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Oil industry calls BS on critics


It, is technically speaking, the back-end product of the bovine male. But is it also among the chief commodities brought to market by Canada's energy industry?

And what, truly, does the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers consider to be the scatological – scratch that: ontological - underpinnings of bullshit?

To find out, we present you this remarkable disquisition from the chief backers of this country's bitumen.

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As background, Canada's oil producers took umbrage at a recent article in Calgary's alternative weekly, Fast Forward. It's written by Jeff Gailus, author of a coming book, Little Black Lies, who cites part of his inspiration as another book, On Bullshit, by philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

He also, in Fast Forward, takes a few shots at Big Oil. For example: "Nowhere is the bullshit thicker than in Alberta's bitumen fields." And: "A future built on a foundation of little black lies will be a dark and unstable one, and herein lies the danger of which Frankfurt was so concerned."

That in mind, here, in its glory, is CAPP's response to Fast Forward:


I met Gailus' reduction of Frankfurt's serious philosophical dissertation on BS to "liar, liar, pants on fire" with significant disappointment.

Frankfurt has noted BS is used in many ways and it would have been pure BS on his part to suggest that his attempt to become a latter day Augustine and provide a categorization of the subject has really taken the BS out of BS. Unlike Gailus, Frankfurt is careful to avoid any such BS and he also recognizes that BS is commonly used as a "generic term abuse, with no very specific literal meaning."

Much of Gailus' tirade has the feel of general abuse and not the finer texture of BS that Frankfurt aimed to define. Even more excrementally, it is clear from the tone of the article that Gailus has an agenda and is writing to support that agenda. Indeed as one plunges the bowl of his thinking one finds little of fact, but much soft and loosely defined BS.

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Near the close of Frankfurt's essay he says instructively:

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These anti-realist doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity.

Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know.

Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial, notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.

So there we have it: when the pursuit of an accurate representation of the world dissolves into skepticism and is replaced by mere sincerity, sincerity itself is BS.

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There is indeed a lot to dump on in all this.

Janet Annesley

Vice-President Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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