I’ve got so much use out of the term “legitimating story”, that I realised I’d really like to know terms for other ways in which media, miners or politicians try to frame people’s opinions. So I went hunting…
It turns out that there are gazillions (the technical term) of different ways to make it sound like you’re right, when actually you’re not. The mining industry appear to be masters at this.
Dr Wayne Somerville is a trained psychologist and hypnotherapist. He’s just written a
compelling analysis of CSG propaganda, which I hope I can persuade him to post somewhere soon. In the meantime, here’s a couple of extra terms to be going on with…
The “Straw Man” argument
This is where someone misrepresents an opponent’s position, and then proceeds to argue against that misrepresented position. They generally have the following pattern:
- Person A makes claim X
- Person B says that Person A makes claim Y (ignoring claim X)
- Person B attacks claim Y
- Person B says claim Y is wrong therefore Person A is wrong.
Clear as mud? Here’s a close-to-home example of a straw man argument:
- CSG opponents claim that independent research shows that the adverse social, environmental and economic effects of unconventional gas mining (including CSG) far outweigh any potential benefits
- Pro-gas politicians say that CSG opponents base their opposition on simply viewing the movie Gasland.
- Pro-gas politicians point out that Gasland is based on shale gas, not coal seam gas
- Pro-gas politicians say that CSG opponents are therefore misinformed, so don’t bother listening to what they say.
Here’s another example. Georgina Ramsay asked a question of Brad Hazzard at the Casino open forum. According to her organic certifying body, if a CSG well was drilled next to her organic farm, she would have to perform prohibitively expensive environmental monitoring in order to keep her certification (at her own expense, of course). In other words, she would go out of business. Georgina asked what Brad Hazzard was doing to protect her from that possibility. Really good question.
Brad Hazzard cleverly responded with a Straw Man argument. He said that to the best of his knowledge, no farmer in NSW had been adversely affected by CSG mining. Note that this wasn’t anything to do with what Georgina actually said. He proceeded to ask the audience at large, can anyone give me a case where a farmer in NSW has been adversely affected? Several examples were forthcoming, to Mr Hazzard’s surprise, but did you see what he tried to do? Georgina’s original statement, that she would be forced out of the organic farming business if a gas well was drilled on her neighbour’s property, was artfully reworded in an attempt to give the impression that her concerns were unfounded. Georgina wasn’t worried that farmers in NSW had been adversely affected. She was worried that there was nothing to stop a well being put on her neighbour’s property, and consequently the loss of her organic certification.
Let’s reduce this to the pattern:
- Georgina claims that she is worried because a CSG well on her neighbour’s property could put her out of business.
- Brad answers in a way that implies that what Georgina is worried about is that farmers in NSW have been adversely affected by CSG mining
- Brad tries to show (albeit unsuccessfully) that no farmer in NSW has been adversely affected by CSG mining
- Brad was attempting to imply that therefore Georgina is worrying for no reason.
At the Casino CSG forum, Brad Hazzard said something along the lines of (if someone can send me a copy of the video of the forum, I can find the exact words. These are from my hastily scribbled notes on the day and may not be verbatim. But they should be pretty close.) “Not everyone is against CSG. I have hundreds of letters a day. In fact, the last letter I received was from a young lady, she was 24, and she said ‘Just remember, I wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for mining”.
Now, out of the hundreds of letters Brad Hazzard gets each day, he picked one as representative. It happened to be pro-mining. The effect of doing that was to imply that many, if not all, of those hundreds of letters were pro-mining. Were they? Hardly – if they were, why just give us one example? However, if you weren’t paying attention, it would be easy to be misled into thinking that much of his mail was pro-mining.
Again, at the forum, Mr Hazzard claimed credit for the current NSW government not having approved any new exploration licenses. Good for him. (Unfortunately, when he was asked a question about whether his government had approved renewals or expansions, his memory became hazy. The Planning Minister, in claiming credit for not approving any new exploration licenses, can’t remember whether his government had approved renewals or expansions? )
Not long afterwards, he tried to claim credit for his government introducing “tough new conditions” to control CSG mining, including banning BTEX (which was rarely used in NSW), placing a 6 month moratorium on fracking (which isn’t yet needed in most NSW wells) and banning evaporation ponds (which means that they will now be called storage ponds, because evaporation ponds are banned.) But here’s the gutwrencher: most of the audience knew what he was leaving out – that the new measures only applied to new licences. If his government had not approved any new licenses, then the new control measures applied to no-one. How dare he ask for credit for that?
Again, if you weren’t paying very close attention, you could easily miss the hidden contradiction: Mr Hazzard claimed proudly that his government had introduced tough new measures. But he also wanted credit for the fact that the measures applied to no-one.
* * *
These are some of the bull*&^% techniques I’ve found terms for so far. I hope to write soon about “hypnotic language”, “ad hominem” arguments, and “the Delphi technique”. I’m trying to compile as many as I can (contributions welcome), because until you have a name for something, it’s very difficult to point it out. Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence.” Exactly. And if we pass over all this bull*&^% in silence, then it makes it very difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is bull*&^%.
“A civilisation unable to differentiate between illusion and reality is generally believed to be at the tail end of its existence.” John Ralston Saul
I’d really rather delay as long as possible this “tail end” thing.