Given all the famine, genocide, slavery and disease happening within the world today, why does the oil spill seem so difficult to stomach?  Is it simply the media coverage?  Is it BP’s PR operation, crafted to make us believe this is simply an accident so they can continue business as usual, all the while inundating us with crippling images of a crisis so as to create a political shock campaign (for this argument see The Inductive)?  Is it because this disaster destroys a supposedly innocent and ‘natural’ world whereas the conflict in Darfur can be chalked up to individual actors behaving badly; what we might call the “Avatar Response”?  Why, with the way the world is going today, and probably always has been going, did I expect something else?

Whatever the case may be, what did make me feel better, in a strange way, was Patrick Deneen’s piece at the Front Porch Republic, “Inchoherence.”  It’s worth quoting in full:

“What’s remarkable about the images of the oil spewing from the severed pipe a mile deep in the Gulf is the widespread belief that this leakage represents an environmental catastrophe in contrast to the norm. Our understanding of the “norm,” of course, is the belief that we control our circumstances and fate. Our true norm, in fact, consists in a more widespread but no less disastrous release of poison into our world. The norm that we fantasize about returning to is when we imagine that we control our circumstances by pumping the substance through pipes to containers to refineries to gas stations to automobiles to exhaust pipes to a warming atmosphere (or, to fertilizer factories to farm machinery to topsoil to erosion to rivers and back to dead zones of the Gulf).  In other words, our experience and belief in “control” is little different in the end than our current felt condition of “helplessness.” The only real difference at the moment is the concentrated visibility of the disaster, one that makes visible what is usually hidden – that our civilization exists by poisoning our world, by a concerted and organized effort to release toxic substances from confines where they are relatively sequestered for life to flourish, to a condition where we must come to mistrust the food that we eat, the air that we breath, the water that we drink. Rather than dispersed throughout the world – including the very molecular composition of our bodies – the spew allows us to see with unusual clarity the nature of our civilization. Yet we treat it as an exception, a momentary and controllable lapse, the fault of nefarious oil profiteers, rather than the rule, our ‘way of life.”’

Why does this make me feel better, at least for now?  I suppose it removes the sense of shock and helplessness.  Upon reading Deenan’s post, I’m reminded that this event is really nothing other than business as usual.  What was once hidden is now brought to light.

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