Stolen property in our daily lives: is this immoral?


#1

What do you think about (a) the moral status and (b) the legal status of the oil that powers the cars that we drive to work and school and the the trucks, ships, and trains that transport the goods that we purchase?

Under international law, the natural resources of a country are the sovereign property of the people of that country. However, according to cleantrade.org, the MAJORITY of oil sold in the world is from countries (e.g., Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia) or regions (e.g., ISIS) where the residents have absolutely no say over the sale of oil or disposition of its funds. In essence, even in nation states like Saudi Arabia, the oil sold in support of the government is only a result of the coercion that keeps them in power. ISIS took over oil fields (by force) and sells the oil on the black market, through which it enters the world market.

In no step from its extraction from the ground to the burning in my car’s engine were the people of Saudi Arabia or Equatorial Guinea ever asked whether they gave permission for their oil to be sold, and it is only through the actions those tyrannical governments take to provide for and coerce their subjects that they maintain power.

To me, there’s something wrong with U.S. law that says that the gas I purchase at my local filling station belongs to me. I never acquired a clear title to that


#2

I have learnt to worry about only things I can control. I would go mad if I worried about everything on the world stage that was morally wrong. You may well be right that the people of Saudi Arabia cannot control every decision of their government, but the same can certainly be said of the America people, or the British etc.
Sadly, the issue does not end with oil but extends to armed force and other governmental prerogatives.


#3

So, I live in an area of the country where there are a lot of natural resources of timber. No one asked me personally if they could cut down trees. I am guessing that permission was granted to companies through the government and that through their labors they make profits. This is where much of our furniture and building lumber material come from? It would not surprise me to hear that citizens of other nations are being exploited.

If there were an option to purchase “moral” gasoline and “immoral” gasoline and you chose immoral gasoline deliberately to exploit others then there would be a moral problem here. Unfortunately there is no such thing, there is no option. Most of us need gasoline in our cars in order to live lives reasonably, get to work, school, and the doctor and live our lives.

Bottom line even if what you are saying is true, there is nothing sinful about buying gasoline. Just like there is nothing sinful about shopping at stores that support Planned Parenthood or other immoral organizations unless you are making a purchase to deliberately support the immoral action, the purchase is morally neutral.


#4

OK, some seemingly analogous parallels: If you have any gold jewelry, chances are pretty good that it came from somewhere in Africa; title to that? If you have any diamonds, chances are excellent that they came from South Africa, mined by deBeers under government license with no “vote of the people” in sight; title to your diamonds? A fair amount of our oil, and thus gasoline, comes from the North Slope of Alaska, pumped by oil companies under license from the state. Alaskans benefit financially from that, but was there a statewide vote allowing construction of the pipeline? So it may not just be Arabian oil. If you have any natural pearls that were harvested in the open ocean and were not cultivated, surely the open ocean is common property; title to those pearls? Bottled water from a natural spring fed by an underground aquifer? Where does such thinking lead one? And is this “international law” or what some organization says “international law” theoretically is? Are all these things really “stolen?”


#5

Do you drink bottled water? Odds are it’s being exported to you from my drought ridden home state of California. I didn’t vote to allow Arrowhead and companies like it to pump our water and send it in bottles to the rest of the country. But the government that runs my state did so in our stead. It’s not immoral for you to buy Arrowhead despite the citizens of California not getting a say in how our resources are being used. That’s why we have a government in place to make such decisions for the people.

Obviously it gets a little hairier when you’re talking about monarchies or dominant/single party republics. But even then that is their government that represents them and in the case of Saudi Arabia they’d argue it was a government ordained by God.


#6

I would say it is stolen property. Of course, the whole USA was stolen from the American Indians who lived here first and were mercilessly slaughtered by the white European in one of the worst massacres and holocausts in history. And of course, there was the land stolen from Mexico in the Mexican American war. And slaves were stolen and kidnapped from Africa to pick cotton and do other menial work in the southern USA and as well, their young women were raped by the white American slavemaster. According to news reports, Catholic priests sold 272 stolen slaves to save Georgetown university.
nytimes.com/2016/04/17/us/georgetown-university-search-for-slave-descendants.html
Many items were stolen in wars, such as the Crusades, and never returned.
With reference to the oil stolen, possibly one way of dealing with this injustice would be to donate to charitable organizations based in the Mideast or whatever country or group of interest.


#7

Oil at $100.+ a barrel, as it once was and surely will be again, doesn’t feel much like stealing. As I understand it, Saudi citizens lay no taxes and live extremely well - such that they spend their oil income on importing forge in labor to do their menial tasks.

