horowitz 2013 - toward empathic agonism

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  • 8/14/2019 Horowitz 2013 - Toward empathic agonism


    Environment and Planning A 2013, volume 45, pages 2344 2361


    Toward empathic agonism: conflicting vulnerabilities inurban wetland governance

    Leah S HorowitzHawaii Pacific University, 1188 Fort Street Mall, Suite 313, Honolulu, HI 96813-2713,USA; e-mail: [email protected] 23 October 2012; in revised form 19 December 2012

    Abstract. Critics of attempts to achieve consensus through Habermasian communicativerationality dismiss this as unachievable due to participants selfishness and irrationality,and the inevitability of power relations. Instead, Mouffe advocates agonistic pluralism,a dynamic process of continual debate grounded in mutual respect. In this paper I arguethat, for this to succeed, we need to recognize and embrace the role of emotion in moralreasoning. Here, I examine a dispute over wetland management in suburban New Jersey.Each side articulated distinct understandings of what was and was not vulnerable, backedby emotional appeals partly based in self-interest but that also encompassed care andconcern for others. Each side accused the other of being irrational and immoral, drawingmoral microboundaries between them. I conclude that participants in a public debatemay not simply be pursing self-serving goals, nor might open communication resolvetheir differences. Instead, each may be deeply convinced that he or she is advocating themost rational and moral course of action. This questions the very notion of a unitary,potentially agreed-upon common good and instead challenges us to attempt to grasp

    each others moral worlds, and in particular the emotional bases of these, through theseeming oxymoron that I term empathic agonism.

    Keywords: agonistic pluralism, communicative rationality, emotional geography,environmental governance, moral emotions, political ecology, urban natures, wetlandsconservation

    1 IntroductionAt a public meeting in suburban New Jersey on 23 February 2009 an environmentalist madean impassioned plea to save the beautiful wetland, known as the Dismal Swamp, that wasthreatened by a proposed road development. Local residents, just as passionately committedto building a bypass to rid their borough of the trucks they viewed as threatening theirfamilies, grumbled that he was prioritizing turtles over kids. When the environmentalistleft, residents questioned the impacts he had signaled, insisting that his groups proposedalternative, a road running alongside a residential area rather than through the swamp, itselfwould have impacts they viewed as horrendous. As the meeting wrapped up, an influentialresident proclaimed, Hes gonna have a point of view, were gonna have a point of view, andwe would like to come to some kind of agreement, but if doesnt happen, it doesnt happen.

    In a democratic society, at least putatively concerned with the common good (Elster,1997, page 4), how may competing agendas be reconciled? Habermas answered this question

    by advocating a system of governance that aimed for consensus. There would be no needfor compromise of opposing goals, in his view, because the goals themselves can be altered

    through debate. In a public discussion no one would dare argue for a self-serving approach;instead, arguments would inevitably converge around the socially optimal solution. Thecondition necessary for this type of interaction was communicative action, in which all

    participants in a discussion or argumentation would enjoy the opportunity to voice theirviews honestly and freely (Habermas, 1993). They would collaborate in a cooperative search

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    for truth, swayed only by the force of the better argument (Habermas, 1990, page 198).In this ideal speech situation not only would the context of discussion be open andegalitarian, as guaranteed by a discourse ethics ( Diskursetik ); additionally, the participants

    themselves would unselfishly attempt to harmonize their plans of action upon reachinga shared understanding of the situation (Habermas, 1984, page 286). This attitude wouldallow them to overcome their original, subjectively based perspectives (Habermas, 1987,

    page 315). The agreement they would finally, communicatively, reach would thus havea rational basis (Habermas, 1984, page 287, emphasis added); for Habermas such socialcommunication is the very definition of intersubjective rationality.

    This vision has been widely criticized for describing an unrealistic utopia withoutexplaining how to get there (Flyvbjerg, 1998a, page 215). Most crucially, according to thiscritique, Habermas ignores humans inevitable irrationality and selfishness. Each Habermasianagent would have to be a self-reflexive critical genius, with impossibly heroic levelsof information, reasoning capacities, and abilities to identify, segregate and set aside self-interest (Rienstra and Hook, 2006, page 314). In other words, communicative rationalityunrealistically views participatory planning as a scientific concept that attempts to divorceemotion from fact (Tewdwr-Jones and Allmendinger, 1998, page 1986). Habermas alsoassumes that discussion would lead participants to consider the common good; others havecountered that interaction might instead make people more, not less, selfish and irrational(Rienstra and Hook, 2006, page 319).

    In any case, critics argue, powerrather than reasondetermines outcomes. Afraid oflosing power, those in charge shy away from a participatory approach; rather, processesof dialogue reproduce, rather than eliminate, differential power relations (Tewdwr-Jones andAllmendinger, 1998). Instead of weighing all sides of an argument, these scholars assert,

    powerful actors manipulate putatively rational discourse, justifying decisions by imposingtheir own norms of rationality, or social objectivity (Mouffe, 2000a, page 21), and claimingto represent truth itself (Welcomer et al, 2000, page 1177). Flyvbjerg, for instance,asserts that communication is more informed by non-rational rhetoric and maintenance ofinterests than by equality and the search for consensus (1998a, page 216). In a practicehe labels Realrationalitt , powerful agents use rationality and rationalization todefine reality, constructing a superficial appearance of reasonableness simply to justify theirunderlying agendas, perfectly aware that they are behaving unethically (1998b, page 98). Hedismisses normative rationality as idealistic, but nonetheless wistfully concedes the appealof this notion as an ideal to strive for (1996, page 384).

