photo: Luke Sharrett/The NYTimes
This morning, as is usual when I run errands, I was listening to the radio. Today's top story: BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward's appearance before a House panel to discuss the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. There weren't a lot of details at that point, but without hearing too much, I knew some of what to expect. From our representatives, I assumed there would be high emotion, tough questions for Mr. Hayward, as well as opportunities to publicly declare--and for all of their constituents to witness--strong stances on the disaster. From Mr. Hayward, I expected an apology and careful side-stepping of legally treacherous details.
This is how we do it when things go wrong. Does it work? Does it help? I hope so. Over the past two months since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, I have heard a lot of people, with much good reason, condemn BP, the oil industry, and corporations in general. I've heard expressions of satisfaction that BP and its shareholders have seen their stock plummet in value. I've heard a lot of folks express sadness, anger, and helplessness about the extent of the damage. Some are tired of greedy executives. Others, even those who drive gas-powered cars and enjoy the convenience of petroleum-based plastic products, have grown tired of the drawbacks of fossil fuels.
It's a relief, and a luxury, to have someone to be the target of all of that rage. I envisioned another scenario, in which God was invited to appear before a similar committee. I imagined outraged representatives presenting equally blistering questions on the technical aspects of various earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and that obnoxious volcano that grounded European air travel for a week or so back in April: "Why does the Earth's mantle have faults, anyway?" "Why must the continents drift?" "What, exactly, did You know, and what did You do or neglect to do to protect innocent people?" I imagined a "shakedown" in which God was summoned to the president's office and pressured to establish an e$crow account for the victims of His disasters. I imagined the factions building on each side--one side defending, the other accusing--according to whether He had contributed to or doomed their political campaigns.
I also imagined the outcry that might ensue if God failed to appear, which He has been known to do, at least in my experience.
I intend no disrespect to the residents of the Gulf Coast Region. Nor do I intend to minimize the gravity of the destruction of life and property caused by this tragic disaster. I just wonder about the productivity of the media frenzy. No doubt, Tony Hayward wishes for a way to click the "Undo" button, to somehow have the power and capacity to make it up to the sea, the birds, the fishes and shrimp, and the fishermen and shrimpers who make their livelihood on the Gulf. Not to mention BP shareholders. Or the families of the 11 crew members who were killed. Fairness isn't so easily found. And so, in a scenario of specialized knowledge, expensive technology, mind-numbing devastation, and slow progress, we grope for fairness as best we know how.