Without denying the injustices done to Native Americans, I would be interested in seeing how that death toll compares to, say, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and for that matter Vlad the Impaler - before claiming “one of the worst holocausts in history.”


#8

Vlad the impaler killed 40,000 people at most. Estimates for North, Central and South America before the European invasion are about 100 million, and 90% of this population perished after the arrival of Europeans. So that means that there were 90 million American Indians who died as a result of the white European invasion. IOW, there were more than 2000 times or 200000% more American Indians killed as a result of the white European invasion than did Vlad the impaler kill.


#9

What is the citation of this “international law” and which legislative body created it?

And let’s say this law does exist. In order for this to be international law, every country must be a signatory to the international law for it to apply to them, through a treaty.

But if their constitution does not give their government to have a treaty that overrules their constitution, the international law does not apply even if they sign the law, because the government’s permission (constitution) did not extend to laws that would overrule their constitution.

In the USA, our constitution recognizes the right of private property. If the US government signed a treaty that overruled that principle, that part of the treaty is void.

So let’s say I own land that has oil on it. The land is my private property, and that includes all the resources on the land (which includes the oil). The oil belongs to me.

If the treaty is signed and that “international law” is to be enforced, I would have to give up my own personal property rights in respect to the oil (and right of way to drill for the oil). This contradicts the US Constitution. So the government did not have the right to accept that part of the agreement.

Imagine I give you power of attorney over my finances, permission is only to pay my bills. You take the money and pay your bills with it. That is outside of the scope of permission I gave you, and you can be sued by me to recover that money, and I’d win.

In the same way, the government cannot sign a treaty that overrules the Constitution - that is outside of the scope of the permission we the people gave the government.

So in short, the oil is not stolen property.


#10

100 million is an extremely high estimate, the middle estimate are more like 40 million and the vast majority of them died directly or indirectly from disease. That said the US absolutely killed myriads of natives and repeatedly broke treaties to steal their land. Lets not forget what happened to the ancestors of the vast majority of African Americans. Oh and the vast majority of people executed by Vlad the Impaler were either criminals (as the state had descended into near anarchy and economic limitations of the time prisons weren’t an option) or they were outright out to conquer him. It isn’t immoral to use asymmetrical force against an invasion.


#11

I think you are conflating killed with death from natural causes.

Small Pox killed over 300,000,000 people world wide, not just native Americans.

Spanish Flu killed maybe 100 million in a couple years, should we pin that on the Spanish?


#12

Holocaust deniers invariably try to blame a known genocide on disease. For example, some Neo-nazis say that most of the Jews who died in the camps died from typhus infection.


#13

Do you think I’m denying it was facilitated in a few instances? I’m not.

However, many more simply were infected by normal transmission proximity to infected white settlers. Then it spread within their communities. Smallpox first arrived in 1520

Guns Germs & Steel: Variables. Smallpox | PBS


#14

OP - I notice you live in Michigan. Were the natives paid for it? My guess is not, as Tomdstone pointed out. Better pack up then and move back to England. (But wait… weren’t the Angles immigrants too? They kicked out the Celts! Maybe we are all obligated to move to Ireland? Or back to wherever we can last trace the Angles to before Britain? Where does this end? Etc.)

One must simply possess the practical wisdom to assess these kinds of things. The virtue is called “epikeia,” or “equity.” There are cases where breaking the law is simply fine, or even obligatory. And the principle of the universal destination of goods looms large here… at the end of the day, creation belongs to everybody. One’s rights over it extend only so far. Exactly how far is a complicated discussion, but this case should be intuitive.


#15

Well to note the nations like Saudi Arabia, the gov is the country. They are not a democracy. There is not a law that says democracy must be, so the legit gov is what it is and their actions if not particularly immoral are legitimate.

So while you say the citizens have no say, that is a meaningless determinate in this case.

In the US for example you could make a legal argument that if the president acted similarly in a way that the law does not grant him authority and ignored congress etc…then it would be the actions of an illegitimate thief. But given if we the people elect our representatives and 51% of people approve of something you would have 171MILLION unhappy people feeling like they were being unfairly treated.

If we hold a vote tomorrow to rewrite the constitution and we decided to become an absolute monarchy than minus infractions against Catholic morals, anything that King did for example would be the legitimate action of the nation state. even if 349 million people didn’t like it.

Now from this simple look everything gets WAY more complicated, and if you tried to evaluate every detail you will probably go mad. And then even look if one company uses bad tactics to trick a democracy or something. Then all those people are in agreement to give the oil but maybe through deceit? you would have to read every single deal and decide to weigh in on every single bullet point’s morality… you would need to be the emporer of the world and have the mental capacity of God to do anything about it lol let alone even understand which is and is not good.


#16

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