    Mouffe agrees that a major problem with this model of deliberative democracy isthat it conjures up a space for discussion free from power relations. This is realisticallyunachievable, she claims, because it ignores the nature of society as fundamentally constituted

    by power dynamics. Although Habermas viewed this critique as a threat to the moderndemocratic project (Mouffe, 2000a, page 17), Mouffe insists that it is instead the notion that

    power relations can be eliminated and replaced by pure rationality that is the true illusionendangering democratic institutions (2000b, page 17). If power relations inhibit theachievement of rational consensus, as Habermas proposes, then recognizing the inevitabilityof power dynamics calls into question the possibility and even desirability of such a putativeconsensus. Indeed, Mouffe denounces consensus as unavoidably based on some form ofexclusion (2000c, page 444). Instead of promoting harmony, the alleged achievementof consensus can mask violence with appeals to rationality (2000a, page 22), itselfconstituted through acts of power and ultimately political (2000c, page 444). Ratherthan reflecting true agreement, consensus is the outcome of a provisional hegemony, an(inevitably temporary) acceptance of one partys dominance (2000b, page 17).

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    In Mouffes view, rather than futilely attempting to eradicate disagreement, we must acceptand even embrace it. Yet she does not advocate, with the aggregative model of empirical

    political theory promoted by Downs (1957), a complete renouncement of struggle through an

    acceptance that we are all motivated by self-interest, leaving no option but to compromise, bargain, or vote. Instead, she advocates continual engagement and debate, yet without theexpectation of ever reaching an agreement. This requires a conceptual distinction betweenantagonism, which seeks to destroy its opponent, and agonism, which encompassesrespect for the adversary as someone with the right to defend his or her position (Mouffe,2009). This courteous conflict, or agonistic pluralism, is fundamental to the dynamicsof the democratic process (2000a, page 33). Yet how can we achieve the mutual respectnecessary in order to choose agonism over antagonism?

    In this paper I use an empirical case study to explore this theoretical question. Thearguments outlined aboveof both Habermas and his criticsall assume that, if only peoplewould behave rationally and morally, they would reach a shared conclusion as to the bestcourse of action in the interest of the common good. Critics of communicative rationality thusdismiss it as realistically unachievable without, however, rejecting the theoretical possibilitythat a normative rationality could lead to consensus, if participants would only concedeenough power to aim genuinely for it. The fault, in this view, lies not with the ultimate goal,nor with the steps outlined to achieve it, but with participants selfish, irrational refusal tofollow them. I argue that this conceptual underpinning is deeply flawed.

    Throughout both definitions of communicative rationality, and critiques of it, runsan implicit definition of rationality as absolute. Of course, communicative rationalityis not a substantive rationalityit is up to the participants to make their own ontologicaldeterminationsbut a procedural rationality, a set of rules and norms about how to

    reach those determinations collaboratively (Flyvbjerg, 1998a). However, the two types ofrationality are not as distinct as might be imagined. In order to use procedural rationality toreach true consensus (as opposed to a negotiated compromise), each side must accept thesubstantive rationality of the others claims. Thus, they must reach agreement as to the bestoutcome for all, through reference to shared belief systems presumed to be universally valid.Meanwhile, Habermas and his critics assume that the rationality behind these belief systemsis the opposite of, and should exist free from, selfish emotion.

    Drawing upon scholarship that argues against such a universal rationality, I point to theinextricable role of emotion in formulating value systems and working toward rational andmoral social outcomes. Against this theoretical backdrop, I examine a dispute over wetland

    management in suburban New Jersey. Each side articulated distinct understandings of whatwas and was not vulnerable, backed by emotional appeals that were partly based in self-interest but also encompassed care and concern for others. In each case, reason and emotionworked together to prescribe a course of action completely distinct from, and incompatiblewith, the other. Because of this incompatibility, each side accused the other of being irrationaland immoral, drawing what I term moral microboundaries between them. Clearly, such lackof respect for other viewpoints does not permit agonistic pluralism. Instead, I argue that whatis necessary for agonistic pluralism to arise is, first, an acceptance that a universal rationality,free of emotion, simply does not exist. This might open a path to the next step: an attempt

    by each to understand the others distinct beliefs and valuesnot only intellectual but alsoemotional commitments. I conclude that participants in a public debate may not simply

    be cynically employing instrumental rationality toward self-serving goals, nor might opencommunication ever resolve their differences. Instead, each may be deeply convinced that heor she is advocating the most rational and moral course of action, even if these prescriptionsare mutually exclusive. This questions the very notion of a unitary, potentially agreed-uponcommon good and instead challenges us to attempt to grasp each others moral worlds,

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    and in particular the emotional bases of these, through the seeming oxymoron that I termempathic agonism.

    2 Reason and passion: emotion, rationality, and the moral dimensions of vulnerabilityWhereas governing structures of the past relied on social norms and values based inunquestioning deference to authority, todays institutions justify their decisions by attemptingto show how reasonable these are (Rydin, 2003). These justifications are increasinglychallenged, as the ends in question and means used to achieve them are understood to benot necessarily and self-evidently preferable for all parties concerned. Nor is the reasonunderlying these decisions immune to critique; the notion of a universal rationality has beenattacked from a wide range of angles, often under the banner of postmodernism (see Best andKellner, 1997), pragmatism (eg, Rorty, 1982), or contextualism (Mouffe, 2000a). These criticshave postulated that claims to rationality are socially constructed (Rydin, 2003, page 4):that is, that what may be considered to be reasonable is decided through particular socialnorms and conventions rather than existing outside human minds and societies in a naturalor objective form. For instance, a tenet of mainstream economics, rational choice theory,defines rational persons as those who behave so as to maximize personal advantagea traitthat members of other cultures might view as selfishly irrational.

    Emotions, too, are judged as rational or irrational according to cultural norms (Crossley,1998). Meanwhile, emotions themselves are profoundly cultural; we are conditioned tofeel emotions in the same way that we learn our cultures belief systems (Haidt, 2003;Jasper, 1998). In turn, emotion cultures evolve in response to particular constraints andopportunities including social and economic realities that enable or inhibit the emergenceand expression of particular feelings (Guenther, 2009, page 356). Thus, emotions are not

    uniquely private, individual, instinctual, biological, feminine, and selfish [as they haveclassically been portrayed in Western thought (see Williams, 2001)]. Instead, they are deeplysocial, learned components of behaviour.

