Monday, September 12, 2011

Misplaced passion

I am a passionate person. I am happy to share my passions with others, which is why I write here.

However, passion is a dangerous emotion. The passionate have to take care they they use the force of their passion constructively. It is all too easy to be destructive.

I have long felt infinitely sad for those in the animal rights movement who have expressed their passion by violence. People work with animals to try to find ways of alleviating human suffering. If you don't like them working with animals, then you should strive to find another way of curing human ills. That is the constructive use of your passion. The destructive use is to attack those who work with animals, because ultimately you are hindering their attempts to relieve human suffering.

One of my many passions is a belief in an open society, one in which we should be free to express our beliefs without fear or favour. Thus I have a hatred of propaganda. I like the definition "Propaganda is -- a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual)" [Richard Alan Nelson, A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States (1996) pp. 232-233]

When I saw the video Gasland, I soon realized it was a good example of propaganda. Finding out that it really did give a one-sided message which in many places was anything but factual took a little time. Fortunately my quest was aided by others who had reached the same conclusion. An epiphany came when I found a You-Tube of Gasland's producer, Josh Fox, admitting that he had known that the "flaming water" was a long-standing phenomenon that had nothing to do with fracking. Since then I have been passionate about revealing the propaganda for what it was.

The debate has generally been fruitful. My opponents have been courteous, knowledgeable in their own way, happy to share their concerns, and willing to consider that their concerns could be addressed. The debate has therefore come down to ways of ensuring that fixes could be achieved. Once the concerns had been reliably addressed, exploration via 'fracking' was reasonable.

I, for my part, have had to stress that no fix is perfect. Murphy's Law is alive and well. But one of the beauties of engineering is that it does get better and better - we do learn from our mistakes. So the risk of the fixes failing is likely to diminish with time. As one concern is addressed, another will be found to take its place. Ultimately the de minimis rule will kick in, and all will accept the tiny chance of failure that remains.

But there is O'Toole's rider to Murphy's Law - he said "Murphy is an optimist!" I said that the debate has generally been fruitful. There are exceptions to this rule, point blank refusal even to discuss concerns, outright rejection of the possibility of another view.

The latest example of this has been an invitation to a musician to play to a group of us. Negotiations proceeded slowly, but finally we agreed a significant fee. Then, with a week to go, came a surprising email "Since my last email I have read some of your blogs. I do not wish to be associated with you or your crew. I am vehemently against Fracking. I will also not support the pursuit of profit without regard for its humanitarian and environmental impact."

I was not previously aware that 'my crew' would be deemed to share my passions - in fact, I am certain that they share a few, and equally certain that they hold contrary views about many others. I don't mind vehemence - some of those with whom I have debated have been quite vehement, and it expresses passion well.

However, passion can blind, and surely it has in this case. One of my passions happens to be music, and that is one which I share with the musician - and with many of 'my crew'. The musician has allowed one of his passions to get in the way of another. That is as good an example of the destructiveness of passion as I know.

Shakespeare, how now your Romeo and Juliet?

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