The Paranoid Style and Fracking Politics

Over the past two months, I have been called a spineless coward, a quitter, a traitor, a suspected spy, a liar, and a fraud. All of this has been launched at a guy who helped lead a fracking ban from people opposed to fracking. The name calling has now surpassed what the industry hurled at me across a year of campaigning for the ban. They pretty much stuck with extremist and anti-American communist, though occasionally labeling me an agent of urban sprawl and a lover of tacos.

This all stems from City Council’s June decision to repeal the ban. I never endorsed repeal, but I did say that I understood it may well be the least bad of a suite of bad choices. Perhaps some of the name calling is because I didn’t fully spell out my thinking on this point. Maybe if I do so here, some mutual understanding might take the place of attacks…maybe.

Here’s the way I see it. The ban was unenforceable. HB 40 had killed it. Even those who would later criticize me were not pushing for the city to enforce the ban.

After May 18 (when HB 40 became law) we weren’t trying to save the life of the ban; we were trying to decide what to do with its dead body. Yes, it would have been preferable to let it rest on the books. That gesture is all that ‘winning’ would have meant. That’s all that was at stake at that point. There was no possible way any outcome of this particular lawsuit would have resulted in us actually defending the ban – that is, as a valid and enforceable ordinance.

The very best outcome would have been to let a nullified and voided law sit there in the city code. Even if that had happened, we’d still be right where we are, haggling over which set of rules are as protective as possible under HB 40 as fracking goes on in our town.

And there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of us winning even that hallow, or perhaps symbolic, victory. To push for it would have almost certainly meant a loss in the courts – huge expenses for us to pay if the judge ordered the city to cover the opponent’s costs and, worse, a legal precedent for HB 40 that would hurt the long game of overturning it.

We should spend money to fight for our values. But there is an assessment to be made here: do we have a reasonable, or even an outside, chance of winning? I don’t think we did in this case, because HB 40 changed the rules and the industry was merciless in their negotiations with the city as they amended their pleadings to reference the new law. We had a real fighting chance to defend the ban before HB 40. I was looking forward to that fight and by becoming interveners, DAG and Earthworks had actually done more than they said they would by way of defending the ban. But with HB 40 the ban was no more. The situation on the ground changed and we needed to acknowledge that.

Now, I admit I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’ve dropped my fair share of balls. And I should have said more to explain why DAG left the lawsuit after repeal. That’s just it: after repeal, the very thing we were intervening on behalf of – the ban – no longer existed.

Every lawyer I spoke with recommended repeal – and none of them wanted to hear or deliver that news. I didn’t want to hear it either – but wishful thinking and selective hearing do not courage make.

OK, so I guess that’s what people consider cowardly and quitting and lying. There are names I could attach to the alternative tactic of pressing the case for such meager potential upsides against near impossible odds with huge downsides. But I haven’t resorted to name calling and I won’t, because I don’t think it is productive and it would imply that I am certain of my wisdom and the folly of others. I try not to be lured into certainty on such vexed issues. I’m happy to concede that reasonable people can disagree on such matters.

For the most part, I think we are pulling along together and starting to craft promising ways forward to achieve our goal of making Denton a safer and healthier place. But some of what I have seen lately concerns me. It reminds me of Tea Party purges in the Republican Party. Ideological purity is sacrosanct. There can be no context-sensitive adjustments in the face of political realities. The bar grows higher and higher to count as an ally and true believer. There is absolute good and absolute evil. If one is not in the former category – stained by even one questionable speck – then one is in the latter category.

I know that we just led a fracking ban campaign that some will classify as extremist. But look at the stlye of the campaign – clear-eyed arguments, calm-headed discussion. We made the seemingly extreme show itself for what it really was: something reasonable, indeed, even just plain commonsense. What bothers me is not the personal abuse of the name-calling. It’s the shift in style that it indicates. Animosity, exaggeration, dogmatism, suspiciousness – this is a paranoid style of American politics.

I think this style is divisive and toxic. It leads to delusional beliefs and false and pointless accusations. Any reasonable argument that doesn’t happen to align with one’s position is labeled the product of a conspiracy: “There could be no other possible explanation!”  But that’s only because moral certainty has precluded consideration of other possible explanations.

