Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Oil Spill – A Lesson in the Cardinal Virtues?

Thanks to Catholic Exchange for this article

June 10th, 2010 by Robert Struble, Jr.

The worst oil spill in US history owes a lot to the fading away of moral virtue. I’m unsure if all seven capital sins promoted the BP oil catastrophe. But without doubt, the surge in pride, greed and lust tended to smother the four cardinal virtues – prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice.

Virtue’s first foe was pride – the failing of the fallen angels. On April 20, 2010 an intemperate sense of self-worth took its toll on Curt Kuchta, captain of the Deepwater Horizon, causing him to obsess about his rank as commanding officer of the oil rig. According to a Wall Street Journal report, not even extreme crisis could distract Kuchta from worrying about a slight to his authority. After the explosion, Andrea Fleytas, a 23 year old subordinate, had dared to take the initiative and broadcast a distress signal – an SOS which, in the chaos, the captain had neglected to issue: “Mayday, Mayday. This is Deepwater Horizon. We have an uncontrollable fire,” she announced over the airwaves.

In return for her presence of mind under pressure, captain Kuchta scolded her, “I didn’t give you authority to do that.” Minutes later, she ended up in the oily waters swimming for her life, and soon after the captain himself had to jump overboard.

Intuitively, deep water drilling contradicts the cardinal virtue of prudence. The imprudence of the operation is more obvious now that stopping the deepwater gusher in timely fashion has proven to be beyond human power. It seems that America’s vaunted technological prowess gave rise to pridefulness, and the capital sin of pride mixes with prudence about as well as oil with Florida’s white sand beaches.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). As a reckless driver scoffs at risk, so prideful corporate executives and technocrats drilled into the ocean floor with abandon. They discounted dangers, and paid too little heed to the hazards of the unexpected. They underrated the potential for human blundering. This want of prudence, this scarcity of carefulness, was personified by BP’s “company man,” tentatively identified as Donald Vidrine, (who was onboard at the time of the explosion). First and foremost a profiteer, he overrode the insistence of some rig operators that the drilling process include more precautionary safeguards.

What prompted the foolhardy risk taking? At first glance it seems to have been the commonplace desire to cut costs and maximize profits. This natural (and economically laudable) principle of good business management became a vice, however, in proportion as greed or avarice canceled out the cardinal virtue of temperance. BP was so focused on financial gain that common sense caution got tossed overboard.

Temperance was also in short supply as regards the drug abuse widespread among the Federal inspectors of the drilling operation. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) was the government agency charged with enforcing safety regulations. But, according to reports, some of the inspections were performed while under the influence of drugs like cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. How does it affect your patriotic heart, O citizen, to know that our Federal taxes pay the wages of zonked-out druggies protecting our interests against corporate irresponsibility?

The sin of lust was also a factor in the intemperate behavior of some MMS inspectors, who had no scruples about downloading pornographic images onto their Federal Government computers at taxpayer expense. They also engaged in sexual trysts with oil company employees whom they were supposedly regulating. Cronyism, free hunting and fishing excursions, a trip to the Peach Bowl – this kind of fraternizing and gift exchange brought disaster upon our southern shore. According to acting Solicitor General, Mary L. Kindall, trading in favors appears “to have been a generally accepted practice” between the regulators and the regulated.

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  1. Agreed! And the rest of us are complicit by virtue of our monetary support of BP and other oil companies in the name of cheap petrolium products. Shame on us all.

  2. This man--Rob is completely tiresome and ?Lutheran?

  3. It is tempting to make blanket generalizations about the degree of corruption in the oil industry as a whole, or wall street, or environmentalists, or government, or the Church for that matter, but the rush to anger, judgment and punishment of this and that group will sooner or later lead to national suicide. Reform is desperately needed everywhere we look in our society, but reform must be constructive, seeking to rectify, heal and perfect rather than just to punish and to advance the short-sighted interests of the nay sayers.