Worth a Thousand Imaginings: Pictures of the Gulf Coast

Oil leaking from a British Petroleum pipe under the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico has reached land slicking wildlife habitats on the Southern U.S. coast, as well as the animals that live there. Some of the most disturbing photographs of animals harmed by the spill have been taken by Charlie Riedel, an AP photographer, and can be found on the New York Times’ photojournalism blog “Lens”. There is a good chance that these photos will motivate people to hold government and business more accountable than sterile analysis of the spill would. Overhead photos of the black swirls and streaks that plague the Gulf, which are threatening to migrate into the Atlantic riding ocean currents, do not entail the same emotional response as pictures with living beings.


It is ironic that the emotional response prompted by photos of the Gulf oil spill are a result of, strictly speaking, mistakenly placed empathy. When we see a still shot of a pelican flapping around in the oil slick, we attribute human feelings and emotions to the bird, and it is because of our sympathy for human pain and suffering that we condemn the actions that resulted in photos of dying birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, crabs, and so on.

It is an unthinking response, one motivated by a biological drive to reproduce, to save our own kind from pain and suffering lest the species as a whole not advance. I know this is a sterile analysis of the photos in question, and that an angry response prompted by the photos could help to reshape an American energy policy that is ten years behind the Chinese and relies on oil from Saudi Arabia (that would be the once-home of the 9/11 hijackers). But what about our thinking response?

Judge Richard Posner has said that humans are merely apes with bigger brains. But that our brains are bigger is of definite significance: it allows us to conceptualize time, to consider the future and make plans for it. An emotional response is a perfectly fine and natural thing, but it is not well suited to tackling the long term problems that face humanity, such as energy shortages, global warming, long term consequences of foreign policy, and, yes, asteroids.

Instead of waiting for emotionally pulling images to arrive over the Internet, we should imagine the consequences of our present actions. It’s what the poet and painter would have us do.

Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less