The Wide Divide: Financial Interests vs. Local Adverse Impacts

by S. Tom Bond on February 12, 2014

The Great (Wide) Divide that Separates Financial Interests from the Reality on the Ground

>>> Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Jane Lew, Lewis County, WV <<<

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is  the division between those who recognize the damage done by shale drilling (and by extension other extreme hydrocarbon extraction, particularly mountain top removal) and those who ignore it.  What is the psychology involved? How can they?

The evidence on the ground is overwhelming: hundreds of sick patients are visiting physicians who recognize the health problems caused by air pollution and water pollution; corporate legal liabilities averted via payments that bind the victim not to discuss the injury; dead livestock; the transparently obvious long term damage to the future of agriculture and forestry; and the hundreds of groups formed to fight these evils.

The testimony is ignored by many who shout “prove it, prove it” like a gang of 13 year old boys.  The mantra is actually “we need scientific proof,” which sounds more adult, but they know full well what is going on, and it has the same effect.  Research takes time, manpower and money, and while it is coming the deniers generate smoke clouds using their employees and contractors, making recognition of scientific fact more difficult.

We all should understand the nature of big business.  Money is received from investors, a few at the top decide the direction of action and their employees are indebted for their jobs to the leadership so they must follow orders like good soldiers or look elsewhere for work – no dissention in the ranks allowed.  This is part of what makes a corporation so powerful; like an army, there is no argument about direction.  Employees understand that initially when they “sign up.”

Psychologists recognize what is called “the dark triad.”  It “is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and sub-clinical psychopathy.” This is self-love, no value but winning, and inability to feel the emotion of others. Most people who show these traits are losers, often criminals, but some leaders who possess them are highly successful.

Those that ignore the damage from extreme hydrocarbon extraction fall into different classes.  The most strident in ignoring the evils are the shills  -  like Tom Shepstone of Energy in Depth. (Here is a must-see video of him in action.)

Also, the recent acquisition for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Alex Epstine, who battles not only the injured, but science itself.  Here in Forbes, at his own “Center for Industrial Progress” and in several other “charities.” There is a picture of him and a review of his activity here.

My conclusion for this class is they are motivated by somewhat similar personality traits as a hitman.  They want the money, are proud professionals, and are not the least bit squeamish. Machiavellian and psychopathic, no empathy for the victim.

Those who arrange financing, like the Wall Street banks and venture capital firms are perhaps a little less dark toward the injured.  They are single purpose organizations for the purpose of collecting and placing capital.  They formally recognize other motivation than making money by the flow of capital, at least verbally.  They are detached from most of society, however, and pain to others is academic, something they know about, but really don’t have much feeling for.

In addition to the measures of the dark triad, we must add a fourth psychological trait: detachment.  This is defined as “inability to connect” or “depersonalization.”  Financiers habitually operate in this mode.  Social class, absence of personal contact, more important things to think about, result in habitual operation without consideration for the pain. Others must accept the burden of making moral choice as far as they are concerned.

This detachment is also a characteristic of the individual high officers of the drilling companies. They don’t think of themselves as bad people, they work hard to convince themselves the sacrifice of others is better for the whole of society.

Here a fifth psychological concept must be introduced: rationalization.  It is “a defense mechanism in which … behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner.” “We need the energy and burning carbon is the only way to get it,” they say.  “If you take away our subsidies, our energy will cost more, and it isn’t fair to ask us to spend some of our gain to transition to some better, cleaner source of energy.”  “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet” might be their motto.

The executives are people who spend tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars: (1) Influencing legislation; (2) Propagandizing the public, from grade schools and county fairs to big city news papers and TV stations.  (3) Utilizing every nook and cranny of the law to apply force to local governments and individuals to meet company objectives. (4) Supporting politicians like Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania  and U. S. Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, who doesn’t “believe in” global warming because he doesn’t like the solutions to it that are available.   (Almost all climate change deniers in government are in the pockets of hydrocarbon producing  companies.)

Next are the workers, both blue collar and white collar, desperate for jobs in a mined out society, where jobs and capital have been exported to Japan, Mexico and China. Worldwide,  $21 trillion (according to Forbes) is stashed in offshore accounts to avoid taxation and await further lucrative foreign investment.

Others say as much as $32 trillion here and here and this one, which everyone in the world should read thoroughly. This higher figure is about twice the Gross Domestic Product  (the value of all goods and services produced in the U. S.) and about twice the national debt!

Workers are falling over one another to get jobs and would doubtless rather have safer work with more regular hours (drilling jobs sometimes requiring 20 or more consecutive hours), and jobs they could expect to last for more than a few months.  Not to mention work near home, rather than situated somewhere in the hinterlands.

Next there is the landmen, whose job is to shear the sheep.  You can find a generous dollop of all five in their personality.  More than anyone else, they are culpable, because by the hour they are calculating which alternate scheme will get the desired result.  They go to bed every night knowing what they have done.  Like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” they must have a lot to think about.

And there are the politicians, whose only goal is to get elected and reelected.  But they have to acquire money in the present system.  Like a streetwalker, they have to project an image and provide a fungible service to get money.  The service goes to whomever can pay, one after another, being careful not to let one contact interfere with the next.  Take time to study the issues – ha!  Man of the people – forget it.  Perhaps the most detached of all.  Machiavellianism of a kind Machiavelli never dreamed of.

Media bosses are much like politicians, for the sake of getting advertising, and also they like to “go with the flow.”  They deal with so much information they never have time to investigate or research in depth, that is left to the reporters.  But the reporters have to write stuff that is acceptable to the bosses they work for.

Last in our list, individuals.  They mostly accept propaganda without question.  Some can see it is propaganda, some have contacts with the harmed that raise an alarm.  Very few think it through.  This was well understood by Earnie Bernays, the inventor of modern public relaions, and a nephew of Sigmund Freud.  He might well be considered a patron saint of the shale drilling movement.  The first paragraph of his book “Propaganda” reads:  ”The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.  Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

So there you have it – why the “wide divide” survives between the facts on the ground and the myth, that no damage is done, advanced by shale drilling advocates.

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