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Moylan’s ethics

Anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan’s actions in disrupting the market for Whitehaven stock a few days ago was intended to be a moral action.  It is not immoral to have principles and to take a strong stance against the use of coal given the imminent problem of climate change that the world now faces.  On the other hand, it is unclear to me that Jonathan’s action itself was sensible given that it will have almost no impact on coal usage by electricity generators and no effects on the international coal trade.  The main effect will be to increase community distrust in the general workings of our local securities markets and that is probably a negative.  We need healthy private investments in non-carbon based sources of energy and other related private sector innovations to move successfully away from coal.

The climate debate has within it some climate science denialists mainly from the ideological right of politics. These people misrepresent climate science consistently and, by their actions, imperil the quality of lives of future generations.  These people are substantial frauds without principles. By any standard they are genuinely immoral since they repeatedly state views revealled on many occasions to be lies.  Yes, these people disgust me but I don’t see any feasible way of dealing with them apart from recognising their deceit and trying to expose and publicise it. They, themselves, won’t change their views. They are resiliantly opposed to rational argument because right-wing ideology, not rationality, drives their views.   The difficulty is that their immorality and stupidity is preventing actions that might reduce the prospect of a future climate disaster.

The difficulty for Jonathan is that these genuinely immoral liars who  will inflict huge damages on society are not disobeying any law and he did.  Apart from not employing  these liars in occupations that rely on veracity (education, financial institutions) we must wait for their lies to be revealled as such.  The difficulty is that we are running out of time.

I can understand the moral tension Jonathan must have experienced.

Update: While it does not affect the principle here, as John Quiggin and others point out, the costs of Jonathan’s actions will be small. To work them out exactly you would have to know the volume of trades that occurred while the information about Whitehaven was being believed and multiply that by the losses that would have occurred if the stock had otherwise been held.  These would provide an upper bound to the losses that accrued to those who sold because of that information.  Of course there would be compensating and offsetting gains to those who made purchases.  The likely total cost will be under $300,000.

2 comments to Moylan’s ethics

  • Jim Rose

    What did Richo say: your real mates vote for you when you are wrong!

    I am sure you would be most upset if someone spread false information about your credit rating or impersonated your bank. The fact that the fraud was done by your political opponents does not matter to the rule of law either way.

    Rawls was good on civil disobedience.
    • civil disobedients address themselves to the majority to show that, in their considered opinion, the principles of justice governing cooperation amongst free and equal persons have not been respected.

    • Rawls argues that civil disobedience is never covert or secretive: it is only ever committed in public, openly, and with fair notice to legal authorities and done in a situation where arrest and punishment are expected and accepted without resistance.

    • The intent to bring about a change in the policies or laws of the government. The intent is not to impose your will on others.

    • For Rawls, violent acts likely to injure are incompatible with civil disobedience. ‘Indeed’, says Rawls, ‘any interference with the civil liberties of others tends to obscure the civilly disobedient quality of one’s act.

    An environmentalist in the US who impersonated a bidder at a federal land auction got 2-years. He necessity defence failed because he could have joined others seeking a last minute court injunction.

    There is a difference between chaining yourself to something to get publicity for your cause to influence public opinion and elections and imposing your will on others.

    It is about fidelity to democratic equality and the rule of law: Jonathan Moylan thinks his vote counts for more than mine. Might never makes right. That is mob rule.

    We resolve our differences by trying to persuade each other and elections.

  • rog

    There are a lot of issues here, one being that the media reported the hoax as fact, without checking the providence of the statement. As ASX recently pointed out if the media had checked the ASX anns they would have been able to verify the statement.

    So once again we have the media caught out broadcasting junk, no wonder they are calling for the guillotine.

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