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Published April 30, 2012, 09:17 AM

We're right, you're crazy

This past winter, I attended an area farm conference at which one of the speakers blasted the intelligence and common sense of environmentalists.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.

— Mark Twain

This past winter, I attended an area farm conference at which one of the speakers blasted the intelligence and common sense of environmentalists.

The audience, consisting almost entirely of farmers and others involved directly in production agriculture, agreed enthusiastically with everything he said. Nobody shouted, “Amen, brother!,” but a few people probably wanted to.

Afterward, during the question-and-answer session, an audience member told the speaker something along the lines of, “You should be telling this to the environmentalists. You should be speaking at their events.”

The speaker nodded and said something along the lines of, “But they don’t want to hear it.”

Well, let’s not lump together all environmentalists. They have a wide range of beliefs and priorities, just as agriculturalists do. The blanket term “environmentalist” is convenient, but, like all terms of convenience, can obscure instead of enlighten.

Still, the speaker probably was right. Environmentalists with extreme views wouldn’t want to hear his arguments. They’re unlikely to invite him to speak at one of their events.

But it works the other way, too. Do farmers on the Northern Plains, at least ones using conventional agricultural practices, really want to listen to the arguments of an ardent environmentalist? Would aggies consider inviting one to speak at a farm conference?

I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Maybe it has happened a time or two. But it’s certainly not a common occurrence.

The reality is, most of us hang out with people who share our views and opinions. They say things that reinforce what we already believe. It sure makes life easier.

Trouble is, it encourages name-calling and lack of intellectual curiosity. It can lead to the assumption that people who disagree with us are misguided at best, crazy at worst.

Really, in all honesty, is an our-adversaries-are-insane outlook a good way to go through life?

Really, in all honesty, shouldn’t we at least try to understand opposing viewpoints?

The so-called “pink slime” controversy is a good example. How many people with a strong stance on the issue have looked carefully at both the pros and cons?

To those of you who have, whichever side of the fence you’re on, my compliments.

Speakers on the other side

I suppose few, if any, ardent environmentalists will read this column. But if that description fits you — and if you have any involvement with organizing conferences for like-minded people — I offer this challenge:

Bring in at least one speaker who will challenge your basic assumptions about modern agriculture.

It works the other way, too. If you’re involved in modern agriculture — and have any involvement with planning conferences for other aggies — bring in at least one speaker to challenge your basic assumptions.

Sure, life is simpler when we listen only to people who share our worldviews. But really, in all honesty, isn’t it healthy to listen occasionally to somebody on the other side of the fence?

Editor's Note: Jonathan Knutson welcomes comments about his column. Mail comments to him at Box 6008, Grand Forks, N.D. 58206-6008. Email him at or phone him at 701-780-1111. Knutson is a staff writer for Agweek.