    2.1 Moral emotions, moral microboundariesReason is often defined in distinction from, and as superior to, emotion, which is viewed asinappropriate forindeed, sometimes a major threat togovernance. However, scholars froma range of fields are increasingly describing the integral role that emotions play in reasoningitself. Not purely physiological responses, they are inherently cerebral, involving complexinterpretations of sensations in a situational context, as observed by existential philosophers(Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Sartre, 1948) and demonstrated through cognitive neuroscience

    (Lane and Nadel, 2000). As cognitive phenomena, emotions are strongly involved in theinterpretive work involved in making sense of situations and evaluating how to proceed(Gould, 2004, page 161) and in interpersonal communication, including debates over coursesof action (Crossley, 1998). Emotions play a particular role in moral judgments, as explored

    by both neuroscience and social science (eg, Greene et al, 2001; Williams, 2001). On its own,cold calculation simply could not determine what is important, what is right or wrong, andwhat should be done. Thus, one subset of emotions that shape our interactions with othersas well as our interpretations of their behaviour are moral emotions such as contempt andanger but also sympathy, and empathy (Turner and Stets, 2006, page 544). Anger mayoccur in response to an affront to oneself or to others, even strangers; in either case, thisaffront often involves violation of a moral code. Contempt, meanwhile, paints its objectsas (often morally) inferior and thus weakens other moral emotions, such as compassion(Haidt, 2003, page 858). Conversely, compassion, or empathy, involves an ability to feelwhatever another person is feeling (Haidt, 2003, page 862). It is deeper than sympathy,which simply involves demonstrating sadness at anothers plight, or an understanding based

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    in similar experiences. Such emotions allow us to form social bonds and reduce hostilitytoward one another (Turner and Stets, 2006), and even to take action to help or protect others.However, the flipside of compassion is often anger at the victims aggressor.

    Such moral emotions are crucial components of value systems, which integrate factual beliefs about the world with emotional responses to events and circumstances that do notaffect us directly. Culture shapes values, and even subcultures may have very distinctmores. Alongside values based in ethnicity and/or religious upbringing, issue-basedmoral frames and their concomitant emotions are grounded in ethical responses to socialconditions and efforts to alleviate these (Stern et al, 1986). The social identities they supportare chosen by individuals, based on shared interests or concerns for proximate or distantothers (Brown, 2009). Whether chosen or born into, morality-based social identities createmoral boundaries (Lamont, 2000), a type of symbolic boundary used to differentiate socialgroups, in contrast to social boundaries such as class, gender, or race (Lamont and Molnr,2002). Explorations of the intersections of moral boundaries with other symbolic boundariessuch as tastes or cultural distinctions (Bourdieu, 1984), or social boundaries such as ethnicidentities (eg, Espiritu, 2001; Lamont, 1992), are extremely useful in explaining ways thatsocial groups differentiate themselves through the identity-making processes of boundary-work (Gieryn, 1983). However, the literature has mainly discussed boundaries that operateat a scale beyond the immediate community, such as between social classes (eg, Jarosz andLawson, 2002) or nation-states (eg, Glaeser, 2000). I propose that important insights may begained from a more fine-grained look at microprocesses of boundary-work and the moralmicroboundaries that result from stakeholders responses to specific, localized situationsthat concern them directly, as I investigate here.

    The shaping of moral beliefs and emotions by cultures, subcultures, and even microlevel

    social groups leads to a a plurality of ultimate values (Elster, 1997, page 14) which, asWeber notes (1978), are often incomprehensible to those who do not share them. This makesthem particularly difficult to reconcile. As Mouffe emphasizes, these plural values engendera multiplicity of voices (1999, page 757), adding a dimension of antagonism to publicdebates. As this paper will attempt to show, different value systems may also generatecontempt for the emotions of those who do not share them.

    2.2 Vulnerability: not just for humansRelated to the socially bonding emotions of empathy and sympathy (inspired by otherssuffering) is care and concern for vulnerable others (inspired by their helplessness, whether ornot they are suffering). Vulnerability is a complex term, for which many definitions have been

    articulated, some overlapping and others contradictory (see, eg, Cutter et al, 2008; Hogan andMarandola, 2005; Manyena, 2006). At a global scale, the environmentalist movement has,since the 1970s, promoted the vulnerability paradigm, which ascribes blame for planetaryenvironmental problems to the cumulative impact of human irresponsibility (Furedi, 2007,

    page 487). At the local scale, though, environmental vulnerability is often presented in termsof the risk of specifically human suffering, a prominent example being the EnvironmentalJustice movement (Pellow and Brulle, 2005). Notably, Blaikie et al (1994, page 9; see also thesecond edition, Wisner et al, 2004, page 15) explicitly define vulnerability to environmentalhazards as referring only to people. This ignores a posthumanist perspective in whichnonhumans can be perceived as possessing intrinsic value and as worthy of protectionfrom harm (eg, Mackenzie, 2011; Wolfe, 2010), earlier sketched through concepts such asbiophilia (Wilson, 1984) and deep ecology philosophies (eg, Devall and Sessions, 1985;

    Naess and Rothenberg, 1989).Concerns about vulnerability, of humans or nonhumans, are enhanced by empathic

    responses to them. The likelihood of such emotions is increased by familiarity with the object,

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    a sense that it is similar to oneself, the subjects general degree of emotionality, emotionallysalient cues, group bonding, past personal experiences, societal ideologies, and caregiversteachings during childhood (Myers et al, 2009). Due to similarities to themselves, people

    often feel more empathy for other humans than for nonhumans. This emotional commitmentcontributes to speciesism, the belief that humans are morally superior to other animals(Singer, 2009). A way to increase popular support for conservation may therefore lie inanthropomorphism, the projection of human characteristics and emotions onto nonhumans(Chan, 2012). Conversely, though, fears that a nonhuman threatens ones safety or well-

    being can generate opposition to its conservation (eg, Kaltenborn et al, 2006). Thus, sociallearning informs emotions surrounding perceptions of ones own, and others, vulnerability,which in turn strongly inform conclusions as to what actions should be taken to reduce whosevulnerability.

    Vulnerability is a powerful concept that inherently posits a victim and a source of risk,responses to which are strengthened by associated emotions (Pham, 2007). When people

    perceive that innocents are threatened by specific parties, they are likely to feel sympathy forthe victims and to direct moral outrage at the perpetrators (Stern et al, 1986, page 206). Thus,arguments about vulnerability are inherently moral debates, and a discourse of vulnerabilitygains much power from its ability to present itself in terms of moral legitimacy. Definingvulnerable parties and the causes of their vulnerability is thus inherently a social act (Greenand McFadden, 2007, page 1030), as it implicitly prescribes a course of action as logical andnecessary in order to protect these parties; descriptions of a group as vulnerable thus becomediscursive tools in debates over proposed solutions.

    Green and McFadden advocate examining how different stakeholders interpret theworld in order to achieve a greater understanding of the complexities of vulnerability and

    resultant governance choices (2007, page 1031). However, debates in urban political ecologyoften present vulnerability as a factual condition; the literature rarely explores contrastsin different stakeholder groups emotions surrounding conceptions of vulnerability ofhumans and nonhumans and ways these understandings inform interpretations of the world,

    perceptions of the best social outcome, and evaluations of the morality of proposed solutions.This paper will examine the Dismal Swamp, an urban wetland in central New Jersey, toexplore stakeholders debates over the localized vulnerability of both people and wildlife,

    particularly highlighting emotional components of their conceptualizations of, and disputesover, environmental governance.

    3 Controversy over New Jerseys Dismal Swamp New Jersey is a particularly appropriate site for investigating environmental vulnerabilities of both humans and wildlife. Heavily developed and industrialized, nicknamed Cancer Alley, New Jersey boasts 220 of the nations 1270 Superfund (nationally prioritized hazardouswaste) sites (EPA, 2010a; 2010b), including one in the Dismal Swamp and another nearit. (1) Meanwhile, its location between New York City and Philadelphia makes New Jersey alocus of frequent travel, crisscrossed by multiple highways, including many trucking routes.However, the state also encompasses 903 000 acres of wetlands protected by federal and stateregulations (USFWS, 2005), although many are badly degraded. The continual expansion ofdevelopment and industrialization in New Jersey exists in tension with desires to save thestates remaining wetlands, and with anxieties about the health, safety, and well-being of its

    human residents. In New Jersey both wetlands and people are vulnerable. This study exploreswhat happens when strategies for reducing these vulnerabilities come into conflict.(1) These are the Woodbrook Road Dump and Cornell-Dubilier Electronics sites. See http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/cornell/ and http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/woodbrook/index.html

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    New Jerseys Dismal Swamp stretches across three municipalities: Edison (population103 958), Metuchen (population 13 265), and South Plainfield (population 22 722). Thewetlands have been estimated as covering 1278 acres (Princeton Hydro, 2009), but much

    of this land has been developed. The Dismal Swamp Conservation Area, legally establishedon 1 October 2009, includes approximately 660 acres of remaining natural habitat (NewJersey Legislature, 2009). Of these, Edison encompasses about 465 acres, of which it has

    protected 270; South Plainfield has about 185 acres, and has protected 79; and Metuchenhas protected all 11 of its acres. Nonetheless, in the early 1990s Edison allowed a largehousing development, Edison Tyler Estates (see figure 1), to be built in the wetlands. In1994 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated 200 acres at the heart ofthe swamp as Priority Wetlands, noting that the area is threatened by severe residential/industrial development (EPA, 1994, page 109). This designation requires any proposeddevelopment to undergo a more rigorous permitting process, administered by the New JerseyDepartment of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). (2)

    South Plainfield has hosted factories since its origins a century ago, but experienceda boom in industrial and residential growth in the 1960s and 1970s. This period also sawthe construction of Interstate 287, which cuts through the south of the borough, while theindustrial zone remains in the eastern section. This highway spurred further commercialand industrial growth. Residential Hamilton Boulevard experienced increasing levels oftraffic, largely composed of trucks transiting between the industrial zone and I-287. This

    prompted municipal officials, in 1981, to propose the Helen Street Extension, a truck routethat would bypass the residential area by traversing the Dismal Swamps Priority Wetlands.Decades later, South Plainfield eventually attracted federal and state funding for this project,contingent upon permit approval by 2008. However, unable to obtain reasonable assurancefrom the NJDEP of a successful permit application, the borough chose not to submit thevery costly application and abandoned the Helen Street Extension project at the end of 2007.However, in January 2008 South Plainfield created an Ad Hoc Truck Route Committee

    (2) New Jersey is one of only two US states that have been allowed to regulate their own wetlands.

    Figure 1. Dismal Swamp and the South Plainfield truck routes.

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    (hereafter Ad Hoc Committee) to pursue the Hollywood Avenue Truck Bypass, whichwould cause lesser wetland disturbance yet still cross Priority Wetlands.

