Debunked: The Top 10 Stupid Arguments in Neil Young Debate

The Honour the Treaties tour is now over and, as Neil Young presumably heads back to his California home, mission accomplished, the Canadian media — especially the Alberta media — can find another reason to hyperventilate.

It was a tough time for me, a former journalist, reading many opinion columns inspired by Young’s tour and his recent statements about the Alberta oilsands.

Not because I’m pro-oilsands.

Not because I’m anti-oilsands.

Nope, I found the op-ed pages infuriating to read because, above all else, I am anti-stupid arguments. And from what I read in Alberta newspapers, columnists made a ton of them in the days leading up to Young’s final show in Calgary.

Valid criticisms of Young’s position were difficult to find in the media — not because the musician’s provocative opinions were beyond reproach but because many op-ed writers seemingly lost touch with their critical faculties. They resorted to name-calling (“Hypocrite! Hippie! Old dude!”) and backed up their opinions with the same collection of asinine arguments.

In an exercise of possible self-loathing, I started making a list of the media’s most common stupid arguments why Canadians shouldn’t listen to what Young has to say. Read on, if you dare, but be warned these could make your brain hurt:

1. “He’s an aging rocker.” Yes, you heard correctly. Media has uncovered the disturbing fact that the 68-year-old ages one year every Nov. 12 which, apparently, makes his opinions entirely invalid. If you want the truth about oilsands development, seek out Benjamin Button.

2. “He’s a celebrity.” Columnists argue being famous for one thing precludes you from having knowledge about something else. Except there are approximately a gazillion examples that refute this argument. Off the top of my head: comedian Jay Leno and cars; filmmaker Woody Allen and jazz; Prime Minister Stephen Harper and hockey; singer Miley Cyrus and, um, wrecking balls.

3. “He’s a pot-smoking hippie.” So was Steve Jobs and he wasn’t exactly a know-nothing deadbeat. Next…

4. “He lives in the U.S., so he should get his nose out of Canada’s business.” This argument is particularly irritating when it comes from columnists who regularly chime in about U.S. policy on, say, the Obama administration’s handling of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.

5. “He was born in Canada but lives in the U.S. He’s not Canadian anymore.” Just to be clear: with this argument, columnists are referring to Young, not Canadian-born companies such as Nexen and Husky Energy, which are now controlled by foreign interests.

6. “He’s using this anti-oil crusade to sell his electric car.” Oh how I laugh when columnists trot out this supposed smoking gun, as if to suggest Young has more to profit from spinning the truth about oilsands development than oil companies.

7. “But he flies in planes, which use oil, and he sold records, which are made of oil. So he’s a hypocrite.” Of course, almost everyone on Earth uses a product derived from petroleum; this argument suggests no one has the moral authority to question the actions of Big Oil. Using the same argument, newspaper columnists should never criticize or question municipal, provincial and/or federal governments because they surely use these government services.

8. “He compared what’s happening in Fort Mac to the human tragedy of Hiroshima — that’s an insult to the families of those who perished in the atomic bomb blast.” No, Young did not say that. (For the record, he said the region “looks like Hiroshima.”) Nor did he say he wants all oilsands workers to lose their jobs. Nor did he tell children Santa isn’t real. This straw man was No. 1 on the Logical Fallacy Charts during Honor the Treaties Week.

9. “He should shut up and sing.” So say the columnists who’ve never bothered to listen to the lyrics of After The Goldrush (“We got Mother Nature on the run”) or Vampire Blues (“I'm a vampire, babe, suckin’ blood from the earth/Well, I'm a vampire, babe, sell you 20 barrels worth.”)

And finally…

10. “He’s irrelevant.” Hundreds of column inches dedicated to Young’s every word suggest otherwise.

Photo via AFCNChallenge on Flickr


Making sense is a hard thing to do when you're just plain wrong. Like they told us at law school "If you've got the law, bang the law. If you've got the facts, bang the facts. If you have neither, bang the table."

I question the very validity or usefulness of categorizing and analyzing people's lame fear-bound insecure off-topic responses to substantial questions.

Perhaps responding with substantial questions may elicit further self-revelation?

Questions like:
- are there every any circumstances in which government or industry actions should be questioned or criticized ?
- if so, who should be allowed to do so? what credentials/qualifications/personal qualities would they need to have ?
- do any contradictions in ones personal life disqualify someone from raising questions or making criticisms ?

- do you have any contradictions in your personal life which might disqualify you from questioning or criticising someone you don't believe is qualified to raise questions?

- overall, on balance, is your contribution to humanity greater or lesser than those whom you are criticising for being unqualified to criticise ?

- specific to Neil Young, taking into account his long track record touching many many people through his powerful music, his history of activism for justice and what he believes to be right, of FarmAid and direct criticism of government and industry and environmental destruction, what exactly about your life and contributions to society qualifies you to disqualify him from doing what he does ?

- do you always take everything so personally, or has hit a sensitive nerve ?


We used to have cheap labor in the form of slavery.

Do you think Northern troops charged into battle naked because they didn't want to use cotton?  Or do you think they used southern cotton?