Neil Peart on Faith and Fracking
It’s always a pleasant surprise when Neil updates his blog, called “News, Weather, and Sports,” and he’s done so for the first time in quite a while thanks to the brief break the band’s been on from its Clockwork Angels tour. (The tour started up again up Wednesday in Bridgeport, Conn., and will be in the Northeast and Canada for the next week and a half.)
In his latest post, which he calls “The Better Angels,” he talks about his motorcycling with Michael Mosbach, his buddy and the band’s security chief, through the Northeast, Midwest, and into Canada for the first stage of the tour. As always, his goal is to find the most circuitous route that he can between tour stops, and he found some nice ones this time, particularly in West Virginia and Iowa.
The title of the post comes from a book he’s been reading, by Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who pieces together an argument that people are becoming less violent, notwithstanding what it might seem like at times. What’s interesting, in Neil’s observation, is what’s not on the list of reasons for the decline: religion.
Education, democracy, reason—these are the cultural developments that have led us to find ways other than violence to resolve conflict. Faith, by contrast, seems to do the opposite, particularly when those professing faith harbor doubts about their faith that they don’t want to confront.
“We all know that people who are pretending something get very angry if mocked,” Neil says, “because they are embarrassed, a tiny step from resentful rage—and as for guilty doubters of a faith, they may well be the fiercest voices in the choir.”
Neil says he doesn’t think about religion that much, charges that he’s a faith-basher notwithstanding. It’s only when faith gets pushed to the front, as it does so much in the South and Midwest, which he calls a “walled fortress” of faith, that he feels compelled to comment on it.
All these “church signs and billboards,” he says, “all shouting at me, assaulting me, with breathtaking arrogance and ignorance . . . can be funny at first, but soon becomes appalling—such a backwards drag on the country, and the world.
“I only report it, I do not comment,” he adds, channeling Paul Theroux.
Fracking also gets his attention. While riding through North Dakota, a beautiful state that on previous tours was notable mostly for the abandoned barns that dotted the countryside, he sees everything now is topsy-turvy as energy companies trip over themselves to ramp up oil shale extraction using their new technology. Like everything in life, the fracking surge is good and bad—good for growing the economy but bad for the long-term impacts it’s having on the environment and a way of life.
The problem isn’t with growth per se, he suggests, but with the pace of growth. It doesn’t appear anyone is taking the long view. The result is hasty, ill-conceived road and other building projects that don’t have sustainability or quality of life in mind.
“This oil boom in Western North Dakota has only been underway for about three years, and the pace of it is frenetic, rapacious,” he says. “The only such careless extraction of resources regardless of consequences I have witnessed are in Northern Canada, China, and West Africa. The only such devastation disguised as road construction I have witnessed is in the Arctic, and in Argentina. These are not good examples.”
Religion, fracking . . . it seems like the post is just a downer, but actually it’s mostly upbeat. He ends with his thoughts on the tour and how energizing it’s been to have the string musicians on stage with the band this time around. The musicians were brought on board to provide accompaniment on the Clockwork Angels part of the show, but they’re also playing on other pieces, including “YYZ,” which Neil says wasn’t planned but is now one of his favorite parts of the show.
“That instrumental was originally planned to be played as a trio,” he says, “after we said ‘A Farewell to Strings.’ But when we noticed that it began with Geddy playing string samples on his foot pedals, after the real thing, it just seemed wrong. David [Campbell, the musical director of the string section] wrote an arrangement for the strings to accompany us, and that song came to represent the climax of the show, I think—at least on our side of the barricade.”
The tour takes the band to Philadelphia today (Oct. 12) and to hometown Toronto this weekend.