Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blood and oil don't mix

Recent comment:
The invasion of Libya was nothing more than yet another move by the west to interfere somewhere that they have no business doing so. Do you really think the U.S. wants to help "protect" innocent lives? Especially after Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it has something more to do with... oil. Three wars now for the states. When will it stop?!

I've heard people make this sort of point frequently and I honestly don't get what people mean when they make it. Suppose nobody in the U.S. wants to help protect innocent lives. So, suppose the worst case scenario is true. Is that supposed to show that there's not sufficient reason to intervene in the way that the U.S. has? That hardly follows. Certainly self-interested people with no concern for others manage to act rightly. Isn't this a point familiar from Kant? We can use the law to modify behavior and when people conform to it, their acts are legal even if they don't have moral worth.

It certainly doesn't follow from the fact that everyone pulling the strings here is motivated only by oil that there's no humanitarian case to be made for intervention. Whether there is or isn't depends upon what's happening in Libya, not the heads of people in Washington.

Am I just missing what the point is supposed to be or am I just wrong about motives and justification? Not trying to be difficult, just trying to get what the point is supposed to be.


Aaron Boyden said...

If the goal of the intervention is not humanitarian, that will likely affect the details of how it is conducted, perhaps in such a way that the intervention will be less successful (or not successful at all, or counter-productive) at accomplishing humanitarian ends. This is, admittedly, a theoretical concern in the case of any right action for wrong reasons, and in some cases it is fairly far-fetched. However, in the case of military interventions particularly, those conducted for confused or deceptive purposes have an extremely bad track record historically.

Clayton said...

Hi Aaron,

You might be right about the probable outcomes, but I take it that if we compared two wars conducted by parties motivated by different concerns we'd think that the actions had roughly the same deontic status if the consequences were the same. From the point of view of the potential victims and beneficiaries, would you really think you would have been better off if you could have switched places?

I agree with the track record point and your causal hypothesis is plausible, but I don't know if it's a plausible interpretation of what the point is supposed to be. After all, those who offer the point certainly speak as if the intentions/motives have non-instrumental significance. That's what I reject. The moral status of the actions depends upon what's happening there and what could have happened there, not what's happening here. That's why I think it's confused. It places the focus in the wrong place. Also, it's lazy.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that this comment is supposed to be read one of these two ways:

A) Without morality in mind. The commenter is only worried about economic consequences and the like (for our country).

B) The US should stop worrying about other people's problems before it worries about its own. Maybe there is a obligation to sort out your own country before you go stepping into someone else's revolution.

I suspect that the right reading is A because B can be argued about and requires some critical thinking.