Posts Tagged ‘corporate irresponsibility’

The pressing need for adult supervision

June 4, 2010

Lord of the Flies is disturbing because it reveals a few dark insights about human nature.  Left to their own devices, the juvenile characters in the book become tribal, authoritarian, superstitious, punitive and reactionary.  Their perspective becomes increasingly divorced from reality and their new, irrational perceptions are reinforced by group thinking and the collective persecution of the weak.

The book springs to mind because it’s recently occurred to me how strongly the behavior of BP resembles the type of behavior I expect from a little girl I look after, and that of very young children in general.

Rose, let’s call her,  being three, is completely unruffled by precautionary concerns.  If she wants to run through the house in her sock feet, she simply can not see the sharp edges and slippery floors surrounding her or contemplate the danger they present.  She can’t grasp that her motor skills are less than precise even without perils lurking at every corner.  If I tell her it’s dangerous to run in the house, she does not believe me.  From her perspective, it’s ludicrous to suggest that it is an undesirable activity.  How could it be when she so desperately wants to do it?

Rose has injured herself on numerous occasions as a direct result of being inadequately cautious. She’s tripped and fallen on her face, bruised her shins, cut herself, bonked her head repeatedly and nearly put out an eye.  Every time, she considers herself the tragic victim of the brutal hand of fate.  For her, the dangers and potential consequences were unforeseeable.  She demands comfort and sympathy rather than simply making a mental note of each injury in order to adapt her behavior next time she gets an urge to go nuts inside the house.  Every time she hurts herself, it’s terribly unfair from her point of view.

This is all perfectly reasonable – after all, she’s only three.

BP on the other hand (not to mention the rubber-stamping governments who permit them to operate with no oversight whatsoever) is purportedly comprised of grown-ups.

But how do they behave?  Rather than heed warnings of terrible danger and conduct themselves accordingly, they deny the danger exists and carry on doing exactly as they please.  It is inconceivable to them that deep water drilling might be an undesirable activity when the risks are weighed against the gains.  When the dangers become impossible to deny on account of a major catastrophe occurring as a direct consequence of their irresponsible behavior, it was “unforeseeable“, or “an act of God“.  They are the victims and as such they yearn for comfort and consolation from the rest of us.  They resolutely reject the notion that the catastrophe was a consequence of their behavior.  They offer no proposals for how their future behavior might be modified by anything they have learned, and if their behavior since the Exxon Valdez spill is any indication, it will not be modified at all.  meanwhile, the catastrophic consequences of their behavior continue unabated.

It seems to me that BP is behaving like a very small child and has been for a long time.  Perhaps this too is understandable.  Making boatloads of money is probably almost as much fun  for Tony Hayward and his peers as running around the house in sock feet is for Rose.

My question is, where are the grown-ups who ought to be saying “no” to the ludicrously dangerous and minimally rewarding (for the rest of us) activities BP desires to engage in?  The governments of every nation I can think of behave more like playmates to the captains of industry than proper adult supervision.  Cautious voices have been all but completely ostracized from public discourse.  The mainstream media chases after sound bites from leaders who are tribal, authoritarian, superstitious, punitive and reactionary and passes them off as news.  Mainstream commentary has become increasingly divorced from reality and our new, irrational perceptions are reinforced by our collective persecution of the weak.  The most a grown-up can hope for in this day and age is a patronizing pat on the head from the cadre of unsupervised children who are driving this planet so far beyond its capacity to sustain life that it may never recover.

I don’t know if this inverse relationship between wisdom and power will continue for the rest of my days, but since it seems to have endured for the entire history of Western civilization, I have to assume that it will.  It’s enough to make a grown-up feel very much at odds with the world.