07/21/2010 11:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hello, America? This is Your Wakeup Call

There are cracks in the earth and holes in our hearts. The gusher in the Gulf has dramatized in gut-wrenching fashion a set of values and outcomes that comprise the underlying foundation of our lives. This is no "reality TV" episode, even though the already-diluted news coverage increasingly makes everything appear that way. No, this is "real reality" -- an edgy, in-your-face, unexpurgated reminder of what we have relentlessly wrought on the planet and ourselves. The question now is whether it will be enough of a wakeup call to prompt us to shake out the cobwebs, roll up our collective sleeves, and steer the entire enterprise away from the precipice.

Early returns are not favorable, both for stopping the oil gusher (it is not a spill, dammit!) and for Americans snapping out of their doldrums and getting off the petro-sauce. Drilling into Mother Earth at all is sinful in some cultural frameworks, but doing so a mile beneath the ocean with no mitigation plan on hand is simply stupid. Trying to then improvise various "kills" (aptly named though they might be) after the inevitable disaster occurs has the now-realized potential to further exacerbate the problem -- all based on the innately flawed logic of "more meddling will solve our misguided meddling."

Yet this logic effectively summarizes a baseline tenet of American society, namely that more of the same will somehow remedy the problems created in the first place. When a dictatorial president takes us to ill-begotten wars, the solution becomes simply to find a better president -- as if the problem were one of leadership rather than an underlying structural impetus to make war. When those wars go badly, both in fact and perception, we announce a "surge" that will escalate an already-lost conflict in an attempt to somehow "win" it. Better technology is the answer to too much technology. A new pill can cure the ailments produced by the pills we've been taking. Weeds and pests become resistant to our biocides, so let's make them even stronger -- and the same logic goes for our antibiotics. The economy crashes and consumes vast resources, so we'll prop it up with an infusion of even more resources. And on and on.

Indeed, this is the story of civilization itself, a process that continually requires deeper interventions in order to sustain lifestyles dependent upon initial interventions. It is fundamentally unsustainable, since we cannot keep up with the consequences of our incessant machinations. This is the gambler's paradox, attempting to "double down" over and over again on a bad bet, hoping to someday get level but merely digging a deeper hole each time out. Now, one of those deep holes threatens to prove itself incapable of being made level, exposing the harsh realities of our cavalier logic and raising the prospect of an apocalyptic scenario in which, ironically, we could drown in oil while thirsting for water.

This is a bona fide moment of truth for Americans, and perhaps further for humankind as a whole. We either wake up and smell the methane, or continue sleepwalking down a path to seemingly inevitable self-destruction. Shall we live as servile cogs in obeisance to Moloch as we stoke the perverse machines that maintain the apartheid apparatuses of Petropolis? Or will we choose a new path and refuse to serve our soulless masters, instead demanding that they account for their misdeeds and dismantle the hardware of devastation and despair? It is a clear choice ahead, a societal fork in the road: continue on toward the madness of mutually-assured destruction, or take a real chance on an unknown journey toward self-discovery and collective innovation.

We cannot afford to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep, no matter what the final outcome of the Gulf oil disaster turns out to be. Maybe an ingenious solution will emerge that snatches business-as-usual from the jaws of imminent annihilation. More likely, it will be an inexorable and ambiguous seepage that has innumerable ruinous effects on the habitat, only some of which will legally be traceable back to the oiligarchy, swirling together with various other incipient atrocities to hasten our societal demise like some oblivious frogs in a planet-sized vat of slowly boiling water. Humankind, marinated in oil, literally stewing itself to death in an ultimate act of self-fulfilling consumption....

Will we double down again, or cut our losses and walk away? Sometimes, not playing the game at all is a winning streak unto itself. Either way, the first step is to wake up and answer the opening bell. Destiny is calling, and one way or another we will have to account for our recent whereabouts. That time is now.