Sunday, January 19, 2014

Neil Young–Hypocrite or Democracy Champion?

Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite. - Charles Spurgeon

We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity. - Thomas Fuller

The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy. - William Hazlitt

Neil Young is riding into Calgary today to wrap up his anti-oil sands tour.  There is no irony lost in recognizing that Calgary for the most part is built upon the revenue from the petroleum industry.

To reinforce his anti-oil sands message, he and his entourage will be arriving via wagon train instead of fuel-burning vehicles, his instruments will all be hand-carved out of eco-responsible materials and no semblance of any petroleum-based product will be allowed in the presentation of his show. 

Oh and I forgot, I have just been named the President of the Pan Galactic Council For Indigenous Alien Life Forms – Milky Way constituency.

Yup – bullshit all around, if you ask me.  :-)

I believe Mr. Young is a hypocrite, having been happy enough to leverage “the system” for years and having made himself a success, is now happy to turn on the system and tell the rest of us we are hypocrites.

But there’s a larger issue in my mind than the musings of a drug-fried, bitter has-been in the music industry (although I profess to like his early music).

And that issue is this.

Mr. Young is entirely within his right to voice his opinion about the oil sands.  That is a foundational element for democracy that we insist separates us from the rest of the world.

However, I do object to two things in how his opinions are being expressed.

1. Stick with the facts.  Deliberately presenting false, out-of-date or misleading information in a hateful, demeaning, insulting, intimidating way, as PETA does, as the “save the seals” crowd does, as Mr. Young does and many other groups do actually negates the opportunity to engage in an intellectual discourse that might actually be able to find compromise.

2. Allow expression of counter opinion.  When Mr. Young expresses his opinion and some of us counter his opinion with our own, we are immediately beset upon by his minions who tell us that we are not entitled to our opinion.  

Because problems, if real, get solved when we get together as responsible, respectful adults and we solve them using the best, most reliable, most verifiable data that we can find.

For those who believe that people like me are not entitled to a counter opinion to Mr. Young’s fact-less, emotion-laden rants, I have three suggestions:

1. Divest yourself of anything that can be traced back to alleged “dirty oil” and live without it.  This includes your home, your car, the electronics you use to bash others and anything that could be remotely associated with oil.  Give it a year (if you last that long) and let me know how it works out.  Please shower before you approach me.

2. If you believe that Canada or the US should be a country where only one opinion is allowed (in this case, yours), find another country to live in where the concept of expression suppression is embraced.  You may be surprised to learn that the one opinion that is allowed there is not your own and you will have to resign yourself to perpetual silence.  Maybe then you will appreciate the power and potential of two-way dialog where the mutual right to express opinions is respected.

3. Remember that we receive what we give.  When we treat others with disrespect or we attempt to steamroll over them with emotion, that is what we receive in kind.  Feigning surprise when this happens makes you look less intelligent than you believe you are.  You may also find that what comes back is more powerful than what you dished out and you may be swept away in the process.

Bottom Line

I believe Mr. Young is a burnt-out hypocrite.  The upside is that he is in good company, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with many politicians and other powerful people who are not doing the right thing, the right way, right now, for the right reasons.

But what makes “this place” work is that despite the hypocrites, the greedy, the selfish, the hate-spreaders, the bullies, the intimidators, the uninformed and the ignorant we also have the intellectual, the learned, the respectful, the collaborators and the solution-finders.

And we live in a place where all opinions, even the ones that hurt, are allowed to be expressed.

But what also separates us from other places in the world is that the opinions of the weak-minded or misinformed eventually fade into obscurity, a meaningless, entertaining but sometimes painful anecdote that people forget about as they move forward.

So Mr. Young is making a lot of noise but this too shall pass.  As he himself wrote, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” 

Maybe he’s in the process of accomplishing both.

And in the meantime, “keep on rockin’ in the free world”.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – January 19, 2014

In an interview given Sunday evening in Calgary, Mr. Young indicated that his tour was not an anti-oil sands tour but in fact was a pro environment / pro First Nations treaty tour.

If that’s the case, he needs to hire a new head of communications as his message up to now has been very specific regarding the oil sands as has been the message by his minions. 

As he recently noted:

"Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland," said Young, 67, during a National Farmers Union conference.

"The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying. The fuels all over — the fumes everywhere — you can smell it when you get to town," he said.

"People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this. All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this. Their food supply is wasted, their treaties are no good. They have the right to live on the land, like they always did, but there’s no land left that they can live on. All the animals are dying."

This looks and sounds like an attack on the oil sands to me with a lot of emotion but little (or no) verifiable data. 

As a matter of fact, when you look at where his focus started in this statement, it almost looks as if the First Nations people are brought in as “supporting data” to his primary issue which is the oil sands.

<<Whisper>> By the way, Mr. Young.  A lot of my First Nation’s friends don’t like to be called Indians. But I guess if you are in the business of insulting people without thinking and then expecting cooperation later, your inner monologue might have come out into the light by accident.

Rex Murphy offers up similar analysis in classic Rex Murphy fashion in his article “Neil Young’s oilsands stance is unfair”. In addition, this article by the Calgary Herald, where Mr. Young notes that he keeps 5 mammoth tour buses idling all the time when on tour (whether occupied or not) and that he likes to travel by private jet on occasion, also highlights a message not in congruence with action.

If Mr. Young really wanted to solve alleged First Nation’s problems, there are smarter, more strategic ways to accomplish it.

When I want to resolve an issue with someone, I don’t kick them in the head first and then expect them to be cooperative or collaborative.

How about you?

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