    Meanwhile, in 2006 Hamilton Boulevard had to be repaved, so the trucks were diverted

    around the town centre, extending their journey by approximately two miles (figure 1). Oncethe work was finished, residents of the boulevard were not eager to see the trucks returnand so, for the time being, the trucks remained on the detour thatironicallythey had

    begun using while Hamilton was being redone to accommodate them. While this temporarilyalleviated truck traffic through the centre of town, South Plainfield residents did not see it asa permanent solution. First, the new route involved awkward turns, difficult for large trucksto negotiate, increasing the risk of accidents. Secondly, it was two miles longer, increasingthe pollution left in the borough. Meanwhile, the noise, pollution, and risk of accidents hadlargely been displaced onto those who lived along the detour: fewer families, but reportedlymore young couples with children. Of course, the trucking companies were not pleasedabout the costs associated with a longer route. The issue became a political football,with Republican municipal council members pushing to return the trucks to Hamilton andDemocrats promising to keep them on the detour. The only solution upon which both partiescould agree was a road through the Dismal Swamp, which would eliminate, for all SouthPlainfielders, the impacts and risks that the trucks represented. This idea, however, wasopposed by local environmentalists, including the Edison Wetlands Association (EWA), asmall nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded in 1989 to address issues such as openspace preservation and hazardous waste contamination (EWA, 2009) and located at theTriple C Ranch, about 600 m from the proposed Hollywood Bypass.

    At an Ad Hoc Committee meeting on 23 February 2009, an EWA representative presentedtwo possible compromises, designed by engineers the group had commissioned with our

    own money in the spirit of cooperation. One would run about 250 ft from a residentialneighborhood; the other would border (and destroy) municipal sports fields used by localchildren (figure 2). The residents whom this compromise would affect, however, livednot along Hamilton Boulevard but in a quiet, upper-middle-class section of town. From the

    perspective of these residents, running a highway just past their homes would mean displacingthe vulnerability onto them and their families. At its March meeting, the committee votedagainst EWAs proposal and sent them a polite but pointed letter indicating that the committeehad found several problems with both routes and would continue to pursue the HollywoodAvenue Extension.

    Unsatisfied with the environmentalists compromise, the committee began to emphasize

    publicly that the NGO was advisory, not regulatory [Bert, personal communication (pers.Comm.) 23 February 2009], to lament that they had wasted a year trying to work withEWA (Gary, pers. comm. 23 February 2009), and to focus on NJDEP, which ultimatelyheld decision-making power. In 2009 and 2010 committee members met several times with

    NJDEP officials to assess whether an application was likely to be approved, but in March2010 received a letter discouraging them from applying. Although (in its view) NJDEP hadgone out of its way to be helpful, the committee had not demonstrated a real need tochange current arrangements, and officials did not share the communitys priorities ofreducing truck traffic (Phil, pers. comm. 8 April 2010). An NJDEP official confided thatthe road project was being sidelined largely because it did not have a strong advocatesuch as a powerful political figure (pers. comm. 11 March 2009). Ultimately, then, powerand not deliberative processes determined outcomes, as might be expected. My purposehere, however, is to examine not outcomes but rather reasoning processes themselves andemotions role in these, in the aim of suggesting a path toward more respectful debates, whichmight lead to more universally acceptable solutions.

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    Between October 2008 and April 2010, I followed the truck route controversy. I conductedsemistructured interviews with thirty-three local residents, including eleven politicians, andheld three neighbourhood-based focus groups with a total of twenty-one local residents. I

    also interviewed fifteen other stakeholders, including NJDEP and county officials, EWA staff

    Figure 2. [In color online.] The Ad Hoc Committees route proposal and Edison Wetlands Associationsalternatives.

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    members, engineers, ecologists, an environmental lawyer, and a chief of police; attendedeighteen public meetings; and participated in two EWA public activities. I used a groundedtheory approach to analyze the data (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Pidgeon, 1996; Pidgeon and

    Henwood, 1996), and have used pseudonyms for all interviewees.

    4 Irreconcilable vulnerabilitiesCare and concern for helpless, vulnerable entitieschildren or wetlandsstrongly informedeach sides reasoning processes and their formulations of morally correct outcomes.Concomitantly, they portrayed the other entity as not vulnerable, or argued that its vulnerabilitywould not be increased by their proposed solution.

    4.1 The endangered species is peopleRoad proponents used emotion-laden imagery to argue that South Plainfielders were vulner-able to the trucks, which posed enormous hazards to people residing, or even travelling, along

    their route. One resident recalled that a family driving behind a truck almost got crushed bythese pipes that fell off (Tom, pers. comm. 11 March 2009), and others recollected additionalaccidents, such as one in which two trucks hit head-on (Terry, pers. comm. 13 February2009). A less visibly dramatic, but perhaps more insidious, hazard was the exhaust fumeswhich posed a huge possibility of disease to us (Flo, pers. comm. 13 February 2009). Boththese threats were considered all the more serious given that the boroughs only elementaryschool was about a third of a mile from the current route, and right along the original one.

    While acknowledging the importance of environmental preservationone politiciannoted that outside the road issue, in general terms I would agree with [the environmentalists](Barry, pers. comm. 15 January 2009)the emotions of care and concern South Plainfieldersfelt for their neighbors did not extend to the wetlands. One resident observed that townspeopledid not really care about the wetland: I mean, its a Dismal Swamp, and who wants togo to a swamp? (Rod, pers. comm. 9 March 2009). Another explained, I dont have anyfeeling of dislike of it, I just dont have any love either; I feel more for us human beings (Flo,

    pers. comm. 13 February 2009).Some road proponents even viewed the swamp as a threat to vulnerable people. One South

    Plainfielder pointed out that a Superfund site existed within the Dismal Swamp and worriedthat children walking in the woods might be exposed to dangerous chemicals (Abby, pers.comm. 23 February 2009). Others saw the wilderness itself as hazardous for humans, withdisease-carrying insects, polio-infested water, and lurking snakes, evoking a deeply rooted,Euro-American cultural model that associates swampland with ill health (Kinzelbach, 2006).

    In a more passive role, the wetlands occasionally provided shelter for homeless people ormischievous teenagers, who also posed a threat to passers-by. One resident noted, I wouldntwant my girlfriend back there, I wouldnt want my mother walking back there. You neverknow what youre going to expect back there (Luke, pers. comm. 5 March 2009). Theythus referenced their care and concern for vulnerable family members and local children indiscursively constructing the swamp as dangerous.

