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RYAN BAKKEN: Great American Think-Off -- the cerebral version of a bake-off

The annual Great American Think-Off -- the cerebral version of a bake-off -- is held in New York Mills, Minn., in early June. New York Mills, halfway between Detroit Lakes and Brainerd, is known regionally for making Lund boats. But it receives i...

The annual Great American Think-Off -- the cerebral version of a bake-off -- is held in New York Mills, Minn., in early June.

New York Mills, halfway between Detroit Lakes and Brainerd, is known regionally for making Lund boats. But it receives international attention for its Think-Off, a philosophical debate of a compelling question.

The winner, decided by audience members, is the person who makes the best case, not the one who holds the more popular position. Or, at least, that's the way the winner is supposed to be determined.

Only once has there been a draw. That was the first year, when the topic was: "The Nature of Humankind: Inherently Good or Inherently Evil?" So, with its 20th competition this year, the question has been recycled.

If North Dakota was the site of a like-minded Think-Off, the 2012 topic question should be slightly different: "Oil: Inherently Good or Inherently Evil?"

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A year ago, even someone as feeble-minded as a radio talk show host would win by making the case for "good." Now? It wouldn't be a slam dunk.

Living in Grand Forks or its dustier suburbs, it's easy to love the oil industry. It generates tax dollars that we in the unaffected areas subsequently don't have to pay. We get the benefits without shouldering the burdens.

If you live amid the oil activity, it's another story.

Roads are dangerous because of their deteriorating conditions and speeding drivers of heavy loads. Demand has rents skyrocketing, forcing long-time residents to move out of the area. Law enforcers are badly outnumbered by lawbreakers. The volume threatens the environment and the peace and quiet.

Oil growth has left response in the dust. Literally.

The Legislature in 2011 used oil-generated riches to respond to these problems. However, as oil's growth continues at the speed of light, it already seems woefully short.

In recent months, western North Dakota newspaper publishers and editors have made the same case, one going as far as calling the region "an economic disaster area" and the crisis "a societal disease."

In our half of the state, it may be out of sight. But it shouldn't be out of mind.

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If the state institutes The Great North Dakota Think-Off, formally or informally, oil should be the topic.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: NEW YORK MILLS
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