Friday, May 28, 2010

On Precedent

First of all, it might help put things in perspective if the media would stop using irrational comparisons and historical inaccuracies to describe problems.

I'll discuss the lunacy of calling the Macondo BP Oil Flood "Obama's Katrina" at some later time. That's all oversimple political point-scoring narrative fed mainly to viewers of Fox News and right-wing radio listeners.

No, I'm going to focus on the more dangerous aspect of how the country is talking about the Oil Flood:

Unprecedented: adjective: having no precedent, novel, unexampled.

"Unprecedented" generally means that something is new, and hasn't been seen before. Because of the newness, it is something that cannot have been forseen or planned for, and that lack of institutional awareness rationalizes mistakes made by People In Charge. This is especially true the bigger the problem is.

And I understand that in a sense, every single problem, disaster, and catastrophe is unique in some way - but that doesn't mean they are "unprecedented."

It is damaging to the body politic for a leader to propogate the myth that problems are "unprecedented" and could not have been planned for. It is also damaging when the media does not call leaders on their illegitimate use of that word, especially when they propogate it carelessly by repeating it themselves. Or when they use other words to say the same thing.

From usually articulate Slate:*

But it's responsibility with an asterisk: BP is the only entity that can solve this problem, which is like none anyone has seen before.

Emphasis mine.

First of all, I didn't realize that BP was the only oil company on planet Earth that drills for oil beneath the sea. But that's another issue. I'd like to focus on the "like none anyone has seen before" part of this two part fabrication.

None anyone has seen before, hunh? None anywhere? Nothing close by? No similar situations at all that might have warned us this might happen? Exactly zero precedent?

Then, WTF is this? A semisubmersible oil drilling rig suffers a massive blowout, catches fire and sinks. This causes a tremendous oil gusher. It happened in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sound familiar?

I guess this will just have to be the "New Orleans is below sea-level" erroneous-media-regurgitation of this particular catastrophe. And it is a shame our usually eloquent President feels that he must repeat this falsehood to mitigate the shocking political, economic and environmental ramifications of this disaster.

Please see also, federal waivers establishing setup for future unprecedented disasters. The mind boggles.

* - The same Slate that published a different article dedicated to calmly describing how the Korean naval confrontation "is not unprecedented."


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