National Review / Digital
Crude Ethics


The characterization isn’t completely fair — you’re probably more likely to find the Left funding a scientific experiment that smashes atoms together to discover what happened in the seventeenth trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, because it expands our knowledge of the universe, and can’t possibly enrich the Koch brothers. The Right might put off these things until the day when we’re not seventeen trillion in debt. The universe isn’t going anywhere. Well, it is expanding at an incredible rate, flinging itself into the void with a velocity that beggars the imagination, but so is Medicare spending.

Anyway: Petrophobia — an irrational, unreasoning fear of oil — is one of those things that set modern mopey liberalism apart from its brawny antecedents. When the Left was about good jobs for ordinary joes, a forest of oil derricks meant working people, roughnecks who could be persuaded to band together against Oil Barons. But now the Left isn’t concerned about jobs; it’s concerned about careers. Either a career managing tax money, or low-impact carbon-neutral careers that involve sitting in a glass-walled conference room with iPads discussing a branding campaign for a new line of hemp clothing. (Five percent of profits go to charity!) Horrid oil may have brought you to work and trucked in the organic arugula on the artisanal sandwiches served at the meeting; horrid coal may heat your building and keep the computers running so you can tweak that logo — honestly, the client can’t decide if he wants Gill Sans or Neutra for the font, it’s an absolute nightmare — and your clients may exist only because they’re funded by the third-generation heir to a pipeline fortune who wants to pay for the sins of his forebears. Oil may make your entire brittle existence possible — dare we say, sustainable — but as long as you’re not dipping your quill in the stuff, you’re a good person.

At this point the petrophobe may kindly request that we stop daubing straw men with creosote and setting them alight. The problem isn’t oil, it’s the need for clean alternatives. If we continue to use oil, we won’t feel the need to invent a new technology by slathering a dodgy business model with the magical paste of federal subsidies. If the company wastes the money and goes bankrupt and the technology doesn’t work? Well, they meant well. Besides, some of that money hired a design firm, and that created jobs!

The CEO of the start-up went to jail, but the logo was super ethical.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

December 31, 2011    |     Volume LXIII, No. 24

  • Channeling TR, President Obama advocates rule-by-elites.
  • Now is the time to make the case for military action against Iran.
  • When people say ‘Zionist,’ what do they mean?
  • Earnest worship versus the worship of cynicism.
  • A correspondence, nonfictional, between a young boy, a housewife, a headmaster, and the young boy’s brother.
  • You take a dubious record, you take some wacky ideas, you take a narcissistic personality. . .
  • And why President Newt would not
  • Gingrich’s plan would reward criminals and make the law arbitrary.
  • The former Speaker has a longstanding love-hate relationship with environmental reform.
Books, Arts & Manners
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
The Bent Pin  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .