Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dances with Wells

So I learned today that BP has brought in actor Kevin Costner, he of Dances with Wolves fame, to help solve its little environmental and public relations disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Seems as if, for the past fifteen years, Costner has been funding research and development of a new device designed to separate oil from water (something like a huge centrifuge, as I understand it). On a trial basis, BP is shipping a bunch of the gizmos in to see if they'll be any more effective at stopping the bleed than the other newfangled gizmos they've already tried (remember how well the giant dome on the ocean floor worked?).

Now, Costner strikes me as a pretty square guy, a pretty earnest guy, but also a pretty useless guy when it comes to realistically appraising and addressing the grimy realities of life. All his films, from The Untouchables to Field of Dreams to Robin Hood to Dances with Wolves, feature idealistic dreamers who come face to face with the brutal facts of the real world, with its nasty politics, greed, militarism, and meanness, and whose response to those realities is simple: fight or flight. Thus some of his heroes become vigilantes; others choose heaven--whether in the form of an Iowa corn field or a Lakota encampment--over the soiled and sordid world. All, in other words, choose escape--escape from responsibility, from complexity, from the real work of life--over the far more difficult task of responsible, committed action. They either shoot somebody with their own gun or run away from somebody else's. They embrace fantasy over reality. Is this really the right guy to clean up the horrid reality of the BP oil spill? With sci-fi centrifuges, no less?

Of course, of course, we have to clean up the spill, and if Costner's thingamajigs work, then hallelujah. But what then? Continue to pump oil from the ocean's floor, secure in the knowledge that we've got us a really groovy techno-marvel to clean up our messes? Don't we see that, in looking to a guy like Costner and a gadget like his to address this problem, we're applying the same faulty, fantasy logic that got us into the mess in the first place?

We had a legitimate alternative before this mess occurred. It was called cleaning up our act, ending our addiction to fossil fuels, seeding renewable energy, changing our ways. We still have that alternative--though every day we fail to act, every day we continue to gobble and vomit oil, we set ourselves back who knows how many tens of years and tens of millions of lives. Nonetheless, we do have a choice: we can face the difficult realities of an alternate future, change our own behavior, join with like-minded peers, pledge to elect politicians who share our vision, and reform our world.

Or we can call up Kevin Costner and ask him if he's got any really big centrifuges.

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