The Advocate and the Zealot
I often get email in response to a position I have taken in this column. Usually it will come from someone who has a vested interest in doing things a certain way and I have offended badly enough to warrant a scathing reaction. The polyurethane roofers, for example, really don't like me. Nor do the suppliers and appliers of elastomeric plasters or the guys who put elephant-capital columns in their Santa Fe style zaguans. I understand their points, but I would appreciate it if they could at least be respectful and intelligently argumentative rather than foul and condemnatory when they write. I will engage in dialogue but will not respond to bombast.
Occasionally I get a response that is critical in the most effective way. Such a one came from a reader named Joseph Carrier. Joseph describes himself as an old farmer and he took exception to some of my commentary on straw bale building. More accurately, he generally agreed with my position that straw bale is a reasonable second-best to adobe, but he found fault with my characterization of straw as essentially waste that is usually burned. He gave his reasons, which are good ones, founded in experience that I don't have. And I must admit to a folly in suggesting that the diesel exhaust expelled getting the straw bales to a construction site may contain more particulate matter than the smoke from burning bales.
I stand corrected. But what I found even more valuable in Joseph's commentary was this: he said, "There is a rather fine line between 'advocate' and 'zealot' and the crossing of this line is essentially a crossing from 'credible' to 'suspect.'"
I have always been cognizant of the fringe element that occupies much of the "alternative" and "green" building world including, unfortunately, adobe. I am emphatically not part of the touchy-feely crowd, nor do I subscribe to any of the conspiracy theories that purport to explain why adobe is kept in the background as a building material. There is no conspiracy that I can discern in the arcane workings of global and local economies that targets mud. It is purely and simply market forces and individual/cultural values that dictate adobe's viability or desirability. The case is similar with other materials as well, including straw bale, and I spoke in hyperbole on a topic with which I was, at least in part, uninformed.
Joseph is absolutely right; it is one thing to be an advocate, and quite another to be a zealot. The former leads through solid practicality and experience; the latter follows vacant promises.
I strive to keep these columns in the realm of advocacy. Readers have correctly accused me of holding intense opinions. They will remain intense as long as I can defend them on both the technical and the theoretical level. I am grateful when an attentive reader uncovers an error or, more importantly, guides me away from the fringe.