John Levi Barnard has written a powerful appeal to for us to take moral heed of the oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico, abandon our wasteful ways, and embrace a kinder new paradigm.
There is a lesson to be learned here, as there was from the crisis of the 1850s, which is that there is a clear choice to be made between principle and the expedient solution, which is never a solution at all. Every president from Reagan to Obama has assured us that the American way of life is not negotiable, much as the great compromisers of the antebellum period assured us that nothing, not even Justice, would threaten the cohesion of the “union.”
Thoreau countered this in no uncertain terms, declaring in “Resistance to Civil Government” that the American “people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.” From the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico—which extends both literally and figuratively to the Persian Gulf and the borderlands of Pakistan—we can derive a similarly radical statement: we must stop drilling in the ocean though it costs us something at the pump, though it forces us to make our way of life negotiable.
Every year my students struggle to express themselves clearly, and every year they make a lot of the same mistakes: the same mistakes that George Orwell decried in his essay about the (ab)use of the English language in 1946. It’s worth re-reading Orwell’s admonition against meaningless expressions, pretentious diction and dead metaphors every year or so as a sort of annual linguistic spring cleaning.
You can download the essay here: George Orwell, Politics and the English Language