Writing about the use (and misuse) of labels, James Michael Iddins (Valparaiso University Graduate Studies, Valparaiso, IN) commented: “It is my suspicion that these higher order abstractions [namely, labels], which we often hear used to describe combinations of views necessarily obscure our real thoughts and opinions on real issues.”
Here he warns of dangers arising from misuse of popular labels which tend to be presented as “over-generalizations and stereotypes.” In such a situation the labels themselves become a hindrance to fruitful communication and dialogue. He concedes, however, that “general labels are often useful and necessary.”
I realized recently that, as regards the raging Peak Oil Debate, a whole spectrum of views on the subject has come to be described by certain labels. On one side we do have the so-called “Peakists”, “Doomers”, “Survivalists” and “Alarmists”; and on the other, there are the equally so-called “Deniers”, and “Cornucopians”.
The list is not even comprehensive; I understand other “labels” and categories are out there. Combinations and variants of these most popular of the Peak Oil-related labels are possible and are routinely done by labelers and label-users.
A supremely important distinction seems to emerge from respectable authors and thinkers in the fields, for instance, of sociology, philosophy, psychology, and biology.
Having taken the time to examine this very human tendency to use labels these authors appear to have arrived at this conclusion: There is a vast difference between (1) intelligent labeling and (2) propaganda labeling.
Labels and categories that humans and societies adopt to make sense of large amounts of information come from the “human’s innate tendency” to group, divide, categorize, classify and “taxonomize” his environment or world. This is how human intelligence is made possible. This type of labeling in the end promotes dialogue, communication and possible synthesis of ideas. It enables participants in the dialogue to enter and consider the “grey areas” of the debate, and come out of the dialogue satisfied (at least, and for now) with an agreeing-to-disagree position.
Propaganda labeling on the other hand accomplishes the opposite of dialogue and synthesis. Such labels effectively create “in-groups” and “out-groups” and redound to the antithetical position of “them” against “us”. Propagandists, of different hues and stripes, but especially those with political agenda, tend to be very adept at exploiting this all too human tendency to create dualistic groups and move beyond categorizing and classifying. In such a situation a very negative and destructive element comes in: prejudice.
Prejudice is the act and attitude of knowingly or unknowingly judging the “thems” and their behavior as being inferior to “us” and our way of doing things. Particularly in politics the goal of propagandists is for “us” to have a decisive victory over “them”.
Going back to Peak Oil views and positions, a brief description of the more popular labels is in order, as outlined below. Note, however, that most of these labels are used not exclusively in relation to Peak Oil debate but for other global issues as well.
A Doomer is a Peakist, as described above, who believes that in addition to severe global economic recession or another Great Depression that results from oil depletion a Malthusian Catastrophe would unavoidably ensue.
A Survivalist is one who believes in and acts in accordance with ‘Survivalism’ – a movement that espouses preparing for the future. In relation to Peak Oil debate Survivalists are a subgroup of Peakists just as Doomers are another subgroup.
How to distinguish the three categories, one from the other? The main point of distinction is the “survivalist mindset”.
Peakists, of the non-Doomer variety, generally believe if we act timely and secure the commitment of enough sectors and segments of the global community we can still avert the tragedy that comes with the expected oil depletion. Hence, they seek to promote global awareness of peak oil, and campaign for appropriate government policy changes and wholesale societal changes (e.g., curbing “oil addiction”, promoting clean and renewable energy sources, etc.)
Doomers and Survivalists have a mindset which focuses on preparedness so that the family and local community will have a greater chance of surviving the expected catastrophe. Most of them believe it is a waste time to campaign for awareness and societal changes. Several survivalist websites are devoted to promoting perma-culture and preparing willing communities to re-position and reorganize themselves in a post-oil society.
An Alarmist is a person given to “excessive or exaggerated alarm about real or imagined threat”. As such “alarmists”, per se, may not be a distinct category or sub-category of views and positions regarding the Peak Oil debate. Alarmism appears more to be a psychological and sociological tendency or characteristic showing exaggerated fear and concern.
Some Doomers and Survivalists may at the same time be Alarmists. Plain Peakists may not have the same tendency as I noted from the more popular Peakist blogs an objectivity and appeal to facts without creating a sense of doom and unwarranted fear.
A Denier is one who believes Peak Oil Theory has no basis in fact and science, and that there is plenty of oil to go around for a long time. He believes it is just a matter of finding new sources of oil. He does not foresee a collapse of the industrial civilization because new oil will be found, produced and distributed; economic growth will continue even as overpopulation is curbed by various means and developments, worldwide.
Cornucopians hold a firm belief that in response to the problem of peak oil and oil depletion mankind will unfailingly find viable solutions. Corollarily, many cornucopians believe “there is oil for at least 800 years when we take into account tar sands and shale oil“.
Their optimism rests largely on two factors: a) continuing advances in the technological front; and b) the operation of the law of supply and demand. They accept the phenomenon of temporary shortages or short-run disequilibria. However, in the long-run the interplay of market forces will lead inventors and investors alike to find and finance solutions — as long as the price is right!.
Not too long ago I had a chance encounter with my Big Boss by the pantry in my workplace as I was loading up on my “caffeine quota” for the day. Our brief and casual conversation revolved around the trend of responses from my course participants on their opinion about Peak Oil. I mentioned that majority of responses from geologists, engineers, and other oil and gas professionals in my classes was of the kind that says, “Peak Oil? Oh yeah, but technology will take over and energy needs will continue to be met. I don’t think global collapse will happen just because we run out of oil.”
My Boss then referred to a quote which, I subsequently discovered, is oft-quoted in the internet, coming from a former Saudi Arabian oil minister. Here is the full quote and attribution:
“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil”
— Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a Saudi Arabian who served as his country’s oil minister three decades ago
Quoted by the Economist, The End of the Oil Age, 23 Oct 2003
Going through the list of labels I find myself strongly veering towards the view that technology, innovation, and creative entrepreneurial spirit will help provide viable responses to the challenges, risks and threat associated with oil depletion. I guess I am indeed more Schumpeterian in my economic philosophy than I had cared to admit several decades ago (i.e., when I was then a loud-mouthed street-demonstrating supporter of Marxist thoughts). But neither am I a wide-eyed optimist of the true-blue Cornucopian hue. Technology is developed and handled by flawed and fallible people and society. There is therefore a dimension to the total range of solutions to the impending oil-based energy crunch that is more sociological and political (Observe: I’m not a Denier; I believe in the coming crunch). People and society must exhibit changes in the way we do things especially our energy consumption habits.
The bottom line: let’s go on with the Peak Oil debate, and let’s use labels as necessary to define or at least approximate our respective positions. But let’s learn from each other, regardless of vastly differing views we may hold dear and sacrosanct.