Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Unintended Consequences of Critical Advocacy

Criticism or opposition increases the credibility of, and support for, that opposed.

That attack tells others that what you are opposing is important enough, enough of a threat, at least to you, to warrant attention. If it were not so you would simply ignore it. Then it would, perhaps, just sit there like a dead fish garnering nobody's attention. But that would, of course, simply give free reign to that opposition.

The fact that you criticize, attack or openly oppose something attracts people's attention to it. In so doing you may find that others agree with your criticism but you may also find that they disagree with you and decide that they must, perhaps because of your opposition, support that which you are criticizing. In other words, in your opposition you run a fifty-fifty risk, or higher, of garnering new supporters for that which you are attacking. This would, in turn, make it more threatening to you and make it more worthy of your opposition. It has the potential for a never-ending confrontation.

Most often that opposition elicits a response from the person(s) at the core of that which you are attacking. If it is important enough for you to criticize, after all, it is even more important to defend for those who have a part of themselves vested in it. If it's worth attacking it is worth defending. With the additional supporters to their cause that your opposition garners for them your continued attacks simply makes an ever-stronger, ever-more-threatening adversary.

When two opposing camps are in a position of constantly criticizing and attacking each other, the formula changes only slightly. The stronger of the two camps, generally, (or the one with the more appealing, people-friendly message) will generally maintain it's advantage for a considerable length of time, partly thanks to your opposition. When the weaker camp gains some momentum eventually, if maintained, that momentum may allow the growth in support to exceed the growth in support for the stronger side. Over time, as long as both sides are able to maintain their confrontation, that weaker camp may eventually gain the upper hand. But the battle to get to that point will, generally, be long and difficult.

This is the current reality for the peak oil movement. Our constant criticism of the business-as-usual oil industry mentality, our incessant demands that our politicians and leaders address the peak oil issue, are the modern day equivalent of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Our message about peak oil and the ensuing disintegration of life as we know it frightens people. It is not somewhere they want to go. It is not somewhere they can go, in their minds. What is there to support?

Our opponents in this, of course, offer a much more appealing vision of a future, however unrealistic it may be in our minds. And their job is simple. They, if you accept the gospel, offer a future of unlimited potential, wealth, growth, development, a lifestyle of your choosing. The peak oil movement offers despair, hard work, starvation, a struggle for clean water, elimination of travel, a world without cars, without electric can openers for God's sake.

Even today the majority of people in the world remain blissfully unaware of the peak oil issue and the crises facing us in the near future. Of every ten people that our constant campaigning makes aware of the issue more than half are going to reject our message and, instead, get religion and embrace the gospel according to Exxon. If they have to put their effort into something, after all - and for most their awareness and awakening all but compels them to action - then they are going to put that effort into something that promises them a benefit, a bright future, a continuation of the good life.

Our increasing membership in the peak oil movement is, for the moment, coming at a terrible price. It is growing our opposition at an even faster rate. They have the full power of the political machine, mass media, and gobs of money to use in the battle. We, on the other hand, are all too easily dismissed as crackpots, conspiracy theorists, doomsayers, as wanting the societal destruction and massive die-off that we warn about. There isn't a serious peak oil advocate who hasn't lost friends, built walls between themselves and members of their family over their advocacy. Most have simply eventually withdrawn into their own shell and, for the sake of harmony, ceased talking about peak oil among friends and family.

The more you can put your opponent in the role of criticizing you, or even defending themselves in such a way that it highlights your opposition, the more they in turn run the risk, however, of garnering additional support for you. This is often what happens at the turning point in the confrontation, at the point where the weaker opponent begins to get the upper hand.

This is a trend we are definitely starting to see in the peak oil movement. The cornucopians, the oil company executives, the paid shills, the pork-barrel politicians, the "I'll tell you whatever you want to hear" economists are increasingly in the position, while trying to defend their own stance, of having to criticize the peak oil movement, its statistics, its forecasts, its warnings of dire circumstances. In so doing, however, they are themselves increasing the visibility of the peak oil movement. They are, themselves, increasing the army of supporters for the peak oil theory/message. They are actively sowing the seeds of their own eventual defeat. And the harder they hit, the louder they yell, the more they are pushing people to the other side, into supporting the peak oil movement.

This change in conditions, however, imposes upon we in the peak oil movement a responsibility, if we are to capitalize on the changes taking place and reach enough people to form a critical mass sufficient to cause some move toward the development of a sustainable, post-peak future. It is time for us to take the high road. The cornucopians are feeling the heat. The reality of the situation is starting to bite them and everyone else in the ass. It is becoming an increasingly difficult reality to ignore or argue against. We don't need to yell anymore.

The more quietly we carry the message forward, and the louder the opposition rails against it, the more credibility it gives our message in the minds of those who have not yet joined one camp or the other. We will, with an air of quiet confidence and calmness, garner increasingly more support than the loud, critical, unrealistic opposition. It will become increasingly apparent to more and more people as the global economy implodes that the good life the other side is offering them is unachievable. With that recognition should also come the realization that preparation for a very different future is now needed. That is where the critical mass comes from.

In order to help people achieve a full understanding of the implications of peak oil, however, it is important that we continue connecting the dots, continue linking peak oil with the global oil wars, the collapsing world economy, the renewed push for nuclear energy, rising unemployment, the global freshwater crisis, the global hunger crisis, global topsoil loss, and, yes, global warming and climate change. They must be helped to see that the good life they have been pursuing and which has been promised to them has come at a price which threatens the survival of themselves and their children and grandchildren. They must finally be convinced that it is time to take the red pill.