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News Motivation for Activism

  1. Jun 25, 2010 #1


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    In the gulf oil spill thread, a few weeks ago, Ivan said something to the effect of: if there's a silver lining to be had in the gulf oil disaster, it's the possibility that it could give rise to a new generation of environmentalists. It got me thinking about how activism is motivated.

    I certainly agree with the overt premise of the statement: that a disaster like the gulf oil spill could serve as a motivator to bring people into environmental activism. But I'm not sure we are in agreement as to the precise mechanism and I'm certain we are in disagreement about it being a positive thing. So I'd like to explore the issue in more detail.

    First, why do disasters motivate activism? Because, imo, passion is the primary driver of activism and disasters are shocking and emotionally gripping events - and passion is strong emotion. Apathy is why many people don't vote and its antonym is passion. Passion is what you feel that makes a pursuit worth getting off your couch for - to join a rally or march, to donate money, to sacrifice for a cause.

    So why do I think it is bad? Well, first a caveat: people are emotional and some emotion is inevitable. But when you're motivated primarily by strong emotion, that means you're not motivated primarily by logic and reason. And the big decisions all need to be made based on logic and reason. They are intellectual pursuits, not emotional ones. How to make drilling safe? (or is it even safe enough to do at all?) That's an engineering issue and a legal (regulatory) issue, plus an environmental science issue and an economic issue. It is a risk calculus based on putting all of these pieces together and making a logical decision on what is best. It is complicated! You can't do complicated analysis/make complicated decisions when running primarily on emotion. Too often, emotion makes you make rash decisions. Perhaps we regret these decisions later (Mets fans :biggrin: ), perhaps we never realize the folly in our ways (Cubs fans :biggrin: ).

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  3. Jun 25, 2010 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    While there is no doubt that emotions play a part in any event like this, it can also be a defining moment. Russ, you seem to feel that since events like this are rare, we can allow for "one" and just make corrections to the existing systems and/or controls.

    For people like me, you are not allowed "one". A disaster of this magnitude - and what I fear it will be - is an example of unacceptable consequences. The objection is not one based on emotion [at least, not exclusively], it is based on a definition. That is the point that you don't seem to understand.

    It is entirely reasonable to demand that we have a mechanism to contain or control failures of this nature. Creating monumental enviromental disasters when a system fails, is not acceptable, period.

    Having spent over thirty years in industry, no one will ever convince me that any system is failsafe. When you cite the odds of failure, I calculate the odds that you've made a mistake - failed to include unforseen variables. When someone tells me a system is, for all practical purposes, failsafe, I assign high confidence that claim is false. And again, this is not based on emotion; this is based on three decades of experience in a wide range of industries.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2010
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