There is, you have to admit, a sort of savage grace, a tragic and terrible beauty, to the BP oil spill.
Like any good apocalyptic vision of self-wrought hell, the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history has its inherent poetry. You see that creeping ooze of black, that ungodly wall of unstoppable darkness as it slowly, inexorably invades the relatively healthy, pristine waters adjacent, and you can't help but appreciate the brutal majesty, the fantastic, reeking horror of this new manifestation of black death we have brought upon ourselves, as it spreads like a fast cancer into the liquid womb of Mother Nature herself.
Really, it's not just the incredible photographs of the spill that are, in turns, heartbreaking, stunning, otherworldly and downright Satanic in their abject revulsion. It's not just the statistics that tell us how many millions of gallons might ultimately be spilled, or the stunned scientists who can only hypothesize how this unprecedented catastrophe might affect the fragile food chain and distress the ocean's ecosystems at the very root level.
It's not even the endless, heartrending tales of livelihoods lost, industries destroyed, coastlines ravaged or wildlife killed. The fact is, any one of these aspects alone is enough to poison your soul for as long as you wish to wallow in that murky state of fatalism and doom. It is nothing but bleak.
I think the most disturbingly satisfying thrill of this entire event -- and it is, in a way, a perverse thrill -- comes from understanding, at a very core level, our shared responsibility, our co-creation of the foul demon currently unleashed.
What a thing we have created. What an extraordinary horror our rapacious need for cheap, endless energy hath unleashed; it's a monster of a scale and proportion we can barely even fathom.
Because if you're honest, no matter where you stand, no matter your politics, religion, income or mode of transport, you see this beast of creeping death and you understand: That is us. The spill may be many things, but more than anything else it is a giant, horrifying mirror.
Do you wish to try and deflect it? Lay responsibility elsewhere? Really? We can't quite blame an "act of God," as we would for some sort of hurricane or tsunami inflicted upon meager humankind by an angry deity, punishing us all for being too war-like, violent or perhaps naïve enough to want to enjoy the sunshine for five goddamn minutes before He decided He'd better kill some people lest we forget who's in charge.
We cannot blame evil terrorists, some cluster of swarthy foreigners who hate our shopping malls and secretly envy our Porsche Cayenne's. Nor can we blame the spill on some sort of nefarious conspiracy, a secret act wrought by devious agents in black helicopters designed to destabilize the U.N. and induce universal mind control -- unless, of course, you're getting a little desperate and don't get outside much, in which case, you absolutely can.
Finally (and a bit shockingly), I'm not hearing Pat Robertson or any of his cretinous cult of apocalypticans blame the gays, or voodoo, or anal sex, or reality TV for what's happening in the Gulf. Oil is, after all, completely non-denominational. It mocks all religions equally -- except, of course, the only one that really matters: capitalism.
This is how you know this is one of the more universally damning disasters of our time: No one really seems to know how to process it, much less react. The GOP is backtracking like terrified hyenas from Sarah "Queen of Duh" Palin's "drill baby, drill" mantra/ass tattoo, as suddenly the incessant Republican wail for more oil exploration, more drilling, more tax cuts for oil conglomerates don't just reek of the usual inbred cronyism; they reek of death and destruction the likes of which the country has never seen.
On the other hand, hardcore lefties are going mad with desire that the disaster will lead to the immediate imprisonment of every BP employee worldwide, as if BP is somehow any different than any other oil titan raping the planet right now (hi, Alberta's oilsands). Hardcore lefties would also appreciate it if Obama would use the disaster as a surefire excuse to instantly change the entire course of energy history by immediately shutting down all 48,000 oil wells in the Gulf and hand every American a bicycle and a solar panel. See? All better.
Sure. As if oil wasn't woven like oxygen into every single aspect of American life, as if fully 30 percent of domestic transportation fuel didn't come from the gulf, as if shutting down a fraction of those wells wouldn't re-devastate the economy, as if petroleum and coal weren't powering the very energy plants that deliver the electricity that charges the iPhones that allows everyone to Tweet their angry complaints through all the various energy-sucking server farms the size of a small country.
Truly, BP is behaving no better or worse than any other corporate spawn of Satan would in a similar situation. What's more, if you don't think every oil company on earth is right now kneeling before Beelzebub in gratitude that it wasn't one of their own wells that exploded, you haven't been paying attention.
That said, after all is said and done, it's gloomily nice to think our darkest disaster in a generation could somehow ultimately improve our attitudes, change our behavior, lighten our violent treatment of the planet. As someone recently noted, the BP spill isn't Obama's Katrina, it's actually Big Oil's Chernobyl. Meaning: a disaster so appalling and devastating it might very well alter the industry and change the course of our energy policy forever.
Is it possible? Or, more accurately, are we even capable of such a shift? Is there any silver lining to be found in that black and greasy gloom? This is, perhaps, the most imperative question of all: If we can produce a demon of such extraordinary scale and devastation, can we not also somehow create its exact opposite? Let us pray.