a sense of complicity - scratchpad
This is a theme that crops up a lot in the vicinity of Andrea Brady's poetry. Commentators mention it. The poetry mentions it.
In our world it's hard to escape.
So thanks, Obama administration.
I am not very happy, just now, with the activities of Royal Dutch Shell, as they crow over their arctic adventure go-ahead. Yet I drive, eat, heat and earn.
In fact you could say that a general unease and disapproval of fossil fuel industries goes back with me to teenage years. That was 40 years ago, and I don't think I'd heard of global warming, but it seemed vaguely wrong to me (and of course many others) that we were "using up the planet's resources". We were very protective of the planet, this big bouncing baby that was suddenly wriggling in the arms of my generation after all those millennia of being far too big for human beings to conceive let alone affect.
This was how I felt when university pals went off to earn big bucks with Schlumberger.
It was in the late 80s when we began to think that "the greenhouse effect" presented a more immediate danger than exhausting the planet. Svante Arrhenius had floated the concept in 1896, but no-one had thought it was really happening. Then the papers told us that the poles were melting. Cows and termites might have something to do with it, but it was mainly all about fossil fuels. 1998 was the hottest year on record.
Meanwhile Schlumberger's site characterizes the present time thus: "In this new decade, Schlumberger products and services are more relevant than ever, as E&P moves into more complex and environmentally extreme areas – especially offshore and in deepwater – and the search for unconventional oil and gas intensifies."
[E&P = Exploration and Production]
One of the many interesting things about the above publication is that it contains a story by Tim O'Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund. As its motto indicates ("Finding the ways that work"), the EDF is known for building bridges with industry and working closely on practical solutions. They are not intrinsically anti gas, indeed they see the real priority right now as replacing dirty coal with cleaner gas. I think that might be right.
A sense of complicity may lead to pursuing a greater understanding of what we deplore yet comply with. That is an intrinsically open research. It risks, and may interfere with, the political beliefs you began from. I don't claim that this happened for Andrea Brady when she sought to understand WP. But she knew she had to understand why we people ourselves, not excluding my and her complicit selves, desire light and fire and violence and energy so much. What drives this? She had to risk celebrating it.
A sense of complicity has deep connections with suspicion of judgment and a sense of moral relativism, even though they are in obvious ways opposed. (The sense of complicity does plant a moral flag.)
Complicity has, as it were, two frameworks. One of them is material: it traces, with more or less credibility, the way in which our personal economy is implicated in larger evils. I cook a meal; the gas I burn comes from Russia, the profit goes to BP and Rosneft. Igor Sechin.
The second framework, not always clearly distinguished, is spiritual - a sense of global community. A sense that what is enacted by Monsanto execs or ISIS pan-national wreckers is done by all of us, and by myself, because I am a sinful human being too. Though I may not be able to make the connection in the way I can connect the economics of Siberian gas to my tin of ravioli, yet I believe we're linked. Purity I don't accept. And since purity means polarization means the end of dialogue, maybe there's something to be said for this. Or is it just a violence with the lid temporarily on?
Schlumberger makes no political contributions, directly or indirectly, and only funds Trade and Industry Associations which do not make political contributions themselves.
A glance at the American Petroleum Institute website suffices to show it as a very political animal indeed, vigorously struggling against the chains of regulation. The very slender threads of regulation, as arctic Alaska is finding. One of the more disturbing statements in API's account of its struggle with the Obama administration is the claim that it represents not only 625 oil and gas companies but "They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 25 million Americans".
What does this mean?
Since when do we "back" corporates?
No wonder they don't need to give contributions to anyone else. This IS a political party.
Or rather, it's a gang.
In a time when polarization of beliefs threatens to break down the social consensus that allows democracy in the US, I'm concerned about the implications of this remark. It hints at a return to dark-age tribalism, in which people survive by aligning themselves to a chief who rewards you with loot. The chiefs, in this case, being bosses.
A search on the Schlumberger site (with sparse results) for "environmental impact" or "global warming" is an enlightening indication of how the industry thinks, and what it never thinks.
Here there is not much sense, yet, of perceiving oneself as in the same boat as the tobacco industry and makers of white phosphorus: still legal, but unfit to be seen.
Yet slowly this perception is coming to be. The Guardian's divestment from fossil fuels is a tiny but significant measure of the direction we are going in. It's beyond time.
In the mean while, on with the species extinctions.
Consciousness of complicity is like a wave of nausea. It is a tweak, it says, you either find a way of tranquilising yourself or you'll have to do something you don't want to do.
After all, in reading about Shell or Schlumberger I'm reading about myself. Didn't I fly to Australia this year? We are oil-persons.
Consciousness of complicity is a middle-class guilt thing. Poor people don't have consciousness of complicity. Complicity indeed requires power; but then everyone has some power. It doesn't make the garden of complicity necessarily a bad place to cultivate. Though bad things grow there easily enough.
... * I've just discovered that the Guardian published a profile of Schlumberger today. Nice coincidence.
Labels: Andrea Brady