Cameron: Is the Ethical Oil campaign helping or hurting Canada’s international reputation?

By: /
26 September, 2011
By: Maxwell Cameron
Professor, Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, University of British Columbia

The Ethical Oil campaign makes Canadians look ethically challenged.  The Mark got it exactly right when it ran the headline: “The Truthiness of Ethical Oil.” Truthiness, as defined by comedian Stephen Colbert, means “things that a person claims to know intuitively or ‘from the gut’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”  We need a mature public debate about climate change in this country.  The rhetoric of ethical oil is designed to thwart any such debate.

In a beautiful paper entitled “Moral Complexity: The Fatal Attraction of Truthiness and the Importance of Mature Moral Functioning”, social psychologist Darcia Narvaez argues that “Mature moral functioning is evident in action that balances intuition and deliberation with individual capacities for habituated empathic concern, moral imagination and moral metacognition and with collective capacities for moral dialogue and moral institutions, offering tools for moral innovation.” We need these skills more than ever in an era of climate change, resource depletion, loss of species diversity and habitat, and unsustainable growth.

The “ethical oil” debate is manifestly designed to dumbfound the moral intuitions of the naïve, deflect meaningful deliberation, silence those who actually have something to say, and polarize debate on climate change.  The advocates of ethical oil could not be happier with the angry reaction of Saudi Arabia to their Karl Rove-style commercials.  The use of women’s rights as a wedge in the debate on energy and the environment would be laughable were the lessons of recent history not so clear: we are unwise to think that such blatant manipulation of the public can be ignored.  Truthiness is on the rise.  

See: Narvaez, D. (2010). Moral complexity: The fatal attraction of truthiness and the importance of mature moral functioning. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(2), 163-181.

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