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10 thoughts on “The Paranoid Style and Fracking Politics

  1. Thanks for all your leadership Adam…HB40’s existence shows the industry doesn’t know how to play fair, they cheat and make the rules up as they go along, but at some point the people will take away their trick cards. The odds are now stacked against them as they reveal their own forceful, big government and they are tripping over their own double talk.

  2. What I find appalling is that members of society are so quick to turn on each other instead of recognizing that it is the government and it’s lack of support for its citizens that create this type of debacle. Where were these same name-calling voters when trips to Austin and barrages of letters, emails and phone calls should have happened? Did they stand by your side to block entry to drill sites? I think that I remember that there were three people getting arrested in protest, not 300. Where are the hundreds of citizens who say that they are against fracking but who expected someone else to take care of ot for them?
    The developers and frackers will win as long as the majority are too damn lazy to get their butts off the couch and contribute a positive effort to making their lives – and their children’s world – better.
    Good work, Adam! You can look your children in the eye and tell them that you apologize for the poisonous place we are leaving them, but that you fought to make it better. Those that defame you now will deserve only disgust and revulsion from their progeny.

  3. Nice post. I agree that we can disagree without being disagreeable. When it becomes personal, it truly becomes ugly in an unecessary way (unless truly related to genuine concerns of conflicts of interest). I don’t think anyone is trying to be ugly more than they’re concerned about the outcomes and also the silence from DAG and FFD. I think that’s at the root of it and unfortunately it just turned personal which was unnecessary. I, personally, think that FFD should’ve continued to have regular public meetings. FFD became very exclusive to the exclusion of many of the locals who genuinely care about this fight. That mixed with silence didn’t bode well and since you’re one of the most visble leaders, that fell on you and you ended up bearing the brunt. That’s unfair, but it’s also one of the pitfalls of leadership. And in leadership, communication is key in these types of tense fights. I continue to learn this same lesson over and over again in business. If someone is going to take a path that others disagree with, then this needs to be discussed over and over again in an open manner where disagreement is welcome and open dialogue always returns to the issue at hand.

    Also, i tend to think that these disagreements should happen from time to time in a more face to face civil context. we’re all accountable to each other living in the same town and regular face to face communication always helps.

    Furthermore, in our current culture, we tend to see in dualisms, black or white and tend toward the edges, when reality truly presents a range or even a “web” of outcomes/choices. I’m not quite sure why we tend toward “either/or” scenarios except that it’s likely resulting from Newtonian thinking that permeates our culture on some level. I often think that it’s just a way to over-objectify or rationalize/concretize all concepts to an easy answer away from the complex web of reality that actually exists. In this either/or dynamic, people generally will never define themselves as “evil”, so it’s always “the other” that’s evil. There’s no other answer with this logic. Whether someone is “too extreme” or “not reasonable enough” or “an anarchist” or “a sell-out”, etc etc etc. We define “them” to define ourselves and it’s an ugly and nonsensicle way to think. Our town is full of many different people with many different ways of thinking. Every single person is valid. We narrow our thinking and who we accept to our own detriment. And this squelches creativity. There isn’t “one way” to fight this. We just stopped “seeing each other” and the RANGE of ideas that are valid. The domain of ideas encompasses more than what any one person is willing to accept as valid.

    Anyhow, thank you for all of the work you’ve done. You’re doing a wonderful thing. I say, let’s all get together again and remember that we’re all part of this together. Inclusiveness is also key.

  4. HB40 is a horrible bill that has opened the door to many potential bad bills that can serve to further strip control from Texans.

    Industry never plays fair. However, that is only part of their strategy at getting and keeping what they want. Fracturing of hope, increasing confusion and facilitating conspiracy notions is what stirs the pot. That uncertainty assures Industry– game over.

    Believe me–many many Texans feel that our voices and concerns were not heard but instead fell on deaf ears in favor of the rich and powerful. That is where the anger comes. And the blame. But the blame game is not where Texas needs to to be right now–we have to stand firm in our original belief and stop second guessing those values. Texan’s value family, health and safety, the ability to maintain our property rights and value, preserve our right to quality of life and have the ability to decide our fate for ourselves through home rule and local control.

