Just in time for Thanksgiving, leftists were given the perfect opportunity to up their “tying white guilt narratives to celebration of Thanksgiving” game: Native Americans are getting shot down in the streets because the white man is ruining their water and taking their land again! Yes, I am talking about the Standing Rock Sioux’s protests over the North Dakota Access Pipeline. To be clear, I think it’s entirely legitimate for us to have disagreements about energy policy, the relative environmental safety of the various methods of extracting and transporting oil, and so on and so forth.
But that’s just precisely the problem: once identity politics get involved, it ruins everything. Emotions become so invested in tribal identities set against each other that calm, rational discussion of the finer nuances of policy becomes entirely impossible. If it ever had any chance of happening before, no serious intelligent discussion of energy policy or environmental impact is going to happen now, because the notion that evil corporations are running roughshod over sacred minority lands is the final conversation stopper dividing one side from the other, and with that division in place, there’s no way to see ourselves as people on the same team debating the best way to move forward. Now that tribal emotions are involved, disagreement establishes that we belong to different tribes. And now that multiculturalism has turned us into disagreeing tribes rather than members of a common tribe discussing disagreements among ourselves, ideological and physical war inevitably must take sincere dialogue’s place.
Thus, as usual, once identity politics infects an issue, lies will proliferate unchallenged. In place of debate that might actually be beneficial, the debate we actually get revolves around lies instead. The quality of civic discourse is degraded for everyone, and the very fact that an article like this is necessary is just more proof of that — because even after I’ve done the work of refuting these lies, all of the real issues still remain just as important and just as untouched by these incessant diversions.
First of all, one of the most hilarious ironies here is just how little of the protesters actually are Native American.
. . . Robert Fool Bear Sr., 54 [is] district chairman of Cannon Ball. The town he runs, estimated population of 840, is just a few miles from the action. It’s so close that, given the faceoffs with law enforcement, you have to pass through a police checkpoint to reach it. It’s about time people heard from folks like him, he says. . . .
. . . Go down to the camps, he says, and you won’t see many Standing Rock Sioux. “It irks me. People are here from all over the world,” he says. “If they could come from other planets, I think they would.” The presence of all these people has become a downright nuisance to his community, he says. Given the roadblocks, residents of Cannon Ball are often forced to go more than 40 miles out of their way. . . . When protest organizers presented a request to build a new winter camp in Cannon Ball earlier this month, his community shot it down. Of the 88 people who voted, he says 66 were against the camp, less than 10 were for it and the rest remained undecided.
Where is the “solidarity” for these guys? Nonexistent, of course: once a narrative is in place that pits any member of a minority group against white people, any individual minority who disagrees with it becomes subject to slander and violence as well. They’re Uncle Toms selling out to the enemy, and therefore deserve “solidarity” no longer. No matter how many actual minorities disagree with one of these kinds of narratives, the number is never sufficient to justify questioning the narrative itself. The only thing it ever tells us is how many brainwashed sellout Uncle Toms there are siding with the evil white hegemony. As the article referenced notes, we may not even know the full extent of Native opposition to the protests, because these disingenuous tactics make many too afraid to even state a dissenting opinion.
The protesters prefer to go by the name “water protectors.” One of the key slogans they’ve chosen to chant during demonstrations is “Mni wiconi, water is life.” Jesse Jackson even jumped into the action here, accusing the pipeline of having been intentionally moved away from a white area’s water supply and closer to the source of the Sioux tribe’s water in an act of “environmental racism”:
The tribes of this country have sacrificed a lot so that this great country could be built. With promises broken, land stolen, and sacred lands desecrated, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is standing up for their right to clean water. They have lost land for settlers to farm, more land for gold in the Black Hills, and then again even more land for the dam that was built for flood control and hydro power. When will the talking stop? When we start treating the first peoples of this land with the respect and honor they deserve?
The original Dakota Access Pipeline Route was slated for north of Bismarck, the capitol of ND. The City objected, so they moved the route to right north of Bismarck. This is the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time. Bismarck residents don’t want their water threatened, so why is it OK for ND to react with guns and tanks when Native Americans ask for the same right?
Yet, at the center of this claim is the biggest lie of all. The red ticker in this photograph shows where the pipeline is expected to cross the Missouri River. It is, indeed, only a short distance — around 30 miles — upstream from the Standing Rock Agency in Fort Yates from which the Standing Rock Sioux currently draws its drinking water.
