Black and White Romanticism

Image by Grace Russell

Strong opinions throughout the social web bear a resemeblance to  the 19th century romantic movement. Consider the sheer force of emotional passion and righteousness behind espoused ideals.

The romantic movement responded to the constraints of the early industrial era and enlightenment, a way for the mind to break free from the machine. Purity in terror or love or freedom — expressed in art and movements like nationalism — dominated the 19th century psyche.

What’s old is new again, I suppose. That shouldn’t be surprising though.

Today we face a new confining threat to our identities, the digital definition of who we are. Online identity is expressed through the social graph, and the “big data” that it yields.

We confront hard truths about ourselves, including how much or little we are liked, and why.  There’s nothing quite as humbling as realizing people like you for your cute dog instead of your brilliant political expositions.

Ads pushing products and services targeted by behavioral data tell us what we should buy. We fiddle with privacy settings yet find our lives read to us online, searchable, indexed, and found, not by people, but by corporate databases seeking to expand sales.

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Only Mindful Action Can Help the Gulf

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There have been many acts of anger towards BP over the past week, including protests to seize the company’s assets, using apps to create oil spills on browsers viewing stories mentioning BP, and efforts to tarnish the company’s logo. It’s totally understandable. Punishing this company for its clear and continuing wrongs relieves a very human need.

Yet, such acts fail to help the Gulf marine environment, suffering wildlife, and the many fisherman and local businesses getting decimated by the Deep Horizon catastrophe. Only mindful actions and protests can successfully and positively benefit those people that need us the most.

One of the greatest heroes of all time — Mohandas Ghandi — demonstrated that you can topple an empire by taking spiritually grounded mindful political action. It seems paramount to remember Ghandi’s lessons as we move through this crisis.

What Actually Helps

Seizing BP’s assets strikes me as the exact wrong thing to do. The company needs to remain viable so it can actually pay for the reparations it owes.

Further, as a moderate Democrat it’s been easy to laugh at cries from extreme elements about a socialist administration. That’s because it’s clear that these elements possess a great ignorance about what socialism and Marxism actually are. But a government seizing a company’s assets meets the text book definition of socialization. That kind of action will not benefit anyone, in my opinion. The U.S. government can’t effectively regulate the oil industry much less run an oil company.

BP (as well as Haliburton and Transocean) must be held accountable. I totally agree with this logic. But the situation remains more complicated. As this New York Times article demonstrates, the Obama Administration — specifically MMS — had many missteps that enabled the poor infrastructure that caused the oil well failure and ensuing catastrophe. Further, the oil industry regularly causes these types of incidents in other, less modernized parts of the world frequently!

Protests against the Obama Administration’s questionable relationship with BP and shoddy first five weeks of Deep Horizon oversight have yielded results. Witness President Obama’s remarks on Friday: “”What I don’t want to hear is, when they’re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they’re nickel and diming fishermen or small business owners here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.” As BP’s behavior and PR machine demonstrates, this oversight will continue to be needed, and that means citizens need to keep the pressure on both BP and the Obama Administration.

From a governmental reform standpoint, protesting further off shore drilling helps the environment. Demanding that elected officials run clean campaigns that disclose or eliminate corporate funding — effectively getting special interests like the oil lobby out of government — helps. Writing Senators to ask for a progressive clean energy oriented Climate Bill helps.

From an action standpoint, there have been a variety of organizations that have assembled volunteer efforts, from their action from afar via computer to on-site action. Here are three articles to consider:

Whatever you decide to do, please be mindful. Remember Gandhi’s lessons. Ask yourself does it help the Gulf and those affected? Does it improve the government or industry so it doesn’t happen again? Will it help the environment?

Also see Jennifer Windrum’s How You Can Truly Help the Gulf Now.