Might is right

There is a current story about a conflict between a giant aluminium processing company and an ancient tribe in India. The company wants to dig out the mountain that the tribe consider sacred and which they live on.

This epitomises a difficult and fundamental moral issue. Let’s make it personal.

A foreign superpower develops a new process that can create energy for free effectively. However, for the process to work, they need an extremely rare mineral. An orbiting satellite discovers that your house is situated right on top of the only known deposit on earth of this mineral. So what happens?

The people who ‘found’ the deposit are a foreign superpower who will become even more powerful with this new technology. They will weigh up their options and probably figure that asking you nicely to sell your house to them is the best first approach. This option is usually only considered when laws have to be taken into account.

But let’s say, you live in a country that does not have written laws and you have simply lived in that location for several decades. Do you own the rights to the land around you? If you do, what has conferred these rights, if it is length of tenure, how long do you have to have lived there before these rights are conferred to you? Any rights, of course, have to be honoured by anyone else wandering across the land, otherwise they could just take it if they were powerful enough – like our superpower.

Let’s stay with option one and the superpower attempts to negotiate with you; what if you are stupid enough to resist huge amounts of cash because you are perfectly happy living where you are, or what if you are superstitious and believe that the world will end if you allow your house to be demolished? Conventional greed isn’t going to work here.

The superpower wants this substance and so they will quickly move onto the other options if the first one does not bring immediate results. The other options are; political lobbying, bribery and corruption (of the law makers if you won’t budge) and finally naked aggression. This has been the history of the human race since the dawn of agriculture (except without the foreplay before naked aggression). Laws are simply window dressing to appease the mob (who, in reality have the greatest might if they could organise themselves). There is clearly only a law for the masses. Anyone who is rich and powerful enough can evade this law (unless they have even more powerful enemies who enforce it for their own purposes).

It is only the philosophers who attempt to raise the consciousness bar above this simple rule and when they do, it is with limited success.

Take slavery. In the past slaves were simply taken because there was no-one to stop the slave traders. Today, we wouldn’t buy a chained up African from a dodgy looking bloke who was selling them on the street corner. But we would buy a counterfeit dvd from the same dodgy looking bloke because we can’t see the human trafficking process that undoubtedly had a hand in the manufacture of that dvd. The window dressing has improved somewhat.

I don’t see how this ancient tribe in India has a chance (although they have got some media power behind them now which might help).

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