The problem is that the Fort Yates water intake system has been slated for abandonment since 2003. In fact, the tribes as a whole have received more than $41 million in federal grant money for the purpose of rebuilding new intake systems, and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe received at least $26 million of this total. The planned location for the new system has been in Mobridge, South Dakota — the bottom green ticker in the photograph — for that length of time. That’s 40 miles south of the current Fort Yates intake system, and thus a full 70 miles south of the NDAP’s planned crossing of the Missouri river.
Second, pipelines literally already exist in the exact locations in question. Specifically, the Northern Border Pipeline already crosses the river at Lake Oahe, which is exactly the spot the protesters are claiming to be so concerned about. You can see a photograph of it crossing the Missouri River in Morton County — which is the location of the current protests — right here on Google Maps. This fact also goes a long way to eliminate the argument that installing the pipeline is likely to destroy important cultural sites — because this has already been done before, and in practically the same exact location.
Archaeological research from expeditions prior to the installation of the Northern Border Pipeline can be found dating all the way back to 1983 — which means sites of cultural significance are already well-documented and should be perfectly easy to avoid. Of course, the vast majority (upwards of 96%) of the pipeline plan was arrived at through voluntary agreements with private property owners in the first place.
That brings us to climate change.
Whatever you think about the validity of concerns about global warming, the North Dakota Access Pipeline is not going to increase the amount of oil that is extracted out of the Earth. The only thing in question here is how oil that is extracted along the route is going to be transported out. Currently, the oil is being transported by about seven unit trains carrying 100 rail cars, each of which holds about 60,000 gallons of oil. If the pipeline gets shut down, less oil doesn’t get extracted. It just continues being transported by rail car. It should go without saying that rail cars are far from safe, but it bears reminding that in May of 2015 an entire North Dakota town had to be evacuated when a train car exploded. A detailed analysis of from the Manhattan Institute finds that there are 2.08 “incidents” per billion ton-miles transported by railway, compared to 0.89 for natural gas pipelines, and 0.58 for hazardous liquid pipelines. Speaking of which, guess what it takes to power rail cars? That’s right: fuel. Replacing rail cars with pipelines may very well result in less total emissions.
Why are well-meaning white people gullible enough to buy in to such easily refutable lies? I think the answer is quite simple: we were taught story after story in school that relayed the message that people who fight for social change are heroes. And we want to be heroes, damnit. It’s an intoxicating way of perceiving the world. It gives us an exciting way of perceiving our role in the world. We get to feel like we’re the protagonist in a video game or TV series valiantly fighting a long series of clear-cut representations of evil, working our way up towards a confrontation with the ultimate bad guy, in which the skills we’ve accumulated will all be put to use and evil will be vanquished once and for all.
In contrast to that romantic vision, even if conservatives are right that things are already proceeding in the best way realistically possible, fighting to keep things on the path they’re already on just doesn’t carry the same kind of romanticism. The heroes in the vast majority our TV shows, movies, and other media aren’t people defending the way things already are — surely in some part because that just doesn’t make for good narrative. And of course, our TV shows and movies almost always end after the protagonist has achieved the change that he’s looking for — we rarely get to see the new established order achieved by that protagonist’s change come into challenge by yet another outsider. Again, it just doesn’t make for good narrative. And we want to be heroes, damnit. So we watch and become invested in the news as adults for reasons not entirely dissimilar to the reasons why we become invested in Disney movies as children.
If the real story of Pinnochio starts with Pinnochio murdering Jiminy Cricket and ends with him being lynched by a Fox and a Cat — or the real story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame ends with Quasimodo starving to death lying next to Esmerelda’s corpse having never found love or acceptance — or the real story of the Fox and the Hound ends with the hound chasing the fox to death by exhaustion before being killed with a shotgun by his master — who then moves to a nursing home — our childhood selves genuinely just wouldn’t want to know. Because the truth never was really the point in the first place.
And that’s how the narrative becomes more important than truth — how mild liberal irrationality on the softer end, and extreme leftist and social justice warrior insanity on the harder end, is formed. It doesn’t even matter how much we truly know, or care, about oil transport or pipelines or rail cars or anything else. It matters that buying in to a certain narrative about these things lets us see ourselves as heroes in a way we emotionally crave. Even if I’m 100% right in every single thing I’ve said in this essay, what does believing it purchase you? Do you want to be the guy that walks up to a group of friends and goes “Ackchually, . . .” or do you want to be a hero?