    Just as care and concern informed their constructions of the vulnerability of local residents,the absence, or at least relative weakness, of such emotions regarding the wetland led road

    proponents to argue that it would not be harmed by a truck route. One resident worried that atruck might flip into the swamp but was confident that if something like that does happen,they do clean it up; I mean look at the Valdez (Tom, pers. comm. 11 March 2009). Anotherwas concerned about accidents that could leak diesel fuel; however, if the project were donethe right way, through a higher curb or drainage or something, these impacts would beminimized so that the worst would be, I dont know, somebody throwing a piece of paperout the window, or a can or something (Rod, pers. comm. 9 March 2009). In any case, the

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    road would only pass through a tiny section of the wetlands. While some South Plainfieldersagreed that the swamp has to be protected, they also were certain that taking a minute

    piece of it isnt going to harm it (George, pers. comm. 5 March 2009). The local wildlife

    was abundant and thus clearly invulnerable; after the construction of Edison Tyler Estates,all these animals survived (Nick, pers. comm. 23 February 2009), making a case for SouthPlainfield to be allowed to build its far less extensive road. Comparing themselves to wetlandanimals, which could doubtless adapt to a road by just mov[ing] over a little (Flo, pers.comm. 13 February 2009), local residents asserted that theyve got other options, we dont(Kathy, pers. comm. 10 June 2009). One road proponent quipped that the real endangeredspecies was people (Bert, pers. comm. 31 March 2009).

    South Plainfielders concern about the vulnerability of fellow residents was likelyincreased by several of the empathy-enhancing factors outlined above: knowing theirneighbours (familiarity), feeling that they were like themselves (sense of similarity), andseeing the elementary school (an emotionally salient cue). The aversion to walking in thewetlands that many residents expressed may have inhibited the development of familiaritywith the area, while unawareness of the ecosystem services it provided, and the ways a roadcould damage these, further reduced their concern for the swamp. Moreover, they viewed thearea as posing threats, particularly to vulnerable townspeople, both directly (disease, snakes,crime) and indirectly (inhibiting road construction). Their anxieties about these threatssharply reduced their support for its conservation.

    4.2 A resource we can never get backThose who opposed the road made similar use of emotive language to describe vulnerability,not of townspeople, but of the Dismal Swamp. First, the wetland was home to severalofficially listed threatened and endangered species, as recognized by the EndangeredSpecies Act (1973). More broadly, the swamp itself was an environmentally sensitive area.The fact that it was a resource we can never get back made it all the more precious(Jade, pers. comm. 9 March 2009) and in need of protection. Moreover, these wetlands tookon symbolic value as one of the last remaining areas of wilderness in a state that had beenvastly overdeveloped; development was insidious, gradually seep[ing] in (Max, pers.comm. 25 November 2008). The area the road would cross through was particularly valuableas it encompassed EPA Priority Wetlands. While the environmentalists conceded that theHollywood Avenue route would be somewhat less damaging, they recalled that the nearbysite of the original Helen Street proposal was the Everglades of Central Jersey teemingwith wildlife (Rick, pers. comm. 13 February 2009), and the most beautiful part of the

    Dismal Swamp absolutely pristine (Sarah, pers. comm. 26 February 2009). They oftenemphasized the vulnerability of this area in impassioned terms, claiming the wetlands had

    been abused and should be treated with the utmost care (Jade, pers. comm. 9 March2009). One environmentalist noted that it broke [her] heart to find a spotted turtle (athreatened species) in the track of an all-terrain vehicleanother type of serious threat(Sarah, pers. comm. 26 February 2009).

    Counter to some residents view of the swamp as posing health risks, environmentalistssaw it as reducing human vulnerability by providing valuable ecosystem services for humans,such as floodwater retention, and even occasionally a safe haven. One conservationist, whohad fought successfully to preserve a small hardwood forest from the Edison Tyler Estates,recalled that in March 1994 a natural gas pipeline had exploded under the development,creating a fireball that destroyed eight buildings (see Perez-Pea, 1994). Fleeing the flames,residents ran into the hardwood forest; it saved their lives (Carol, pers. comm. 10 February2009). In a sense, the forest had cared for its human neighbors.

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    Conflicting vulnerabilities in urban wetland governance 2355

    Environmentalists expressed concern about local residentsan EWA representativeinsisted, I do care about children, and I do care about things that impact the town (Steve,

    pers. comm. 13 February 2009)but saw their vulnerability as due to environmental hazards

    other than trucks. Objecting to accusations of indifference to the health and safety ofSouth Plainfielders (eg, Pedersen, 2007), EWAs head recalled that the group had protectedthose citizens from contaminated dust in the Cornell Dubilier Superfund buildings and

    baseball fields oozing with toxic black sludge. In contrast, municipal politicians had hiredconsultants for the road project who produced studies not even close to compliance withlegal requirements, and had misled residents by supporting this project, which was a wasteof taxpayers money (Spiegel, 2007). At the February 2009 Ad Hoc Committee meeting,Steve argued that EWAs proposed routes actually reduced the vulnerability of not only thewetlands but also local children. He reminded South Plainfielders that the playing fields inquestion had been built over former landfills, which he insisted were unremediated andshould not be used without knowing whats there, really there. The states assertion thatthe area was safe was inadequate as it was always best to err on the side of caution. In thisanalysis, environmentalists actually cared more for townspeople than did road proponents,or even the government.

    Just as South Plainfielders care and concern for their neighbours were informed by anumber of factors, environmentalists concerns about the wetlands resulted from their differentsituation. Many enjoyed hiking in nature, whether the Dismal Swamp or elsewhere, increasingtheir familiarity and direct experiences with natural areas. Many also had close relationshipsto the EWA and its staff, and felt that they shared similar viewpoints. Conversely, they didnot see the wetland as posing any threat to humansquite the contrary. These emotionscontributed to their desire to conserve the area. Interestingly, though, one environmentalist

    who worked, but did not reside, in South Plainfield, found herself reluctantly supporting theroad construction due to a sense of loyalty to her colleagues and a desire to improve theirquality of life (Jill, pers. comm. 29 March 2010), evidencing the importance of familiarity,identification, and group bonding in the development of empathy.

