BP Is an It, not a They

Is there a silver lining in the oil clouding the Gulf of Mexico? No, probably not, but let's indulge ourselves by pretending, even if just for a moment, that there could be.

Any "good news" resulting from this crude destruction would result from finally, finally learning lessons made unavoidable by witnessing this worst case scenario up close and personal. In fact, the closer, and more personal, the better. I almost wish BP's oil would inundate the entire east coast of the United States, paying special attention to Miami's white beaches, Washington's Chesapeake Bay, and New York Harbor.

Of course, I can't bring myself to really want this, but without tangible, in-your-face destruction to the quality of life of many rich and powerful people, nothing will change. As long as those who pull the strings can just pay a little more to have their shrimp flown in from more distant waters, nothing will change. As with any addiction, we need to hit bottom. The Exxon Valdez running aground in distant Alaskan waters obviously didn't suffice, so maybe it's going to take oil slicks from sea to sheening sea for America's political class to face up to a decades-overdue carbon tax, with the proceeds dedicated to conservation and urgent alternative energy R&D.

It's already "good" news that this is happening in the Gulf as opposed to someplace far away. Is there any chance President Obama, Brian Williams, or anyone else whose name you'd recognize would be touring the spill zone if the oil were flowing into the Arctic, Nigeria, or Ecuador?

That's not as hypothetical a question as it seems. According to one recent report, "more oil is spilled from the [Niger] delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico" so far.

In Ecuador, several estimates put the amount of toxic drilling by-products dumped into local waterways at over 20 billion gallons. Additionally 17 million gallons of crude oil are thought to have spilled into the jungle's rivers and streams. In his magnificent book, Savages, Joe Kane recounts the steady destruction of Huaorani Indian communities by oil companies numb to the devastation they cause. The situation in Ecuador has only grown worse since Kane's book was published in 1995, but Brian Williams and the other network anchors don't have much to say about the on-going destruction of the Ecuadorian Oriente or the Niger delta.

Kane quotes a local environmentalist talking about plans the oil companies submit to the Ecuadorian government, similar to those BP filed with ours, explaining how nothing like this could ever happen--and even if it did, the companies assured the government, they knew how to fix it immediately. "There's this mythology that somebody has a plan and . . . somebody's paying attention. But it's all bullshit," he says, "As individuals, the Company people are really polite. But on a corporate level they refuse to develop any humanity at all."

This brings us to the other very, very thin silver lining that may be hidden somewhere in the submerged plumes. Maybe we can finally stop falling for the sleight of hand designed to convince us that companies have human qualities.

"Corporate humanity" is an oxymoron.

One of BP's first ads after the spill began, reads, "BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill. We are determined to do everything we can to minimize impact. We will honor all legitimate claims." But BP isn't a "we" or a "they." BP is an "it."

Remember, companies have no feelings. It's not that BP is cold; BP has no temperature at all. Companies are not organic beings with warm feelings of love, loyalty, or regret. To be sure, they are staffed by people capable of these feelings but the individuals who work for a company are not the company--despite what their PR department would have you believe. People come and go, like water through a whirlpool, but the company persists. This is why the current CEO of BP would be ill-advised to say anything like, "We'll do everything possible to clean this up as long as I'm CEO of BP." Such a statement would only highlight the fact that he'll be gone long before the oil stain leaves the marshlands. His personal feelings on the matter are utterly unimportant.

Public relations, marketing, and advertising all strive to create the impression that corporations are sentient beings with whom we can have meaningful relationships--even friendships. It's way past time we all outgrew this dangerous illusion and recognized them for the ravenous reptilian entities they are and always have been.