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Last night the Contrarian and I watched the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. No, we are not going to discuss the relative merits of this version versus the 1935 version (actually there were two others that preceded them both), nor who was better, Gable or Brando.

It raises an interesting point. At why point in time are we compelled to step forward and address wrongs before we become co-responsible for the harms being done?

In the movie, Fletcher Christian is faced with example after example of  Bligh’s unfair treatment of the sailors in his keeping. He is harsh and unrelenting in his desire to achieve results–often exhibiting a clear willingness to sacrifice his crew in order to gain approval of his naval superiors back home.

Several men are viciously treated and more than one dies, before Christian is moved to step in, thereby sacrificing his own career and possible life to stop Bligh’s excesses. Perhaps Christian was slowed by his realization that indeed he would have to give up  his life in England. It is undoubtedly true that had the consequences to himself been less, he most likely would have acted sooner.

Is this a moral standard however or only a practical one? Can we justify our delay because of the relative cost to ourselves? Surely, at least in the movie, others were calling for Christian to step in sooner than he did. They all, perhaps had less to lose, it is not certain. All faced hanging if convicted of mutiny, which they surely were guilty of. Some of the men went with Bligh, on the excuse that they had family at home–the stakes were too high in their estimation for them to act morally here.

I raise the issue, because we are faced with a calamity of unprecedented proportions in the Gulf.

Our anger is unbounded at this point, unless of course you are a Republican, being bankrolled by big oil. Then of course you listen to Rush Limbaugh who tells us that the ocean will clean itself. No biggie.

The rest of us, as I said, are appalled. We are sickened to death of pictures of birds coated with oil so thick the cannot even walk. We turn away in disgust and heartbreak. We shake our fist at the CEO Tony Hayward at his insipid remarks about “wanting his life back” and then spending millions to do another “don’t hate BP because we make millions,” commercial.

Yet, I wonder, is part of our horror, part of our revulsion, part of our pain, the realization that we bear responsibility here? We all talk a great game, we all nod about the rape of the environment, we all agree that we need cleaner energy, but we are all too reluctant to give up much to achieve it.

Perhaps I speak for myself, but I think not. If it were only my selfish “forgetting”  my reusable cotton shopping bags, if it were only my sometimes use of too much plastic in my life, then we wouldn’t be talking about a Gulf catastrophe. No, sadly, I am not alone.

I do my bit, but it’s small to be sure. We burn trash, we don’t use bottled water, we try to remember to take the shopping bags with us. We try to avoid prepackaged nonsense. We try to cut down on driving and other energy expenditures, but we only do it half-assed most of the time. It’s just time consuming and annoying a lot of the time, and it’s often–oops, I’ll do better next time.

And this is where it has gotten us. We have, a goodly number of us, railed at offshore drilling, but we’ve not made it a battle to engage in. I suppose we can’t be totally condemned. After all, there are a thousand causes from Alzheimer’s to zoological extinctions that we can put our time and money into. No one can address but a small handful at best.

But, saying all that, we cannot absolve ourselves from the responsibility. It is still ours. We knowingly allowed these greedy bastards to continue, because we had other concerns both public and private. That is why we cringe at the pictures so violently. That is why our eyes water and we turn our gaze away from the creatures whose lives have for no reason they can discern turned upside down. Life is mean and short, and the innocent very often get the worst of it.

That perhaps is our greatest anger. That the first tier of guilty will suffer not one whit. Tony Hayward and all the rest of them, will simply move their summer tropical paradises to some other part of the globe untainted by oil sludge. They can afford to.

Those whose livelihoods, limited as they were, focused on the Gulf, are done for perhaps decades to come. The animals and birds and fish who die, well, they were unknown, unnamed, and will pass mostly unnoticed. Like the huge epic extinctions of bygone times, they will mark a time only. A time  reflected in history books (unless Texas manages to vacuum this story as well).

I have no answers. But you are so used to that. How to organize and stop all this wretched excess bought at the cost of the poor, the working poor, the environment? I’d love an answer. I can only feed the birds that live in the meadow, and pet my dogs and caress my cats, and try to be especially kind to them, knowing they are the lucky few.

What say you?

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