Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thinking Sideways and the Fracking Double Standard

There has been some confusion about ‘my voice’ on this blog and elsewhere. Perhaps I am poorly spoken (I do mumble, but in this case I think I have been speaking too clearly...). Maybe I am self-contradictory (but aren’t we all? “I am large. I contain multitudes”). But maybe I am playing a role that is little understood– a role that is neither academic nor activist – the role of field philosopher or public intellectual. I speak as a new species of ‘researcher’ but it is not clear if anyone has ears for this kind of knowledge –if even the university can hear the voice of its new offspring. Or perhaps she can hear, but is not sure if she wants to claim THAT as her child.
The activist says ‘do not think the other side’s thoughts.’ The academic says ‘do not think from a side at all.’ But sideways thinking is all there is. The trick is to think from this side and that. The public intellectual seeks strong objectivity. Remember the words of J.S. Mill:
“But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Here is an opinion that I have heard from some in the fracking business - to be clear the entire rest of the post is me channeling the voice - the side - of this industry perspective...(the question is what do you make of it?):
“It’s not fair, all this focus on drilling and fracking. Don’t people realize that Denton is full of polluting activities? Just look at all the cars and trucks. Don’t they realize that the Peterbilt plant alone emits 270 tons of VOCs every year? City Council approves a tax abatement to enlarge the facility for Tetrapak, one of the larger producers of emissions in town. And there is no news about that. Indeed, people congratulate them. But they vilify us. Us! Providers of tax revenues and royalties – would the airport exist without US?!
"THERE IS A DOUBLE STANDARD HERE. Fracking is not benign, sure. But it is just the peas in a chemical soup – a risk soup – that we swim in all the time. Do Dentonites realize there is arsenic in their playgrounds? And what is in their food – what chemicals in their children’s clothes? They think it is safe to travel sixty-five miles per hour down the road just a few feet from other cars going the same speed, but more than 30,000 people die in traffic accidents in the U.S. every year. How many people have died of fracking?! No one, or at least nothing even remotely comparable to the carnage on our roads – a carnage they calmly accept and that can’t even get them to bat an eyelash any longer. Yet they froth at the mouth about fracking…
"Do you know what is happening here? This is all a temporary and irrational fear of the new. When the automobile first arrived on the scene, some cities passed ordinances requiring all cars to be preceded by men waving flags and blowing horns to warn people. That’s hysteria. And in the case of fracking it may even be worse, because this is fear of what only appears to be new, because fracking has been around a long time. All these opponents of fracking might think they are liberals, but they embrace what Michael Oakeshott called the “conservative disposition,” which is “to prefer the familiar to the unknown.” The only thing wrong with fracking is its perceived newness. People worry about it when they daily accept far greater risks without a single thought, simply because those risks are familiar. People are not yet accustomed to fracking. But just give them time. How does the saying go…? “Men can get used to anything…”"

1 comment:

  1. Since this is an exercise in field philosophy, I would like to respond with an exercise in living-room-logic. Industry-representatives are committing a number of logical fallacies. Among them:

    1. All the talk about the other danger factors = the fallacy of the red herring or deflection: "a purposeful change in topic to distract from the original topic. So if we have two people debating a particular statement one might change the topic seemingly to promote discussion but in fact it is a ploy to change the topic."

    The structure of pointing out how folks are constantly endangering themselves with chemicals and car driving is an ad hominem tu quoque, which means that they turn the charge back onto the accuser.

    Their entire industry position is based on the the "Negative Proof Fallacy... where one assumes something is true if it cannot be proven false." That is, they claim that because nobody can prove categorically that Fracking is dangerous, it therefore is not.

    And they themselves as well as many of their supporters make good use of the Appeal to Law fallacy wherein the morality or immorality of thing or process is equated to its legality or illegality, respectively. So long as Fracking is legal, we cannot claim that it is immoral even if there is collecting evidence that it makes babies sick.

    Finally, they are accomplishing for good measure an argument from repetition: "where an argument is repeated over and over until no further progress can be made and all points are exhausted."

    Now, I would like to point out as an arm-chair-logician that once the can of worms that is logical fallacies are opened up in a real world debate, neither side will find its rhetoric logically unimpeachable.

    But it seems to me that having a field philosopher involved in the discussion can at some point begin to limit fallacies so that clearer minds might prevail in making valid decisions.

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