Friday, February 26, 2010

Going to Extremes

I’ve got a radical impulse and you do. It’s the tendency to take any issue, infuse it with passion—and then exaggerate. Hopefully I won't do it here. Or, not too much.

The Pipeline Through the Former Soviet Union
I studied radical impulse while writing my Master’s thesis, which was about an oil pipeline across former Soviet states.  I was predisposed to favor this huge, megabuck construction—and readers, the oil companies did a socially-aware, risk-avoiding job on this project. Plus, they brought capitalism and opportunity to places there was none. In the former Soviet world, nobody knew how to make a deal outside of a furtive back room. Suddenly they were meeting international bankers, insurers, and engineers in broad daylight, filling out forms, and learning how to set this up for domestic banks, insurance, and engineering. Whoa!!

It’s equally true that the oil was bypassing rural townships that needed an electrical grid and some oil to fuel it. Trade would help these people, including this counterintuitive pipeline trade. But I didn’t kid myself about whose lifestyle we were supporting. Oil-greedy Europe and the U.S.? Answer: Yes. High mucky-mucks in poor states? Yes. How about the world’s political economy, the entire world? You bet. 

It wasn’t going to help these poor to Not build that pipeline either. Especially with this kick-ass job the operator did, supported by an army of expert consultants and following the codified social /financial/ environmental regs of the World Bank. Three countries now have savings accounts for sustainable development and education. Before that—they only had decreasing security in every arena. Personal safety. Little hospital equipment. Unemployed teachers and empty schools.

But groups protested. The Kurds. Extreme British-based environmental groups. Extreme American environmental groups. They demonstrated, they spilled green paint and threw stuff at oil conventions. They screamed on their Web site. They harassed the World Bank, who gave them an open process and plenty of venues to make their points. The more the World Bank gave, the more the radicalized groups shouted that they were pushed out, that ‘deals’ were being made, possibly around water coolers. Do people talk in the employee lounge? Of course they do. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s shooting the shit at work. But radicalized groups can’t afford to concede that.

The Kurds wanted information pamphlets published in Kurdish languages for their ethnic group. They got it. A self-appointed watchdog discovered a problem with one of the sealants (paint, okay, is a sealant). No amount of delay, repair, or re-certification would shut these protesters up. They scared the crap out of the Republic of Georgia’s administrators, who were (after all) not used to a citizenry that believed it could scream at its government. I’m sure those functionaries wished, at least briefly, for a few Soviet manners that summer.

Was this really about the environment? Some were truly concerned. Most wrote reports that consisted of some travel pictures and a few drunken conversations, some interviews with people not used to having their opinion asked and fumbling for polite answers. Those were mostly taken out of context. In the end, I thought the radical gig was about seeing the world and funding the travel plans. This sounds terrible, even to them, so they lie to themselves and others about a Cause.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
We have this at home, too. Radicalizers latch on any exception and use it to prove a conspiracy against some segment of us. Extremists can’t afford to think an honest mistake was made or a legitimate complaint was filed. That goes for a lot of advocacy groups, left and right.

We are pushed, pulled, and yanked through knotholes, sussed for donations and told to be afraid. We are even taught to hate, to berate others, to despair. Somewhere, beyond this whirlwind, there is compromise, good faith, good judgment, a procedure in place. We almost never hear about that. 

Heroic efforts been scarred by lying dissenters and lying advocates alike. They have stopped the questions half-formed in our mouths. Distracted us from thinking it out.

This is not right. I will hold to that until my last breath. Call me radical if you like.


Bob G. said...

If you ARE a "radical", then you're quite the FREE radical, and tha last time I checked, that was GOOD for one's health...LOL.

Have a great weekend.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.,
ROFL! I'm having that put on my business card!
Ann T.