The arrogance of control

Yesterday, Richard Taylor commented on the Japanese disaster, saying I am in shock and denial at the human toll, in awe of nature’s power and protecting myself in a cloak of indignation at our arrogance in thinking that we can control and plan our way around forces so much bigger than we are. Amen to that, Richard.

I don’t think I know anybody who is arrogant enough to think they can control their own cat and yet – collectively – we arrogantly think that we can control nature. And we consider it a virtue. Why don’t we learn? Or – more accurately – why do we consider it a virtue not to learn? Why do we consider it a virtue to rebuild New Orleans in situ? It is a game we can not win.

If somebody says Let’s build in harmony with nature, let’s not build on the flood plain. they are looked upon as anti-progress.  In his New Yorker article The Control of Nature, talking about the Army Corps of Engineers’ fight to stop the natural flow of the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya River, John McPhee quotes Norris Rabalais: This nation has a large and powerful adversary. Our opponent could cause the the United States to lose nearly all her seaborne commerce, to lose her standing as first among trading nations . . . . We are fighting Mother Nature . . . . It’s a battle we have to fight day by day, year by year, the health of our economy depends on the victory.

In my humble opinion, that is complete bullshit; the health of our economy would be better off if we built in harmony with the Earth. Rabalais job might depend on our fighting Mother Nature, but that is a different question.

Japan would be better off if the nuclear power plant had been built above the Tsunami high water line. If it had not been built in the flood plain behind walls built to hold out the sea. And, as Richard points out, now Japan is two feet lower making the control of the sea all that much harder.




2 thoughts on “The arrogance of control

  1. Long before I read John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, I had a geography professor who taught me to look at local maps before purchasing a home so that I could avoid purchasing one on a flood plain.
    Either people don’t have the sense with which their born or they didn’t study geography in college, high school or on their own.
    And developers will build anywhere.
    with love and friendship,

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