Do You Want Justice in the Gulf? (Really?)

Posted: 30 May 2010 in Faith and Life
Tags: , , ,

By now we are angry and scared. We have a terrible crisis on our hands and no one knows what to do. We are angry at BP and increasingly calling for those “responsible” to admit it and be brought to justice. Now, and leaving aside that its seems to be a fact of our American life that we need to find someone to blame for our ills, we have reason to be angry at the mutual finger pointing between BP and Transocean–the utter inability of anyone to say “it’s our fault”. We desperately want that–almost as much as we want them to figure out a way to plug the damn hole and stop the insanity. We want someone to pay. Even those who are committed to a less retributive and more restorative form of justice in our world can feel a need for someone to acknowledge their wrong and begin the long process of restoration which must include–inevitably–some form of restitution.But do we REALLY want justice to be done in the Gulf? Do we want an honest inquiry into who is really “guilty”? Dare we follow the threads of a conspiracy that, in reality, engulfs us all? After all, BP doesn’t just steam out to the deeps of the Gulf and have Transocean drop a well off a platform (appropriately named Deepwater Horizon for the science fiction activity of boldly going where no man has gone before). BP is not sneaking around out there because it is evil. No, we all know they have gone out there because we asked them to. Let’s be honest: BP is a pimp-slimy and seedy and all that–but a pimp nonetheless. We are the “john” and we have asked our pimp to hook us up–to make the connection–to help us score that which we yearn for. And being a good pimp, with a good sense of how to make a good living, BP obliges. And now we got caught. BP hooked us up and the cops showed up and we are all in custody now. So do we want justice?

If we say “no”–then we are hypocrites not willing to admit our role in this whole nasty business. We are little better than junkies addicted but unwilling to stand up and say “Hi, my name is X and I am in too deep…” If we say “yes” then we are going to have to stand in the docket with BP and Transocean and hear the evidence read out and live with the judgement. The witnesses will be the waters, the plants, the birds and the aquatic life of a region whose recovery may not come in my or your lifetime. We will do the time–whatever that means–most likely we will do a “plea bargain” and turn state’s evidence so BP is forced to pay and we get off with a scolding. But will we change? Or will we go back to the habits and the ways of living that got us into this mess in the first place? Perhaps we should think about that restorative kind of justice and admit the harm we have caused, the crime we have committed, the devastation we have wrought. Perhaps we should start having that conversation about restitution…

Perhaps we should repent. Theologians tell me that to repent means to turn around–to change direction, to walk a new path. To repent is not to arrive at redemption–final forgiveness and all that. Rather, repentance means that one is going to walk in the direction of those things with the hope that final reconciliation of relationships (human, the natural world, God) will come. In the current case we have no hope of reaching final redemption in any case. We have spent generations walking down the path of living a life built on cheap oil. In recent years we have continued to walk that way and have started to do some pretty bad things. The pimps have not just been BP, Chevron, Exxon or their ilk. We have also used the pimps of the military, private “security forces”, the CIA and pure power politics to make and keep the “hook-ups” coming. We are in pretty deep. And that might discourage us. We might think “what’s the point?” But if we turn–or start the long process of turning–maybe, just maybe, we will find some liberation. Maybe we will find some grace.

  1. Brian Gumm says:

    Good thoughts, Robb. I’ve been perplexed by all this blame-seeking and “ass-kicking” talk from public figures. We do want justice, and we do want someone to fess up and admit wrong. The interesting thing to me is: How can a company, a non-human entity, confess and repent, much less seek forgiveness and reconciliation?

    You do a great job of turning the question where I think it really belongs: us, individually and collectively. The interesting thing about corporate entities is that they seem to function as moral scapegoats. And since they are non-human (comprised of many human, yes, but officially they exist only conceptually) it’s sooooo easy and tempting to just point at the big company and say “You did this!” when something goes wrong, and we try to enter into some grievance process with this…conceptual entity.

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