Monday, May 31, 2010

BP oil disaster and complicity in a system




I'd like to flesh out an unpopular thought that I expressed on Twitter (which was then ported over to Facebook) the other day, in a way that isn't hamstrung by 140 characters.

The initial post was this:
Here's an unpopular thought: everyone bitching about BP should, instead, get rid of their car and only use them infrequently.
Of course, there was a great deal of outrage at the implication that I wasn't demonizing BP. I acknowledge that in 140 characters, caveats are hard to provide, but it should simply go without saying that I am not sticking up for BP by saying this. Of course they're very much if not wholly responsible for this particular disaster. (Though let's not forget about Haliberton among others.)

My point is simply that "giants" like BP wouldn't exist in the first place if there wasn't a demand for it, or they would at least have a different business model. And the fact that all of us - myself included - don't see ourselves as in some small but cumulative way propping up the mess that we're in, then we're really just pulling the wool over our eyes. Every time we buy something made with petroleum, every time we ride in a car, we're supporting it.

Now, to this, there are two obvious reactions:
One: "how do you expect me to get by in this society without these things?" This is a fair point, but it's also the real crux of the problem. Our society is sick; it demands that if we want to participate we have to play along with a game that makes a lot of money for certain people while at the same time bringing about pollution, indentured slavery of various kinds - take a look at the effects of the the food industry in third world nations sometime, not to mention the fact that they are rich in natural resources and yet the people benefit little from it - and on and on. Most of us, again myself included, are domesticated and we simply would not do well truly "off the grid," so we play along, maybe we make some paltry efforts to try to assuage ourselves of the feeling complicity, and go about out our lives on the micro- level. My point is that, nevertheless, these actions have a cumulative effect.

In a capitalist society the only message that will speak loudly, from the bottom up, is if a massive chunk of the population suddenly took an action that cut off the revenue stream of the powers that be. You can be assured that, in that case, they would find another way to try to provide goods or services in a way that we'd pay for it. And do any of you really expect a bottom down solution, when companies such as these have the kind of power that they do? If anything, these days, it appears the government is beholden to them, not the other way around. (Though the government does have the military, which I guess could even the score at the end of the day, even against the private armies corporations have slowly been gaining access to...)

The second reaction is that I'm being sophistic, since I'm making a point with no likely solution- it isn't likely that this kind of shift is going to happen, and most people argue that if they give up their car, farm their own food and stop buying petroleum products (among other things), everyone else still will so what difference does it make. (And who wants to be a subsistence farmer, anyway? We're all too soft for that. I certain am.) Another fair point. And yet again it still doesn't change the fact of the matter.

We're on a collision course, folks. We just don't know what with, yet. We have to wonder, how big of a disaster do we need before we really change our way of life in a fundamental way? With as much momentum as it has at that point, can it happen at all?

I spell this out in much more detail, and I think more articulately, in several chapters of The Immanence of Myth), so I'd rather not get into cannibalizing that material here any more than has been done in previous posts. I'd simply like to make my point clear. As I later said: I acknowledge that some of my actions - all of them culturally "acceptable" - make me to some extent complicit in the raping of the planet.

All I'm asking is other people admit the same, or take the drastic measures necessary to do otherwise.

In other words, it's the hypocrisy that drives me nuts. If you're propping up the system even just by doing what is culturally expected of you, you're still propping up the system. And to an extent, that's okay. We all have to live and most of us don't have the time or energy to consider a complete overhaul of that way of life when most of us are just struggling to get by. I'm doing it too, but let's be fucking honest about it. Yes?


(P.S. To all those people I've seen saying that "Obama should have fixed it by now," I've really got to ask- do you expect him to throw on a pair of speedos and dive to the bottom of the ocean?)

5 comments:

  1. My point is simply that "giants" like BP wouldn't exist in the first place if there wasn't a demand for it, or they would at least have a different business model. And the fact that all of us - myself included - don't see ourselves as in some small but cumulative way propping up the mess that we're in, then we're really just pulling the wool over our eyes. Every time we buy something made with petroleum, every time we ride in a car, we're supporting it.

