There’s a lot to be saddened about in the BP disaster. The damage to the gulf and shoreline may take a generation to recover, the economic loss to the region, a decade and, for many, will only follow a full environmental recovery.
But we’re a blame culture, so it’s instructive to watch the game play out among friends, in our networks, and in the media. The political theatrics are predictable– self-righteous men haranguing lower officials, BP executives, regulators and, of course, the President.
BP executives, scripted by their attorneys and PR consultants, express earnest sorrow and empathy, but choose their words carefully from briefing books to evade further liability, and then, finally, the righteous anger of the powerless people in the Gulf, holding everyone in power accountable for the environmental tragedy that has beset them and crippled their economy and seascape.
We have become adept at blaming, suing, and demanding retribution of everyone but ourselves. Teachers are to blame for the steep decline in educational achievement and illiteracies of all sorts. Business is at fault for environmental degradation. The financial industry is at fault for bringing the Western economy to a standstill and wiping out trillions in personal savings. Foreign workers and illegal aliens are causing unemployment. Mexican cartels and Afghan poppy farmers are behind our drug problem. We die because doctors can’t keep us alive. We’re obese because our food supply is industrialized. Crime is rampant because judges don’t jail enough people. Our nation is in debt because our chosen officials keep giving us what we demand. The list is endless. Someone must be held to account for everything that’s not right with us. There’s no room left for the inherent dangers of life on earth, not even death. In all these cases, someone must be found guilty and we must have retribution.
It’s too painful to understand our own role in these disasters and to make mitigating changes in our own lives that diminish the problems. Is the truth of our complicity too sad and to daunting to confront? We are the demanding market for oil, mortgages, junk food, drugs, McMansions, cheap labor & consumer goods, feel-good educations, and cure-all healthcare. We imagine crime-free streets and celebrate massive economic inequities and executive compensation packages, anyone one of which might fund the solution to a town’s homelessness and hunger problems.
It’s sad to watch so many take aim so quickly and with no introspection on the most powerful man in the country because, frankly, he’s not powerful enough to address all our ills at once. I wish Obama had had the courage to tell truth to power as they say and simply explain to us that no one knows how to stop the flow of oil into the gulf.
But the fact is that our insatiable appetites have opened a Pandora’s Box of new risks on earth with which we’ll have to learn to live. Durable solutions will only emerge when we understand our own role in society’s ills.