Brooklyn artist Michael Patrick F. Smith came to Williston in 2013 to seek his fortune in the Bakken oil fields. He left with less money than he came with, but he brought home experiences that he’s turned into a book, The Good Hand.
He also gained a grim picture of the the toxic and broken masculinity on which the extraction industry relies:
Smith comes from a badly broken home back east — a violent, raging father, a favorite sister who died at the age of 16 in an automobile accident, and a mother who found the courage to leave her abusive husband, who periodically threatened to kill his wife and his children, and they knew he wasn’t altogether bluffing. Brokenness is the organizing principle of the book.
Smith writes, “That scar, that hole in a man’s soul the shape of his father, was a defining feature of every man I met in Williston. Men had built their lives around it. Like a tree growing around a hatchet. The father wound served as a method of communication between me and the men I met. We talked jobs, then fathers. Before women, before politics, before home, ‘Man, my dad whipped my ass!’ It bonded us together.”
…Smith believes that extractive industrial capitalism depends on the father wound — the brokenness — to accomplish its mission. This kind of industrial capitalism attracts (preys on?) strong working class, Lee Greenwood, loose-ends young men who are willing to sacrifice their best years and their health while living in decidedly marginal communities. The work is backbreaking and heartbreaking, too, but the payoff is enough cash to make the day off an orgy of drink, loud conversations heavily laced with the f-word, opioids if you want them, pliant strippers, and a street fight if you aren’t careful.
In other words, an oil boom attracts men who are not so much seeking economic independence as escaping the civilities they would be forced to observe if they were living in their home communities, surrounded by family, familiar neighbors, pastors, former schoolteachers, and community cops. They may come west for the best and most earnest reasons, but it is not long before most of them descend into a testosterone coma that brings them to the brink of mayhem or the personal “bust” that is sure to follow any boom [Clay S. Jenkinson, “North Dakota’s Gold Rush: A Memoir About the Fracking Boom,” Governing, 2021.04.04].
In that sociological/psychological observation, might we find the root of some opposition to renewable energy? In capturing power from wind and sun, there is no punching, no breaking, no blasting, no burning. There’s little if any destruction or depletion to make a man feel like a man. The power just… happens, invisible electrons flowing from the turbines and panels to their users, renewing with each day’s breeze and sunrise. Instead of abusing Mother Nature, we minimize our damage and tap a distinctly feminine strength that we can’t exhaust.
Consider Smith’s fracking-field observations, and you may see why some men may feel unmanned by green power, and why kicking fossil fuels and moving to the renewable economy of the future will require psychological as well as technological evolution.