    Large corporations like BP exist due to the logic of capitalism. After about 1850 or so it's impossible to engage in capitalism without using large banks, joint stock companies, etc. Could individual capitalists build the railroads?

    Further, people in the early part of the 20th Century preferred mass transit over cars. Many transit systems in smaller communities (such as the one I grew up in) were purchased for the sake of dismantling. The point is that we, as a society, do NOT have a say in how resources are planned. We get to choose whether we would prefer Coke or Pepsi, or BP or Shell Oil. But the idea that people have any kind of meaningful role in planning social resources or building infrastructure is laughably naive.

    In a capitalist society the only message that will speak loudly, from the bottom up, is if a massive chunk of the population suddenly took an action that cut off the revenue stream of the powers that be. You can be assured that, in that case, they would find another way to try to provide goods or services in a way that we'd pay for it.

    You can't consume your way out of capitalism. Further, your argument is just plain wrong. Boycotts don't hurt the man at the top, they hurt the employees. I don't know if you've read a newspaper lately, but retail revenues are way down. Are the CEOs making less money or just laying off workers?

    Finally, small consumers make up a small portion of the consumer economy. Most of the big ticket items--including large orders for untold barrels of oil--come from other huge corporations, energy cartels and, of course, the military-intelligence community.

    If anything, these days, it appears the government is beholden to them, not the other way around.

    The government exists to A) mediate disputes between capitalists and B) organize oppressive and repressive measures against the proles.

    In other words, it's the hypocrisy that drives me nuts. If you're propping up the system even just by doing what is culturally expected of you, you're still propping up the system

    Again--who asked for my vote on whether or not we should have cars or use petroleum? Cuz my vote would be for a massive public works project that reduces reliance upon fossil fuels greatly while devoting a huge chunk of social resources (currently dominated by Wall Street, the Pentagon and Madison Avenue) to find a workable alternative. PS: It would create jobs, too.

    The only reason such a thing is "impossible" is because our entire political system serves a plutocratic elite.

    To all those people I've seen saying that "Obama should have fixed it by now," I've really got to ask- do you expect him to throw on a pair of speedos and dive to the bottom of the ocean?

    I "expect" him to do exactly what he's been doing--protecting BP and their executives from legal prosecution and mass outrage. But anyone with a brain in their head should ask themselves:

    1) Why has no one been arrested?
    2) Why WILL no one be arrested?
    3) Why will no one go to jail?
    4) What punishment, if any, will BP be subject to (remember the banks two years ago)?
    5) How fitting will this punishment be?

    You also ignore the proven complicity of the Obama Administration in allowing BP to flagrantly violate workplace and environmental safety regulations.

    As I said before and will now say again--way to run cover for the perpetrator of the crime while blaming the victim.

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  2. See, the thing that gets me, Nick, is that aside from disagreeing about this:

    "You can't consume your way out of capitalism. Further, your argument is just plain wrong. Boycotts don't hurt the man at the top, they hurt the employees." (In my opinion, SMALL boycotts hurt the employees- a massive boycott would effect the entire corporation- but you could be right about this)-

    I actually agree with most of what you've said. And then you come to this conclusion:

    "As I said before and will now say again--way to run cover for the perpetrator of the crime while blaming the victim."

    Which, aside from the disagreement above, simply does not follow from what I've said. I'm saying that we all play our role in the society that we live in, even if no one "asked for our vote," (for the record, I'd ask for the same thing that you did, if someone actually did). I am NOT "covering" for BP while blaming the victim. You seem to think that I have some sort of sympathy for massive corporations that behave the way they do, or governments that protect them, which I do not, in any way shape or form, and I think my writing and even way of life supports that. (Though I DO have sympathy and support for businesses that see profit as a means rather than a motive and who try to behave ethically and base their decisions as much on that as on profit, but of course those companies tend to get gobbled up by the others ones- as I have seen first hand myself on more than one occasion.)

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  4. No, I don't want to see Obama in Speedos. There are those that would, but not me. 'Cuse me while I go fill up my Ford F150 Crew Cab.

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