest bidder.

But then as nations trade and set up ties to other nations, it becomes to the nation's advantage to manipulate its trade agreements in order to get the most favorable agreement.

For example, if you are dealing with a nation whose economic welfare depends on your business, then it makes a certain sort of sense to cause that nation to give you a better deal, by simply offering to take your business elsewhere.

But all this is predicated on a nation's being allowed to own resources. Should it be so? Or should it be individuals? A one world government? I'm open to suggestions. But I'm just saying, you can't realistically put people in charge of the welfare of a specific set of people and expect them not to help their charges at the expense of others for whom they're not responsible.

Jackson said...

Oops. You're right, I didn't write that all too well. What I should have said was that I believe that they do not have such a right.

In any case, trade is not what I'm talking about. A nation certainly has a right to do what it wants with its resources, particularly if its resources are nationalized as they often are in the middle east. This is extended to corporations acting within the bounds of national and international law when such resources are not nationalized.

I have no quarrels with business as usual (although personally being involved in the practice turns me off). I understand that that's the way it works and it's what makes the world go round. But I don't like the fact that we behave as if it's our oil and they have to sell it to us. I guess that's the way international politics work; the strongest countries push the little ones around and have their way with them, and I guess I should get used to that too, but it certainly doesn't sit well with me.

I understand "realistically" why that will never change, I guess I'm just remarking on how depressing that is.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Neither of you are answering the question. The answer is, as the afore mentioned bumper sticker suggests, sovereign countries, and governments have the right to their resourses. Now, if they should trade or sell the particular resource, fine. If it ends up in some way a part of something that the resource or product is judged by the world's people/society to be dangerous, or harmful to the worlds citizens directly or indirectly, then the governments or peoples of the world will responsibly act to stop that sovereign nation from using the resource in the manner it has chosen. The same is true of a corporation. It is the role of government to act in such a way that should the corporation with ownership or rights to a particular resource not act responsibly, then government needs to step in. To take this the obvious step further, should an individual, group, organization or corporation use that resource in such a way that it is not responsible and the governing nation not act, then the world community needs to come together and repond in a responsible manner. One might look to an earlier post on this blog spot quoting Bill Clinton on the rights of sovereign nations to build nuclear weapons, of course they have the right. But now we are talking about something extremely dangerous to mankind on this planet. To simply sit back and let whomever build, friend or foe, NO! Too say they don't have the right to gain the resources or build is not the answer either. But, the world community needs to enter into a dialog of what purpose it is to engage in the nuclear arms group. To do anything else is unconscionable. All parties of any consciousness for mankind should be looking toward what this blog site started with, the words of Carl Sagen.

Jackson said...

With respect to oil I think oil producing nations have the right to do what they wish with it. The question is asking to what degree do we in the United States, for example, have the right to go into another country and take it's resources or demand that they give them to us simply because we want them. Unfortunately for much or the rest of the world, our attitude in this regard will not change any time soon. I think the question here is more concerned with this sort of economic angle than the dangerous weapons one, but that is a valid question too.

No doubt the United States is right in attempting to reduce nuclear armaments worldwide. Unfortunately the initiative is far more focused on military superiority than it is on protecting mankind. We want to have tons of them ourselves but we don't want anyone else to have them. That's certainly better than just letting everyone have them, but we can do a lot more. I think we need to be leading by example. We should be dismantling our own nuclear arsenal and leading the way on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, not building more. The maintenance of our own arsenal has already led to some scary mistakes that fortunately have not thus far caused us any problems. The fact is though, that unless we lead by example and work to dismantle the world's nuclear weapons arsenal, I would be shocked to make it to the end of my lifetime without someone letting one go somewhere around the world.