Sunday, November 26, 2006


There was a Jewish joke going the rounds some years ago, which was told to me by a Jew. It went like this: If Moses was so smart, how come he led the Israelites to the only place in the Middle East that's not sitting on a pool of oil?

It seems to be an axiom accepted without question by almost everyone in the world, that what I hold, I own. If I want more than others, I merely have to hold more than others. Merit, wisdom, and even sanctity have nothing to do with it.

Consider for a moment, the case of two babies born at the same hour in different parts of the world. One is born in a mud hut in Africa and the other in a hovel in Kazakhstan – one in a region that holds no wealth in its bedrock and the other on a pool of oil. Which of them deserves revenue, scant share though it might be, from the extraction and sale of that oil? Why should one deserve it more than the other, since neither can have established a prior claim? Why should only one have an undisputed share in a grab for sovereignty over that oil when they are both equal citizens of the indivisible planet that holds it?

The principle that a society, or a group of people, should exercise the rights to something they have created by their own effort seems indisputable. The idea that any specific human group owns something which they did not create is an entirely different matter. Such a distinction even finds its way into the arcane subject of International Law (amazing though it may be that the enshrined record of human stupidity should result in something of rational sense) where under the 1982 Convention, the resources of the open oceans, beyond any territorial limit is "the common heritage of mankind". (Except that criminal fishing and whaling corporations do not recognize the principle; and the USA is not a party to the Convention.)

Back in the Dark Ages in Canada, a collective contest of greed and xenophobia resulted in the lower orders of government (those organs where collective cupidity and foolishness exercise more force than statesmanship and wisdom) – the provinces – being awarded jurisdiction over that which they had neither created nor improved – the minerals under the ground – rather than recognizing that the rights of nationality – of Canadian Citizenship – were being degraded in the process. Now, to be fair, one must note that in our national taxation structure (indubitably every bit as arcane and irrational as International Law) there is a degree of sharing whereby each jurisdiction receives some cut of the pie.

In the case of oil extracted in Alberta, the Provincial Government and its population base gets the largest share in terms of taxes and royalties, while the Federal Government and its population base receives a share of the sale of the refined oil in excise taxes, and even that poor baby in Africa (who has made no less effort to be worthy of this largess from the planet than any Albertan baby) receives a tiny pittance in the form of that conscience money called Foreign Aid. You see, even if you are the most rabid Firewall-loving Albertan, you are sharing a tiny portion of your unearned windfall with the rest of the planet. The principle – precedent in law, if you will – has been established. It's not all yours. You are bound by your heritage as a human being to share your fortune with all the other inhabitants of the planet. The only factor remaining undecided is that of proportion.

Some people reading this, who have no interest in the parochial politics of Alberta, may wonder if I have a point to all this airie argument. Well, I do, if you might want to consider the lessons from a provincial sideshow in one very cold and obscure corner of our planet.

In Alberta, a jurisdiction where democracy has been denigrated and downgraded for more than fifteen years, the succession of an almost inherent right to govern is being decided by less than 3% of the population in a party political leadership vote. To be truthful, any jackass and his mother could gain the power to cast a vote in that election if he wished to flirt with eternal damnation – or rampant hypocrisy – and buy a Tory membership. And, believe it or not, the supporters of the most selfish, xenophobic, and anti-social policies being championed have elevated (if one can use the term so imprecisely) their champion to second place in the running. A man who is the originator – along with other, equally distasteful individuals – of a proposal to place a firewall around Alberta to keep the consideration of every other Canadian citizen out.

These people seem to think they have an inherent right to keep all the money they can grab from the over-exploitation of the oil sands (a generous gift of the planet), while spewing all the pollution and harmful carbon dioxide out upon the rest of Canada – indeed, upon the world. These are fools who suppose their own good fortune is some gift of the gods, while conveniently forgetting that we are all units of an indivisible economic society where the labour and suffering of the poorest is an essential component – through the invisible working of the marketplace – of the ease and comfort of the richest.

One has to hope that, at long last, the outrageous fallacies of their faith will be exposed (by this token democracy) as the dirty scam they are, and that the Firewall they wish to create will mainly serve to keep their baseness contained.

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