For wingnuts, the oil industry is a god

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, June 20, 2010 14:25 EDT
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Oh man, the BP oil spill has got to be hard on wingnuts. On one hand, the spill visibly Pisses Off Liberals, and usually in Wingnutville, anything that pisses off liberals is automatically assumed to be a good thing. But they’re not completely stupid. They know this oil spill is unpopular in the way that kicking puppies is unpopular, and this is an election year. Celebrating an event that pisses off liberals is all well and good, but not if it loses you mid-term elections. Let’s not forget that Louisiana is a swing state.

Initially, they were on message, trying to pin this on Obama and reap the rewards at the ballot box. But as this disaster drags on, their inability to quash the knee-jerk need to defend or adore anything—including a giant gusher of oil under the Gulf of Mexico—that pisses off liberals is taking over. And of course, the fact that Big Oil pumps so much money into Republican coffers sweetens the deal for them, as well as an ideological unwillingness to admit that bad things could ever happen in pursuit of profit.

So far, it hasn’t worked out so well. The strategy that worries me the most is the “act of god” strategy, where wingnuts try to redefine the spill as “natural disaster”. This has the potential to work on the public, because it takes a commonly understood definition—natural disasters are when nature wreaks havoc on humans—and simply reverses the subject and object, so that “natural disaster” is when humans wreak havoc on nature. It’s the functional equivalent of saying black is white and up is down, but sadly, this sort of sleight of hand can work very well on the public that’s too overworked and unwilling to engage in critical thinking to see what they did there.

Less effective has been the need to defend BP against any whiff of government intervention to keep them from taking a giant crap on the public, collecting their profits, and going home. This has been a fascinating exercise, because it really drives home how much free market capitalism where profits are private but risks are public has become a religion for the right, which makes big corporations their gods. The shaking anger and hurt expresses at Obama for trying to squeeze anything out of BP to compensate for what they’ve done to the Gulf Coast resembles nothing more than a godbag freaking out on someone who has uttered a blasphemy.

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BP is the Holy Father, apparently, and you can’t insult them no matter what they do.

But even this strategy doesn’t have the emotional satisfaction they require. Because it still doesn’t really get you to the point where you’re actively celebrating the thing that pisses liberals off at its most basic level, which is that giant gusher of oil under the Gulf. It’s a big, greasy liberal-upsetting stain. Every time a few more thousand barrels of oil come out, liberals get even more upset. Some of them have even admitted tearing up seeing the damage. It’s everything wingnuts could want—sad liberals, angry liberals, crying liberals. Oh, that desire to drive the knife in even deeper must be so strong!

Well, John Derbyshire finally cracked from the pressure.

I’m as horrified as anyone by this — if the guy has got it right, and I’ve understood him correctly. At the same time, as a constitutional pessimist, I’ll own to a certain grim satisfaction. The infantile optimism of post-JFK America may have met its match down there in the Gulf. Nature is not mocked.

Of course, “Nature” didn’t do this. BP did. So is he trying to suggest that BP isn’t to be mocked? I don’t really think anyone was mocking them before, but perhaps we were insufficiently worshipful of our oil industry gods, and so they’ve been forced to get Old Testament on us in revenge. The god that most right wingers ostensibly worship rained frogs or fire, or flooded the planet. The new gods they actually worship soak the planet in oil, possibly to punish us for the sin of electing Democrats.

This is the spot where the two wingnut strategies really come together. Calling what BP did a “natural disaster”? Angrily denouncing attempts to hold BP responsible as if they were blasphemous? All this shores up this image of the oil industry as a modern day god, something so far above humanity that we should simply worship it, and offer regular sacrifices to it in hopes that it doesn’t get too angry with us and destroy us. Ancient people sacrificed to the gods by giving up precious meats that they could have used for themselves. Modern day people are expected to sacrifice to our oil industry gods by giving up our land and air to them.

Thing is, I don’t believe in gods. And I certainly don’t believe whiny little shits like the sort that run the oil industry should be regarded as high priests, much less like minor gods themselves. And I think what happens when you quit sacrificing to the gods is that you get to keep your meat (or your land and air and water) for yourself. The first step towards liberation is to stop worrying about the supernatural wrath of angry gods, whether they’ve been made up completely or they’re all-too-human people that have been wrongly elevated into god positions.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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