    5 (Ir)rational emotions in the (im)moral swampThus, each side constructed a distinct understanding of what was and was not vulnerable.Each understanding was based in an inextricable intertwining of factual information andemotional responses, and led logically to a morally correct solution. As I argue below, eachsides reasoning processes also led ineluctably to a construction of the opposing sidessolutionand, crucially, the emotions motivating itas irrational and/or immoral. Thesemoral judgments, in turn, generated not only anger at potential harm to entities perceivedas vulnerable, but also contempt for the other partys emotional commitments. Theseconceptualizations strengthened, and were reinforced by, moral microboundaries.

    5.1 Turtles versus kids?From the road proponents perspective, opponents of the bypass were increasing humanvulnerability. This vulnerability had clear moral implications, and begged the question ofwhy NJDEP and the environmentalists were so bent on preventing the road. A frustrated road

    proponent declared that the animals and the creatures even the little bugs were gettingthe priority, and I think thats wrong (Flo, pers. comm. 13 February 2009). One Ad HocCommittee member explained this conundrum by suggesting that government bureaucratswere prioritizing their own emotionsfear of infringing a regulation and getting in troublewith their superiors (Jeff, pers. comm. 7 April 2010). EWA, on the other hand, seemed toshow genuine concern for wetland wildlifetoo much so. People often characterizedEWA as caring more about turtles than kids. One local resident publicly decried EWAs

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    opposition to the road as evidence it had lost sight of its mission of protecting humanhealth and the environment (Pedersen, 2007); it had forgotten the moral basis (in his view)of environmentalism: human well-being. Other residents mocked the environmentalists as

    trying to save a couple of overpopulated deer (Marcia, pers. comm. 5 March 2009) or protect butterfly mating grounds (I think a couple of butterflies can find a quiet corner),qualifying such efforts as ridiculousness or insanity (Gary, pers. comm. 23 February2009): that is, overblown or misplaced care and concern.

    In this view, concern for the swamp inhabitants was contributing to the environmentalistslack of empathy for Hamilton Boulevard residents. One South Plainfielder explained, I feelthat too many human beings are caring more for the animals than the human beings (Flo, pers.comm. 13 February 2009). Later, she speculated that the governments and environmentalistsintransigence might be due to physical distance from the problem and the impersonality oflooking at a piece of paper (pers. comm. 10 June 2009). She wondered whether they dontunderstand, and they need to come here to our community. Referring to a tour of the truckroute that she and her husband had provided me, she asked, When we took you around, youunderstood a little bit better, am I correct?

    For their part, community members tried to understand the environmentalist agenda, but this attempt at comprehension quickly turned to contempt for its seemingly nonsensicalvalues. At a Hamilton Boulevard focus group, one local resident wondered whether EWAwere made up of little old ladies who really have nothing to do? Or concerned citizens?(Kathy, pers. comm. 10 June 2009). Another resident responded to his neighbors commentthat the town already possessed a walking track around an artificial lake so did not need yetanother park by explaining, to general laughter, that this was a whole nother thing youdont have the mosquitoes and the frogs (Terry, pers. comm. 10 June 2009).

    For environmentalists, though, the wetlands high value to both people and wildlife,and the ease with which it could be permanently destroyed, clearly implied that the onlymoral course of action would be to preserve it. Therefore, according to this reasoning, road

    proponents were selfish and lacked the moral emotions of care and concern for this preciousresource. This criticism soon led to angry accusations of immorality and irrationality. Whileconceding that the trucks posed a significant nuisance to townspeople, environmentalists

    pointed out that this was a result of poor urban planning. Noting that houses had sprung up allaround a preexisting industrial park with no direct access to the highway, they observed thatthe borough could have taken care of the traffic first (Gene, pers. comm. 5 March 2010).However, municipal officials had acted not in the interest of residents well-being but rather

    out of greed: youre gaining the ratables [taxable businesses] from it, but you never plannedfor the infrastructure (Larry, pers. comm. 27 January 2009). An EWA representative insistedthat South Plainfielders had no regard for this precious resourceas evidenced by illegaldumping of garbage thereand thought only of tax revenues from trucking companies (Steve,

    pers. comm. 13 February 2009). Another environmentalist characterized the road project asmyopic . Im not quite sure what the rationale is there, other than to have a quick fix to aquality of life issue but that has monumental impact over time (Jade, pers. comm. 9 March2009).

    Thus, local residents and environmentalists passed moral judgment on each othersreasoning processes as betraying inadequate, overblown, or inappropriate emotions. Theyresponded with their own moral emotions of anger (for wrongful attacks upon vulnerable

    parties well-being) and contempt (for foolish, harmful notions).

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    Conflicting vulnerabilities in urban wetland governance 2357

    5.2 Municipal moral microboundariesAll these emotions informed moral microboundaries between environmentalists and road

    proponents, which mapped onto and reinforced preexisting tensions between South Plainfield

    and Edison. Although local residents often denied any rivalry between the municipalities,they clearly identified with one and painted the other as immoral. South Plainfielders often

    pointed to Edison Tyler Estates, off Talmadge Road, as evidence that it was not their borough but Edison that had abused the Dismal Swamp (Andy, pers. comm. 10 November 2008).Although EWA had no formal relationship to the eponymous municipality, South Plainfieldersoften saw it as an extension of, or biased toward, that township. They speculated that EWAhad turned a blind eye to the housing development, which had caused horrendous damageto the swamps hydrology, causing drainage problems for South Plainfield (Andy, pers.comm. 13 February 2009); all of a sudden its anti-South Plainfield and the road; OK, wherewere all these individuals when they put the road in on Talmadge? (Jim, pers. comm. 12 May2009). Now that South Plainfield wanted a much less damaging development, residents werecertain that [b]ecause its not their town, they could care less (Rod, pers. comm. 9 March2009).