    Many Texans believe it is not “checkmate.”
    The art of chess strategy is knowing how to formulate a plan for the chess game, and arrange your chess pieces to accomplish this plan. Good chess strategy is playing each piece to its best square, developing them all , and getting chess pieces off the starting squares. The chess strategy is the road to understanding how to control the chess board.

  5. Here’s a thought I’m reminded of: “It is characteristic of all deep human problems that they are not to be approached without some humor and some bewilderment.” Freeman Dyson, or, as Mike Tyson said, when reminded by a reporter that his opponent had a strategy for an upcoming fight:, “Everyone has a strategy until I punch them in the face.”
    Everyone take a deep breath and relax. This is a long game. Opa

  6. Adam, What you and all in DAG accomplished from 2009–2014 is of great significance and will always be admired. I am one who has written to you and to DAG on the Frack Free Denton (FFD) site and elsewhere to suggest that DAG consider dissolution as a 501c3, and allow Frack Free Denton to become a democratically run 501c3 organization accountable to its members with elected officers and a new charter & bylaws.

    The fracture in the movement and the arrival of distrust has come about not because of conspiracy theories and paranoia but because DAG, after calling upon broad citizen support in the form of a referendum vote to ban fracking within Denton’s city limits, didn’t trust the voters. DAG brushed off appeals to defend Denton’s Ban and closed itself off, shutting down communication with FFD supporters. Despite the strong opposition of most Frack Free Denton supporters, DAG endorsed the Denton City Council’s top-down decision to repeal the Ban, and pushed people to “support City Council” and agree with Repeal, claiming it was the only option and that Denton was “forced” to repeal the Ban.

    Only option for whom? Forced by whom?

    DAG should have separated itself from Council at his juncture and stood with the 14,000+ voters who, from the minute it passed, “owned” Denton’s Ban on Fracking. Denton does not want fracking within its city limits. On behalf of FFD and the Denton voters, DAG should have insisted that Denton City Council take much more time to determine what the voters wanted done regarding the lawsuits filed against the City and should have been asking these questions throughout the months between passage of the Ban and passage of HB 40. There was plenty of time for this. As has been pointed out elsewhere, a motion for partial summary judgment is a rather routine legal procedure, often dismissed if the defendant has any evidence at all to support its position, and is only the very beginning of a legal case.

    The Ban was Denton’s “backbone” (and DAG’s), especially in the face of HB 40. Keeping the Ban would have put HB 40 under court scrutiny sooner had the lawsuits against Denton been allowed to go forward. Meanwhile these lawsuits, unless they could prove that Denton was denying permits and causing other tangible “harm,” could not so easily be pursued. Courts do not rule on hypothetical harm. The argument that “bad law” would have automatically been created by allowing the lawsuits to go forward doesn’t hold water. Every case is different and many think that HB 40 is unconstitutional because it preferences commerce over the protection of citizens.

    DAG’s spinning of Repeal as something the City Council “had” to do is incorrect and unfair to the voters. There were two non-enforcement amendments proposed after citizens made clear on June 2nd they did not want Repeal. These were subjected to a “bait and switch” at 10:30 pm on June 16th after most citizens had gone home thinking the Ban would remain on the books unenforced until HB 40 was removed. DAG did not ask the voters what they wanted and City Council only pretended to do so. The purported “stronger regulations” that DAG assured everyone Council would enact did not pan out either, as we saw on August 4th. Now, as per City Council’s August 18th agenda, we are looking at reduced fees for fracking in Denton. This is not what what Denton wants and FFD should be fighting these things tooth and nail.

    As this sad series of events unfolded, Frack Free Denton supporters have begun to realize that, since the November election and possibly before, DAG’s own structure has been causing problems for Frack Free Denton. That is because what an organization like Frack Free Denton (and DAG) needed to be before the November 4th election and what FFD needs to be now that the Ban has passed are two entirely different things.

