Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Decisions and Morality in Christianity and Our World: Week 4 Event Blog

            On Monday, February 14, I attended a lecture given by corporate lawyer Andrea Giampetro-Meyer, J.D. entitled: The Deepwater Horizion and the Normalization of Deviance. Walking in to the fourth floor programming room, I was unsure about what the lecture would actually discuss, and tired after a long day was therefore uninterested regardless. However, when it became clear that the lecture would answer some of the lingering questions about this summer’s catastrophic British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, my ears perked up. By the end of that hour long lecture, I had learned more about the events surrounding the BP oil spill than I had from watching hour upon hour of news footage over the summer.
            In her presentation, Giampetro referenced author Diane Vaughan who wrote The Challenger Launch Decision and explored what events went askew or what procedures were carried out incorrectly leading up to the Challenger space craft disaster in which the entire crew on board the carrier perished. Vaughan expected to find misconduct from NASA, but after a year and a half of research, she found nothing. NASA had followed corporate procedures precisely. Therefore, she delved further into such procedures to question whether or not such guidelines were strict enough if they could allow an error of this magnitude. She concluded that mistakes such as the Challenger disaster are not quick accidents, but have a long incubation period and are ultimately inevitable.
            We were shown a 15 minute clip from a PBS Frontline special on the BP oil spill, and similar themes emerged. Signals of a possible problem were either weak, misinterpreted, or missed entirely. BP CEO Tony Hayward at the time came in to his position pledging enhanced safety precautions in the company, as BP had a devastating oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 2006, and even formed a new safety committee within the company. However, that progressive idea was stifled and almost rendered useless when coupled with the pressure Hayward felt to cut spending within the company. BP saved over $2 million just on the Deep Water Horizon well alone by skimping on or in some cases omitting necessary reinforcements to secure and reinforce the well. This made the spill completely inevitable. In this case, industry standards were not followed, and BP faced the biggest liability suit in corporate history.
            This lecture made me think a great deal about the decisions we make and the morality behind those decisions. It was not one big decision made by one person which caused the oil spill in the Gulf, but a series of smaller judgmental errors by many people in the company. Often such mistakes are made by people who are so blinded by their vision that they are incapable of seeing the lack of morality in their actions. Such is the case in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. The character of the Grandmother tells the Misfit to pray but when she is put on the spot does not seem to know how to pray herself. She preaches about praying and being a Christian and has a blind acceptance of God. However, the Misfit questions God and instead lives by his own moral code to which he adheres for the duration of the story. In a perverse sense, the Misfit emerges from the work almost as the moral voice despite having been responsible for the numerous deaths.
            Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur” implies that we as humans have disobeyed God and that his magnificence created all of the natural resources in the world only for “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; / And all is smeared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears a man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil,” (5-7). He states that we are depleting God’s world with our greed and ambition, which relates very closely to some of the points brought up in the lecture on the BP oil spill.
            In Jane Hirshfield’s piece “Happiness”, she uses aside and personification to relay the message that we should be kind to all creatures on the earth, and that we should try to learn from every person and experience in our lives. The patron saint of animals and the environment, Saint Francis of Assisi above all encouraged respect for the world around us, and in the diction of Hirshfield's poem she intimates through folklore about him that all living things are connected. If we do not extrapolate important values, morals and messages from our experiences and our surroundings, she implies that "Hopelessness, Desperateness, [and] Loneliness," are waiting in the wings to try and corrupt us (20). When I first sat down to write this week's reflection, I lamented that none of the poems or my activity seemed at all connected, but I am shocked by how much they are. These three works and last year's BP oil spill disaster all come down to the strength or weakness of our morals and by extension the decisions that those morals allow us to make. 

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