    Resenting being labeled those folks from Edison (Rick, pers. comm. 13 February2009), EWA members nonetheless drew moral microboundaries between Edison (wheremany of them lived) and South Plainfield. Expressing frustration that they had failedto prevent the Edison Tyler Estates, they still insisted that Edison had been quicker torecognize the importance of the Dismal Swamp (Rick, pers. comm. 13 February 2009).South Plainfield, on the other hand, could care less about the wetlands and was a thorn inEWAs side (Steve, pers. comm. 13 February 2009), because it was so quick to approve anydevelopment (Rick, pers. comm. 13 February 2009). Edison residents, too, noted that South

    Plainfield did not have as big a constituency for environmental issues as the other twotowns (Fred, pers. comm. 12 February 2009) and was not on the same page as we areregarding wetland preservation (Jade, pers. comm. 9 March 2009).

    6 ConclusionsEmotionsincluding empathy and concern, as well as anger and contemptplayed acrucial role in both sides reasoning processes and their disagreements over who or what wasvulnerable and what should be done about this vulnerability. Road proponents worried aboutlocal residents and schoolchildren, vulnerable to the risk of accidents and pollution from thetrucks, and insisted that the swampitself teeming with disease and harboring vagrants anddelinquentswould not be harmed by a carefully designed road through a small corner ofit. Environmentalists, in contrast, worried about the wetland and its wildlife, vulnerable toencroaching development, and argued that local residents were threatened by toxic wasterather than trucks. In both cases, care and concern for the entity perceived as vulnerable wererooted in familiarity and identification, while concern for the other entity was undermined byfear of the threats it appeared to pose. These emotions led to irritation with, and disdain for,irrational opponents, and fed moral microboundaries between the groups.

    These different understandings of what was threatened, and therefore in need of protection, and what was causing this risk, led logically to incompatible solutions. Eachsides argument was thus grounded not in selfish irrationality but in clear, if distinct andmutually incompatible, reasoning processes. These processes, in turn, were each based in

    both ontological claims and emotional commitments, themselves inextricably intertwinedand woven into values that logically prescribed action plans. Thus, this paper has illustratedways that emotion and reason interact, coconstitute one another, and work together to craftarguments that make the preferred outcome out to be the rational, moral one and the opposingsolution out to be a product of irrationality and immorality. Clearly, open debate through

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    communicative rationality could never resolve these differences. Instead, acceptance of theexistence, and irreconcilability, of distinct perspectives and prescriptions forces us to renouncehope of a potentially agreed-upon common good. Ironically, such a step is necessary if we

    are ever to achieve the agonistic pluralism that is central to a healthy democracy.Emotions inevitable role in rational discussion means that it must be not only recognized

    but embraced, not lamented. Rather than leading to irrationality, it shapes our moralunderstandings and motivates us to protect vulnerable others. Emotions such as empathyand concern are crucial features of social interactions. Yet for healthy debate to occur, it isnot enough to limit our expressions of these emotions to those with whom we are familiaror with whom we identify. When we perceive other entities as vulnerable, care and concernfor them easily entail anger at, and contempt for, whomever we see as threatening them. Thiscan lead to simplistic constructions of others as irrational and immoral and the creation orreinforcement of unhelpful moral microboundaries between us and them. It may not be

    possible to fully empathize with our opponentsto experience ourselves the emotions theyare experiencing. However, it may at least be possible to sympathize: to acknowledge theirfeelings and recognize how these inform their reasoning processes. In the case describedhere, such sympathy might have facilitated a respectful debate between opponents, possiblyeven fostering cooperative brainstorming for creative, mutually acceptable solutions suchas the relocation of the industrial park closer to the highway, or a greater use of trains fortransportation of goods.

    Empathy and sympathy, whether for humans or nonhumans, are largely learned emotions,and therefore can be taught. An important part of environmentalists role, then, is educatingthe public about the vulnerability, and value, of protected areas and species. Increasing

    peoples familiarity with wild spaces, such as by providing opportunities for children to visit

    nature, may assist in this endeavor, possibly alongside emphasis on the human-like qualitiesof nonhuman animals. However, both environmentalists and their adversaries also need tounderstand that concern for the well-being of other humans or nonhumans disappears when

    people perceive these others as threatening their own safety, oras demonstrated herethesafety and well-being of those perceived as vulnerable. On some occasions, environmentalistsmay be able to counter fears: here, for example, by informing townspeople that the wetlandactually reduced the local prevalence of certain diseases (Johnson et al, 2012). Otheranxieties, however, such as for childrens safety, cannot be easily dismissed and must instead

    be addressed before concern about ecosystems, understandably a lower priority, can arise.Ultimately, I argue that for democratic pluralism to be agonistic rather than antagonistic,

    this agonism must be empathic, or at least sympathetic, involving recognition of the rationalityof opponents emotional commitments, while continually engaging in respectful debates over possible solutions.

    Dedication. This paper is dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Joan Ehrenfeld, whose passionfor New Jerseys wilderness remains a source of inspiration for many.

    Acknowledgements. I am deeply grateful to all those who granted interviews and provided documents,or simply tolerated the presence of a researcher at meetings and events. Thanks also to Gene Anderson,Ben Blount, Tom Rudel, Joe Zammit-Lucia, and three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments.Of course, any errors of fact or interpretation are exclusively my own responsibility. Although theresearch described in this article has been funded wholly by the United States Environmental ProtectionAgency through grant number RD-83377701-0 to Professor Joan Ehrenfeld, it has not been subjectedto the Agencys required peer and policy review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views ofthe Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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