    From November 5th, 2014 onward, Frack Free Denton has needed a new, more representative and accountable structure, clear updates on the law suits (which are public record), open discussion about potential risks to intervener groups, fundraising, inclusion of a team of Denton attorneys, outreach to a broader group of Environmentalist advisors and research, and discussion/planning on what the range of possible next steps might be if HB 40 passed (which it did). Instead, DAG and its attorneys have allowed concerns about DAG’s intervener status in the lawsuits to cause DAG to shut down its communication with FFD supporters and become secretive. This inaccessibility (which continues to this day) on the part of an group of people many had come to trust is what has fractured the movement, not paranoia and conspiracy theories. IMHO, what is needed now is for Frack Free Denton to restructure itself so as to operate in a new, more open and inclusive, accountable and democratic manner.

  7. I agree with Adam that it is a fault to assume certainty regarding what specific actions and directions individuals or groups should take in the fight against the Oil and Gas industry at any given juncture. There are many specific and general approaches that could be tried and are tried. We will never know what might have happened had we taken different forks in the road.

    In the distant past I used to think that how an activist group structured itself and what culture it evolved were almost as important as what the group thought it was going to accomplish. Now I think that how a group activates is much more important than what it thinks it’s going to accomplish. For example, the exclusive, hierarchical, authoritarian and privileged structures of Oil and Gas companies are not what we want to experience in the groups we passionately want to activate in and invest out identities in.

    How we structure our progressive groups (“prefigurative” politics is the buzzword) directly impacts the type of community we want to have after the fossil-fuel industry eventually, like the Roman Empire, collapses from the weight of its own contradictions.

    The best progressive movements globally are evolving into more directly inclusive, consensus-based, non-hierarchical structures AND cultures. These are the structures I have been passionate about. It takes a sustained effort of group self-analysis and awareness to notice the ways, in the context of our hyper-personality, narcissistic, selfie culture, that we exclude others in our community from true participation, even in our progressive groups. We all have to see how own ego projects subtly tweak our more inclusive agendas.

    I owe Adam an apology. In a past post I wrote impatiently and thoughtlessly implied that he was a quitter. I didn’t mean to imply that Adam was quitting the fight, nor that he is a quitter. He has been a tireless advocate of a healthier environment for us all. I meant that once a community is “polishing turds” it seems to suggest that the fight is over. It seems like a communal way to quit, in my humble opinion. My struggle, and frustrations, for the past year and more has been the power-sharing or non-sharing of activist groups.

    The movement we are in has to evolve not just its power and ego relations, but also the post-industrial cultures that it is creating. We can become aware of that evolution.

  8. Dear Adam (and fellow blog readers):

    Jennifer Lane’s comment on your blog post outlines an exciting new structure for the post-repeal future of DAG and Frack Free Denton, and I appreciate the fact that she has proposed it for your consideration and for the consideration of Frack Free Denton in a manner that is constructively critical, supportive, and positive. I agree with Jennifer that it could be an empowering and reinvigorating move for the greater anti-fracking movement, for Frack Free Denton as a group, and for its individual members (and for the current and former members of DAG as individual leaders and activists, if not for that small group itself as a leadership unit & independent nonprofit), if DAG were to dissolve and merge with Frack Free Denton under the Frack Free Denton title as a new nonprofit with its own self-determined set of democratic bylaws. As an outside observer and supporter, it has always seemed to me that the strength of DAG & Frack Free Denton as a movement lies in the commitment, innovation, and energy of its many many constituents, constituents that included –and will always include, as I understand it, for as long as the group exists– the current and former members of DAG.I look forward to hearing your response to Jennifer’s proposal once you’ve had the chance to think it over, and I hope that the many Frack Free Denton “volunteers” (i.e. its “members,” as I always saw them, who worked so hard and educated so many, and succeeded in making their titular goal a legislative reality, even if only for a short time) will read Jennifer’s proposal and take it to heart as well.

    Thanks again, Adam, for all your hard work in making our former fracking ban a reality, and in getting back on your feet after repeal & intervention. I commend you for your expressed commitment to learning from your own mistakes and from the mistakes of others. I am struggling to do the same myself in my own personal journey as a deeply flawed but engaged and dedicated parent, friend, worker, and citizen of the world.

    Best,

    Deb

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