Corruption and Collapse

Corruption and Collapse

Since the explosion of the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, we have been treated to a case study in both the endemic corporate corruption of US politics and the inherent environmental catastrophes of the fossil fuel economy. The spread of toxicity, whether from oil, chemical dispersants, or corporate lobbyists and their willing handmaidens in Washington, DC, is so evident that even President Obama has been forced to ramp up his rhetoric about “cozy relationships” and conflicts of interest.

Yet, how can one take seriously a president and his administration when they continue all of the worst practices of corporate toadying? Examples abound, from capitulating to Big Pharma in the health care debate to doing the bidding of Wall Street in their desire to maintain hedge funds and derivatives, the key components of casino capitalism. Tinkering with banking regulations will hardly end such corporate corruption when the Treasury departments of the administrations of both Republicans and Democrats are filled with devoted banksters.

Beyond the Treasury Department, each recent administration has put into key positions little more than political foxes guarding the consumer hen houses. Departments of Interior are especially notorious for protecting the interests of oil and major cattle growers. Obama’s Department of Interior with Ken Salazar, a Colorado cattleman, as head honcho and Sylvia Baca, a former BP flack, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for land and minerals management, are only the most current representatives of such notorious conflict of interests.

If one needed a more compelling argument against the fossil-fuel economy and its reliance on drilling for oil, the BP/Halliburton disaster in the Gulf of Mexico provides the tragic indictment. Yet the hand-wringing and grandstanding by the DC policy-makers has allowed BP to continue their cover-up of the extent of the spill and enable their misguided efforts to contain their potential litigation costs. Of course, one should not expect the political accomplices of the corporate fossil-fuel corporations to take fundamental steps to stop this immediate environmental catastrophe and reverse the insanity associated with this industry.

Then, again, Congress is in the process of passing a $33 billion supplemental to continue the prosecution of the increasingly lethal war in Afghanistan. This war has not only profited Halliburton and its subsidiary, KBR, with no-bid contracts, but it also is part of a geo-strategy of protecting potential oil and natural gas pipelines in the Caspian Basin and Central Asian regions. In its imperial drive to guarantee control over the ultimate routing of those pipelines, the political elites in Washington are prepared to sacrifice even more soldiers and civilians.

In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond brilliantly reveals how habituated attitudes and values precluded the necessary recognition of massively damaging environmental crises. Neglecting the dire implications of these crises, vastly different civilizations, societies, and cultures throughout recorded history succumbed to their own demise. Beyond analyzing what transpired in the past, Diamond also identifies numerous contemporary environmental challenges that pose grave dangers to the planet and its inhabitants. Central to many of these are the ongoing predicaments associated with the fossil-fuel economy.

Certainly, to reprise Diamond’s historical scope, the 5,000 years of recorded history are replete with wars over resources and the rise and fall of the empires promoting such wars. Although Diamond does cite a few historical examples of empires that stop their self-destructive pursuit of resources, these are so atypical as to be mere exceptional blips. Given the power trips of dominator civilizations with their attendant environmental destructiveness, reversing the often patriarchal and evolutionary selection for power-over may be up against an even more pervasive contamination than the BP oil spill.

The fact is that we are addicted both to oil and war in ways that are so entrenched that challenging these addictions will require pulling the plugs (a la The Matrix) than adopting a gradual 12-step program. It is too late for such a limited response, and yet we are probably not capable of making a choice to shun completely the fossil-fuel economy, even though it has been revealed time and again to be an ecocide economy whether in the Gulf, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, etc. The political hacks will never challenge in a radical way the oil and military-industrial complex, especially since they sup at the trough.

Our own complicity as the mini-me’s of the corporate state and the oil and military-industrial complex means that we will probably temporize about the latest environmental disasters, as long as we are not immediately inconvenienced, and find ways of putting up with the continual wars that have plagued the American Empire since World War II. Although the end of the fossil-fuel economy certainly is predictable, the collapse of human civilization as a consequence is still an open question. What is so troubling, however, is our apparent inability to ask the most critical questions and seek the most meaningful solutions.